On the docks, there were at least ten teams who worked on loading or unloading cargo from the ships. The largest groups were run by Foreman Sun and Old Six. At their largest, there were at least a hundred or so dock workers working under these two foremen, and they could load or unload five to six ships at the same time. Thus, the biggest customers were monopolized by these two men.
Naturally, these two men regarded each other as their competitor. Their struggle wasn’t out in the open, but behind the scenes, the two of them fought over business. Foreman Sun had consecutively acquired the business of two big clients over the past two days with the help of a little girl’s food. He was as happy as a clam and started to ponder whether he should carefully bring this little girl onto his side.
The dock workers worked like mad men. Originally it would have taken them around an hour and a half to finish unloading the ship they were working on. However, today they had managed to finish it in less than an hour. The owner of the cargo was amazed and thought that this team of workers were more efficient than the others. Due to that, the man decided to ask for this team the next time he needed his goods to be loaded or unloaded. Inadvertently, Xiaocao had helped Foreman Sun retain another customer.
“Xiaocao, give me two portions of your meat dish today. Yesterday evening, I had brought some of your braised food home to the family, and my two children really loved eating it. My wife even complained, asking me why I didn’t buy more of this inexpensive braised food and bring it home!” Her first customer from yesterday, Old Hao, had rushed over to greet her today. His whole body was dripping with sweat but he couldn’t be bothered to wipe it off.
“Okay! Two portions of braised food, Shitou, take his money!” Xiaocao had noticed that there was a sea of people running towards her behind Old Hao and quickly gave her little brother some work to do.
“Okay! Uncle Old Hao, two portions will be two copper coins!” Little Shitou stretched out his hand and grinned until his large eyes formed into crescent shapes. He looked like the prime example of an auspicious little boy who brings good fortune.
Old Hao happily paid the money and took the two oil paper packets from them. He then went to buy two steamed rolls and put the braised food between the rolls, eating them in large bites. When he opened the packets, he found out that the braised food today was different from yesterday’s packets. In fact, the food from today tasted even better and more delicious than yesterday’s. A hint of regret ran through him, he should have bought an additional portion earlier…
He looked back to see where the two siblings were selling their braised food. At this point, the small statures of the two children had long been dwarfed by the sea of people around them. If he tried to squeeze in right now, it was unlikely that he’d be able to buy more. Old Hao sighed and started to slowly take small amounts of the braised food to eat, as if he was afraid that he would miss out on savoring the flavor if he ate too quickly…
“Xiaocao, I want a portion…”
“Shitou, Shitou! Take my money first, haha...make sure you hold onto those two copper coins!”
“I want three portions, make sure to leave me three! You guys are all animals, don’t take it all away, I didn’t get to try any yesterday…”
“I just paid, give me a portion...hey!! Huzi, why are you pushing so hard? You almost pushed the little girl onto the ground!” ……
Little Shitou’s hand started to ache from all of the money he had to take. He felt like there were countless hands just pushing copper coins to him. Afterwards, he couldn’t even tell exactly who gave him money. He frowned and puffed up his face due to his inward distress.
Luckily, the vast majority of the dock workers knew the ways of the world, and none of them cared too much about one or two copper coins. Thus, no one made any trouble for the two of them.
Fortunately, they had prepared more braised food today than yesterday. After the workers all finished their rush to buy, they still had around ten portions of braised food left in the basket. Because they had some manufacturing problems, the portion size of one packet was slightly smaller than yesterday’s. However, it was still enough to fill about half the volume of a small bowl and was definitely enough for one person to eat with their steamed buns.
The passenger ship had already reached the store. After all, this area was close to the town and markets. The passengers who disembarked from the ship looked around with curiosity at the bustling scene around them.
“Eh? There’s a lot of people surrounding that area, what’s going on over there? Ah, Yunxi, go over and check out the situation…”
The person who spoke was an old man with a head full of white hair and a hale, ruddy complexion. He had a full mustache and beard, and his eyes seemed to shine with wisdom. Every move he made was imbued with an elegance that seemed to attest to his scholarly position. However, at this moment, the old man seemed to have a hankering for gossip, which was a bit at odds with his outward appearance.
