Accompany by a Fool to Do Farming
Chapter 72: 大年三十
[Chinese New Year’s Eve]
On New Year’s Eve, before dawn, the sound of firecrackers rang out from outside. Zhong Ziqi, who was disturbed by it, felt extremely irritable. He tossed and turned as he found it hard to fall asleep.
Zhao Zheng’an helplessly appease him, “It will be fine in a while, just for a while.”
Zhong Ziqi was a bit grumpy, probably due to his poor appetite these days, but he was able to restrain himself from venting on Zhao Zheng’an. He knew in his heart that, if he was having a hard time, how could Zhao Zheng’an have a good time either?
As it is already, Zhao Zheng’an was doing all the laundry, cooking and house chores everyday. Although Zhong Ziqi felt that he would not have any problems doing them, he however, could not stand Zhao Zheng’an fussing around him in panic as if he was afraid something bad might happen to him. Zhong Ziqi was speechless, and simply let him be, to be the busybody. The problem was that Zhao Zheng’an still had to go to the town to work on their business after he had finished tormenting himself with the house chores. Zhong Ziqi noticed that Zhao Zheng’an had lost a lot of weight. It was just that his body was strong and muscular that it wasn’t obvious, but he was his bedmate/ a person who slept by his side everyday, the one who knew him best, so how could he not notice? Thus, there was no way he could throw tantrums or act unreasonable.
A few moments later, crackling outside came to an end as expected. Zhong Ziqi finally breathed a sigh of relief and lay back down again with Zhao Zheng’an to sleep.
Not long after dawn, firecrackers sounded again, Zhong Ziqi was speechless. He then simply planned to get up with Zhao Zheng’an.
“You lie down again for a while. Wait until I’ve made the food, you can get up after that.” Zhao Zheng’an said softly, then he got up from the bed and put on his outer clothes.
“I’ll get up too. I can’t sleep again anyway.”
Zhao Zheng’an shook his head as he tied his buttons: “It’s cold, you can get up after I’ve warmed up the house.”
The temperature in the house had dropped after the night. It was so cold that it made a person shiver. No one ever wanted to leave the warmth of the quilt if possible.
Zhong Ziqi nodded, he couldn’t do anything even if he got up, so Zhong Ziqi thought lazily ‘let’s just keep lying down ba!‘, Zhong Ziqi thought lazily.
Zhao Zheng’an dressed properly and walked out. The cold temperature made him shiver. He walked briskly all the way into the kitchen. Today was New Year’s Eve, they would be eating four kinds of meals later so this morning meal could be the simpler one.
Zhao Zheng’an turned on the stove and boiled a pot of hot water to wash his face before he started to cook. He didn’t have much of an appetite in the morning, so he boiled a pot of porridge and put some eggs in it.
When the meal was ready, Zhao Zheng’an went to call Zhong Ziqi to get up. Zhong Ziqi stretched out his body and went to wash up, feeling deeply that this kind of life as the rice weevil (figurative for sponger) would make people become more and more lazy.
After eating, Zhao Zheng’an started to work. He first made a pot of paste and brought out the rhyming couplet, the door gods and the paper cutting that he had bought, while Zhong Ziqi was responsible for brushing the paste on it, on the other side, Zhao Zheng’an was responsible for putting the rhyming couplets on the wall.
He also bought two large red lanterns, as they lived in a remote area with no light around them. It looked dead and dull, so that was why he bought it.
“Hey, a little to the left …. a little more to the right …,” Zhong Ziqi directed Zhao Zheng’an on where to hang the lanterns.
“Is this okay?” Zhao Zheng’an asked while standing on the stool.
“Move up a little more.”
Zhao Zheng’an did as he was told and moved up. “How is it?”
Zhong Ziqi looked at it and nodded, “Fine, hang it up then!”
Zhao Zheng’an immediately hung the lantern after hearing what he said, then he got down from the stool. He stood next to Zhong Ziqi, took a look at it and nodded: “Not bad, it looks quite good.” With the door gods and rhyming couplets on the door, the cheerful atmosphere was sufficient.
