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Great Tang Idyll - Chapter 23


The two banks were verdant with poplar leaves as dragonflies perched on the shallow grass. The skies were jade-blue with few floating clouds with the water reflecting blue with condensed dew. The gathering of swallows was perhaps intentional with the sound of the wind's arrival or stay. The wildflowers swayed following each swirl, a glimmer with each swing.

Early the following day, Song Jing-gong had just arrived at the Luo River riverbank. Gazing at the scenery before his eyes, he who should have been in a pleasant mood kept feeling like there was something off.

From Sanshui County to here, the day had been late yesterday and plus he had wanted to see whether or not there was a person following behind him so he randomly found an inn to stay in midway through. The result was it let him catch sight of that person who had been carrying the silver next to Steward Zhang.

He was confirming that there was someone following, only to discover that wasn't this person foolish, ~ya, and didn't even know how to tail someone? Other people would all try their best to keep a certain distance from the person being tailed. This person sure was good trailing him only 20 steps behind.

Every time he stopped to turn his head around and look, you would typically have to hide. This person sure was good and just looked straightforwardly in front with their eyes, feigning an appearance of not being acquainted. Could it be that he was being considered a fool it had only been a while and he couldn't remember a person?

The most maddening wasn't even this. He himself had already found an inn. Adjacent to this inn was another inn so if you're tailing me, then you should go to stay in that inn.

Ending up staying in a single inn might be fine but he himself was dining in the lobby and the spots near the window only had two tables yet each one seated a person with one facing the other spitting at the person in front wouldn't hit amiss. This was only because of the few people and the many empty tables. Otherwise, wouldn't they be sitting together to eat?

How was this tailing? It was clearly surveillance. Wonder what that Steward Zhang intended could it be that he wished to drop the facade?1

Song Jing-gong stood on the riverbank not too distant from the docks as he thought on exactly how he got like this. Why was he in such a perturbed mood because of that person tailing him? Steward Zhang's attitude? The grievances he suffered at the two Zhang and Wang Manors? It didn't seem like it at all.

After thinking on it for a while, Song Jing-gong attributed this sentiment to the action this time being rather big and the cheating of people more formidable so that he would have such a feeling.

Turning his head to glance at that person who was squatting at a distance of around 10 steps away, they were currently fiddling with the grass on the ground. From this distance, a team of ants could be seen hauling things in a black mass by that person's feet so that person was using grass to poke at the ants.

Song Jing-gong exhaled a long sigh. He really wanted to go over and ask that person, how old are you?

How could this kind of person be sent out to do things?

Shaking his head, Song Jing-gong didn't wish to expend his mental energy on such a fool type of person. It was better to first check on those things that had been transported back here from the barbarian lands that couldn't be sold.

Thinking of it, Song Jing-gong strode towards the docks. The boats that he had hired were still moored there, ~ne. Of course, these boats didn't have any other shipping fees. As a swindler, he wouldn't do anything like paying a shipping fee but had an agreement with that person from the barbarian clan. When the stuff was ferried here, out of the profit made, 21 would be added into 5.

When Song Jing-gong had arrived at the docks, that boat already had people who had recognized him as they hurriedly ran over to ask respectfully: ’’Greetings, Great Scholar Song.2 You [honorific] have found someone to buy the sweet plants3 here? That's great. We've spent quite a bit of money just eating these past few days. If we can't sell them, then we would lose everything.’’

The attitude was respectful yet the words within carried a sense of complaint. Song Jing-gong also knew that if switched with anyone else, they would also be unhappy.

’’Unh, almost. Songri Nigan, ~ne? Have him sought out. I have important matters to discuss.’’

This person that Song Jing-gong was speaking of was a petty chieftain of noble rank in the barbarian clans over there. They'd had a lot of contact with this side and so, took on some of the habits over here.

When the greeting person heard Song Jing-gong ask after their chieftain, their face unwittingly revealed a trace of happiness in their appearance though they continued to respectfully reply: ’’Great Scholar Song, my king found a method to get rich and has already left this place. The return may perhaps be after 2 days.’’

’’Get rich? He can also get rich? Good, ~ah. Wonder how is he getting it? Where would the riches be?’’ Song Jing-gong smiled. These barbarians also wanted to get rich coming to this place keep dreaming, ~ne.