The person whom he called by the name ‘Yunxi’ was a young boy around ten years old. He wore a long, white colored robe with a light blue lined jacket over it. His small face was delicately pretty and at first glance could be taken as male or female. His good-looking lips were pursed into a straight line, as if he felt helpless regarding his grandfather’s penchant for gossip.
Although he personally had no desire to squeeze into a bunch of rough workers to find out what was going on, he understood his grandfather’s personality quite well. If he didn’t find out, his grandfather would not give up until he got all of the details. The ten year old youth strolled steadily at a speed that was neither fast nor slow towards the crowd of people.
“Teacher Yuan! You must be tired after travelling so far. There’s a horse-drawn carriage over there, please come this way…” A man came over who was dressed from head to toe in ornate and expensive clothing, as if he wanted to make sure everyone around him knew he had money.
Yuan Sinian was a famous scholar from the previous dynasty. In fact, the last emperor of the Yuan Dynasty esteemed him for his scholarly achievements and had invited him several times to come to the imperial palace to teach the imperial princes. However, these offers had all been politely declined with the excuse of poor health. Later on, when the country fell into turmoil and the future was uncertain, he had brought his family to live in seclusion deep in the mountains and had lived in hiding for a few years.
After the Great Ming Dynasty was established, the current emperor emeritus had admired his capabilities and had asked him time and time again to leave his mountain and become an official. However, the old man had refused and could not be easily found. Afterwards, he was moved by the emperor emeritus’s persistence and sincerity, and so, he recommended his knowledgeable and experienced son, who was in no way inferior to him, Yuan Guoan. He would later become the person who would always clean up the emperor emeritus’s messes from behind, the man who was only under one but above ten thousand, the upright and meritorious prime minister.
When the Great Ming Dynasty was first established, the emperor emeritus, who was still emperor at that time, was obsessed with making war on all borders. If he didn’t have the illustrious prime minister as his left hand and the unshakeable imperial tutor as his right hand, it was likely that the Great Ming Dynasty would have fallen apart!
After the current emperor ascended to the throne, Prime Minister Yuan was given the title of a duke with unlimited succession rights. In an instant, he had become the most favored official in the court and had no opposition.
On the other hand, the famous scholar, Yuan Sinian, had just reached the age of seventy, but had long gotten used to his current leisurely life. In the small town of Tanggu, he had established the Rongxuan Academy. At first, he would teach classes every day, take care of his garden, and had a comfortable and leisurely life.
Later on, as word got around about the quality of his teachings, more and more students enrolled. Many high ranking officials from the capital did every possible method they could to use their connections to let their children enter the school. As the academy’s student population grew larger and larger, the operations became larger and larger. Furthermore, a lot of famous scholars recommended themselves to the academy to become teachers, among them included his former disciples...
When Great Scholar Yuan noticed that Rongxuan Academy had almost veered from his original vision, he set down a series of stringent requirements for admission. If you wanted to enter the academy, it was possible! However, you either had to pass a series of difficult admission exams or catch his eyes with your talents and potential. Otherwise, it didn’t matter what position you had, or how much money you had, this old fellow would still not allow admission...
Although Yuan Sinian was outwardly in appearance the perfect example of a famous scholar, in his bones he was actually a mischievous old urchin. He had an insatiable curiosity and loved to keep up with gossip. In addition, he loved to eat good food—few people knew about this aspect of him. Otherwise, the parents who wanted their kids to enter the academy would search high and low for delicacies to tempt him. It would truly become chaotic!
Parents who would think of any possible method to fawn on Great Scholar Yuan for the sake of their children’s futures could be found everywhere. For example, the fat man dressed in glittering gold at the docks was one of them.
Great Scholar Yuan frowned and secretly rolled his eyes. He coldly snorted and said, “Didn’t I say that I didn’t need anyone to meet me at docks, eh? Shopkeeper Jin, you are publicly going against my wishes right now!”
