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View Full Version : Adventure of a US Girl in Ancient China (21)



xlwoo
September 13th, 2015, 01:38 PM
Chapter 21

Once more Linda trespassed on the hospitality of a family for the night. The family was so-so financially. After supper, Linda helped to wash the dishes as if she did it in return for the food and board. The couple was in their forties and had a son of twelve. They owned the house and used the front room as a dining place, selling wonton. It could not be called a restaurant. So people called it wonton shop.
The husband and wife were very busy. They must make wonton with minced meat wrapped up in flour skin. When customers came, they cooked it in boiled water. As all the wontons floated on the surface, it meant that wontons were ready to serve. They made some kind of soup at the same time and then they put twenty wontons in a bowl and ladled some soup into it. The son helped to take the bowl of wonton to the customers. Now Linda helped as a waitress. She also learned to make wonton.
At first Linda wanted to leave the next day, but the wife asked her to stay, saying, "If you are not in a hurry to leave, you can stay as long as you like. You are a nice girl. I love you very much."
Since Linda had really nowhere to go, she thought that she could stay here longer, or even for ever if they could get along well. But she did not know, or could not guess, why the woman asked her to stay. As the family lived only from hand to mouth, they could not afford to have their son married to any girls. They hoped that when their son came of age, at sixteen years old, he could marry Linda as she looked like a homeless girl. Although Linda was much older than their son, it did happen in ancient China to take older girls for wife. The sole concept of marriage in ancient China was to get a boy as an heir so that when they died they had someone to inherit their family name and property, if any, and look after their grave. And their ghosts could return home on certain days to enjoy the worship of their posterities.
Anyway, Linda stayed and helped with any work she could do. The shop would open early in the morning, when it was still dark outside. It would close late till the nightfall when the supper time was long over. Then the family would retire to the quarters behind the shop to rest.
Every day they had wonton for three meals. Actually they did not have regular three meals. Whenever anyone of the family, including Linda, felt hungry, he or she just ate wontons till full. It was indeed unbearable to eat wonton everyday, every meal. But what could Linda do or say? Sometimes when the husband went to market shopping for meat, flour and vegetables, he would buy some sweets or different food for Linda. The couple already looked upon her as their future daughter-in-law, and treated her like one.
Three months elapsed. Linda lost the tract of dates and days by the solar calendar, because the battery in her watch had died. In ancient China people used old methods to mark the time and dates. The more accurate way to count the time of the day was to use the sundial, but what if there was no sun that day? A simple machine was invented, named clepsydra or water clock. It consisted of two metal containers, one above the other. The above one holding water had a small hole in the bottom, the water dripping one by one into the lower container through the hole. There were grooves carved on the inner side to mark the time. People could tell time by checking on which groove the water reached. Chinese people divided the day into twelve equal parts. Every part was equal to two hours we use now. And so was the sundial marked.
For those who could not afford a water clock, or a sundial, they could only estimate time by looking at the sun or the light of the day if it was cloudy. Everywhere there were night watchmen, who reported time during the night by going around a certain area and striking a gong. They always worked night shift, beginning at the fall of the night. People divided the night time into five parts. The watchmen hit the gong once in the first part, twice in the second part and thrice in the third part. When they struck five times, it would soon be daybreak.
They had a rich neighbor living close to them, who frequented their wonton shop. He had a son four years older than their son. One day the neighbor visited them in the shop.
“Hello, my old friend!” He accosted the husband. “Long time no see.”
“Ah, my dear neighbor, long time no see.” The neighbor had been absent from his shop for a few months. “Where have you been?”
“Had a tour in the Yunnan Province and bought some herbs.” He was a doctor and owned a herb store. He not only charged his patients for consulting fees, but also sold them the medicine he had made. He earned a great deal of money and was one of the wealthiest men in the village.
“Welcome back, my dear neighbor.” He handed the neighbor a bowl of wonton for free.
While eating, he talked to the husband. “I know you have a homeless girl living with you. I also know you want her to be your daughter-in-law. But your son is still so young. He can’t marry her until four years later. My son just reaches the age to be married. Let’s have a deal, okay?”
“What’s the deal?” The husband was curious to know.
“The girl marries my son and I give you a thousand taels of silver.” He offered.
“Are you kidding me?” The husband was in doubt.
“I’m serious. Think of it, with a thousand taels, you can get any girl for your son.”
A thousand of taels was a lot of money then. It was a great temptation, but he could not make decision all by himself. He must consult his wife first. His wife was the one to decide on everything and anything in the household.
“Although the girl is beautiful, the money is more important. You cannot eat beauty when hungry. You cannot dress beauty when cold. So take the deal.” said the wife.
“How or what can we tell the girl?” asked the husband.
“We don’t need to tell her. Let the doctor tell her himself.”
“Good idea.” The wife consented.
Linda was ignorant about their deal. She lived everyday like the day before until one day when a red palanquin came to the door. Linda was curious to know what that was for. When she stepped out of the door to look, two middle-aged strong women came forth to hold her either arm and push her into the palanquin. Linda struggled, but the two women were too strong for her to get away from their grasp. Linda cried, but no one dared to interfere.
Linda was carried into a big house. When the palanquin stopped in the front courtyard, she was dragged out and rushed into a room. Then the two strong women came in to dress her up in bride’s costume. Linda had seen the costume before and came to know what would happen.
Linda knew that it was futile to resist by force and so she gave up struggle and let the women attire her while she was making a bold plan. When they finished with her, she said to them, “Go to tell your master to come here to see me. I have something very important to tell him.”
The two women did not stir. They were told to watch the girl lest she do something drastic or even commit suicide. Linda saw them standing still as if they were deaf and did not hear what she had spoken.
“It will save his life if he knows what I’m about to say." Linda had to use her last resort.
A matter of life and death was indeed very important. Therefore, the two women did not dare to delay. One of them went out of the room to fetch the doctor.
The doctor was doubtful. “What can the girl tell?” He thought. But he still came to see Linda.
When he came into the room, he saw a beautiful girl sitting on a redwood chair. What surprised him was that the girl had taken off her headwear and showed a headful of golden hair. The doctor seemed to know something about golden hair, but he could not remember anything.
“What do you want to tell me, my girl?” The doctor inquired.
“Do you notice the color of my hair?” Linda pointed to her head.
The doctor made an affirmative gesture.
“I’m the girl the government is seeking for. If they know you are forcing me to marry your son, what do you think they’ll do to you?”
Now it dawned on the doctor. He remembered that he had read the government announcement about a girl with golden hair they were hunting for. The girl must be a VIP or a criminal. Either way, he should report to the government since now the girl was in his house, or he would be punished, even imprisoned. He left Linda in the custody of the two strong women.
After making some arrangement, the doctor returned. He told Linda that he would send her to the local yamen. Linda made no objection and followed him out. There was a coach at the door. She climbed in and it moved forward.