Firecrackers Resound Again At The Restaurant
Idler’s Note: I have made some adjustments to some of the terminology and phrasing in my translations but the edits should be self explanatory. However, one change I made that I should point out is that instead of using yamen [govt. offices] as the name for the physical offices of the local government, I now translate it as constabulary mainly because the offices were mostly staffed by the constables who assisted the officials and were essentially the local headquarters for keeping the peace and law though they covered a wider range of affairs than their European counterparts.
Also, I will likely be going over the chapters I previously translated to try to increase the quality, ensure the level of consistency given my edits, and improve the readability. It’s part of the process of improving my translation and keeping everything straight in my head so I don’t confuse myself and make stupid mistakes. I will probably be reviewing some of previous language choices I previously made so I might end up creating reader opinion polls if I really can’t decide one way or another.
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 閒人 • O N L I N E at solitaryidler.wordpress.com, 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!
It was like a spring day with an endless stream of carriages and horses bustling about1 as if it weren’t frosty winter and the haulers2 were busy as they came and went in a clamorous rush in the middle of the day.
In the 1st lunar month3 on the New 10th,4 Sanshui County was busy with activity over here. Magistrate Cheng Lingxiang used his tongue to lick up some of the sauce that had been accidentally smeared onto the corner of his mouth when he was eating cucumbers dipped in spicy sauce just now. After savoring for a bit that clean aroma, he brought along two constables to slowly and leisurely roam the streets.
For the sake of appearing close to the people and also to not be a bother to the people, he didn’t wear official robes. Dressed in casual clothing from which a belly that wasn’t yet too large hung out, he occasionally stood for a little while in front of a market stall but didn’t mention his identity. In this way, he gave an appearance of being a good official.
In consideration of resolving any unexpected issues that came up, two fully equipped constables followed after him and even loudly called him Milord Magistrate.
Cheng Lingxiang walked very slowly, immersed in the midst of the sound of this kind of spontaneous greetings from the people. His face had a constant smile but his heart was thinking that idea that adept came up with really was good as his good reputation had spread and he made appearances as much as possible within the county to let people know which county magistrate had gone door to door to give away grains and oil to impoverished families without resting on the 30th.
1,000 dan [stone] of food grains, ~ah! It was not a small amount. Giving a family half a dan [stone] was enough to eat for a month. It had all been doled out to 2,000 families and he hadn’t kept even a grain of food for himself. Also, that oil was like this, too. Originally, when he had gone to give them, that demeanor that each family had was so full of gratitude and appreciation that it made his heart so comfortable, ~ah.
It was all thanks to Zhang Manor. Otherwise, how could such a good reputation be gained? Listening to his subordinates talk, a lot of the people were all praising the Lord Magistrate. If it continued on like this, it seemed like being promoted up one rank also wouldn’t be such a difficult matter.
Magistrate Cheng thought as he walked, occasionally making an obeisance in return to those people greeting him, his personable image increasing greatly at once. As he walked, he arrived at the busiest street within the county, which had both sides bristling with shops and the pedestrians were heel to heel.
“Bustling, ~ah! This is what this official, I look forward to.” Magistrate Cheng sighed. The two constables in back immediately came forward to flatter him. The way the three men acted were complementary to each other.
Just as they were walking, ~ne, a deafening crackling sound suddenly burst out from the place in front of them, scaring Magistrate Cheng and the people in the street with a jolt. Once this noise started up, it seemed to have no end and caused the ears of the people hearing it to keep ringing.
“Let’s go. Follow me, this official, up front to see exactly what person has produced such commotion.” Magistrate Cheng really had quite a lot of guts as hearing the noise, he didn’t retreat to the constabulary to get people to come over but directly brought along the two constables to quickly walk towards over there.
Once they arrived at the place, the noise still hadn’t stopped. Quite a few people had already stopped to observe here. There were people there loudly shouting something, trying to beat back that continuous noise.
“What is this place? Tell me, this official.” Magistrate Cheng asked the two constables as he pointed at the 3-story building in front of him.
“Milord, what did you say?” The constables essentially couldn’t hear him clearly.
“I’m asking you what place is this?” Magistrate Cheng also started shouting.