Inside he was roasting the man, ‘You dummy, how about you use gold to build a suit of armor for yourself? This old man’s eyes aren’t very good, do you want to blind me with all of the gold on your body?’
The round and plump Shopkeeper Jin’s attempt at flattery had gone awry. Immediately, sweat started to roll down his fat and pudgy cheeks. For the past six generations, the Jin Family had all been merchants. Although they had a lot of wealth and material goods, they were still considered within the lowest classes of citizens in the four classes—scholars, farmers, artisans, and merchants.
After the current emperor ascended to the throne, he had issued an ordinance that improved the status of merchants in society. The children of merchants could also participate in the imperial examinations. Shopkeeper Jin was overjoyed at the unexpected good news and wanted to hire the best tutor for his son, who had been clever and intelligent since childhood, so he could break away from a merchant’s fate.
He had heard that Tanggu Town had Rongxuan Academy, which had been established by a Great Scholar from the previous dynasty who was wise and knowledgeable and conversant in things of the past and present. In addition, the current dynasty’s prime minister had been raised and educated entirely by the founder. Shopkeeper Jin had brought his son on a long journey to get to Tanggu Town. To his delight, his son had passed the academy’s entrance examination in one try and had formally become a student at the academy.
However, something bad quickly happened. Shopkeeper Jin felt his son had it difficult having to live so far away from home to go to school. In addition, he was afraid his son would feel wronged since this was the first time his son had ever left home. So, he had redone his son’s dormitory room at school to be full of luxurious materials and furniture. Everything had been switched to the best that money could possibly buy, even the ink stones and pens were expensive antiques. In the academy, there were very few who had seen such items.
When Teacher Yuan, who had a moody personality, found out about all of this, he sent Shopkeeper Jin’s son out with a remark, “The academy is a place for learning and studying, not a place to take a vacation at. If you’re afraid your son can’t bear any hardships, then bring him back home to live comfortably instead!”
Shopkeeper Jin was stunned silly. He was counting on his son to bring honor and glory to the family, but who knew after entering the academy for a few days, his prospects had been ruined by his own mistake! His son had been so angry that he didn’t eat and drink for a few days in a row and only laid in his bed. Shopkeeper Jin was so remorseful over his mistake that half of his head had turned white overnight. In order to not be the cause of his son’s ruin, Shopkeeper Jin every day without fail would go and see what he could do to remedy his mistake.
However, there were very few opportunities to see Teacher Yuan. Before a few days had passed, the academy had closed for the yearly holiday. Teacher Yuan had brought his grandson back home to visit family. However, Shopkeeper Jin was unwilling to give up, and didn’t even go home to celebrate the New Years with his family. He stayed at Tanggu Town in hope that he could find an opportunity to redeem himself.
For the whole first month, he stayed at the docks of Tanggu Town, waiting and hoping that Teacher Yuan would be able to see his sincerity and give his son another chance. Finally, he had an opportunity. However, he never would have thought…he apparently had made the scholar unhappy again.
Shopkeeper Jin was so anxious that he wanted to hop around in frustration, but he didn’t know what he could do to remedy the situation. As he was worrying himself sick at the side, Teacher Yuan’s grandson, Yuan Yunxi, slowly came back and spoke to his gossipy grandfather, “It’s nothing really, just someone selling something called ‘braised food’...”
“Braised food? It’s a type of dish? I’ve never heard of it, does it taste good? There are so many people waiting to buy some, the flavor must be good!” Yuan Sinian’s eyes suddenly glowed in excitement when he heard there was a new type of food to be tried. It instantly destroyed his elegant and scholarly temperament and showed him as a crazy and fanatical glutton.
Shopkeeper Jin, who was in the midst of worrying about how to get Great Scholar Yuan to like him, hastily interjected, “Teacher Yuan, please find a place to sit and rest for a bit, I’ll go see what’s going on…”
His exceedingly fat body, which looked like a gold colored ball, bolted quickly towards Xiaocao’s side. He said, “Little girl, the braised food that you’re selling right now, I’ll take all that’s left…”Previous Chapter Next Chapter