Chapter 20: Meeting Mister Peacock Again
 戌 | xu | one of the ancient Chinese two-hour periods; designated for 7-9 pm
Yun Shi Yi lightly touched his wife’s skin, distress apparent in his eyes: “That scoundrel actually dared to do this to you. Right now, Wife must be in a lot of pain?”
Ruan Zhu weakly smiled: “These bruises are nothing. It’s just that it hurts terribly inside.” Her inner areas were shallow but their shafts were long. Every time they had intercourse, Yun Shi Yi would pay attention to this point, but Yun Shi Wei was a rash one and invariably would act recklessly.
“This husband will apply medicine for Wife.” Yun Shi Yi opened up a dark chest on the side table, rummaging for a moment before finding a refined porcelain bottle. Undoing the seal, a fragrant medical scent assailed her nose. He separated her legs, dabbing his finger into the ointment before inserting it inside her......
A refreshing sensation trickled from his fingertips and the originally throbbing pain faded away. Although the two of them had been intimate multiple times before, she still flushed red from his touches and obvious tenderness.
He withdrew his fingers from inside her. Smearing his fingers again with the ointment, this time he spread it on her skin.
“This ointment definitely isn’t an ordinary product, so it’s such a pity to use it. These bruises on my body will also disappear in a few days even without applying medicine.” Ruan Zhu was accustomed to being poor from her previous life and couldn’t bear to see items being squandered. At this moment, she wasn’t aware that this was the correct way to use the ointment and that this product was also what Tian Chu was most famous for. Its value was worth thousands of gold, similar to ning lu xiang.[a] If she was to know all of this, there was no doubt that she’d spit up blood in shock.
“No matter how good the ointment is, it will never compare to how important Wife’s body is.” Yun Shi Yi spread ning lu xiang over all the bruises on her body. Once he was done, he picked her up into his arms: “Wait for a bit while the ointment seeps into your skin before lying back down on the bed.”
“I’m not that fragile.”
“That won’t do. Nurse your body well first. These two days, don’t worry about the household affairs. Just let the steward manage it. After all, it was him that had manged it all previously. If you ever feel that something is not appropriate or right, just simply instruct him to redo it.”
The residence’s Steward Wang was someone sent over by Master Yun and did things with extreme care. However, he was equally bad–he loved to drink and gamble and also loved bragging to all who would hear. Drinking and gambling could let other people feel irritated but talking big didn’t mean anything. No matter which direction one blows, it wasn’t possible to blow cows up into the Heavens.[b] Ruan Zhu’s impression of this man was just so-so, but it was inappropriate for her to say anything as she had entered the estate after him.
She remembered the matter from this morning: “Is there a problem with your work?”
She didn’t really understand how to do business. Actually, she had studied business studies[c] in university in her past life, but she had croaked not long after classes started so was unable to help him.
“It’s all right. Just take care of eating and sleeping well. Nurturing yourself to be white and plump is the biggest help you can give to this husband.” He genuinely did have problems with work, but he didn’t want her to also have to worry. From childhood, his father had taught him that being the master of the house meant having to shoulder the heavy responsibilities of supporting the household. No matter how difficult and painstaking outside matters were, one should and must not lose their temper in front of one’s wife and children.
After a while, Yun Shi Yi placed Ruan Zhu on the bed. He ordered the servants to take the food on the table to the kitchen to be reheated and then ate a few dishes with his wife.
There were no such things as entertainment programs to amuse one with in the ancient period. After dinner, one could only read or write. Yun Shi Yi focused on collecting academic books so Ruan Zhu took this opportunity to look over them, but after a while, felt like her head was swimming. Instead, she found a history book to peruse. Even if some of the characters were difficult to understand and were also in the traditional form, it shouldn’t be that difficult to read and understand with the level of education she had gone through. If she were to run into an unfamiliar traditional character, even blindly guessing should be enough to roughly get through it.[d]
When the time of xu had passed halfway, Ruan Zhu began to feel sleepy. Ever since she had crossed over, her biological clock had basically become the same as an ancient person’s.
Yun Shi Yi hugged her as the two of them entered dreamland. This night, there was no Yun Shi Wei wreaking havoc beside them. The two of them slept particularly soundly.
For the next few days, Yun Shi Yi went out everyday as he was busy with work and Yun Shi Wei also needed to look for a job. Alone at home, Ruan Zhu was bored out of her mind. After bringing it up with Yun Shi Yi, she picked a day with nice weather and followed Xiao Feng out the door to go shopping with Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing.
Yun Shi Yi had especially set aside Xiao Feng to be her guide as he was worried his wife wasn’t familiar with going around Lan Zhou.
It is said that several hundred years ago, Lan Zhou was a lesser-known town, but because the current dynasty’s Great Ancestor had made his legacy here, the area had also thrived as a result. In addition, the geographical conditions were superior and gradually, the city grew until it became the most flourishing major city outside of the imperial capital. All travelers heading north from the South would choose to stop here for a rest before continuing their travels. An unending stream of everyday goods were unloaded daily from the docks before being transported by land to be sold at various places.
