Give Cucumbers To The County Magistrate To Sell
Idler’s Note: Sorry about the delay with the chapter! The freelance job I was doing took a bit longer than I expected to complete so I didn’t have as much spare time to devote to translation like I thought. We are nearly a third of the way through the first volume though. Please bear with me as I continue working at improving my translation quality and speed!
I hate to have to ask but please think about contributing help either through Patreon or the other methods listed here. If enough people help out just a little, I would be able to translate full-time, which would mean faster and more frequent chapters at a regular rate. However, if you can only help by giving me motivational support through likes or comments, I am also grateful to receive that, too. Thank you so much! 🙂
P.S. In the process of doing the research for my footnoes, I somehow came across an old Shaw Brothers movie that had been uploaded to Youtube from Youku. It was a bit of a mind-blowing WTFery for me because I was just not prepared for it. My brain nearly exploded! D: Watch it here (it has English subtitles though they kinda suck). It’s also super weird for me to see the movie itself use Traditional Chinese characters with the calligraphy on screen but the Chinese subtitles that were added on later are Simplified…
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“These are cucumbers? They are cucumbers.” Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang looked at the six cucumbers in front of him, confusedly raising his head to ask Song Jing-gong. He didn’t understand what intention Song Jing-gong had to so hurriedly rush over here to give him cucumbers? Could it have something to do with a murder case or evidence?
“Milord is indeed impressive to be able to recognize with one look that these are cucumbers. That’s right. Milord, try them and see if the taste is palatable.” Song Jing-gong assumed that the Lord Magistrate had been frightened, ~ne, as he pointed at the cucumbers and bade him to try them.
“These I, this county, have already eaten a lot of before. Zijin should bring it back to eat on your own.” Cheng Lingxiang carefully looked over the cucumbers again but didn’t discover anything special1 so now, he was unhappy here.
Song Jing-gong understood this time. So Cheng Lingxiang hadn’t considered what season it currently was and was only waiting for himself to give him the good stuff, ~ne. Cucumbers had always not been worth money so thinking of this, Song Jing-gong wasn’t angered either and gave a slight smile.
“Milord speaks rightly. After returning, Student will get some spicy sauce, then warm up some wine to taste the cucumbers and drink the wine while enjoying the snowy scenery outside. That really would be a great pleasure of life, ~ah.”
As he spoke, Song Jing-gong made ready to stand up. Cheng Lingxiang was also following along and thinking of that kind of scenery, ~ne, but then kept feeling like there was someplace not right. It was only until Song Jing-gong spoke to take his leave that he finally realized and hurriedly called out: “Wait, Zijin, how did you get fresh cucumbers here in this deep winter?”
After asking this question, the gaze that Cheng Lingxiang redirected toward these cucumbers was no longer the same. The thorns on top were also good looking and the flowers were pretty as well, being a glittering green. The more he looked, the more he liked them. He even leaned his head over them to take a gentle sniff. The clear aroma unique to cucumbers entered his nose and was exceptionally pleasant.
Song Jing-gong, seeing this sort of behavior from the county magistrate, didn’t hurry to answer and only watched over there.
Cheng Lingxiang looked for a while and then stretched out a hand to touch them. The cucumbers had been kept warm so they weren’t cool and weren’t hot. At this time, the six cucumbers were no longer cucumbers in Cheng Lingxiang’s eyes but silver—six silver ingots that had been neatly placed there. Lushly green and nearly of equal thickness, perfectly straight—this silver was good looking.
“Milord, how about it? To eat this kind of cucumber in the winter, it is fairly enjoyable?” Song Jing-gong asked, finding the correct timing.
Cheng Lingxiang vigorously nodded his head twice: “Good, good stuff! Zijin has taken care. I didn’t think that with the snow already falling, I could still be able to eat fresh cucumbers. Don’t know how Zijin found these six cucumbers?”
In an instant, Magistrate Cheng thought of a lot of things. If these cucumbers were given to his superiors,2 then his superiors would definitely acknowledge his merit. He just didn’t know how many cucumbers could be had.
“Student didn’t know if Milord wanted to eat them. Hence, in this trip here, six were brought over. If Milord feels that they are rather good, Student will send some more over after returning. It’ll be enough for Milord to eat for a winter.” Song Jing-gong had actually brought over quite a few this time, even preparing to sell them, ~ne, so deliberately spoke thusly.
“Where’d the cucumbers come from? To eat for a winter—could it be that there’s a technique to allow summer cucumbers to be kept until now?” Magistrate Cheng was the most curious in regards to this.
Song Jing-gong shook his head slightly and replied: “No technique. If summer cucumbers were picked, they could only be kept for 20 or so days at most and they wouldn’t even have flowers or thorns. The cucumbers were planted and grown. Two months or so prior, they were grown by that person at the manor up until today when it is just right for eating.”
