Great Tang Idyll - Chapter 24
The distance from Luo River to Little Ox Manor outside of Xinping City was not near at all. For the sake of figuring out the reason earlier, Song Jing-gong couldn't avoid boarding a horse carriage to be jolted along the way. When it had nearly reached noon, he could only climb down from within the carriage as if about to fall apart.
Bearing a pale white complexion, he turned his head that fool of a stalker had actually gotten a hold of a horse carriage, too. Song Jing-gong completely understood now. They weren't following him but monitoring him, afraid that he would run.
Song Jing-gong already had no time to care much as he, along with that person guiding him, quickened their footsteps to walk toward Little Ox Manor. Twisting left and turning right, after around a quarter-hour, that person stopped in front of a very tiny courtyard.
In the middle of a fence made out of tree branches that was half as high as a man's height was a small wooden door and it hadn't been locked. With a blow of the wind, it swayed in and out. Within the courtyard stood a person that Song Jing-gong had seen before that previously stood by Songri Nigan's side. Since he was here, Songri Nigan was certainly in the room.
’’If there really is a chick in this egg, when I return, I'll buy 10,000 of them.’’ Song Jing-gong hadn't even stepped a foot inside and he could hear the familiar sound of Songri Nigan's voice from within the room. From the words, he knew that those chicks hadn't hatched yet. If so, it was even more evident that these chicks were a scam.
Feeling grounded in confidence, Song Jing-gong tidied his clothing, smiling as he walked inside. Upon entering the door, he directly said: ’’Whoever's selling chicks at 2 wen [cash] for each one however much, I'll buy that much.’’
After coming to a standstill, he saw an old man, two young men, and a woman facing Songri Nigan. The woman's face was hidden by half of a piece of cloth. From those areas that were slightly revealed, a green birthmark could be seen. No wonder she had to cover it.
The two young men stood while the old man sat on top of an object that he didn't know what it should be called. That thing took up a portion of the entire room with the other end adjoining the wall.
’’Great Scholar Song, you've also arrived here. That's good. Look here. This is called kang [bed-stove]. It's a place that they specifically designed to substitute for a hen's brooding nest. This woman said that with another 2 or 3 days, there would be chicks coming out of the eggs. I'm preparing to stay here and wait until the chicks come out. At that time, I'll buy up 10,000 to bring back to raise.’’
Upon seeing the person entering from outside, a burly-figured man in the room used a stiffly accented voice to speak. This person was Songri Nigan, a barbarian.
Song Jing-gong smiled as he replied: ’’Songri Nigan, how can you also trust this kind of thing? If using this thing called whatever kang [bed-stove] could help hens brood, then wouldn't that mean that from now on, it'll be fine as long as hens lay eggs? Go, go back to sort out our cargo.’’
Songri Nigan, hearing Song Jing-gong's words, shook his head as he persisted: ’’No, I have to see if this really can produce chicks. On top of the kang [bed-stove] are 200 of them. I've already given the down payment. By then, if there are no chicks coming out, they'll pay me back tenfold. Wait 2 days and we can know.’’
Song Jing-gong gazed at the top of the kang [bed-stove]. A mat was laid on top. He thought underneath were the chicken eggs. 'Could it be that they really can be hatched?'
Before when Song Jing-gong was entering the courtyard, he had already seen that there were chickens being raised within the courtyard. If they really could use such a method to hatch chicks, then wouldn't it be that making more of these kinds of kang [bed-stove] and going elsewhere to buy chicken eggs and it would succeed? 1 chick for 2 wen [cash] was really too cheap. If they were sold for 3 wen [cash], there would still be people rushing to buy them. It really was getting rich.
Considering it for a while, Song Jing-gong said to that old man: ’’Old Father, can you allow me to also check out these chicken eggs?’’
The old man glanced at Song Jing-gong, then looked at that woman and said: ’’Have to ask my daughter-in-law on this matter. These eggs are all her work.’’
Song Jing-gong followed the old man's gaze to once again look at that woman. The woman was rather agreeable, nodding and then walking by the kang [bed-stove] to reach out a hand to gently lift the matting. Neatly lined up inside was, as expected, quite a few chicken eggs.
’’Songri Nigan, since you want to see, then I'll accompany you for 2 days.’’ As a thought flashed through his mind, Song Jing-gong also wanted to stay to keep him company.
As for a place to live, it was also simple. Now that the weather was hot, just having a place to stay was good. Meals were eaten in this house. If some money for food was given, this family would likely not reject it. For these past few days, Song Jing-gong had eaten such bitter hardships that he had grown accustomed to the taste.1 So there was no loss in enduring for 2 days. He wanted to see whether this household actually could produce chicks.
The old man didn't refuse. Not only did he promise to make food for Song Jing-gong and company to eat, he even promised to empty out a room for them to stay in. The money he asked for wasn't that much 6 wen [cash] for 1 day per person. There were only some vegetables so if they wanted to eat meat, they could buy it themselves, and the old man could make it.
