Several Rounds of Consideration, Winter Has Already Cooled
Idler’s Note: Whoo! I made it through this month without interruption to the overall release schedule of 3 chapters a week. Now, I don’t know about next month but I will certainly try to make sure I can keep coming out with more chapters regularly. However, my budget is probably going to be pretty tight in September so I might end up having to take a small break to offset that. It might not end up happening though so it might not be a big deal but I just wanted to give a head’s up just in case it does happen. In any case, if I do end up missing any releases because I had to temporarily focus on freelance working for a living, I will make up for the chapters later as I had previously done before. Hopefully, that won’t actually be an issue though and I will end up being really good at my time management for September. Let’s cross our fingers! 😀
Disclaimer: This translation is by a fan for fans. Any opinions or commentary presented here are translated as is written by the original author. Any remarks by the translator will be in footnotes or in an editorial aside. The original work is the property of the author and any other associated copyright holders in their respective territories. Please do not reproduce, redistribute, or resell this translation anywhere else without permission! If you are reading this anywhere else but on Solitary Idler’s WordPress, then it is being reposted without permission from the translator! If you are the copyright holder and/or have licensed this work for English publication and wish for this translation to be removed, please contact me to do so. Thank you!
“Tasty, really tasty! Come on, Xiaobao, help me tear apart this meat. You pull on that end.”
The beef with simmered radishes was done. Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, the two of them used a bowl to start eating there. What Shiliu found were those kinds of meat without any tendons that were smaller pieces. It was like this yet it was still a struggle for the two of them to eat as they had to use their hands to tear it into little strips to slowly chew on.
Wang Juan had discovered a piece that was larger and that her hands on her own weren’t strong enough so she called over Zhang Xiaobao. Zhang Xiaobao on that side had already used both of his hands while Wang Juan on this side was also like so before this meat could be ripped apart here.
“This meat clearly isn’t entirely mushy, ~ne, and they actually said that it could be eaten. Didn’t even consider us two.” Zhang Xiaobao dipped that half piece of meat into the spicy sauce and shoved it inside his mouth to laboriously chew on as he complained.
“When others eat meat, they eat it for this chewiness. If it’s all mushy, then what bite would it have? I’m not eating meat; it’s too much effort. Let’s drink some soup and eat some radishes.” Wang Juan, having not so easily swallowed down that meat, opted for a change in palate.
Shiliu wasn’t willing to eat together with this many people and just stood by the sidelines to wait upon the two little ancestors. So upon hearing Wang Juan’s words, she went to ladle out from the pot some radishes and soup, sprinkling the pieces of parsley that had already been chopped up in advance on top. To drink a mouthful, the taste wasn’t so bad at all.
A little kid from the manor, seeing that the two most treasured people of the two manors were actually just eating radishes and not eating meat, was moved at that moment and said to his parents next to him:
“Dad, Mom, Little Mister, they are only eating radishes and leaving the meat all to us. If I tell Ge Manor’s Xiaogou-er1 this, he definitely wouldn’t believe me. But this is true.”
His parents were also touched. They weren’t moved because Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan drank soup and ate radishes. They also knew that a little child that big basically couldn’t bite into beef.
What they were moved by was that Little Mister and Little Miss didn’t take on any appearance of superiority from a lofty height but ate together with them. The outdoor weather was sure cold, ~ah! And this meal had also been specifically prepared by them. They were this little and they were like this, which only proved one thing and that was that those members of the master-family all usually taught the children like this.
With such a master-family, what else did they themselves as such peasants have to be dissatisfied about? They both had rushed back here from outside. When they had arrived, they had also encountered questions from Ge Manor’s people. Once they said that it was the master-family who was treating them to beef, even now they couldn’t forget the looks from those of Ge Manor.
“Xiaobao, you see how happily the fellow villagers are eating? In the future, if we can regularly have a meal together with the fellow villagers, that’d be good. Pity that the amount of beef is too little. This time, we were actually fined 12 taels of silver. Why isn’t this gang of officials even considerate of us?”
Wang Juan drank a few sips of soup but was too hasty in eating so sat there to rest for a bit while complaining to Zhang Xiaobao.
Zhang Xiaobao originally wanted to reply: ‘Indeed, there aren’t any good people who’d become officials. It’s all the same no matter the dynasty era.’