Magistrate Cheng had originally been fixedly seated there but upon hearing that they’d been planted and grown, he stood up at once and firmly fixed his gaze at Song Jing-gong’s eyes, wishing to know if he was lying or not. Seeing that Song Jing-gong’s gaze was clear with no trace of evasion, he knew that it probably might be true.
“Zijin, quickly tell me how the cucumbers were planted and grown? Was it that adept again? Great ability! If this method was taught to our Great Tang’s people, then wouldn’t everyone be able to eat fresh cucumbers in the winter? Moreover, these cucumbers on this side as well as over in that northern area wouldn’t take up any other lands in the winter so the people would have an extra stream of income.
Great deed—this is a great deed! Zijin, that person from your manor will certainly be commended and rewarded. How about this? Tomorrow, Zijin should return and bring back that person. This official, I will make my report.”
After standing up, Magistrate Cheng didn’t sit back down either as he paced there with his hands behind his back, speaking as he walked without noticing at all that helpless look of Song Jing-gong’s. After a while of hearing Song Jing-gong make not a single sound, only then did he stop to look over.
Song Jing-gong wryly smiled: “Milord, ~ah, the manor also needs to make money, ~ah, with that many people who need to be fed, ~ne. That person treats the peasants well. Today, every peasant was given a lot of things for free. And they were even afraid of the heavy snow badly crushing the houses so specifically spent money to renovate the houses and build kang [bed-stove].
Milord knows how much money these cucumbers in the winter are worth, too. The manor is waiting on these cucumbers being sold off to better get some money, ~ne. Milord wants Student to tell but Student doesn’t dare to. If that person were to be provoked, it would be of no use even if Student were to run to the ends of the earth.3 Milord, you [honorific] may not know of that person’s methods but Student has already experienced them.”
“Eh~! Right, ~ya! It wouldn’t be expensive at all for one of these cucumbers to be sold for over 10 wen [cash] so there would naturally be those wealthy families who’d go buy them. In addition, it’s nearly New Year’s. To be able to eat a cool and refreshing bite of cucumbers on New Year’s Eve,4 that mood would certainly not be the same.”
With Song Jing-gong’s explanation, Magistrate Cheng also realized it. Who would be willing to tell others this type of method? Since they could be grown, then they’d certainly be continuously eaten for several months. How much money could be earned in one winter? Just thinking about it was scary.
But if this stuff wasn’t given away, then it wouldn’t be so easily solved if they got noticed by people. He himself could know of the value of winter cucumbers; other people were also not stupid. By then, if even more formidable people were to be roused, then what to do?
Cheng Lingxiang pondered this kind of matter as he slowly sat down. Then, glancing over at Song Jing-gong again, he finally opened his mouth to caution: “Zijin, ~ah, these cucumbers aren’t easy to do, ~ah! They easily attract the calamity of murder. Why hasn’t the adept from that manor of yours not thought of this point? If you sell them, then there’d be people who’d know. If you really aren’t willing to give up the method, then I’ll pretend that I didn’t see this today.”
“Milord is indeed a good official who is able to be considerate of the people under their governance. Milord, rest assured. Before coming, that person instructed Student that if Milord spoke thusly, to speak of the solution in response. If Milord had wholeheartedly wished to request credit,5 then Student would immediately return to uproot those cucumbers.”
In his heart, Song Jing-gong only had a single type of feeling towards Little Mister—a mountain peak to be looked up to.6
“Oh? This was even predicted? What is the solution?” Magistrate Cheng was also afraid. Was this still human? Each step was followed by another step to take.
“In reply to Milord, that method isn’t difficult, either. It’s to have the cucumbers transported over here and have Milord help to sell them. Milord need not rush. By then, if there are people who inquire, Milord can say that the Heavens sent down an auspicious favor7 and there’s a manor where the cucumbers vines actually bore new fruit.
It’s nearly New Year at this time so nobody would investigate closely at this time. When the New Year has passed and the money has been more or less made, the manor won’t continue selling them but will give some to Milord for Milord to gift to other people. If there are people checking and insist on asking Milord for the manor’s location, then at that time, the cucumbers vines will naturally be destroyed by people.”
Song Jing-gong spoke out loud the solution. In fact, there was another point that they’d mentioned so it could be said that he’d lied. What Zhang Xiaobao instructed him was this. There was another point. If this county magistrate didn’t caution him, then he had to immediately return to completely harvest this batch of cucumbers, dig out the other cucumbers, and transport far away the harvested cucumbers to sell elsewhere using another identity to still be able to make a large fortune.
This wasn’t the area that made Song Jing-gong most impressed in feeling but that Little Mister had said at the time that the county magistrate would help him to a very large extent in terms of considering the matter over. The alternative preparations were only for just in case.
