It would take 100 days for a chick to grow into its egg-laying stage. It was impossible for him to just idle naively as he waited for the chicks to grow during the 100 days since it was always a good idea to save for a rainy day, mainly because his superior really made him feel insecure for his future. Thus, he went out and strolled around the streets, trying to think up of ways to improve his life.
Although the world had a totally different history from the world he previously lived in, strangely, they had mostly the same type of plants and animals. Even the names had little to no changes. Except for the difference in the pronunciation, there weren’t many deviations in regards to the language. The evolution of living organisms seems to be similar. He pondered in his heart.
Guang Tian appeared to be a normal and tiny county. Neither was the county town tremendously scarce in resources nor was it bustling. Beggars and thieves roamed around there; officials and landlords were present too. In any case, it looked especially ordinary.
However, it was immensely peaceful. Yamen runners would arrest thieves, while also arresting any beggars or residents who obstruct public affairs every now and then. Occasionally, some bothersome fellows would be imprisoned in the government prison for a few days, but most of them were those who never learn from their mistakes. Even Nan Ge Er could recognize them… While strolling along the streets, he would be greeted by the prison regulars too. Yet, there weren’t any murder cases.
Although the county wasn’t huge, it was around the size of a county town, and its domain wasn’t all that small either. Nonetheless, rumours stated that in the past ten years or so, there wasn’t a single murder case. Brawls and arguments among the neighbourhood were common, but never once was there a time when the situation couldn’t be salvaged. The most they would do was to throw those who were messed up during the fight into the prison after quickly arresting them, and releasing them after a few days.
Honestly, Nan Ge Er was eager for the imprisonment of law offenders. Whenever a disruptive person was arrested, the family members would have to bring food over during their visits. It was because everyone knew that the government was too poor. Although the prisoners wouldn’t starve, who would be able to tolerate having gruel and greens as meals every single day?! It wasn’t as if the magistrate-daren was abusing his prison personnel; he himself drank an even thinner gruel than the ones served in prison and sometimes, he didn’t even have any vegetables in his meals. So, what could they do other than to bring extra food during the visits?
As the ones imprisoned had delicious food, the ones outside the prison bars could only look on while salivating. How was it possible for the residents who respect Mo Shu-xiansheng tolerate such a scene? In the end, everyone would end up enjoying the extra food together. Therefore, to Nan Ge Er, an arrest would mean that he would have a better meal for the next two days. That’s why when he saw someone being arrested or brought into the prison, eagerness would be painted all over his face. Even though he wasn’t picky with his food, his instincts made him constantly hope for more delicious food. Anyway, Guang Tian was precisely such a normal, yet unique place.
After strolling around for a few days, he really did think up of an idea that could kind of let him earn a few bucks on the side. Guang Tian had neither any specialities nor any beautiful scenery; its land was neither barren nor fertile; the climate was neither bad nor good. It was just mediocre and ordinary. However, Guang Tian’s residents were mostly on the richer side; every household having grains to spare, and one or two barren lands. It was said that even if there was a flood, no one had ever starved to death in the huge county.
Such a situation was impossible in Fang Jun, or should he say, he didn’t believe such a place existed. Yet, that was possible here. It was like… a utopian state. The peaceful daily lives of citizens were quite yet lively. Once everyone had their stomach filled, they naturally would want to lead dynamic and enriching lives. However, in this entertainment-starved ancient era, everyone’s biggest entertainment was to shop whenever the foreign merchants arrived; viewing the shows by wandering actors who stayed there briefly; and gossiping in the tea house to pass time when they were free.
Even though it wasn’t prosperous or as fun as a metropolis, but the flow of people in the county was very tremendously low. People rarely left Guang Tian for other places, and even if they did, they would still come back along with their families in the end. Eventually, most of the people in the town became familiar with each other… Citizens would visit others randomly when they were free; no one had much privacy to speak of…
According to Nan Ge Er’s close observation in the past few days, there was only one tea house in such a huge county town. The tea house even doubled as a restaurant, but since everyone was local, coupled with the fact that there were too many awfully bored people around, no one bothered to eat in a restaurant. Thus, all seats were occupied, be it the upstairs or downstairs of the tea house, in the morning every day. With a pot of tea and a few plates of simple snacks on the table, most residents in the town joyfully passed their time there. Why? Because they were able to listen to the gossip of every household there! People could even chat about nonsense and idle in the shop for a whole day; one could totally imagine how bored they were.
Since the supply of seats in the tea house wasn’t enough to meet its demands, Nan Ge Er decided to set up a tea stall below the tree near the government office. He didn’t ask for much either. He would be easily satisfied if the money earned, together with the expenditure, allowed him to not have thin gruel every meal, and occasionally have some meat on the table. He didn’t know if he was allowed to earn a quick buck while working in a government job; he was a part of the government after all. Nonetheless, he couldn’t even get himself full right now, and even Magistrate-daren had to rely on eating parched peas to curb his hunger, so he couldn’t care much anymore.