But his words changed upon reaching his mouth as he didn’t wish to let Wang Juan recall the matters of the past. Everybody was all happy, ~ne. Why bring up the memories? So he could only say:
“With oxen, this thing is valuable after all—they can be used to plow the lands, ~ne. This only shows that they pay close attention to agriculture. Actually, horses would do as well but they’ve all been used for equipping the troops or to pull carriages. Don’t know if there are any curved plows2 right now? Wait till we get back to ask. If there are, then never mind. If not, let’s make them ourselves. I remember that several ox bones had been placed in the pot. Let’s eat the bone marrow.”
“Not eating it. Give that bit of stuff to the children to eat. There’s still quite a few at home, ~ne. What are you doing, grabbing their stuff? You know how to breed oxen? The kind where each birth can be guaranteed and can also have one pregnancy every year.”
Wang Juan’s eyes lit up upon hearing about eating the bone marrow but then her eyes dimmed as she thought of doing animal husbandry.
Zhang Xiaobao scooped up a piece of beef tallow that had been floating on top of the soup to send over in front of Wang Juan’s mouth: “Don’t know. Didn’t learn it back then. In prison, there was a person who was a specialist in this area— a real specialist. He wrote a dissertation that had been snatched away by someone else so he had wanted to prove that it had been written by him. In the end though, their family’s influence was large and got him locked up.
At that time, he saw that I was eager to learn and really wanted to teach me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any thoughts to learn it at that time and only listened to him endlessly introduce some things about agriculture and animal husbandry next to me. The amount of times that he mentioned curved plows was a lot and I remembered it in response since he would always praise this type of plow.
I remember I had been following along and learning stuff from a criminal thief next to me at that time. I learned how to pry open doors and locks from that person. That isn’t only about knowing the principle that would work; it also requires training of the listening ability and sense of touch. Later on, I would always carry on my person some iron wires of different widths along with various sized magnets.”
“Magnets? What did you need magnets for? Prying open security vaults seems to not require them?” Wang Juan was gradually hooked by Zhang Xiaobao’s words. As one who specialized in catching thieves, she was interested in this area.
“What security vaults? It was for door locks. Some door locks require the use of magnets to work. Those keys itself were magnetic with some attracting the other and some repelling the other. The magnets I carried not only had to be different sizes, they must also have to have two types of magnetism on this end. It was technical work. I think that if I were able to be awarded a degree, whatever was said, I’d be a master’s degree. The one who taught me, that one was absolutely a doctorate.”
Zhang Xiaobao poured away the soup that had cooled down and while he had Shiliu continue ladling, he spoke to Wang Juan as if telling a joke.
“That is to say that you comprehend the principle behind locks? You can make locks?” Wang Juan began to ask curiously.
“That’s a matter of course. If you want to pry them open, then you must know how to make them.”
“Then, you make locks to sell.” Wang Juan suggested.
“No, there’s no springs so what would I use to make them with? Eat quickly. After we’re full, we’ll go back to sleep.” Zhang Xiaobao directly rejected it.
Wang Juan was only asking randomly so seeing that it wasn’t possible, she didn’t speak anymore. Eating up the soup and radishes, she patted her belly. She was full.
After those two had left, the speed that the people on this side ate with also accelerated. Before, they’d been controlling it, ~ne. After finishing off a meal, the leftover bones could all be brought over to give to those who had children being fed milk in their families. When they returned, they could cook them twice or more so that the bone marrow inside could either be fed directly to the child or given to the mother to eat, whichever was fine.
They were eating at the manor. Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang here was also eating—a total of six dishes and one soup with four meat dishes and two vegetarian. One of the vegetarian dishes was dressed3 cucumber strips with mashed garlic4 added, which had a refreshing taste when eaten. The other one was chicken eggs with stir-fried cucumbers, the clear fragrance pleasing to people. The soup was cucumbers and green garlic5 soup with an even balance of saltiness.
Song Jing-gong engaged the county magistrate in conversation while drinking wine. The dishes he ate were all basically those four meat dishes and the cucumbers were essentially not touched. After he returned, he could eat however much he wanted to eat so he had no need to struggle against the county magistrate over this mouthful. One and a half of the cucumbers had been dressed, one had been stir-fried with eggs, and half had been simmered into soup.
Upon seeing the county magistrate make such calculations, how could he dare eat them?
Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang didn’t think that much on it as with a beaming face, he said some words on scholarly study and composed a poem that he considered to be rather good on the spot. After receiving flattery from Song Jing-gong, he picked up two cucumbers strips to place into his mouth and carefully savor its taste before he finally broached the main topic.
“Zijin, ~ah, that manor of yours isn’t far from here, right?”
