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2. This is a fan work and the interpretation represents only the translator’s personal views without any input from the author.
3. No permission has been granted to use, publish, upload and/or copy this translation to any other site except for Second Life Translations.
During dinner, they heard more and more people celebrating the New Year outside. Many little kids were racing around, screaming and laughing wildly on a backdrop of frequent bursts of firecrackers. The mood was very festive.
Inside the house, Liu Changgeng was bent over, clearing up the rabbit nest. He had made it much much larger than it used to be. When he left the room, he prepared to move the chicken coop out. Otherwise, as the number of rabbits increased, there wouldn’t be enough space for them. Furthermore, the little rabbits were easily frightened and the chickens made a lot of noise.
After working for a day, he had completed a sturdy looking frame against the outside wall. There was some oiled felt and a bit of broken off woven mat covering it. After moving two large rocks to hold them in place, he told Liu Shu to get some broken clay bowls to use for their feed.
Liu Shu headed off to search. He explained the request to He shi who was slightly incredulous. “Who uses clay bowls for chickens? There aren’t enough for humans to use.”
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The family gathered around the table to eat and drink merrily. Laughter rang around the table. Liu Changgeng savoured a sip of wine before looking at his two elder sons. Then he looked at his youngest son, rolling about on the kang, before finally turning his attention to his daughter sitting at his side. Emotionally, he said, “Next New Year, all of you will have new clothes! Also firecrackers! All of you will be able to set off firecrackers at our door. Our house, too, will be lively!”
He shi looked at each of her children. They were still dressed in their usual plain clothes. The one consolation was that at least the clothes covered them completely and none of their limbs were exposed. She was about to sigh when Liu Xu’er smiled and interrupted, “Mum! Why sigh? This year, we didn’t do too badly. And now that we all have a goal, next year will definitely be better than this. From now on, things will get better and better!”
Liu Changgeng quickly nodded. “That’s right! It’s not good to moan and sigh over the New Year!”
Liu Shu also nodded, “That’s true! When we separated earlier this year, you were worried that we wouldn’t have enough food. But now, we can have chicken, fish, pig head meat!”
Liu Lin laughed. He asked Liu Sen, “Senzi, do you think we’ve been eating well recently? Haven’t you been able to have egg custard often?”
Liu Sen was very full. He had been contentedly playing on the kang, but hearing this, he quickly nodded, “I want to eat egg custard!”
Liu Xu’er was amused. She laughed and scolded Liu Lin, “Why did you remind him?!”
He shi finally let out a little laugh. Smiling, she said, “That’s true, what all of you have said is true. Our lives have definitely gotten much better…. Don’t go, he’s full!” He shi pulled on Liu Xu’er, preventing her from going to steam an egg custard for Liu Sen.
When most of the food was finished, He shi brought Liu Xu’er to the kitchen to help cook the dumplings.
When it was close to midnight, they brought the dumplings out. At this time, the sound of firecrackers started to intensify, resounding through the village.
Senzi had already fallen asleep, but he was woken by the firecrackers outside. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up to eat the dumplings. Energised by that late snack, he wanted to play outside, so Liu Lin accompanied him into the courtyard.
He shi and Liu Xu’er tidied up the dining table, and the whole family gathered on the kang to chat. Liu Changgeng and He shi looked at the few completed pieces that Liu Xu’er had completed and felt that they looked quite decent. But they were still unsure if they would sell. He shi asked, “How much are you planning to sell them for?”
Liu Xu’er smiled, “I actually hadn’t thought of it……” Saying this, she quickly remembered another matter. She said, “Dad, mum! Now that you’ve mentioned this, it reminds me of something else. Shi Cheng said that we need to record down how much we spend and earn in an account book. That’s so that we can be clear about how much money we make! I too think it’s important to keep good accounts!”
Liu Changgeng nodded, “That’s true! We need to keep accounts…. Since you can write, then you keep the accounts for us!”
Liu Xu’er quickly shook her head. Pointing at Liu Shu, she said, “I think it would be best for dage to keep them. His memory is really good – he could remember all the prices of things.” The main motive for getting Liu Shu to keep accounts was to persuade her parents to allow Liu Shu and Liu Lin to study under a proper teacher. So she exaggerated her dage’s skill, “The last time, we bought so much stuff I couldn’t remember what we spent and where. It was dage who remembered and explained them all to me. But I still couldn’t remember. When we got back, I had forgotten everything. Whereas dage remembered and even wrote it on a wall so everything was clear!”
Liu Changgeng and He shi looked amazed at Liu Shu. Liu Shu scratched his head and smiled, “It wasn’t that good… I just forced myself to remember is all.”