At once, the three of them prepared to stay. Song Jing-gong thought of the person doing surveillance on him. When he went to the doorway to look outside, as expected, that person hadn't left and was just standing outside the courtyard, their gaze firmly fixed on the door here.
Seeing this, Song Jing-gong wasn't angry. If they were willing to stay, then stay. He took out some money to give to the old man and get him to go buy some vegetables and wine;he would eat here for lunch.
’’Don't slice it with the skin. First peel the skin. Slice it. Fry it.2 Continue.’’
In Tuqiao Village, within the back kitchens of Zhang Manor, Zhang Xiaobao was directing the two people dedicated to cooking who were occupied there. If it wasn't for Zhang Xiaobao feeling that he wasn't able to pick up that kitchen knife, he wouldn't even need other people to make it. He trusted that his own skills would be even better.
’’Fine, ~ah. Xiaobao, your level as an armchair general3 here isn't low, ~ya speaking with reason and eloquence.’’ Seeing that Zhang Xiaobao was so busy that it could be called a mess, ~ah, Wang Juan was 'genuinely praising' him to the side.
’’I feel that these words shouldn't be coming out of your mouth, General Wang who has studied command. Do the people studying command at the military academies all charge especially to the very front while holding guns to line the soldiers up into battle formations? I'm a little worried now. If we really find some people to let you teach battle tactics to, the biggest possibility would be that the general wouldn't be commanding from the rear but charging on horseback while relaying orders to the troops.’’
Zhang Xiaobao did not care one bit;while directing others on how to make the dishes, he even had the time to use lip speech for a rebuttal.
’’That's right. Once you mentioned it, I thought of it. Here, there is no field intelligence display system. I don't even have a map. The distribution of firepower isn't the same, either. I still need to reconsider it from scratch.
If that's so, the research that's most needed is on the combat matters of individual soldiers or teams. We must have powerful long-range striking capabilities to be able to effectively penetrate and surround [the enemy]. Comrade Xiaobao, can you draw maps?’’
Wang Juan unexpectedly didn't refute it, nodding as she admitted to her own shortcomings.
’’Don't know how would I learn this stuff?’’ According to his many years of experience swindling, Zhang Xiaobao felt a little uneasy right now.
’’Really don't know? You forgot to study it back then? Confine you a few more times and maybe you'd know how. It's nothing even if you don't know how. I'll teach you;I know how.’’
Wang Juan stuck her face close up to Zhang Xiaobao as she spoke threateningly.
’’It's fine. Don't wait till the oil has boiled to add the sugar, otherwise it'll burn. Put in the eggplant. All right. The last dish has been finished. Prepare cool water. Withdraw.’’
Zhang Xiaobao selectively forgot about Wang Juan's existence, turning around to leave after instructing a final sentence. When passing over the door threshold,4 he who was usually alert was even tripped up for a bit and nearly fell down. It was good that Wang Juan gave him a hand.
’’See, this is the end result of not being familiar with the terrain.’’ Wang Juan said with all smiles as she grabbed onto Zhang Xiaobao.
Lunch could be said to be sumptuous to the extreme with eight dishes, one soup, as well as a staple food.
When everything had been served, all four of the adults, save for Wang Juan and Zhang Xiaobao, were dumbfounded. It wasn't because everything had eggplants that they were dumbfounded but because they didn't know how Xiaobao used eggplants to make so many different types of things.
’’Eat, Mom. You [honorific] eat;Wang Juan and I can eat by ourselves. Other than the fried eggplant cakes and that dried stir-fried eggplant not being easy to eat, the rest are fine.’’
Zhang Xiaobao directly used a hand to pick up an eggplant cake to place in his mother's plate, recommending the dish.5
Mrs. Zhang-Wang looked at this one table of eggplants and nodding her head, she praised: ’’My son is impressive. Which family's child can have eggplants made into such a feast for the eyes?’’6
Zhang Xiaobao's grandfather and grandmother also smiled while approving of Mrs. Zhang-Wang's words. The result was that the four adults along with two children ate more than half of this one table of food.
Upon seeing that there were leftovers, Zhang Xiaobao regretted it then. He couldn't bear wasting stuff it was fear of starving from those several years of wandering around.
’’Simmer it all together for the night, we two will eat it.’’ Wang Juan rather understood Zhang Xiaobao, signaling from the side.
’’Never mind. I'll be more mindful in the future to try my best not to be wasteful. Deal with it like in the past.’’ Zhang Xiaobao helplessly replied.
Under the previous approach, that was to throw away these dishes to feed the pigs. Some of them would be eaten by the servants but this was something that Zhang Xiaobao and Wang Juan didn't wish to see. Servants were people, too.
’’The two of us can both eat this kind of thing. It's better than during our previous trainings.’’ Wang Juan continued urging.
’’I know. I previously avoided arrest by escaping deep into the mountains. I even used grass roots and tree bark to satisfy my hunger but who would let us eat like that?’’ Zhang Xiaobao didn't wish to think too much as he stood up and greeted each relative before he walked out.
