Joy of Life - Chapter 215[Updated at: 2021-01-12 01:47:38]
Chapter 215: The Old Shop on Xiushui Street
Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio
The arrangements of diplomatic affairs between the two nations were already arranged in advance. Going by the norm, for someone of Fan Xian’s status to be able to move around in Shangjing would require the appropriate personnel as escort. But Fan Xian was worried about such arrangements. While there were already resident officials beginning the negotiations, Fan Xian still asked permission from Northern Qi’s Imperial court, and came to the Board of Rites.
In the secret agreement, Yan Bingyun was to be exchanged for both Xiao En and Si Lili. This already put Qing at a deficit, which was why Fan Xian was in a hurry to find the person secretly in charge. But unexpectedly, Minister Shu of the Board of Rites, who was actually the vice-recruiter of the Brocade Guard, refused to see him!
It looked like Northern Qi wanted to drag things out a few more days. Enraged, Fan Xian ignored Northern Qi’s officials and stormed out of the Board of Rites. At the front gates, Lin Jing had rushed over from the Office of the Grand Herald. He secretly shook his head at Fan Xian.
Once the four were back in the carriage, Lin Jing said, “Vice-Minister Wei Hua also disappeared after leaving the palace.”
Fan Xian sighed. “I bet it’s the same elsewhere. Qi wants to delay a few more days.”
“What good does that do for them?” Wang Qinian frowned. “They’re going to hand the person over in the end regardless. I doubt they could drag this on forever.”
Fan Xian shook his head. “We must fish out Yang Bingyun as soon as possible.”
“We go to Wei Hua’s home.”
“Chang Ninghou Manor?” Lin Jing said, troubled. “We’re talking about the empress dowager’s own brother. For us foreign diplomats, going there would be very taboo. I’m afraid doing so would only stir up more trouble.”
Fan Xian laughed. “Hopefully those Imperial censors under Northern Qi’s emperor will help. It would be amazing if we could report Chang Ninghou for conspiring with a foreign nation tomorrow morning.”
With the plan made, the carriage left the Board of Rites, followed by the Imperial Guards. Some agents, looking like passersby, tailed the group from a distance. Wang Qinian, although sitting in the carriage, could smell the scent on those agents. He said quietly to Fan Xian, “Sir Commissioner, there seem to be be men from the Brocade Guard following us.”
“We have the Imperial Guards with us; are they afraid of us getting lost?” Fan Xian said. “Ignore them. More importantly, in the coming few days, do not hurry to contact the Council members situated in Northern Qi. We don’t want to bring our agents any unnecessary risks.”
Those secret agents of Northern Qi were under Imperial orders to watch over the envoy. They were puzzled as to why those southern officials would be interested in touring the streets after leaving the Board of Rites. Furthermore, they were not touring just any street, but the most upscale, luxurious street in Shangjing—Xiushui Street. It sold luxury items made from glass and such; not something ordinary civilians could afford.
One of the agents frowned. “Why do those southern barbarians want to visit Xiushui Street?”
His subordinate answered, “Visiting a foreign country is a rare occasion. Of course they want to bring back something nice. Those southern barbarians are all madly rich now. How will they explain to their families if they don’t bring back some glass goblets?”
“Idiot! All the glass is exported by Southern Qing. Why would they come all the way here for it?”
There weren’t a lot of people on Xiushui Street, but the few that were seen walking around were all potbellied rich men or ladies adorned in jewelry. From a glance one could tell they didn’t carry around much silver, but stashes of bills thicker than a book. The stores were spaced out along the street at just the right distance from each other.
The signs of those stores were even more conspicuous, erected vertically outside the storefronts. The signboards were painted black, with golden characters, though some were fading. The store owners didn’t seem to be bothered to get new signs. However, upon closer examination, one would realize those signs had quite some history to them. The characters were probably written by some famous calligraphers a century, or perhaps even many centuries ago. Those business men wanted to use the faded paint to flaunt the history of their stores, and to add an air of antiquity.
The seven stores in the middle of the street were different from the others; their signs were horizontal and, while not brand new, looked obviously newer than the signs of the other stores. Some of them sold glass goods, some sold soaps and such, some sold perfume, some sold cotton cloths, and some sold liquor. One shop was most astonishing because it specialized in selling toys.