“Okay, let’s go inside! Don’t get cold!” Zhao Zheng’an touched Zhong Ziqi’s cold hand. He hurriedly pulled him back inside the house.
“I’m going to cook. You can just sit here and eat melon seeds.”
Zhong Ziqi sat on the bed and said with some uneasiness, “I’d better if I go with you to make it. There are so many dishes and you’ve never done it before. You won’t be able to do it alone.”
Zhao Zheng’an waved his hand, “No need! You already told me the steps yesterday. If I don’t know how to do it, I’ll ask you again. You don’t need to go out.”
Zhong Ziqi: “Are you sure?”
“It’s okay, don’t worry.” Zhao Zheng’an guaranteed that in front of Zhong Ziqi yet when he went out, his heart started to feel nervous. After all, the dishes he was going to cook now were different from the ones he had practiced a few days ago. It was all complicated dishes, such as stewed pork ribs, stewed fish, stewed chicken, stir-fry dishes cooked in a small wok, and soup dishes. He really wasn’t that confident that he could do it well.
Zhong Ziqi sat on the heatable brick bed, absentmindedly eating the melon seeds, listening to the sound of chopping vegetables and meat coming from the kitchen every now and then.After a while, he was still uneasy, got out of the bed and walked slowly towards the kitchen.
In the kitchen, there was a gap as big as a palm because of the excessive fumes. Zhong Ziqi walked over, only to see Zhao Zheng’an wearing an apron, in the middle of stewing a fish. After the oil was put in the pan, perhaps the water was not clean so the oil started to splash around. Zhao Zheng’an put the fish into the pot,followed by a loud splash and a burst of smoke from the pan. Zhao Zheng’an immediately jumped far away and waited for the smoke to dissipate before running to the pan to continue frying the fish. Occasionally, he would grimace (in pain) when he was splashed by the oil, which made Zhong Ziqi continuously laugh up his sleeve. He thought that his appearance when he was cooking was even more interesting than watching the television. It was only when the smell from inside gradually came out that Zhong Ziqi had no choice or option but to regretfully leave the kitchen.
[Note on laugh up his sleeve:
To be secretly amused. This term, originally laughing in one’s sleeve, alludes to concealing mirth by hiding one’s face in the big loose sleeves of old-time fashions.]
Zhao Zheng’an spent the morning in the kitchen, occasionally asking Zhong Ziqi if he was unsure of something, and when he got the answer, he ran back to the kitchen to carry it out.After he randomly think through on his own and by some pointers from Zhong Ziqi, he finally managed to get all the food ready by noon.
Zhao Zheng’an took all the dishes into the room, “Wait for a while, I’ll go set off a firecracker before we eat.”
Zhong Ziqi nodded.
“Cover your ears, don’t get startled!” Zhao Zheng’an said and walked out.
Zhong Ziqi covered his ears and soon afterwards he heard the”bang” sound.
Zhao Zheng’an put two of the dishes in the room, took off his shoes and crossed his legs as he sat on the heatable brick bed: “Let’s eat!”
Zhong Ziqi took his chopsticks and looked at the ugly dishes on the table, but he really had no appetite. It wasn’t that he disliked Zhao Zheng’an’s cooking, on the contrary, if it was in the past he would have eaten it without saying a word. The point was he didn’t even want to eat it, the smell of the food already made him want to vomit.
Zhao Zheng’an knew he was uncomfortable: “Celebrating the Chinese new Year you should eat little by little to make it festive. I put a lot of vinegar in this fish. I didn’t put much oil in this pickle; it’s not greasy at all. Try it! if you really can’t eat it then have some congee.”
Zhong Ziqi replied, ‘En.’ As he used his chopsticks to take the fish meat. It was really just like Zhao Zheng’an said, he had put quite a lot of vinegar and also quite a lot of sugar, it tasted sweet and sour.
“How was it?” Zhao Zheng’an asked expectantly.
“Not bad.” Zhong Ziqi spoke against his conscience.