That person, seeing that Song Jing-gong's tone had disdain, felt a little bit of dissatisfaction in his heart but still maintaining a smiling face in an appearance of welcome, continued and said: ’’My king really did find a way to get rich and even said to wait until after you [honorific] had arrived here to have you [honorific] go over to see.’’

Seeing them speak with such assurance, Song Jing-gong was also puzzled. Could it be that Songri Nigan really did step into a dog poop windfall4and discovered something? But then feeling that it wasn't possible, so he asked: ’’How did Songri Nigan discover it? And where does he want me to go?’’

’’It was that someone came over to ask if we were buying chicks and said they could be cheaply sold. 2 wen [cash] can buy 1 chick the kind that can grow up and lay eggs.’’ That person replied.

Here now, Song Jing-gong wasn't puzzled but stupefied. A single chicken was worth around 30-some wen [cash] over here. It wasn't too expensive but hens were not the same. They could lay eggs and no matter how cheap, chicken eggs were still worth 1 wen [cash]. It didn't need too many days for the chicks to grow up and lay eggs just half a year's time was more than enough.

This 2 wen [cash] bought a little one and a half year of casually feeding them a bit of stuff was only a few wen [cash]. Letting it outside to range for food to eat on its own would save even more. After half a year, wouldn't that money come in like an unending stream?

This price really was too cheap. When those hens brooded, laying eggs wasn't possible. With the delay of those few days, the money for the chicken eggs laid were all several wen [cash], how could it be so cheap?

'Swindler. I can't believe that I, Song Jing-gong, could also encounter a swindler.' Song Jing-gong's most instinctive thought was this. But he didn't know how the other side was doing the swindling. They were even selling chicks and not chicken eggs there, male or female could be figured out with one look.

’’Fine, I'll go over now. Find a person to lead the way in front.’’ Song Jing-gong really couldn't figure it out and wanted to get a personal look. So taking his leave and then glancing over at that fool of a tracker, he was led away from the docks by someone to hurry towards that place selling the chickens.

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The sparrow birds chirruped as the butterflies chased;hazy mists wreathed the green mountains in the distance as the oblique light dotted the floating dust motes by them.

Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan had just gotten up for the morning and had milk. They didn't resume sleeping and went to the vegetable garden within the courtyard together, prepared to continue producing different dishes5 for the adults to eat. For the two of them, drinking some soup and swallowing some froth would be fine.

’’No kidney beans,6 ~ah? I had wanted to simmer7 some to eat, ~ne.’’ Wang Juan looked around in a circle and didn't discover kidney beans but did see that there were cowpeas.8

Meanwhile, Zhang Xiaobao, almost like a thief, struggled to pick a little round eggplant that was around 2 cun [inch] in diameter from within the eggplant plot. Using that thumb to vigorously dig at it until he dug out a small piece and shoved it in his mouth, he happily nodded his head.

’’Xiaobao, what are you doing, ~ne? It's not suitable for you to eat eggplants right now and to even be so surreptitious about it.’’ Wang Juan said upon seeing with a glance that Zhang Xiaobao was over there sneaking a bite, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

’’I'm scared of other people finding out. The eggplants are too small. Eating it like this is a pity but it's only at this time that the eggplants are sweetest. You try it.’’

Zhang Xiaobao spoke while he dug out a little bit again and presented it in front of Wang Juan.

Wang Juan really didn't know what to say. Such a grown man who was actually doing these kinds of stuff that only children would do. Reaching out a hand to slap down that small broken-off piece: ’’Can't you focus on some serious business?’’

’’Then, forget it. Xiaohong, you eat it. It sure is sweet. After eating it, help us pick eggplants. We'll be eating these for lunch today.’’ Zhang Xiaobao easily conceded to the beneficial advice9 and gave the small eggplant 'eggs' to Xiaohong.

Xiaohong took them and actually ate them. She didn't have anything to eat getting up this morning so to be able to eat some eggplants was good.

Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan, seeing that Xiaohong ate the eggplant with just a few bites, started. Only after a while did Wang Juan say: ’’Xiaohong, you rest assured. After Xiaobao and I make money over these next few days, the people who work the most in the manor will definitely be able to have 4 meals a day in the future morning, midday, and night as well as a midnight meal.’’

’’Thank you, Little Miss Juan-Juan. Actually, we're all used to it. Don't mention 4 meals, 3 meals would need to spend quite a bit extra in money.’’ Xiaohong's eyes brightened but then she felt like this matter wasn't possible. Which manor would give servants 4 meals?