The carriages stopped just in front of the street entrance. Being accompanied by soldiers of the Imperial Guard, such style surpassed even that of the highest-ranked nobility. But the stores on Xiushui Street kept their self-esteem; no one came out to welcome the guests. They waited for the four people who exited the carriage to pass by one by one.
The four of them walked until they came before the store that sold cotton cloth. The extremely handsome young man scratched his head, seemingly unable to understand why cotton would count as a luxury item.
After going into the shop, the store owner explained to his guests: “Speaking of weaving cloth from cotton, according to legend, some genius named Wang did it many centuries ago, but his methods were lost over time, until twenty years ago when our founder rediscovered it. Everyone look, this cotton cloth is warmer than silk, inexpensive, and of excellent quality—even compared to the ones in Southern Qing’s capital.”
The handsome young man seemed to be very interested. “Let me try thirty centimeters.”
The store owner’s face darkened. Recognizing the youth’s Southern Qing accent, the store owner rudely said, “Oh, a fellow countryman. My dear sir, where’s the logic in us Southern Qing coming to Northern Qi to buy cotton cloth? Besides, others buy it by the bundle. And you want thirty centimeters?”
The young man chuckled and made his exit. Looking at the store’s sign, he frowned. “Those characters are terribly ugly.”
The store owner became enraged. “They were written by our old boss. You ignorant lad, leave now!”
The young man chuckled again and led his three subordinates to another store. That young man was, of course, Fan Xian. The characters which he called ugly were none other than traces left behind by his mother many years ago. They were just like the handwriting of that letter in that chest—and just as ugly!
After strolling for a while, Fan Xian knew these shops all belonged to people from Qing. Of course, many years ago, they belonged to the Ye household. Just by looking at the products, Fan Xian new his mom must have made a fortune from this world’s rich people.
Walking down Xiushui Street, between signboards written by his mother, Fan Xian was in a slight daze. He didn’t want to go any further.
“Sir, what are we doing here instead of going to Chang Ninghou manor?” Lin Jing asked worriedly.
Fan Xian came back to his senses and replied, “To buy gifts, of course. We shouldn’t show up empty-handed.”
Saying that, he stepped into the fanciest glass shop on the street. Inside were all sorts of things beautifully made of glass; mainly vessels for holding alcohol, but also many smaller trinkets, including cricket boxes, various board games, and even a small oil lamp.
The whole shop looked like it was covered by crystals. It was dazzling. A faint sense of pride rose in Fan Xian’s heart. While he seemed to have been spending every day in this world just getting by, not doing anything to shake up the world, seeing all the things his mother had left behind made him think, “Seems like my mom already invented everything. What’s left for me to do?”
The owner of the glass store heard his guests talking and knew they were fellow southerners. He said with a smile, “My guests, it’s not that I’m unwilling to do business with you, it’s just that buying glass in Shangjing is a bit of a rip-off.”
Fan Xian smiled. “I know you guys sell stuff here at a higher price than back in Qing. But I noticed the Northern Qi palace uses so much glass; aren’t they worried about the price?”
The store owner grinned. “Who’s the dumbest customer in the world? The emperor, of course. I hear the deal with the Northern Qi palace was the biggest deal back then for our master. The sheer numbers stunned all other businesses senseless.”
Fan Xian laughed and said, “You sure are a bold one. Being in Northern Qi, aren’t you afraid of being arrested for saying that?”
“Not at all. As long as our great Qing remains the most powerful nation in the world, we businessmen can go anywhere without being harassed.” Despite saying that, the store owner still lowered his voice before continuing. “As for the remark about the dumbest customer in the world… I didn’t come up with it. My master told me it was said by the owner back then.”
Fan Xian chuckled, suddenly asking, “Which one of the Yes is your master? Big Ye?”
This startled the store owner. He looked up at Fan Xian, having a hard time believing this handsome young man knew so much. For the moment he forgot to reply.
Lin Jing, who had been standing on the side, spoke up with a smile, “This is Sir Fan Xian, the head diplomat of the current diplomatic mission. While you may have spent your time far north, I believe you know Sir Fan’s background.”
Sir Fan? That’s the great owner of all Imperial businesses in a few years! The glass store owner was in great shock and hurriedly bowed to Fan Xian.