Two day's time wasn't long if it was said to be long and wasn't short if said to be short. On top of the kang [bed-stove] within that room in Little Ox Manor, when the first chick broke itself out of its eggshell to wetly clamber out, however long the wait was, it could be considered acceptable.
Song Jing-gong almost couldn't believe his own eyes. They really could use this thing called kang [bed-stove] to substitute for the hen brooding the nest. At once, the chick turned into a golden chicken in his eyes. A chick being worth however many wen [cash], he didn't care about. He cared about that method that could hatch chicks.
He understood that this process wasn't as simple as what his eyes saw. There must be a knack to it. Imagining the days of having large amounts of money, when Song Jing-gong looked at the birthmark on that woman's face, he felt that this woman had such a special kind of beauty.
Songri Nigan also dazedly watched as the chick's body slowly dried. Even if only 200 came out from these chicks in total, he was still happy. It looked like there was hope for 10,000 chicks.
Just as several of the people were surrounding the chick to look, the sound of people speaking could be heard from outside.
’’It's this house? They can use a thing called kang [bed-stove] to stand in for a hen brooding?’’
’’Owner, you [honorific] have spoken correctly. It's here.’’ The voice of an individual that was probably a servant rose in reply.
Song Jing-gong started and then immediately reacted as he said to that old man sitting there who was still bearing a serene look: ’’Old Father, you [honorific] must definitely not divulge this matter. I'll give you [honorific] money.’’
’’This isn't good. Great Scholar Song, all who enter are guests. You~, the second chick has come out.’’ The old man narrowed his eyes and after saying a sentence in reply to Song Jing-gong, the head of a chick popped out of those eggs on top of the kang [bed-stove] again.
There is a bit of wordplay here as ’’chi ku’’ (吃苦), which literally means ’’eat bitterness,’’ is usually translated as ’’enduring hardship’’ and Song Jing-gong says that he had grown used to the hardship so that he has grown used to eating it the bitterness that is, (chi xi guan/吃習慣) making a slight joke out of the situation.
’’Guo you’’ (過油) literally means ’’over oil’’ and describes a process where the prepared ingredients are quickly fried in boiling oil in order to try to enhance the food's flavor so it's not meant to be a simple frying. However, because Xiaobao's instructions are very monosyllabic and brief in the original Chinese, it explains my translation choice.
This 4-character couplet, ’’zhi shang tan bing’’ (紙上談兵) [Baidu], literally translates to ’’speaking of troops on paper’’ and describes someone knowing how to talk the talk but not necessarily how to walk the walk. In other words, someone who is knowledgeable about theory but who may not be good at putting it into practice. The source of this proverb is from the 81st biography chapter of the Records of the Grand Historian (Taishi Gongshu/太史公書) AKA the Scribe's Records (Shiji/史記) by Sima Qian (司馬遷), which are the biographies of Lian Po (廉頗) and Lin Xiangru (藺相如). The ’’armchair general’’ of the story is Zhao Kuo(趙括) from the State of Zhao during the Warring States period, who was the son of a famous general named Zhao She (趙奢). Zhao Kuo had been known to love discussing battle strategy and tactics since childhood;the fact that no one could win a debate on military theory or tactical game against him made him very arrogant a personality trait that his father found worrisome. During the Battle of Changping (長平之戰), Zhao Kuo was sent to replace the commanding general, Lian Po, after years of stalemate. Instead of keeping to Lian Po's existing strategy that chose a cautious approach, Zhao Kuo threw it out in exchange for an all out assault, thinking he knew better. However, he was unable to adapt or apply his theoretical knowledge in practice when needed so he wasn't able to adjust his tactics or respond in time to avoid defeat. He ended up dying in that battle. Thus, this proverb is a distillation of Zhao Kuo's father voiced worry and criticism of him as recorded in the Scribe's Records.
The threshold of a doorway in Chinese culture, ’’a men kan’’ (門檻), was a horizontal board made out of materials such as wood, stone, or metal that was like an elevated ledge or sill for the door. They were high enough that passing through a doorway required a person to step over them, leading to a higher chance of tripping over them if not careful than with door thresholds of European houses. To see some examples, visit the Baidu page here.
’’Quan cai’’ (勸菜), meaning ’’persuade dish,’’ is the Chinese dining custom where one will recommend one of the dishes being served to another one. The extent to which this urging is done can vary from a simple verbal suggestion out of politeness to direct action where a portion of the dish is placed in the bowl or plate of the person to whom the dish is being recommended to. In Chinese dining etiquette, the latter action is very rude and presumptuous if the people involved are not close enough such as mere acquaintances and guests versus family members or intimate friends. This practice normally comes up as a way to show filial piety with children picking dishes that are the parent's favorite or vice versa to show parental love.
The Chinese expression used here is ’’lin lang man mu’’ (琳瑯滿目), which literally means ’’lin lang full eyes.’’ ’’Lin lang’’ (琳瑯) describes a beautiful jade. So this phrase is usually either used literally to describe actual gems and riches or metaphorically to illustrate the visual variety.