Chapter 103 - Loss of Integrity

Madam Zhang stared fiercely at Madam Li, who looked down to avoid her eyes, and asked, “Why didn’t you speak more clearly at the beginning? Did you do it on purpose?”

Xiaocao was so angry that she became amused by them and said, “Grandmother, when you’re in the food industry, you have to see things through other people’s eyes! When you cook for yourself, don’t you wash the ingredients first? It’s especially important to do so when braising pig head. Do you really still need other people to tell you? Look at this large intestine. The feces inside haven’t even been thoroughly cleaned yet. How are people supposed to eat this?!”

The docker, who had bought the braised large intestine, saw Xiaocao taking out a lump of black substance from a section of the large intestine. He instantly felt his stomach lurch and was glad that he hadn’t started eating yet.

Xiaocao continued, “Grandmother, based on the color of the braised food, there isn’t enough flavorings in it. So, both the large intestine and pig head look deathly pale. Also, when braising food, you need to first boil in high heat, and then in low heat after half an hour. Each time, it needs to be cooked for a total of one and a half hours, so that the meat and bone can be easily separated by hand. It’s important to have a good grasp of the fire. If the fire is too big and it’s cooked too long, the pig head will be overcooked, and the output will be reduced. If the fire is too small and the cooking time is too short, then the color, aroma, and taste of the product will be poor. It’s evident that you didn’t get a good grasp of the fire for your braised food…”

These were all things that Xiaocao had told them before. However, that lazy woman, Madam Li, didn’t have the patience to wait beside the stove. She had put out the fire and went out to gossip before the braised food was ready. As for the seasonings, Madam Zhang’s eyes darted around and appeared somewhat guilty. In order to save some money, she had reduced the required seasonings by half.

“Oh… so this isn’t the braised food made by Xiaocao. You deceived us by saying that it’s the authentic one copper coin meat dish!” He snorted and continued, “I’ll take it as throwing two copper coins in the sea, but don’t expect us to buy any of your one copper coin food again!” Old Hao angrily threw the other packet of braised food from his hands next to Madam Zhang’s feet, and then walked away furiously.

Xiaocao hastily stopped him and said, “Uncle Hao, I’ll apologize for my grandmother. Please take two servings of pickled fish as compensation! Xiaolian, give Uncle Hao two portions of pickled fish.”

Old Hao rubbed his hands together in embarrassment. He took two copper coins out from his pocket and said, “She is she and you are you! Take it as me buying these two pickled fish…”

Xiaocao pushed back his hand that held the money and said, “When the elders do something wrong, the younger generation should also bear some responsibilities. Although we have already split from the main family, there’s nothing wrong with using a few copper coins to show filial piety to our elders. Those who had bought braised food from my grandmother can come over to get the corresponding amount of pickled fish from me. The money that you gave my grandmother will be our way of showing filial respects to her.”

As soon as Madam Zhang heard that she didn’t need to refund the money that she received, her anxious heart finally relaxed. Seeing that everyone was praising Xiaocao for being filial and doing honest business, she sneered in disdain. As she counted the ten or so coins in her hand, she inwardly resented that Old Hao for not coming later. If it hadn’t been for him, she could have earned a profit. When she thought about how she hadn’t earned back half of the money that was used to buy the seasonings, she felt a piercing pain as if a part of her heart had been dug out by someone.

When Xiaolian came over with the basket to give everyone the pickled fish, the crowd were surprised to find out that the two little girls looked exactly the same. Xiaocao smiled and said, “Everyone, this is my twin sister Xiaolian. Yesterday, as well as every afternoon before, she was the one who came to sell the braised food.”

Old Hao was briefly stunned, and then he laughed, “I knew something was off! I had wondered why Xiaocao isn’t as talkative in the afternoon. So it turned out to be another person! It’s ridiculous that we didn’t notice it was a different person in the morning and afternoon for so many days. It’s so interesting and funny!”

The pair of sisters who looked identical attracted the attention of even more people, and thus, Xiaocao’s business became more popular than ever. Brother Six, who had also come to buy two portions of pickled fish, glanced at the two sisters with his cold gaze. When he left, he had a rare smile on his face——He had guessed correctly…

Madam Zhang and her daughter in-law’s gaze were filled with envy as they looked at the endless crowd around Xiaocao. But, no matter how much they advertised, the news of their crude and inferior braised food had already spread among the dock workers. Their voices were already hoarse from all the shouting, but they still didn’t sell another serving of food. Hence, they could only leave in disgrace.

Later, when their braised food was finally edible, there still wasn’t anyone willing to support their business. This was how business worked. Once a business lost its integrity, then it would be difficult to redeem themselves.

After several times, the mother in-law and daughter in-law not only didn’t earn any money, but they also lost their capital. The process of braising pig head and pig offal was very laborious. Neither of the in-laws were hard working people, so they gradually lost their interest in making money from selling braised food.

March should had been a good season for the weather to warm up and flowers to blossom. However, at the beginning of March this year, there was a cold current, which perfectly matched the saying: ‘There is a chill in the early spring air.’

Fortunately, Madam Liu and Xiaolian had already taken time to make new bedding for the whole family. They had opened up the old quilts, took out the cotton, and fluffed up the cotton. After that, they stuffed the old cotton into the new covers and used them as a cotton-padded mattress in place of the rice straw on top of the kang bed. As for the new bedding, they had sewn four sets of new soft and fluffy cotton quilts.

When Xiaocao was covered with the warm and soft quilts, she sighed happily and rolled around on the bed, reluctant to get up. Madam Liu and Xiaolian were amused by her actions.