“It should be a restaurant opening. Heard people talking yesterday that there was a person who bought up a lot on this side intending to open a restaurant called the Thousand Taste Town Water House.”5 The constables heard him clearly this time and also loudly replied.
“What is going on with this activity?”
“Don’t know. Milord, I see that Mister Song is also standing in that place, ~ne. I’ll go find him.” The constables were also unclear so after yelling once and spotting that Song Jing-gong was there by that place’s entrance, they hurriedly ran over to pull Song Jing-gong over by the county magistrate’s side.
At this time, the noise finally stopped. The noise was gone but the uproar it had caused was rather large as quite a few people were all discussing what this object was that made such noise. It truly was too big and really gave a shock to people’s hearts, ~ah.
“Zijin is actually present too. Could it be that this restaurant was opened by Zijin?” Magistrate Cheng’s ears were still ringing, ~ne. So when he spoke, he was still shouting.
“In reply to Milord, this restaurant was certainly not opened by Student but by a person who came from elsewhere. When one hears that name, one knows that ‘Thousand Taste Town Water House’ wishes to beat down the Hundred-Flavored Pavilion and Waterview House.” Song Jing-gong also pressed on his ears. He had been close to that area previously so right now, his ears were still echoing from the din.
“Oh, does Zijin know what was going on with that commotion from before?” Magistrate Cheng saw that it was someone’s business opening up6 and no problems had come up so it wasn’t good to find fault with them. But he was rather interested in that noise.
Song Jing-gong nodded his head: “I know. Those are firecrackers. Student gave some to them to use for opening up—100,000 bursts.”
“What are firecrackers?” Magistrate Cheng felt like his surroundings right now was all chaos so he led Song Jing-gong to an area with few people before asking. His speaking volume was also not as loud as before.
“They’re items that Zhang Manor made for the sake of some festive matters to be lively and can even help with the publicity.” Song Jing-gong was also a bit more comfortable than before as his ears weren’t ringing as badly.
“Oh? It’s Zhang Manor again? If this whatever 100,000 bursts of firecrackers were given by you, Zijin, how much money would have to be spent?”
Originally Magistrate Cheng was still astonished, ~ne, but upon hearing that it was Zhang Manor, a person appeared in his mind above all. With that person, anything that appeared was within reason. He was rather surprised at that person’s generosity though. With so much, how much money was it?
“Milord, not that much money. It’s only just 2 silver taels. This stuff is cheap. To spend 2 silver taels or more on an opening is a bargain. This time, Student gave it away for free to better let other people know that there is such a thing. Then, they can go buy it.”
For Song Jing-gong to explain it, this was both Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan’s idea. If it was sold directly, people might not buy it. So first give away some, wait for it to have an effect, and then other people will buy it. It was being sold for 2 or more taels of silver and the cost wasn’t worth much money.
After he finished explaining this, Song Jing-gong saw that Magistrate Cheng also nodded in agreement so he continued to talk: “Also, this thing can deter evil7 just like the exploding bamboo that is burned for the New Year. This year, Zhang Manor used this for the New Year.”
“Oh? There’s also this function? Right, ~ya! Exploding bamboo, ~ah! This stuff is louder than exploding bamboo. Evil deterrent—it certainly deters evil. Before, there was a lucky auspice and afterward, an evil deterrent appeared. That person is indeed powerful. If that’s so, then Zijin should also sell some to the constabulary. 20,000 bursts—it’ll be perfect to be able to use for when it’s time for Yuanxi (the 15th).”8
Magistrate Cheng worked his mind and thought that in this way, it would be even livelier. 5 silver taels would be enough for 20,000 bursts. It’d be worth it to produce such a singularly large activity.
“Milord doesn’t need to spend money to buy it. The manor is currently having many people rushing the labor, ~ne. It’ll be sent over to Milord the day after tomorrow.” Song Jing-gong didn’t need to go back to consult with Little Mister for this sort of matter as he understood how he should operate. Several silver taels from the constabulary weren’t worth asking for and to be able to use this little bit of stuff to give away as a favor was still rather not bad.