“Yes, Milord speaks correctly. It’s not considered far as one day is enough to be able to rush back and forth in a round trip.” Song Jing-gong toasted him with wine as he replied.
“Not far is good, ~ah. Since it’s not far, have the adept from that manor of yours come over. I wish to meet this person.” Magistrate Cheng in fact wanted to get an assistant. If he really could recruit that person by his side, then he himself wouldn’t need to worry anymore.
Song Jing-gong was frightened as he shivered. To get Little Mister and Little Miss to come in this cold weather, what to do if they were frozen? Moreover, with two little kids that small, if they were really pushed forward, wouldn’t that be harmful? Whatever else was said, this couldn’t be consented to.
“Milord, this won’t do, ~ah! That person’s temper is eccentric and it’s only since that manor previously saved his life before so that he arrived here. Student has also never seen his face before. Each time, the talking was done while separated by a screen.6 How about this? If Milord has any instructions that need to be told to that side, Student will help relay it.”
Of course, Song Jing-gong knew what the county magistrate wanted to do. The meaning of these words was also clear. Magistrate, if you have something that you need help with, I’ll help you go over there to ask. When they come up with an idea, then I’ll come back here to tell you.
Magistrate Cheng’s expression had a trace of regret. Nodding his head, he ladled some soup into his own bowl and drank it all down in one breath before he said: “That’s fine. Then, it’ll be hard on Zijin. Is Zhou Xihu still secured over there?”
“This person Mister Zhou is not bad. Only, there is a shortage of brown sugar in the surrounding area recently. Why doesn’t Milord persuade him? If there’s too much white sugar, it won’t be easy to sell either. After all, the price is high.
Oh, Student recalled another matter. That person said that when it’s New Year’s, Milord might wish to bring some food and oil to see to the impoverished families within the county. After all, Milord loves the citizenry like his own son and causes the people under Milord’s governance to also feel the benevolence of the Imperial Court.7 The manor can take out 1,000 dan [stone] of food and 100 dan [stone] of oil for Milord to spread his virtue.”
Following this, Song Jing-gong mentioned another matter. This was also previously arranged for.
Magistrate Cheng’s eyes brightened and he certainly understood the meaning of these words. This was to let him net political achievements, ~ne. If they really did this, along with the cucumbers that had been sent over, then this year’s evaluation would certainly be high-grade.8 That adept really did understand how the world worked. A pity that they couldn’t come to his side to help him out.
Right then, he said: “Good. This county, I know. It isn’t easy for the people either, ~ah. Especially the families that have those who are ailing. For that manor of yours to do as such, this county, I will remember it all in my heart. I trust that the people will also be endlessly grateful, too. Come, Zijin, eat.”
Waiting until after they’d more or less eaten their fill, Song Jing-gong took his leave and pledged that two days afterward, a large amount of cucumbers would be sent over so he let Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang set his heart at ease.
The day gradually grew late as each family and household all started to prepare their food.
Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, the two of them also got busy again as they took up station in the kitchens to command them as tonight’s staple food was to be made according to the intentions of the two of them.
The prepared dough was rolled into thin sheets, one after another, and then sliced into string after string—these were noodles,9 an item that this side originally already had. Then slicing the well-sauced beef into pieces, they were fried using oil in a pan together with spicy sauce and chicken eggs. Placing a layer of cucumber strips and parsley on top of the beef slices and the noodles that had been ladled out from the ox bone soup, a serving of beef-fried sauce noodles10 was finished being made.
This time, the beef wasn’t cooked to be nearly so tough so the two of them could also eat some as well. Sesame oil11 was sprinkled on just before it was placed on the table to serve and without even needing any vegetables, it could be eaten with comfort.
“Xiaobao, does anything need to be prepared for New Year’s?” Wang Juan ate together with Zhang Xiaobao’s family members so after gulping down a mouthful of noodles into her belly, she asked this using lip speech.
“Let’s make some firecrackers. Make simpler ones—use the proportion of 1 saltpeter to 2 sulfur to 3 charcoal to make them with. Just hearing a bang is fine. Don’t want that kind that’s 75% but 10 or 15.” Zhang Xiaobao hesitated for a bit before he spoke of this idea.