Zhao Zheng’an nodded happily and started to eat. He usually did not touch the meal with a lot of vinegar on it. He could not eat sour food, so he did not know if Zhong Ziqi really meant it when he said that ‘it was not bad’.
After the meal, it was time to make the dumplings according to the custom. The day of New Year’s Eve could be said to be a busy day for eating, having the next meal after finishing the other meal.
The dumpling filling was mixed by Zhong Ziqi. The noodles were also made by Zhong Ziqi. The two of them sat on the warm heatable brick bed, listening to the crackling of firecrackers outside, while chatting, they were also wrapping the dumplings.
When they finished wrapping the dumplings, Zhao Zheng’an asked Zhong Ziqi to wait for him at home while he went out to sweep the tombs of his ancestors.
Zhong Ziqi couldn’t help sigh with sorrow and feel that some customs were unavoidable in both modern and ancient times.
Zhao Zheng’an didn’t come back for half a day this time, Zhong Ziqi saw that the sky was getting dark, so he went into the kitchen and started boiling water to cook the dumplings. At the same time, he also warmed up the leftover fish which was indispensable on New Year’s Eve. The metaphorical meaning of it was ‘May you have abundance year after year (年年有余)’.
[Translator Notes on the metaphorical meaning of having fish meal on Chinese new year’s eve: 鱼 (read as yú) which mean fish sound the same with 余 (read yú) which mean abundance/surplus that often found on the auspicious saying of ‘年年有余’ ( nián nián yǒu yú) : lit. (may you) have abundance year after year. ]
Zhong Ziqi heated up some other dishes and sat down to wait for Zhao Zheng’an.
When Zhao Zheng’an returned, the sky was already thoroughly dark. He didn’t rush into the house after he returned, but he lit the two large lanterns at the door and watched it glow red before entering the house.
“Why are you so late? I thought you were up to something!” Zhong Ziqi said with a sigh of relief.
Zhao Zheng’an sat down next to the fire pan on the heatable brick bed, warmed his very red frozen hands and said, “Nothing much, I just met the clan elders and had a few words with them. I also went to the graves of your father and Shen Amu.”
Zhong Ziqi was stunned at his words and nodded his head. Zhao Zheng’an was kind of thoughtful, he hadn’t even thought about that.
“Alright, let’s eat!” Zhao Zheng’an said.
“Hn.” Zhong Ziqi responded as he opened the cover of the plates with dishes and dumplings on it. He and Zhao Zheng’an started to eat it.
After this they were idle, Zhong Ziqi and Zhao Zheng’an sat bored on the heatable brick bed talking in whispers.
“I heard that on New Year’s Eve, the rich lords of the town hire some circus and a theatrical troupe to perform on stage. Ordinary people can go and watch it too. However, we are too far away from the town so it’s not convenient to go there without a carriage. Wait until both of us get the opportunity later, we will go and take a look.” Zhao Zheng’an said as he put his arm around Zhong Ziqi.
“Sure ah, it just so happens that I haven’t seen it yet.” Zhong Ziqi was a little curious, there was so little entertainment in ancient times. This led him to see everything was rare.
“Then there’s the temple fair on the 15th day. It’s also very lively. I’ve seen it once. The whole town of people from all ages come out to see the colored lanterns and to have fun.” Zhao Zheng’an described in graphic detail to Zhong Ziqi the scene he had seen.
Zhong Ziqi was excited by what he had said, the TV dramas always showed how crowded the temple fairs were in ancient times. He had longed for it but when he thought of his current body, Zhong Ziqi couldn’t help but become spiritless.
The two of them sat on the heatable brick bed and talked endlessly without getting to the point, insisting to stay awake until midnight. Zhao Zheng’an went out to set off a string of firecrackers, after that he came into the room with a grin: “Wife, Happy New Year!”
Zhong Ziqi also smiled happily and said: “Happy New Year.” This was the first New Year he had ever spent in this world, and he would never forget it for the rest of his life.
The two of them ate their meal before they could no longer hold it and lay down to sleep.