The living standards of the commoners could be considered higher than in other places, but no matter where one lived, there would always be a gap between the poor and the destitute. Everywhere in the city, there was no shortage of beggars in shabby rags, clutching a broken bowl in the chance that they could receive some money or leftovers.
Xiao Feng pointed at the male beggars: “Mistress, do not see them as ones to be pitied as they are actually unworthy of sympathy. They are beggars because they are too lazy and unwilling to work hard, which is the only reason why they are currently so miserable. They usually return home after they’ve begged for enough money and then change into bright and neat clothes, looking the same as other commoners. But their position is also not high and will be ignored by their wife and her other husbands at home.”
Being a beggar is also a profession. As much as possible, one should use a normal gaze when looking at them, rather than a biased one. The ancient Chinese had already pushed the profession of a beggar to such heights, and the beggars’ union of modern times was exactly formed this way.
“When they go out to beg for alms, they do not direct their act towards natives as the latter are aware of their tricks and do not pay them any attention. Instead, they beg in front of the travelers and other tourists. Most of these foreign visitors are wealthy and few of them care about giving away and losing small amounts of money.”
Her previous life’s world was also like this. Beggars especially preferred to linger at train stations or at airports and when meeting a foreigner, would extend their hands outwards. They didn’t want food, only money. If food was given, they’d throw it back in your face and start cursing.
“The ones that beg for food are truly the pitiable ones. The majority of those are either elderly, sick, or have been kicked out by their wife for having no talents. They live life from day to day and if they found it impossible to continue living, they would find a place to end their life and only the authorities would go collect their bodies. They would roll the corpses in a grass mat before pulling them outside the city to bury them in a wasteland.”
It was not easy for the people of this space-time to live. But at least the commoners of Tian Chu were able to die and be properly buried. In her previous life, one of her classmate’s father had gotten into a hit-and-run. Her classmate’s family had not received a single cent of compensation and had spent quite a bit just to handle affairs at the crematorium. Their family had lost their economic pillar and her classmate later was unable to pay tuition fees and without even graduating, went to the South for work.
There was also her mother who had died so many years prior. Ruan Zhu momentarily felt sad. Because their family was poor, she had been unable to afford a burial plot so had tried to find a barren hill to bury her mother’s ashes. But a few years later, that hill had been sold and she found a notice ordering her to move the ashes. As a result, her family moved the burial site to another hill but received another letter of notice merely one year after. A temple was going to be erected in that area so their graveyard had to quickly be relocated or else it would be flattened.
Survival was a challenge. You could be alive but without a place to stay or dead but without an inch of space to bury your ashes–unable to afford to live, unable to afford to die.
Maybe it was better to have transmigrated, ah. At least there were no property right limits or no forced evictions. If one wanted to build a house, one could build as many houses as one wanted on their family property. No one would care how many you built and the houses could be used forever.
Under Xiao Feng’s urging, they passed several silk houses that were all famous shops. But as for their prices, Ruan Zhu was speechless. The cheapest fabric still cost five taels of silver. Here, one tael of silver was the equivalent of five hundred modern RMB. Five times five hundred, two thousand five hundred–that was 2500 RMB, the equivalent of a month’s wages for a common worker. During the time she was in university, her living expenses for a month were only 900 RMB.
Ruan Zhu was accustomed to being frugal. Although before she left, Yun Shi Yi had given her quite a few silver banknotes, she couldn’t bear to spend them. Repeatedly asking the price of every item she saw, she ended up not buying anything and called for her male attendants to move away from the silk houses.
The manager had thought a big fish had appeared and he could earn a healthy sum. But unexpectedly, it was a cheapskate and he was so angry he wanted to snap his beard in two.
After Ruan Zhu and her group had left the store, they could still hear the manager cursing them: “I wonder whose family this Miss is from to be wearing such bright and neat clothing. Yet I see she is just a poor ghost pretending to be from a wealthy household. She probably can’t even afford a bowl of rice.”
Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing felt incredibly embarrassed. They were servants born and raised in the residence so were used to their masters spending money freely. They did not understand what was going on with their Miss so Nuan Chun asked: “If Miss feels uncomfortable spending Master’s coin, did not Madam give Miss a large dowry when we departed from Miss’s maternal home? The value of those items is sufficient to purchase several of these silk houses.”
Ruan Zhu had been enraged by the manager’s jeers and had offered silent criticism in her mind: Just a single tiny manager of a silk house and you want to act arrogantly around whom? When I get home, I’ll have my hubby buy the shop with you included! But she had to maintain her elegant demeanor: “I merely think that the silk offered inside is not of a sufficient quality. It has been bragged about very highly but the product is just average. A random scrap of this red muslin on my body is enough to buy any bolt offered in these silk houses.”
Xiao Feng somewhat had some of his Master’s style and loftily said: “What Mistress said is correct. These common silks are not suitable for the people of our household to use. Using them to fool the eyes of the common people is just about suitable for its quality and standard.”
Seeing someone speaking words that were nice to hear, Ruan Zhu smiled so widely her eyes became crescents.
