Mo Bao Fei Bao is such a foodie. Researching her dishes takes as long as looking up all her historical and literary references. Anyone ever eaten camel?
Chapter 6.2 – Beauty is Offered, but Whose Soul is Given? (2)
When she was home, she moved a chair and set it in front of the floor to ceiling glass doors of the balcony.
From here, she had a view of an overpass not far away, where the cars on it moved like flowing water.
She sat there for a long time.
She suddenly wanted to completely piece together the memories of her past life, how she and Zhousheng Chen had met, how they had come to know and deeply understand one another, and how it had all ended. But what had been clear images in her mind when she was child was now like a montage.
Images juxtaposed and superimposed upon one another. Countless fragmented memories.
She could only remember those past segments, so unimaginably beautiful, where they were in each other’s presence.
And she remembered that it must have been her who wronged him.
What was the ending of the story? Perhaps because it was too saddening, she truly had forgotten.
A stark white light suddenly lit up in that dark room. It was so late, yet he was calling.
With a rather fluttery heartbeat, she picked up her phone, and at the same time, felt an inexplicable worry. Normally, after he had escorted her home, he would not call again because they had already exchanged their good nights at the door.
She brought her mobile phone up against her cheek and answered it with a “hello.”
Zhousheng Chen’s voice was placid. “You have not gone to sleep yet?”
“Me?” Shi Yi was not sure the reason but since that kiss tonight, when she heard his voice, she felt somewhat flustered. “Mm-hmm. I’m sitting in the living room.”
He was silent for a moment.
She did not know what he wanted to say, but in the end, he did not say anything.
He merely bid her good night.
Shi Yi softly uttered a “good night” to him as well.
After Zhousheng Chen had hung up the call, Uncle Lin, who was seated in the front seat, asked in a low voice, “Shall we go back now?” He nodded. Downstairs of the apartment building, the car slowly pulled out of the community compound and drove towards the overpass.
Earlier, he had been watching and saw that the lights had still not turned on in her room, which was not at all like her usual routine. Based on her normal habits, she would usually go to her room first, and then approximately ten minutes later, she would take a shower. Today, however, even after a long while, she did not do so. So long was it that he suddenly felt a little worried whether something may have happened.
And as for making that phone call, there was also another reason for it.
On such a special night, should he not say something to her?
What should he say? In the end, when the call was answered, he realized that he did not need to say another word.
He could hear, from within the phone, her breathing was consciously being curtailed and was extremely different from normal. Zhousheng Chen placed his elbow against the side of the window and, using his fingers against his face to support his head’s weight, his gaze fell on the night scene outside.
After a little while, he could not constrain the corners of his lips from turning up in a slight smile.
Three days in advance, she went with him back to the old manor in Zhenjiang.
Her parents would arrive one day later.
Shi YI was filled with uneasiness throughout the journey there, fearful of seeing his mother again or even his extended family members. As they drove further in on the mountain road, she noticed that their sedan had driven by but did not stop at that place she had once visited. Instead, they proceeded deeper into that richly green and tranquil forest. Eventually, tall, decorated stone archways started appearing in their vision and the trees on each side of the road were even more towering.
Alongside the road, on the left, the babbling sound of a brook could be heard, while on the right were steps of bluestone.
She looked out upon the scenery beside the road, wondering what this place was.
Shortly after, two or three girls, who seemed to be chatting casually, could be seen walking leisurely up the stone steps. When the sedan drove by them, the girls suddenly turned their heads to look. One of them recognized the vehicle and hastily waved after it. “Big Brother.”
Her voice echoed slightly against the mountain valley.
The sedan slowly came to a halt, and Zhousheng Chen stepped out. The girl wanted to run over, yet did not dare actually break out into a run and only hurried over to him along the nearest gravel pathway. When she was near, Zhousheng Chen reached out his hand and gently touched her face. “You’re perspiring. You came down from the mountain?”
The girl answered with a quick “mm” and then with a grin, she skirted around him and walked right up to Shi Yi. “Miss Shi Yi, hi. I’m Zhou Wenxing, your future little sister.”
She glanced over briefly at Zhousheng Chen and was able to deduce that this was the younger sister he loved dearly.
So far, she had seen four family members in his generation. Sure enough, just as he had said, besides him and Zhousheng Ren who were unique, everyone else contained the character “Wen” within their name as their generation name. All the names were the same, following that naming convention, regardless of whether the person was a close or distant relative, within the direct or a collateral line.
Zhousheng Chen appeared to be worried about his sister’s health and insisted that she get into the car and not climb or exert herself anymore.
