Chapter 4: The Ugly Ger’s Farming Story

“Why do I have this feeling that I forgot to buy something?” Xu Qing locked the courtyard door.  He was unsettled, and wanted to scratch his head habitually, but he didn’t want to mess up the already made-up hair or the bamboo hairpin securing the hair in place.  He wasn’t used to having such long hair.  He finally made a decision and reluctantly pulled out the “new” jewelry from his head.  He then walked towards the kitchen with a little satisfaction. 

Xu Qing started the fire, added a few pieces of dry wood, and scooped the warm water, that was left in the pot from when he was using it in the morning, into the basin.  He then sat it aside; It would be used to wash his face later.  He poured the clean water into the pot to cook rice and covered with the wooden lid.  He went inside the storage room to find a knife and left for the vegetable garden.

There weren’t many vegetables inside the yard.  After all, he has been eating them lately.  Besides, there were only some ginger, garlic, and green vegetables there.  So, he decided to go to the Xu family vegetable field outside.  It was only a few steps from the house.  It was easy to reach, and there were quite a few veggies there.  Xu Qing closed the door slightly.  Since the plot wasn’t far, he wasn’t worried at all. 

A distance away in the village, there is some faint laughter of children playing.  Xu Qing gazed over; he felt a little sour.  It’s so lively over there.  He didn’t know when he’d be able to have his own family in this world.  Xu Qing felt his cheeks burning hot thinking of starting a family, “What are you thinking, Xu Qing eh?”  He smacked the back of his head for his own silly thoughts, and walked hurriedly towards the vegetable field.

He bought some pork belly at the market today.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t eat spicy food in fear of worsening the pimples.  Xu Qing felt regretful.  He wasn’t a picky eater, except when it comes to spicy food.  That would never change.  But he couldn’t help it.  He had to avoid eating spicy food for the sake of his face.  Otherwise, even with the help of spring water, his face would not be completely healed.  In order to be able to eat spicy food in the future, he would endure it now.

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At the market, he forgot to buy other seasonings and first asked the shopkeeper for the chili powder.  He was told, “This little one, I don’t know what the chili powder is.  How does it taste?  I have been running this shop for so many years, but never heard of this thing before.”  His heart was heavy; there was no chili in this world.

Xu Qing walked around the field where there were not many vegetables growing, and finally picked a handful of bitter chrysanthemums.  He would make a cold bitter chrysanthemum and fried shredded celery pork; he also picked up a few cabbages to prepare a clear soup, and left after he got everything he needed.  Although he was alone, he still wanted to live a good life.  Xu Qing slammed close the gate to relieve his frustration.  He decided he would let himself have a good time; he would have a good time today.

He placed the fresh veggies by the well and washed his hands.  He went back to the kitchen to check on the water.  He poured the rice in and added more firewood to the stove.  He then went on to clean the veggies left by the well. 

He spent 650 coppers to buy the piglet, sixty coppers for three pieces of cloth, 15 coppers for the seasonings, and 20 coppers for the pork belly.  Wait, how much for the seeds?  Xu Qing stopped washing the cabbage, and jumped up with both hands in the air, “I forgot to buy the seeds!”  Xu Qing looked at the two plots, which were cleared yesterday to grow vegetables, with frustration.  He cried without tears, “How could I forget?”

“Ugh, it seems that I have to go to the market again in a few days.”  Xu Qing was a little confused.  He thought that his memory had declined a little.  The original Xu Qing might have been like a child.  Xu Qing scratched his messy hair with wet fingers, and wondered if it was the physicality of the original body.    

Thinking of this possibility, Xu Qing once again silently assessed his own physical fitness and this body’s.  He came up with a reason that made him feel better immediately.  It might be because this body was old in these ancient times, haha!  After figuring it out, Xu Qing grabbed the extra vegetables and happily fed the piglet that just arrived to this strange place.  He then returned to the kitchen to start making lunch.

Xu Qing placed the bitter chrysanthemums in a large bowl, pour some water, sprinkled salt lightly to soak, and set aside.  He then cut the washed pork belly into thin and thick slices and used the fat to make lard.  The shredded celery were fried with lard.  When the rice was cooked, Xu Qing put it aside, cleaned the pot, added more firewood, and waited for the pot to dry.  Meanwhile, he put the soaked bitter chrysanthemums in a large bowl, added some garlic and salt, mixed well, and brought it to the dining table.  The bitter chrysanthemum is also known as the autumn flower; it has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antipyretic properties.  It could also improve eyesight and moreover, it was good for the red bumps on his face.  Xu Qing liked it for its sweet but slight bitter flavor.