The group continued to chat as they walked and they passed a few more shops, including one that sold precious stones and other jewelry. This shop had a pleasant-sounding name of Ming Xiang Cui Yu[e] and was very famous within Lan Zhou. The Madams and Misses of all the aristocracy and other wealthy families were fond of placing their jewelry orders here.
Xiao Feng eagerly led his Mistress into the store. He remembered this morning before they had left, his Master had specified for them to visit more jewelry stores. Whatever Mistress liked, just buy it. Even if she had no use for them, they could be put in storage. In short, as long as she was happy, then all was well.
The store was worthy to be called Ming Xiang Cui Yu. The interior was filled with glittering jewels to delight the eye. All kinds of precious stones shone with their brilliance, so blinding that one could not open their eyes.
But Ruan Zhu shook her head as soon as she saw these pieces. This time, it wasn’t that she was being cheap but she just really didn’t put jewelry in her eyes. Although she had never bought such precious things in her previous life, that didn’t mean she had never seen any before. She had frequently bought imitations that cost only three to five RMB, and their handiwork was much more refined than these here in the shop.
The ancient era was restricted by technology and scope. All ornaments were unadorned and simple but not delicate or refined. The patterns used were also pitifully lacking.
The manager was a thin elderly man that had been in this position for many years and was accustomed to seeing various expressions appear on the face of their customers. With one glance at the expression of the lady currently standing before him, he became aware of what was on her mind and couldn’t help but be baffled. “Our Ming Xiang Cui Yu is famous in the country of Tian Chu and we even have a branch in the imperial capital. This old one does not mean to brag, but as long as it is a piece that our shop puts out on sale, there has never been a case of a client not be satisfied.”
“That is because you have never seen the best.” This time, Ruan Zhu did not plan on being looked down upon so her words were said rather impolitely. The other party looked to be a veteran in the business. If it was someone that was still in the prime of their youth, she would not say these kinds of words.
The manager did not become angry and thought for a moment: “We also accept custom orders here. If this Miss has a particular style in mind, you may draw it out to let the artisans forge the product. But the price would be more expensive.”
Ruan Zhu hesitated before nodding her head. From her handbag, she took out a goose feather quill pen. Dipping it in the ink on the side, she drew on the paper that the manager fetched over. In her past life, she had spent several years of her childhood learning Chinese calligraphy but this hobby had been discarded after she entered high school as she was too busy. Now she had thoughts of picking up this hobby again, but it wasn’t that simple so she might as well use a hard-tip pen.
As for her handbag, this was something that belonged to the original owner of this body. If she hadn’t crossed over, she wouldn’t have known that handbags had long been prevalent in the ancient eras. On the internet, she had previously seen paintings of court ladies in the Tang dynasty sporting satchels and at that time had thought it was inconceivable.
The men of this era paid careful attention to curry favor with the female sex. All of the handbag patterns and designs one could think of could be found in stores. The embroidered flowers were extraordinary beautiful and one could either use leather or cloth as the base material. If she wanted to make it rich, designing handbags was also a method as she could pirate the famous styles from her previous world.
The manager was experienced and knowledgeable. Although he felt this female customer using a goose feather pen was unexpected, he was not surprised. Lan Zhou was flourishing and traveling merchants from overseas often visited so there was no shortage of people that used goose feather quills.
Ruan Zhu only took ten minutes to sketch out a set of jewelry, comprising of hair ornaments, a pair of earrings, a necklace, a bracelet, and a ring. Her designs were keeping with the current trends while also introducing various new ideas. Taking into consideration the current era’s forging skills, she kept her designs simple yet stylish. She had practiced sketching for two years when young so drawing these pieces did not require much effort.
Passing over the completed sketch, the manager repeatedly exclaimed in admiration at seeing what was on the paper, proclaiming the style as very delicate and refined, a style that he had never seen though he had lived for so long to this old age.
Ruan Zhu negotiated the price and handing over the down payment, agreed to pick up the items after ten days. As she was turning to leave the store, unexpectedly, a man dressed in white had just entered Ming Xiang Cui Yu. With white clothes contrasting nicely against his black hair, he was incomparably handsome.
Who was this?
It was precisely that narcissistic peacock man she had met in the backyard of Wanyue Teahouse several days ago when she had been stuck outside the city gates.
[a] 凝露香 Reference to Empresses in the Castle or The Legend of Zhen Huan, very famous 2011 Chinese TV series starring Sun Li. (Wikipedia) I couldn’t find an English translation and didn’t want to butcher it so left it as pinyin.
[b] Pun. One way to say ‘bragging’ is 吹牛 which literally means ‘blowing (a) cow’. Meaning of the sentence is: no matter how much one brags, it’s all insubstantial.
[c] 商科 A broad subject that combines elements of multiple business-related fields (Wikipedia)
[d] There are currently two sets of written Chinese: traditional vs simplified. Traditional is what was historically used and still used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau while simplified is used in China and officially in Malaysia and Singapore. The difference between the two is that simplified reduced the number of strokes needed for most characters. (Wikis for Traditional and Simplified; Comparison image)
[e] 茗香璀玉 Ming Xiang Cui Yu, very rough literal translation is ‘fragrant tea, jade luster’
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