Liu Xu’er said, “Dad, you think it’s important for someone to keep accounts too right? Of course we need to have a dedicated person do it. Otherwise, if a person is busy doing other things as well, it’s easy to get all mixed up… I think it would be best for dage to do it! The only thing is that he doesn’t know a lot of words…. My erge also doesn’t know that many…. And then there’s me.”
Hearing this, Liu Shu had unconsciously started to nod in agreement because he too felt that the number of words he knew was too few. There were so many words he didn’t know.
Liu Changgeng and He shi turned to look at each other, before turning back to Liu Xu’er, “What are you suggesting? Are you thinking of getting your ge to go out and study? But…. we can’t afford to send them to school.”
Liu xuy’er tilted her head and asked, “Why can’t we send them? I’ve asked Shi Cheng and he said that school fees are only one to two taels of silver a year. We will also need to send the teachers some gifts during the different festive occasions…. I know that we can’t afford it now, but this year, we will start doing business. If we do it well, we should be able to afford it…. It’s just that we should get dage and erge to start schooling early next year…. After all, the school year is fixed! If they can learn something, it would be good for our family! We would have someone that can read.”
Liu Changgeng lowered his head in thought. Between the two parents, he was the softer touch. In addition, his mother Liu Gao shi was a literate person. Although most village families didn’t think there was any use in learning to read, they usually realise it’s usefulness when they need someone who could read and can’t find anyone to help for miles around.
He shi however, questioned, “Wait, wait, wait? Are you also thinking of including your erge…. We don’t have that much silver!”
“Erge is a boy too! People will look down on him if he can’t read.”
“What do you mean? Most village boys can’t read! Out of 10, nine boys in a village won’t have had any schooling, so who would look down on them! Furthermore, if both of them go to school, then who will do the work at home? Your gege both need to help with the labor!”
Liu Shu quickly tried to mediate, “Why don’t I go and learn from Shi Cheng instead….”
“His mother supervises his lessons closely. If you keep looking for Shi Cheng and take up his time, do you think Aunt Shi would be happy?”
Liu Changgeng lifted his head and said, “We will continue to discuss this matter. Being able to study is a good thing. I’ve heard that in town, a teacher has opened a school. Students don’t need to attend daily. They can go twice or thrice a month to learn some words. The school fees are also not too expensive, about a tael of silver per year. When the market has re-opened, we will go and ask. If the school is still accepting students, then we should let Liu Shu and Liu Lin attend. “ He looked toward He shi and said, “Xu’er’s crafts should be able to make some money. Letting the children study is a very proper thing to do.”
Since he said this, how could He shi refuse. She only sighed and said, “Alright, alright, alright. Both you masters make the decision! Now, Xu’er is managing the house, she makes the decisions!”
Liu Xu’er stuck her tongue out. “Mum, are you upset? I promise I will listen to you from now on, alright?”
He shi laughed. Poking her gently in the forehead, she said, “You don’t listen to me at all! And now you say you will listen?”
Liu Xu’er smiled. She was about to go and sweet talk her mother when Liu Lin carried a yawning Senzi in. “Mum, Senzi is very sleepy!”
He shi quickly stretched her arms to carry Liu Sen. Gently placing him on the kang , she gently soothed Senzi to sleep. Liu Lin too climbed on top of the kang, while the entire family continued their soft discussion. When Liu Lin heard about school, he excitedly nodded and said, “I want to go! Shi Cheng can read – he can read an entire book! Even meimei knows more words than me!”
As the discussion continued, Liu Changgeng’s resolve to send his children to school hardened. No matter what, they should all go!
At around 3-5 am, the outside was pitch black. Liu Changgeng got all his children to put on their warmest clothing. Liu Shu went to the kitchen stove to look for a lit ember and lit up a torch.
Liu Changgeng inched off the kang and dressed warmly. He instructed He shi to stay at home and looked at the sleeping Senzi. Then he took his crutches and brought the rest of his children back to the old house.
Because he didn’t want Fourth to have to carry him, he left very early and slowly made his way toward the old residence. When they had just arrived, they saw Liu Changshi putting on his cap and heading out. When he saw them, he let out a surprised shout, “Why are you here? Didn’t we agree that I would carry you over?”
Liu Changgeng smiled and said, “It’s alright, I can walk. It’s just that it’s slow.”
When they entered, Liu Gao shi was setting up the memorial tables. Because farming families didn’t have the means to dedicate a room to their ancestral tablets, they usually placed them in a safe place and covered them up with cloth. Or they would be placed in a chest and taken out whenever the occasion called for it.
Old Man Liu was just saying, “Now that we have so many empty rooms, let’s tidy one up and dedicate it for the tablets. We can offer them incense and set up a table.”