When the pot was dry, Xu Qing put his hand above to feel the heat in the pot, and poured the thick pork belly slices that was set aside earlier.  The oil at home was all used up, and he also wanted to buy more meat this morning, but he was afraid Aunty Xie would be suspicious so, he had to give up on it.  He didn’t want to touch the rice and meat in his space.  Just in case there is some natural or manmade disasters in the future, there would be a guarantee that he’d be OK.  It’s important he has a backup plan.

Soon, the fragrant smell of oily food exuded in the air.  Xu Qing squinted his eyes and breathed it in vigorously through his nose.  He looked at the yellow lard leftover in the pot.  After thinking about it, he scooped it out, put some in a bowl, added a little bit of salt, and stirred well.  He got another dish this way.  The rest of the oil was stored in a jar from the cupboard.   

Xu Qing flexibly moved around and put the rest of the dishes of celery shredded pork and cabbage soup on the dining table.  He spent more than 700 coppers today, which is about one or two silvers.  It seems he has quite some money left to pay Aunty Xie for making his clothes and also for the chickens.

While Xu Qing was enjoying his meal full of fragrant oil and calculating his future expenses, Aunty Xie was also having lunch with his husband and talking about Xu Qing, “Brother Qing really looked different this time.  He used to bow his head in front of others for fear of seeing his face.  Today on the street, you didn’t see it, in front of so many people, he could even laugh.”

“This is a good thing,” Uncle Xie, who was stuffed with corn buns in his mouth, looked at his happy wife.

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“Oh, but there is a new problem,” as Aunty Xie spoke, the joy that was floating on his face dissipated.  Uncle Xie quickly swallowed the bun, “What’s wrong?”

Aunty Xie glanced at Uncle Xie with a blank face, “That child is gonna be 21 in two months.”  “What’s wrong with being 21 years old?  It’s not that old,” Uncle Xie didn’t really think there was any problem with the age; he picked up a steamed bun with his hand and put it in his wife’s bowl before grabbing another one and continued to stuff his mouth.

“I say, why are you so stupid?  After turning 21, one has to get married with the match assigned by the officials.  Tell me, which man waiting to be assigned like that is a good one?”  Aunty Xie was a little frustrated.  He moved the steamed bun from him bowl into Uncle Xie’s.  How many years has it been?  The man still didn’t know he couldn’t eat that much.

Uncle Xie, who allowed his wife to scold him, drank a big mouthful of porridge and smacked his lips a few times, “I think you care too much that you’re worrying unnecessarily.  Isn’t he not even 21?  What’s the hurry?”  He raised his head and pointed outside with his chin, “Don’t you remember what day it is today?  The men who served in the military are back.  There are enough of them for you to pick and choose for Brother Qing.  Those little rascals couldn’t even marry a wife five years ago.” 

“If you care about him, you shouldn’t have let him isolate himself for so many years,” Uncle Xie was aware that there were not many gers around the same age as Xu Qing.  They were easy to get along with, except that they called Brother Qing “the ugly one.”  It has been so many years he was called that it was not so easy to change.   

“Anyway, I asked Liu Mo from my natal village to pay attention to the situation there.  I know one or two juniors over there with good characters and I know what’s going on with their families,” Aunty Xie grabbed a green napkin and wiped the corners of his mouth while thinking back to his conversation with Liu Mo in the morning.

“Alright!  Brother Qing knows his own situation better so, let him have a breather.  Otherwise, people will think you’re being too nosy when the time comes.”  Uncle Xie stoop up and helped clean the dining table neatly.  They are the only ones in the family.  The wife is in charge of the household and himself.  He also spoils his wife and won’t provoke her.

Aunty Xie didn’t get angry when he heard it, and walked towards the inner room leisurely, “Brother Qing is not that kind of person.  When I send the clothes over in a few days, I will have a good talk with him.”  The clothes would be made during the day when it’s bright so not to hurt the eyes.  He has to carefully think about what style Brother Qing would like.  Since father and mother Xu passed away early, it is no wonder Brother Qing doesn’t know how to sew.  He has to teach Brother Qing.  Otherwise, what would he do when he has his own family?

Xu Qing, who occupied Aunty Xie’s thoughts, packed up his things and went to the mountain behind the house.  There were not many ingredients at home.  The meat he bought in the morning was only enough for today’s meals.  He wanted to try his luck in the mountains.  In his memory, every time father Xu entered the mountain, he could gain a lot.  The resources in the mountain are indeed plentiful, but it is also dangerous.  The ordinary hunters from the village would just wander around the mountain not daring to go too far in.  Even father Xu would only go a little further than others.

They have the experience in hunting, but they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves if they run into a fierce animal.  However, Xu Qing looked at the big, white rabbit in the short distance with some excitement.  He has space; he can go in and hide if there’s any danger.  The spiritual spring can also speed up the wound healing so, he was fearless. 

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