Magistrate Cheng thought for a bit and didn’t continue insisting on wanting to give money. Their manor had already given away plenty of stuff and they didn’t lack this little bit. Just that 1,000 dan [stone] of food grains needed 100 or more taels of silver, ~ne. The things the manor did were really generous.
With the firecrackers, Magistrate Cheng’s mood was even better so he didn’t resume his stroll and brought the two constables back with him after speaking a few words with Song Jing-gong as he wanted to prepare well for how the 15th was to be passed. This year wasn’t going to be merely a matter of a lantern.
Magistrate Cheng returned to the constabulary in a good mood. He originally assumed there wouldn’t be any problems but who knew that once he entered, the Deputy Magistrate Zhang Mingsheng inside rushed over to find him.
“Milord, our prefecture sent out an urgent document stating that our prefecture has already sent up a report on the lucky auspice and for the sake of separating the truth from falsehood, they will send the Merit Advisory Officer9 to Sanshui County on Yuanxi (the 15th).”
“Oh, I know. Today is already the New 10th of the 1st lunar month and only now did they have someone come over. And 5 days later too. The cucumbers will all be eaten up. They just recalled the lucky auspice. Come on, fine. Two days later, Song Jing-gong will come to give firecrackers to the constabulary. I’ll tell him to have him handle it there. Those cucumbers should have grown bigger by quite a lot. The harvested crop that can be eaten, we’ll eat. By the time they arrive, there’ll be no more.”
Magistrate Cheng listened to the deputy magistrate finish speaking and then took the document to look at it before curling his lips while replying. He really was a bit dissatisfied with the people from above. To think of rushing it at this time, what were they doing earlier? He didn’t even know if those cucumbers that had already sent up had been eaten by them or had been given away to other people.
“Milord, must it be necessary to kill off those cucumbers plants? Can a portion be transferred away? It’s only the beginning of spring here. There’ll still be a good long period of time without cucumbers.”
Deputy Magistrate Zhang Mingsheng was a bit reluctant. He had an elderly mother in his home whose health had never been that good and liked to eat one or two light bites. The cucumbers he brought back were basically given to his mother to eat. Seeing that his mother was able to eat a bit more food, he was also happy. If these cucumbers were suddenly no more, then what would Mother eat, ~ne? If it really wasn’t feasible, then he’d ask Song Jing-gong for some carrots. If stir-fried, that stuff was not bad to eat.
Magistrate Cheng thought this way as well but he had no solution. He couldn’t sell out Zhang Manor as based on that ability of theirs, there might be even better things coming out later on. Plus with those two adepts, he might have to make a request of them by then.
So hearing the deputy magistrate mention it at this time, his mind worked and he thought that it seemed like it was feasible. Produce some fresh cucumbers for the people to see when they arrive. When they went to look at the cucumbers plants, move a portion away first. A few should be able to survive. By then, he could also eat some.
Thinking like this, he didn’t wait any longer for Song Jing-gong to come over but arranged for a person to go to Zhang Manor to notify them. To let them believe it, he even had the person bring along the document that had been sent down from up top and even disclosed his own idea.
The one who went to Zhang Manor was that constable who had gone there before. Once he heard he was to go to Zhang Manor, he was immediately overjoyed. The last time he went, the hospitality they had given was not bad. When he was about to return, he even received a bit of money. So to have another opportunity this time, he didn’t delay any bit after consenting and actually rode a horse, leaving in a galloping rush.
This horse-riding speed was sure quick. It usually required half a day’s journey driving a carriage. On a fast horse, not nearly 4 hours was needed to reach the destination. Upon seeing such a rapid paced horse, the people who were unaware of why even assumed that it was a 600 li [mile] urgent report, ~ne.
When the constable arrived at the manor, Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan both were studying with their father, ~ne. The two of them quite admired Father Zhang. Once he began speaking on scholarship, there’d be a literary quote within a phrase that was pulled out. Within the literary quote would be another phrase and then within that phrase would be yet another literary quote.
This was with both Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan. If they were like other children instead, they’d already be terrified into tears by so many things. Here now, Father Zhang had enjoyed himself. If teaching students could be this easy, then the teacher probably was already famous. With these two children, only once was needed to teach whatever was taught. After 2 days, the two children would ask a few questions. Once he explained it, then they had learned the taught subjects.