Wang Juan also know that Xiaohong wouldn't believe it until she'd really eaten 4 meals so she didn't speak any more words as she pulled Zhang Xiaobao along to go look at the other vegetables. Here, there was Xiaohong to pick the eggplants.

’’Actually, just 4 meals aren't enough. These people, they keep exerting themselves over the day and in the middle of the night, they still have to appear when called. Have to prepare some fruits later on and supplement their nutrition to be enough. The sheep's wool grows on the sheep's body.10 The better their bodies are, the more things that they can do.’’

Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan arrived at a small plot of scallions, speaking as they squatted there. It was enough for a typical person to eat 3 meals in 1 day. Those servants were really too exhausted and also, it was entire families one after the other living at the manor.

Without the children, the parents would be aggrieved;without the parents, the children would be upset. A stable solidarity was the most important. If the nutrition kept up, people's life expectancy would also lengthen. Once he and Wang Juan grew up, the next generation of the manor would also appear. A manor also needed a manor's culture to do well.

’’Unh, let's not hurry first. I'll arrange it at that time. You'll be responsible for the planning and I'll be responsible for the organization. In the future, if the footmen and guards increase, give them to me to drill. While I'm still little, I'm prepared to go find some of the data on this time period's military operations to integrate theory with practice to produce combat tactics.’’

Wang Juan also supported this point and also wanted to use some of what she had previously studied. Seeing the nervous gaze Zhang Xiaobao was directing over here, she smiled: ’’Relax, I'm not rebelling so it won't implicate your Zhang Family. What dishes are you prepared to make for lunch?’’

’’Eggplant to be roasted together with fish dress it with scallions and sauce after steaming, garlic eggplant, minced meat eggplant, dry stir-fried11 eggplant this will need to use that mountain chili sprout water, sugar-glazed12 eggplant, red-cooked13 ribs and starched14 eggplant, rappi15 and simmered eggplant peas will need to be added, 8 will be enough. Add an eggplant with kelp and shrimp soup. The staple food will be fried eggplant cakes.’’16

Zhang Xiaobao counted on those little fingers of his as he listed them off one by one for Wang Juan to hear. After hearing it, Wang Juan solemnly nodded her head: ’’Fine. I think this matter's fine. I'm ready to eat tofu tonight. I'll have to depend on you it has to be a feast of entirely tofu.’’

’’No problem. I resolve to complete the mission. My only worry is whether using brown sugar17 to make the sugar-glazed eggplants would make it hard to eat. On our return, get some charcoal and filter out the brown sugar dregs to be convenient for cooking in the future.’’

If Wang Juan spoke, Zhang Xiaobao dared to promise it, seeming to be eager to try it, rendering Wang Juan speechless.

’’All right. Whatever we eat is fine. Do you think that Swindler Song will act according to how you think he will act?’’ Wang Juan redirected the topic back to the right track.

’’Relax, I understand the kind of person he is it's the same mentality as when I first started swindling.’’ Zhang Xiaobao nonchalantly said.

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  1. ’’Si po lian’’ (撕破臉) literally means to ’’tear apart face’’ and is used in situations where ’’face’’ or keeping up appearances was the only thing maintaining the peace of a broken relationship or situation. Thus, when even that semblance is dropped, hostilities break out. So I chose to translate this idiom as ’’dropping the facade.’’

  2. This title is one formed by combining Song's surname with great (da/大) and ’’cai zi’’ (才子), meaning scholar.

  3. ’’Gan xun’’ () is an alternative name for carrot that literally means ’’sweet plant,’’ which makes sense since the 'barbarians' wouldn't call carrots the equivalent of ’’barbarian radishes’’ (huluobo/胡蘿蔔) the way that the Chinese do.

  4. This Chinese idiom, ’’gou shi yun’’ (狗屎運), literally means ’’dog shit luck’’ and is used to describe a sudden windfall like someone happening across a quarter on the street. The fortuitous nature of happening across dog poop doesn't make sense to modern eyes since it is now considered a sign of bad luck until you consider that there weren't many sources of fertilization for agricultural use in the ancient world so fecal matter was a valued fertilizer source. Thus, accidentally stepping in dog shit would be considered lucky because you could sell it off for money to those in need of fertilizer or use it in your own fields if you were a peasant farmer. It is a very earthy idiom as expected of its agrarian roots so I have translated it as ’’dog poop windfall.’’