He placed a few crippled stools; picked up a broken table which had a slightly flat top; boiled a kettle of water and brewed tea leaves; borrowed a white cloth and wrote ‘tea’ on it with a brush; before hanging it on the branches of the tree at the doorway. With that, the tea stall finally opened.
As he expected, the townspeople were extremely bored and loved gossip too much. Those who were too lazy to squeeze with others in the tea house met up with their other gossip-loving neighbours and friends in his tea stall, ordered a pot of tea, and idled away their time. Since the pot of tea didn’t cost much, everyone could afford it.
The tree in front of the office was huge indeed. Probably due to its old age, when viewed from afar, it looked like an enormous umbrella, so it was remarkably cooling and comfortable to be under it. Usually, everyone liked to squat under the tree to chat, but now, there was an addition of stools and tea for them. After finishing their daily work, everyone began to chat and gossip under the tree, having stools to sit on when they were tired, having tea to drink when they were thirsty, gossiping about whatever they wanted. What an idyllic lifestyle.
Therefore, the business in Nan Ge Er’s tea stall was quite good, so he ended up buying more stools and a few tables to expand the business. After all, who couldn’t afford the tea he served? Ugh, actually, in the county town, there was indeed someone who couldn’t afford it… the magistrate himself, Mo Shu-xiansheng. He was still so clean-handed and pitifully poor.
Though the money charged for the tea wasn’t much, there are many paying for it. When summer passed, using the savings earned from the tea stall, Nan Ge Er paid back the money he owed Er Gou Zi and bought yet a few more chicks. Then, he paid the grain store owner in advance, so that even if the government office had no food in the future, he could get oil and grains directly there. Following after, he used the remaining money to buy some glutinous rice and asked the yamen runners to help construct a stone trough and a gavel, compensating them with meat. Afterwards, he asked those that weren’t working then to help in placing the fully submerged, steamed and cooked glutinous rice onto the stone though; before using the gavel to forcefully pound on the rice into paste; spreading oil onto it; rolling it into small rice balls; flatten them; and finally producing Ciba cake1 out of them. Some of the Ciba cakes were then given to the neighbours, together with the ways to eat them.
There’s not much to say about what came after that, all knew that Nan Ge Er from the government office was able to create a type of strange soft dumplings, called Ciba, which could be eaten after being roasted; could be either wrapped with vegetables or deep-fried; could be given to children as snacks after boiling it soft and smearing it with soy flour; and could be used as a dish. The soft dumplings tasted quite good, were filling, and convenient to carry around.
Nan Ge Er didn’t even sell it; he gave them to anyone who requested for them. Nevertheless, no one wanted to take advantage of him. After all, Mo Shu-xiansheng was too poor, plus the fact that the two of them who lived in the office looked so scrawny and couldn’t even have a full meal, so how could they let those two freely give out to others? Thus, instead of purchasing Ciba, everyone would bring over items such as meat or rice when they wanted to get Ciba to trade them over.
Actually, the chicks had already grown to into their egg-laying stage, so Nan Ge Er could sell the eggs that he had extra. The money gained from the sales could be used to add some meat in the yamen runners’ breakfast. With the added money from Nan Ge Er, the furniture in the government office was fixed by the carpenter by Nan Ge Er’s request. Generally, everyone was able to have pure rice instead of gruel as meals now.
Gradually catching up to everyone’s living standards, Nan Ge Er was able to not rely on others’ help, but if he didn’t accept the trades, the women would insist on him selling Ciba. He didn’t plan on keeping their money, after all, to tell the truth, without everyone’s care and patronage to the tea stall during the summer, he wouldn’t be able to be so relaxed now. He just wanted to do his part for them.
Out of the three huge jugs of Ciba, two jugs were given out, traded for half a storage of grains. The remaining ten or so pieces from the last jug were moved into the bedroom by Mo Shu-xiansheng, who strictly refused to take them out. He loved them…
Without any choice, Nan Ge Er ended up teaching the townspeople how to make Ciba. After that, for half a month, various type of weirdly shaped, unevenly textured, disaster-tasting Ciba were given to them by the female citizens, who gave them an expression as if to say ‘I’m capable, aren’t I?!’ …Mo Shu began to treasure his remaining Ciba even more.
By the way, the widely respected Mo Shu-xiansheng’s favourite way of eating Ciba was to boil and roast them, smear them with the sweet, sweet soy flour, before swallowing them with a look of pure bliss… That was also the preferred method of eating by the town’s children and elderly that had poor teeth… Nan Ge Er felt his stomach churn every time he saw that… He couldn’t bear to reveal such a cruel truth to the townspeople that respect Mo Shu, but it was just too difficult for him to ignore that…
Ciba cake1 : cooked glutinous rice pounded into paste – a traditional Chinese food. More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciba_cake