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“Che shui ma long” (車水馬龍) is a 4 character couplet that is nonsensical when translated literally since it means “carriage water horse dragon.” However, it actually abbreviates the sentence “車如流水，馬如游龍” which means “carriages like a flowing stream, horses like a roving dragon” and is used to euphemistically describe heavy traffic and busy streets. ↩
I’ve translated “la jiao” (拉腳) as “hauler” instead of using its literal meaning which is “pull leg” since it is a colloquial term to describe people who make a living by hauling goods or passengers to and fro on a predetermined route. For passengers, this was one of the prototypical forms of semi-public transportation in ancient China but was not standardized since routes and their stops were decided by the individual driver or hauler. In terms of the transportation of goods by land, this could be considered to be a form of a private delivery service by coach or carriage. ↩
“Zheng yue” (正月) is the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar and the first half of the month is devoted to Chinese New Year festivities and rites. The name means “main moon” since it is the month that marks the beginning of the year. ↩
“Chu Shi” (初十), which I have translated as “New 10th,” is the 10th day of the celebrations for Chinese New Year and can also be referred to as the “stone holiday” (石頭節) or Millstone Day (石磨日). The superstitious taboo of this day is also the reason for its name as it is believed to be bad luck to handle anything to do with rock or stone on this day so it is discouraged to build houses with stone or touch the millstone. Since stone and the number 10 are homophonic in Chinese (both spoken as “shi”), this might be the reason why stones got associated with this day in the first place. ↩
I literally translated the name “Qian Chang Zhen Shui Ju” (千嘗鎮水居) character by character as it is hard to convey the total meaning of the name in brief. Basically, the name of the restaurant is supposed to convey the image of a residence by the waterside that is a town of a thousand flavors. Also, there is likely a connotation of suppressing the competition within the word choice as the character of zhen/鎮 can also mean “to crush.” ↩
“Kai zhang” (開張) literally means to “open up” but it has the implications of a business opening up for the first time ever and not just referring to a store or business starting work for the day. So think of a ribbon cutting for the ceremonial opening of an establishment versus simply turning on the lights for work. ↩
I translated “bi xie” (辟邪) literally but it is also noteworthy that bixie is the name of a Chinese mythological creature that could drive off evil and had an exorcising effect on it. Other than being associated with the eponymous divine beast, “bi xie” is a quality that can be applied to various items like jade accessories, talismans, etc. that were known for their protective purity as well. In this case, the cacophony that firecrackers make are considered to deter evil since it was believed the sudden explosions of sound would scare away things like the Nian monster, ghosts, devils, and bad spirits. There is a certain poetic contrast in the mention of bixie here since “xiang rui” (祥瑞) or “lucky auspices” similarly shares an association with divine beasts like the qilin (麒麟) ↩
“Yuan Xi” (元夕) literally means “original evening” and is short for “evening of the original/first lunar month.” This refers to the 15th of the 1st lunar month of the Chinese calendar which is the first full moon of the new year when a lantern festival is held in celebration of it. Other names that this date or holiday is more commonly known by is “Yuan Xiao Jie” (元宵節) or “Shang Yuan Jie” (上元節). This day marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations and some of the festivities can include competitions over the lanterns like winning lanterns by solving riddles and so on and so forth. The lanterns usually symbolized luck or love so the lantern festival itself had a romantic matchmaking association as well, explaining why it is sometimes commercialized as a holiday similar to Valentine’s Day in modern times. ↩
It’s difficult to literally translate “Si Gong Can Jun” (司功參軍) into an official title that makes sufficient sense on its own mostly because historical Chinese titles could be wildly variable for what is essentially the same position depending on what level of the government or political circle it was at since sometimes the names evolved from different points in history and sources. So literal translations sometimes are misleading—think of how prime minister, chancellor, or premier can be titles that are applied to a modern head of state and used interchangeably but not always as it depends on the system of government and their traditions. This is a position that started as a staff position that handled the administrative work for the military before it evolved to become a civil advisory role in general. Starting from the Sui dynasty, it specifically denoted an administrative official at the prefectural level who oversaw the subordinate officials, managed the ceremonial rites, and other matters in which merit or demerits had to be verified and recorded.