Contrary to expectations, Zhou Wenxing actually was delighted with this and waved the other two young kinswomen over to join her. Taking the liberty of shutting the car door, she called out, “Big Brother, why don’t you walk up with Miss Shi Yi. Hope you can make it there by lunchtime.” As she urged Uncle Lin to hurry and begin driving, she suddenly added, “Oh right, today you’re supposed to try some dishes. By all means, you can’t be late.”
Soon, the car had driven away, turned along the winding road that circled the mountain, and disappeared from view.
She felt as if, right this moment, she had entered an uninhabited landscape of beautiful scenery.
There were no vehicles or other forms of traffic. There was only her and him.
With a hint of resignation in his smile, Zhousheng Chen said, “There is still quite a ways to go.”
“It’s alright.” She had already started leisurely walking along. “The scenery here is really nice, so I shouldn’t really feel tired as I walk.”
He raised his arm to look at his watch. “Based on your current speed, it will likely take approximately fifty to sixty minutes.”
Her footsteps paused. “Your little sister said you need to try some dishes today at lunch?”
Zhousheng Chen nodded, then removed his suit jacket and draped it over one arm, evidently having already prepared himself for walking up the mountain.
It was already approaching lunchtime now. If they still needed to walk for another hour, that meant they would be keeping all the elders waiting. Realizing this, Shi Yi did not dare tarry any longer. Grabbing his wrist and tugging on it, she told him, “I can walk really fast, extremely fast.”
Only after her hand had enclosed his wrist did she become aware that this act was actually a form of intimacy.
Zhousheng Chen, however, did not think anything of it. He merely gently pulled off her hand off and then took it into his own. “You do not need to walk too quickly. They will wait for us the whole time.” Since they were walking upslope, he would be leading her and helping her along, so naturally, his hold on her hand was a little tighter than normal.
At first, her attention was focused on the anxiousness she was feeling, but after walking uphill for twenty minutes, she was already slightly breathless.
When the two of them reached the doors of an old manor, her forehead was already damp with perspiration.
“Tired?” He let go of her.
Shi Yi smiled faintly.
As before, it was a large traditional manor house, but it did seem to give a slightly warmer feeling than the previous old manor. When she thought about that place, she still pictured it with a continuous falling drizzle, where the old-style tile on the ground was wet and the pavilions, terraces and towers were all shrouded by a curtain of rain. Even his mother’s tone of voice was dull and dreary.
But this place seemed like it was brimming with sunshine.
The manor was very deep, and she could not even count how many courtyards deep it was. The façade was richly ornamented, and as they walked in, they would frequently see the strangely-shaped shadows on the ground created by the sunlight passing through the carved stone ornamentations. As the two of them walked side by side, Shi Yi could not help saying softly, “I like it here.”
It was as if this place could stop the passage of time.
He smiled and did not say anything.
They were late after all.
Zhou Wenxing gave her a little grin, as if her evil plan had succeeded. Those two poor people now had sore feet and legs from hiking up.
She once again saw his mother and also met the uncle, whom he had once mentioned was temporarily attending to the Zhousheng family matters for him. There were also many other elders present, but he did not introduce them all one by one to her, which made her feel most unsettled. She also only gave brief greetings to these people, who seemed to simply rotate through in front of her before they all sat down at various tables. It was only the two of them that sat at their own separate table.
Zhousheng Chen seemed to have taken into consideration that there were more than a dozen tables of strangers present, so he deliberately instructed that a screen be set up that completely blocked other people’s view of where they were sitting. There was no one else with them besides Uncle Lin and two others who looked to be household managers to wait upon their needs.
He could discern her discomfort.
He casually handed his suit jacket to Uncle Lin, took the warm, damp towel that had been handed to him, and wiped down his hands as he said, “Actually, the main intention of today is to allow you to try the dishes. These elders merely felt that they seldome have the chance to come together, so they took advantage of this opportunity to catch up with one another. Partitioning us away from everyone else like this also allows them to be more at ease when they eat.” Shi Yi answered with an “mm” but then glanced over at the three men beside them.
He understood and dismissed the three to have their own meals so that finally, it was just him and her.
The dishes that were being presented one after another were all made of very fresh ingredients.
Peach Blossoms in the Snowy Night, Lotus Pod of Fish Maw, camel soup, and Eight Triagrams Yam. When she tasted each of them, she found that they were all quite good. What was even more enjoyable was, Zhousheng Chen was familiar with each one, and since there was no one else present, he personally introduced each dish to her. “The fish maw needs to be lightly fried and soaked for twelve hours. After it has softened, it will then be brought to a high temperature of 180oC to swell before once again soaking it in room temperature water. A meat broth is added to it and then it is simmered for one minute…”
His description was very detailed, and Shi Yi suddenly chuckled, “You know how to make this dish yourself?”