Of course, Song Jing-gong wouldn’t know how much psychology Little Mister had previously studied and that based on the several times that he’d had contact with the county magistrate, had speculated as to the county magistrate’s temperament. He just assumed that Little Mister knew how to fortune-tell.8
Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang sighed once. There was no way to re-evaluate that person at the manor. This was not only to get the cucumbers sold but to give himself a meritorious credit. Auspicious favor, ~ah! With the cucumbers as evidence, they caused people to be unable to disbelieve it. They said that it was to let him gift to others, was it even necessary to ask who he could be giving to?
He couldn’t possibly reject such a good deal. A promotion, ~ah! Once the auspicious favor appeared, whatever his superiors thought, they would all follow along in asking for credit. By then, a future of his own could be had for the taking.
Having thought of it here, Magistrate Cheng nodded his head as he said: “That’s fine. While it’s before the New Year, pick a few more cucumbers. Wait until it’s close to two days before the New Year and I’ll sell them off. Zijin hasn’t eaten yet, right? Perfect, let’s use three cucumbers to make two dishes. Zijin can try them with me together.”
Magistrate Cheng no longer treasured them. Since there was more, then the several other cucumbers for his family wouldn’t be lacking. First, eat three. The other three could be sent to the back and his family members could try them, too.
Song Jing-gong didn’t hurry to leave this time and gladly obeyed.
The chilly wind blew past from time to time. Even so, it still didn’t cause the people from the two manors of Zhang and Wang to feel anything.
That old ox belonging to Chen Hao’s family was killed. Also, one of the several oxen that Zhang Xiaobao had previously made people buy and bring back was killed, too. This ox really couldn’t avoid being killed as just after the one from Chen Hao’s family had died, it actually fell into a ditch and broke its leg.
Once the two oxen were killed, the meat was plentiful. Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan discussed it for a bit and had the people of the two manors eat a meal together. It could be considered to be promoting the good qualities of the master-family.
They naturally couldn’t eat just beef as the meat from the two oxen really weren’t enough to serve. Besides, some of it had to be kept to be eaten for New Year’s. So they could only add some large radishes inside and make several cauldrons of beef with simmered radishes to call over the people of the manor to eat together with wotou [cone bread]9 made out of millet flour. Then, several kinds of pickled vegetables10 were prepared along with some lightly flavored stewed vegetables to be eaten while hot, which was not so bad in this winter.
This way, the two oxen weren’t needed. A single ox, not counting the tendons, ligaments, and other assorted things, was enough with just the meat. Add a bit of beef tallow and a pot of stewed vegetables didn’t require too much beef.
The peasants weren’t picky, either. To have something to eat was good. That aroma from within several of the cauldrons didn’t even wait for the meat to be done, ~ne, and had already drifted outward. The adults were a bit better and could endure it but the little kids sniffed up their snot while anxiously gulping down their drool. There were some who had more daring that even moved to the front of the pots to see.
For the sake of not letting everyone freeze, several fires had been piled up in the empty space outside. The peasants of the two manors surrounded them as they talked and laughed until the meat was ready. Then, they rose to do stuff to help out.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, the two of them had also rushed over here by this time, intending to eat a meal together with everyone. Wang Juan was even holding a bit of dried parsley in her hand while Zhang Xiaobao was carrying spicy sauce.