When the cold wave came, Yu Hai immediately drove his donkey cart to town to give both his sons a new set of cotton-padded clothes. Although the clothes were made of cheap coarse cloth, the cotton inside was new and it had better heat retention than their old jackets.  

Xiaocao and Xiaolian had also put on new jackets, which were blue with red flower patterns. They were snuggling with their parents on the kang bed after dinner. The whole family looked out of the window with concern. Yu Hai sighed and said, “It seems like there’s going to be ‘peach blossom snow’ tonight…”

Xiaolian asked, “Father, what’s a ‘peach blossom snow’?”

Madam Liu patiently explained the changes in the solar terms to her, and then recited a farmer’s proverb: In March, on the third day of March, apricot flowers and peach blossoms will bloom all over the mountains. When the peach blossom blooms and the apricot flower withers, plums and prunes will grow up. As the peach blossom blooms and the apricot flower withers, persimmons will grow and the apricots will drop. If there’s a spring snow in March, there won’t be a high yield of fruits.

In the end, she concluded, “If it snows tonight, I’m afraid that the villagers who planted fruits this year will have a headache…”

Xiaolian looked out the window at the vegetable garden and said worriedly, “Then… will our family’s vegetables be affected? I think we can harvest them in a few days. If it freezes, all our previous efforts would be wasted…”

Yu Hai looked at Xiaocao and couldn’t help but ask, “Cao’er, can those straw thatches withstand this snowstorm?”

Xiaocao looked at the little golden kitten napping on the bed and asked in her mind, [Little Glutinous Dumpling, will the vegetables that we planted be alright? Didn’t you say that if we watered them with your bathing water, they can resist drought, cold, and pests?]

Every night, it would absorb the spiritual energy of heaven and earth and recover its powers. Yes, in addition to soaking in water, it could also absorb the essence of the sun and the moon and turn it into its own spiritual power. The little golden kitten stretched, yawned, rubbed its little eyes with its paws, and then said, [Don’t worry! As long as it doesn’t last more than three days, it will be fine… I’m tired, so quickly help this divine stone get to bed.]

Go to bed? My butt! Wasn’t it just taking off the multicolored stone and putting it in a jar of water? Xiaocao reluctantly brought over the jar that the little divine stone usually rest in and placed the multicolored stone inside. After that, she repeated what Little Divine Stone said to her family. Xiaolian asked curiously, “Little Sister, where did you find that useless stone? You’re always soaking it in water like it’s some kind of treasure. What’s the use of this stone?”

[Who’s a useless stone? You’re a useless stone! Your whole family are useless stones!] Little Divine Stone angrily bared its fangs at Xiaolian as it mimicked the Goddess of Spirit’s favorite pet phrase, saying it in exactly the same manner. After scolding her, it was so pleased with itself that it even showed a complacent expression.

“Xiaocao, what’s wrong with your Little Glutinous Dumpling? Hurry and take it away!” Xiaolian watched as the lazily sleeping kitten abruptly jumped on her head and scratched her hair with its tiny claws. It didn’t really hurt, but it looked rather silly.

The Yu Family was still rather fond of the beautiful little golden kitten that suddenly appeared at their home. But, this little kitten was very proud and aloof. It usually ignored everyone except for Xiaocao.

Xiaocao grabbed the grumpy little kitten and pacified it by caressing it on her palm. She smiled and said, “I found it by chance in the stream. Xiaolian, don’t you think the rainbow color looks very pretty? I found that the color becomes even more vibrant if it’s nourished in the spring water every day. Moreover, I noticed that our family’s life has been getting better and better after I picked up this little rock. Perhaps, it’s a lucky stone!”

Seeing her daughter treat a rock as if it were a precious treasure, Madam Liu felt slightly saddened within her heart. She secretly made up her mind to buy some accessories for her daughters after they earned money from selling the vegetables. Her daughters were already at the age when they liked to be well-groomed. Time sure passed by quickly…

That evening, smoke reemerged from the kang flues in Dongshan Village, which had already been stopped for a period of time. Xiaocao’s family had new mattresses and quilts, so they didn’t really need to heat the kang bed.

The next day, the village was shrouded in a silvery-white attire, as if everything was dressed in silver. Even the mountains were covered in snow and looked as if they were back in the ice and snow-covered winter. The pond behind the house was like a green jadeite inlaid within white marble, brilliant and clear.

On top of the rows of old pine trees were snowballs of various sizes. In the bamboo forest, tall bamboo trees were bent by the heavy snow. Rows and rows of bamboo trees were covered by layers upon layers of silver cloaks.

The sun rose from the east side of the mountains and shone brightly in all directions. The mountain village became particularly enchanting. The snow accumulated on the distant mountain peaks was like rosy clouds in the sky. Under the sunshine, a faint golden glow appeared on the treetops. The sparrows in the woods hopped around and shook the branches. The snow accumulated on the branches fluttered to the ground like powder. When reflected by the sunlight, it looked like a layer of silver fog.

Xiaocao would always get seriously ill whenever it snowed in the past. She had also fallen seriously sick before the New Year (Author’s note: It was fake.). Thus, her family was worried about her health. They requested her to stay at home and had Yu Hai drive the donkey cart and take Xiaolian to the docks to sell braised food.

After all, it was the spring season of March. After the warm sun rose, the snow began to melt under the sunlight. The sound of the snow crashing down could be heard and large clusters of accumulated snow fell from the bamboo trees. The bamboo tree straightened up its waist and shook its head as if it was saying: ‘You want to crush me? Don’t even think about it!’ In the distance came the loud mooing of an old cattle, the quacking of ducks, and the laughter of people…

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Myst's Thoughts

If anyone is interested, here's a picture of a traditional method of fluffing up cotton in China.

Translator: Myst