“Not at all. My cooking skills are very poor,” he smiled. “In fact, they cannot even be considered as ‘cooking skills’.”
“Then why are you so clear on how it’s supposed to be made?”
“Previously, when I was selecting the dishes, a chef would explain each one in detail. After I heard the descriptions, I remembered them.”
She replied with an “oh.” Holding onto her chopsticks, she twisted her head away and looked out the window to hide her smile.
If she had not known him well, she would definitely have thought that he was showing off that his ability of being able to recall anything he had only heard once.
People with high intelligence who did not bother hiding it were really so annoying.
Her eyes drifted back again.
Zhousheng Chen was looking at her.
The other side of the screen partition was so quiet it seemed as if there was no one.
Their eyes locked for some time. He suddenly cleared his throat. “So these dishes, do you think they are okay?”
Shi Yi gave an “mm.”
Dishes that could not possibly be any more exquisite. They were flawless. Most importantly, he had said that these dishes were ones he had previously selected. Just this one reason was good enough for her, and she would not have any additional, unnecessary opinions.
They were staying in their own separate courtyard wing, and their rooms were adjacent to one another.
Perhaps at his request, the interior was designed with very comfortable, modern furnishings. Disregarding the simple, old-style setting outside of the room, it was as if she had stepped into a private hotel. She stepped into her room, and shortly after she had taken a shower, the telephone inside the room rang.
He was separated from her by only a wall, but yet he still took the trouble to call her and wish her good night.
Shi Yi held back her laugh and jokingly sighed, “Such timing. If you had called ten minutes earlier, I would still have been in the shower.”
Before he had a chance to speak, however, a slight commotion could be heard coming from outside the window.
It came from far away, and she could not hear clearly what it was about.
He seemed to have heard it as well but he still first politely explained, “I need to hang up this phone call first.”
She did not need to wait long after their call was hung up.
Very quickly, footsteps from downstairs could be heard coming up.
The wooden stairs and floors could not conceal the sound of such hurried strides. Then, the sound of the door of the adjacent room being opened was heard. Shi Yi’s hand was on the doorknob. She hesitated for several seconds but in the end, still opened it. Uncle Lin was walking down the stairs already, and the back profile of Zhousheng Chen could be seen at the top of the stairs. Hearing her step out of her room, he turned around slightly and addressed her. “There are some small matters. You go ahead and rest first.”
The expression on his face seemed slightly different from normal.
Once Shi Yi nodded her head in answer, he hurriedly left.
 字辈 “zi bei.” When members of the same generation within the family are each given a two-character given name but one of the characters is shared between all fo them, that character is called a “zi bei” or generation name. The generation name can be either the first or the second character but the position is usually consistent within the lineage. In Zhousheng Chen’s family, all members within his generation belong to the 文 “Wen” generation name and are named 周文XX “Zhou WenXX”, where Zhou is the surname, Wen is the generation name, and XX will be a unique character chosen for that person’s name. His sister is called 周文幸 Zhou Wenxing, brother 周文川 Zhou Wenchuan, and there was also a cousin-sister 周文芳 Zhou Wenfang who had appeared briefly in chapter 4.1.
 雪夜桃花 “Xue Ye Tao Hua” Peach Blossoms in the Snowy Night. This dish is scrambled egg white with shrimp or lobster, but legend has it that this dish was plated for the Tang Emperor Gaozong to look like the scene of peach blossoms in the snow that he saw outside his window.
莲蓬鱼肚 “Lian Peng Yu Du” Lotus Pod of Fish Maw. This dish is said to have been created in the Tang dynasty by an imperial chef when the emperor was admiring lotus flowers with his officials. Fish maw is the main ingredient used to create a lotus pod shape and filled with pearl-sized “lotus seeds” which are formed from a chicken paste.
驼羹 “Tuo Geng.” Camel soup also has roots dating back to the Tang dynasty. Made usually from either the camel’s hooves or hump. 羹 “geng” is actually a thick soup.
八卦山药 “Ba Gua Shan Yao” Eight Trigrams Yam. The main ingredient is Chinese yam. There are several variations of this dish. There is a vegetarian soup version. Another is a sweet version in which the yam is made into a paste and then half of it is mixed with black-sesame to create the dark colour while the other half is left as is. Dates and honey provide sweetness. The photo shows the sweet version, as I’m assuming Zhousheng Chen wouldn’t want two soups.
1 of 1 Prologue
20 of 56 Main story segments
0 of 3 Epilogues