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“Xiaogou-er” (小狗兒) basically means “little dog (puppy), child.” It is most likely a nickname that was chosen by his parents to confuse any spirits from taking the child away. ↩
“Qu yuan li” (曲轅犁) is the name for the Tang dynasty era improvement made to the heavy plows that had previously been used in ancient China since the Han dynasty. The name itself means “bent till plow” and refers to the curved mouldboard that made it easier for ancient Chinese farmers to plow the land. Since the mouldboard being curved is the reason for its name, I am translating this term as “curved mouldboard plow” or “curved plow” for short. For diagrams, go to the Baidu pages here and here. ↩
“Liang ban” (涼拌) is the Chinese term for dressing a food item (usually vegetables) in sauce and serving them uncooked. This explains why the term basically means “cool mix” and is basically the closest version of a salad in Chinese cuisine. For some pictures of different types of these dishes, visit the Baidu page here. ↩
“Suan ni” (蒜泥) literally means “garlic mud” but basically refers to garlic that has been crushed until it is like mud. It was used medicinally as well as for consumption purposes. For a picture of what it looks like, go to the Baidu page here. ↩
“Suan miao” (蒜苗) literally means “garlic sprouts” though the sprout or stalk that grow out of garlic bulbs are referred to as “scapes” in English. They can be translated as leeks due to the close relationship that garlics have with them being from the same genus but these are specifically garlics that have been allowed to grow past the bulb stage and into the “scallion” stage (scallions tending to be a generic term for the immature shoots of the bulbed vegetables of the Allium genus). Because of this, they can also be referred to as “green garlic” or “qing suan” (青蒜). To avoid confusion with cong/蔥 which specifically refers to the Allium fistulosum that I’d previously translated as scallion, I will be translating “suan miao” (蒜苗) as “green garlic.” ↩
“Ping feng” (屏風) literally means “shield wind” and is usually known as “folding screen” in English because of how many of them were designed to fold like accordions. Screens first originated in ancient China as a single-paneled version during the Zhou dynasty before their folded version were invented during the Han dynasty. A few centuries later, this furniture design was then exported elsewhere in Asia before being imported into Europe starting in the 17th century as part of the Chinoiserie movement. Chinese screens could be made up of single panels but the type that grew popular during the Tang dynasty were the folding type screens where several single panels that were beautifully decorated were hinged together. Screens were typically used as room dividers and/or privacy screens in Asia. These screens were usually made from either wood or paper and silk with the latter two materials causing the screens to have some degree of transparency, causing the screens to be more art pieces than full-on privacy screens. The paper and silk screens tended to serve as canvases for scholars in displaying their calligraphy and painting skills. Screens were also a common way to display embroidered art. Byoubu (びょうぶ/屏風) are the Japanese incarnation of folding screens. You can see different examples of Chinese screens on the Baidu page here. ↩
“Chao Ting” (朝廷) literally means “dynasty court” and refers to the seat of government for ancient China. This is a term that can be used to refer to the imperial government in the abstract sense (i.e. decrees or laws that affect the entire nation down to the local level) or specifically to point at the highest levels of authority that included the Emperor, Chancellor, and senior ministers. Technically, local authorities were considered part of the imperial government but were also separate from it because they were the hands on governors but not the ruling administrators. This is similar to how the local or state government in the U.S. can be representative of American government in general but the label of the U.S. government tends to refer specifically to only the federal level of government. ↩
Magistrate Cheng is referring to the yearly evaluation all officials were subjected to that formed a large basis for deciding whether they’d get promoted, demoted, or continue serving. Naturally, a lot of politics and behind the scenes string pulling was done before the results were decided on since it was usually a subjective assessment done by the official’s superiors. This is why bribery and toadying were part of the usual operating procedure for officials in ancient China. ↩
“Mian tiao” (麵條) literally means “dough strings” and generically refers to Chinese noodles that are typically used in soup noodle dishes. There are regional variations on the recipe, leading to different specialty noodles, but this is general name that they would be categorized under in Chinese. Sometimes, noodles can be referred to as simply mian/麵 which can be confusing because that is also how the dough or flour can be referred to in Chinese. For pictures, you can visit the Baidu page here. ↩
“Zhajiang mian” (炸醬麵) is a Chinese dish that is made using noodles topped by a deep-fried sauce or “zhajiang” (炸醬). The sauce that is fried can vary depending on the region and is traditionally one that uses beef or pork in the preparation though vegetarian or seafood versions exist too. Other ingredients can be added to the dish in addition to the sauce. In this case, cucumbers were added on top of the sauce being fried up with some beef. Jajangmyeon (자장면/炸醬麵) is the Korean version of this dish. ↩
The Chinese text uses “xiang you” (香油) or “fragrant oil,” which is another name for sesame oil or “zhi ma you” (芝麻油).