  5. ’’Hua yang’’ (花樣) literally translates to ’’flower semblance’’ and can have a number of different meanings in Chinese. It can literally refer to a flower's appearance. Pattern or design is also another possible translation choice for this word. It can also mean tricks or techniques that dazzle the eye with their finesse (i.e. the magician pulled a trick by turning a bunch of ribbons into doves). It can also refer to the various ways of making and reproducing things including the different variations, similar to the different species of blooming flowers. Because I found it hard to literally translate this word, I had to opt for a rough translation in this case.

  6. ’’Yun dou’’ (芸豆) is also called ’’cai dou’’ (菜豆) in Chinese but both names refer to the kidney bean. A traditional dish from Beijing cuisine using kidney beans is ’’yun dou juan’’ (芸豆卷), which Baidu seems to have translated as ’’French bean rolls.’’

  7. To dun/燉 something is to gradually simmer a dish in cold water with seasonings until it comes to a prolonged boil. An alternate translation might be to ’’slow-cook.’’ This cooking technique is also called double steaming in English. Dun/燉 can refer to stewing in Western cuisine as well as the brewing of traditional Chinese medicine, too.

  8. ’’Jiang dou’’ (豇豆) is the Chinese name for cowpeas. They can also be called ’’hu dou’’ (胡豆).

  9. ’’Cong shan ru liu’’ (從善如流) is a 4-character couplet that describes someone following advice given to them for their benefit. In this case, Xiaobao is heeding Juan-Juan's instructions to not eat eggplants that are not suitable for him to eat at his current physical age.

  10. ’’Yang mao chu zai yang shen shang’’ (羊毛出在羊身上) is a Chinese expression that describes someone receiving a benefit or advantage that is, in actuality, something that they had already paid for with previous labor or money spent. This could be used to describe a person receiving a gift from someone that they are monetarily supporting it is something paid for with their own money even if it is being returned through an indirect means. In this case, Xiaobao is referring to how feeding the servants 4 meals might seem like an extra expense but it will all return to them as a benefit anyway in the amount of labor that the servants pay them back with.

  11. ’’Gan bian’’ (乾煸) is also known as ’’bian chao’’ (煸炒) or ’’gan chao’’ (乾炒) in Chinese and is aform of stir-frying called ’’dry stir-fry’’ that involves stir-frying with very small amounts of liquid.

  12. ’’Ba si’’ (拔絲) literally translates to ’’pull strand,’’ which refers to wire extraction when used in the context of metalworking. However, it also describes a cooking technique where the food item is glazed in sugar to the point that the congealed syrup can be pulled out in strands hence, the name. Examples of such dishes in Chinese cuisine are ’’ba si di gui’’ (拔絲地瓜) or candied sweet potatoes as an example of Shandong cuisine, ’’ba si xiang jiao’’ (拔絲香蕉) or glazed bananas as another example of Shandong cuisine, ’’ba si shan yao’’ (拔絲山藥) or glazed Chinese yams as an example of Beijing cuisine, etc.

  13. ’’Hong shao’’ (紅燒) is a form of braising that is translated as red-cooking in English after the color of the meat (紅燒肉) that is cooked in such a way. It usually involves stewing or braising the food in soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and caramelized sugar. Meat makes up a large majority of this type of cooking and these dishes are popular throughout broad swathes of China.

  14. Hui/燴 is a Chinese cooking technique that refers to thickening the dish with starch after it has been quickly scalded and then stir-fried.

  15. ’’You cai’’ (油菜) literally means ’’oil vegetable’’ in Chinese, which makes sense if you know that one of the largest sources of vegetable oils in the world comes from a specific cultivar of rapeseed known as canola (CANadian + Oil + Low + Acid). Other than the vegetable oil it can produce, rapeseed can also be edible as vegetable greens. Though the ’’rape’’ in this plant's name has a different etymological root (Latin word for turnip) than the other possible meaning, I opted to translate it as rappi to avoid reader confusion.

  16. ’’Zha jie he’’ (炸茄盒) literally translates to ’’fried eggplant box’’ but since they are fried cakes that are an example of Zhejiang cuisine, I chose to translate them as ’’fried eggplant cakes.’’

  17. ’’Hong tang’’ (紅糖) or ’’red sugar’’ is actually the Chinese name for brown sugar.


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