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The Chinese text says that Magistrate Cheng didn’t see that the cucumbers as having any “qian kun” (乾坤), which is likely based off of an idiom “nei you qian kun” (內有乾坤) or “inside has qian kun.” “Qian Kun” (乾坤) itself is usually translated as “universe or heaven and earth” because it is a term derived from the name for 2 of the 8 trigrams of the Bagua (八卦) with qian/乾 representing heaven and kun/坤 representing earth. So qiankun/乾坤 itself has a broad range of possible interpretations and meanings depending on the context it is used in. The idiom of “nei you qian kun” (內有乾坤) usually applies to objects or people whose external appearance are contrary to their interior or contents like a bag of holding that looks like a normal bag on the outside but is really a pocket dimension on the inside or Xiaobao who outwardly looks like a pure and innocent toddler but in actuality, possesses the mentality of a middle-aged con man with a heart of gold. In this case, qiankun is being referred to as being absent so I chose to translate for the meaning. ↩
Similarly to Steward Zhang using “shang mian” (上面) to euphemistically refer to paying taxes, Magistrate Cheng uses “shang mian” (上面) or “upper layer” to refer to his superiors since they are literally above him. ↩
“Tian ya hai jiao” (天涯海角) literally means “sky shores, sea corners” and is used to describe the extreme reaches of the earth and the very boundaries at which it meets the sky and sea. This expression actually has its origins in an eulogy Tang dynasty essayist Han Yu (韓愈) wrote for his dearly beloved nephew who died just before Han Yu was about to reunite with him. The nephew died far away from Han Yu who still insisted on traveling there with the funerary offerings though the distance was intimidatingly long for the time. [Baidu] ↩
“Nian Ye” (年夜) literally translates to “Year Night” but it basically refers to the night before Chinese New Year. Traditionally on this night, families will dine together on symbolically lucky foods and stay up all night to greet the new year. ↩
“Biao gong” (表功) is actually an abbreviation in Chinese for “showing off one’s exploits.” So it’s essentially an action that is asking for credit for one’s meritorious service. Since Chinese officials get graded on a yearly basis, usually as either one of three choices of exemplary, passing, and lacking, officials would make reports asking to be given credit for their good deeds and then the political struggle to ensure that they receive all the credit is an integral part of ancient Chinese politics (some might argue that it is still a part of modern Chinese politics). ↩
“Gao shan yang zhi” (高山仰止) is actually an idiom with a play on words as it is literally evoking the image of a mountain whose full height can’t be seen as well as the image of someone gawking upward in awe at said mountain because yang/仰 can mean “to raise one’s head” or “to admire, rely on.” Since mountains are considered symbols of strength and dependability in Chinese culture, this only deepens the dual metaphor of this expression. ↩
“Xiang rui” (祥瑞) is the term given to things that were believed to be “auspicious signs” in Chinese culture that Confucian scholars tended to consider to be ways that Heaven can signal its approval and were of benefit to people. Thus, natural phenomena such as rainbow-hued clouds, double-eared rice paddies, a natural spring of sweet-flavored water, the appearance of various star formations, or exotic animals with different associated meanings such as giraffes (explaining why an old Chinese name for “giraffe” is qilin/麒麟 which are only supposed to show up when a sage is about to be born/die or if the current ruler is enlightened) and white hinds that are also a sign of Heaven’s favor to a ruler could be considered to be signs of fortune. The reverse could be true as well though with other phenomena like comets or meteors. ↩
“Neng qia hui suan” (能掐會算) breaks down to mean “can pinch, knows how to count” and since a lot of 4-character couplets actually separates and recombines two 2-character word combos to make a new meaning in Chinese, this expression intersperses neng/能 or “able” and hui/會 or “know how” in between the characters making up “qia suan” (掐算). “Qia suan” (掐算) itself needs to be explained as it literally means to “pinch count” and describes an ancient Chinese behavior where they counted using their fingers by bending them in a pinching motion. This behavior can go hand in hand with Chinese astrology and fortune-telling as numerology and arithmetic calculations makes up a large portion of these practices. Chinese fortune-telling itself is called “suan ming” (算命) in Chinese, which literally means “to calculate life.” So a stereotypical image of a Chinese fortune-teller or astrologist is one who makes these needed calculations by pinching their fingers together in this fashion. Especially intelligent and cunning strategists who can make uncanny predictions of the future to the point that their side business might as well be fortune-telling could also be portrayed as having this mannerism as it fits the traditional Chinese stereotype of such a character. So if you’re watching a Chinese drama or movie that has some occult subject matter of some sort and you’re wondering why the Daoist priest, mystical formation expert, or cunning strategist is making those weird hand gestures, that’s why. To see a picture for an example, go here. Sorry, I couldn’t find a specific video of an instance where you could see the gesture in action but the gesture appears a lot across a wide variety of genres in Chinese dramas and film because it serves as excellent visual shorthand for the Chinese viewer. Anyway, because of the reasons that I’ve explained above, I translated “neng qia hui suan” (能掐會算) as “know how to fortune-tell.” ↩
“Wotou” (窩頭) or “wowotou” (窩窩頭) literally means “nest head” and is so named because of the conical nest-like shape this bread has. It is a steamed bread that is typically made out of wheat or millet flour and was a staple food for poor Chinese peasants. When corn was later imported into China, cornmeal was used to make wotou, explaining why it is sometimes translated as “Chinese cornbread.” It later became an imperial delicacy during the Qing dynasty (清朝) when by happenstance, Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) got to taste them and liked them enough to order the Imperial Kitchens to reproduce them with richer ingredients, causing them to become a food that was no longer just consumed by the impoverished. I chose to use the pinyin with [cone bread] in an editorial aside because it’s perfect as a lame pun as well as reminding people of their shape. For pictures, you can visit the Baidu page here. ↩
“Xian cai” (鹹菜) literally means “salted vegetables,” the name due to the fact that salt is necessary for the pickling process. Chinese cuisine usually treats pickled dishes as appetizers and they are more of a staple of northern Chinese cuisine since they would need to preserve vegetables for the winter. They can also be used as part of the raw ingredients of a cooked dish, too.