After getting a good night’s sleep Su Tang planned to head into town. She was not particularly anxious about it though and she went through her morning routine as usual. First she calmly got up, then made some red date milk porridge and ate it with her brother. Once they had both eaten, Su Tang picked up her bamboo basket and Su Nuo picked up his basket full of wild peaches and the two of them headed to town together.
After they arrived at the town, Su Tang took Su Nuo straight to East Street. Qinghe Town was not a very big town but it for the time period it was not too small. There were two intersecting streets where merchants and vendors could peddle their wares and East Street was the more popular of the two.
That was because the largest (and only) academy in town was on that street. Because of the academy all the children who wanted to study, whether they were from one of the nearby villages or from the town itself, would at least pass by this street.
Scholars in Qihuang Country had high status so many people wanted to become one, however, it was very expensive to study. Basically, even the most common academy in a smaller town like this would charge at least two taels of silver for a year’s tuition. If you thought about it, hardly any of the villagers who lived in this area were able to earn two taels of silver in a year so they really couldn’t afford to study at all.
What’s more, the cost of studying was not just tuition. The academy did not provide accommodation or meals, so if the student didn’t live nearby those things would cost extra money. And apart from that, the other significant cost came in the form of books, paper, and ink. Even the most inexpensive books cost around 500 copper coins and students often need to buy important book for their studies , not just the cheapest ones. Those books would cost at least one or two, or maybe even more, taels of silver. For the most expensive books it could cost up to dozens of taels.
And the rarer a book was the more it would cost. Some books were printed using a new method called ‘block printing’ so they were a bit cheaper but as students progressed in their studies and needed higher levels of materials, the fewer of those materials would be available. That was because basically all the highest level books were the personal manuscripts of some scholar or other, so they were naturally very expensive.
On top of all that, things like ink, paper, writing implements, and inkstones were all precious and expensive things so only a very rich farmer could even afford to send their children to study. It wasn’t that they didn’t know that studying could change their fate or that they didn’t want to study, it was just that most people couldn’t afford it, so knowing was in vain.
The end result was that scholars were more or less only produced by wealthy families. So, because of the existence of the academy on East Street of Qinghe Town, there were often a lot of people on the road who came from households that were more or less well off, which was why a lot of shops had opened near the academy.
There were bookstores and stores that sold writing implements, ink and inkstones. But it wasn’t just stores that sold scholarly supplies, even Fuxing House, the largest restaurant in town, was built on East Street. Of course, there were also some relatively more affordable small shops and street vendors on the road.
Of course, not all the students who came to study were well-off. The poorer students generally had to go to and from their nearby villages, but there was obviously no way they could make a long round trip at lunch time, so many students had to spend some money to buy their lunches every day.
Today Su Tang planned to bring her fish balls to the Fuxing House to see if she could reach some sort of cooperative agreement. After all, the fish balls produced by the space did not have any bones and they tasted good, so they could be considered to be very high quality. Plus Qinghe Town was close to the Qing River so everyone already had the habit of eating fish. Even though fish balls were fairly common, there were not many fish balls on the market that were comparable to Su Tang’s at all.
If she could seal a deal then, judging by how many customers Fuxing House had every day, she would finally have a fixed source of income.
With those thoughts in mind, Su Tang took Su Nuo and walked over to Fuxing House. The two siblings approached the front door together and when Su Tang saw a waiter standing at the door, she went forward and said, “Greetings to this little brother, I…”
But the waiter at the door took one look at them and instantly dismissed them in his mind. After all, the two siblings were dressed in very shabby clothes. Even though their clothes weren’t obviously dirty, they were very old and had been patched so many times that the clothes were covered in huge swathes of black stitches, to the point that it looked like there were ugly centipedes crawling on the bodies of the siblings.
Su Tang only just opened her mouth but before she could finish her words, the waiter cut her off, “Is this a place where you poor farmers can come? If you are trying to bring anything, you need to go to the back yard. Don’t dirty our floors with your feet and make the distinguished guests unhappy.”
The waiter didn’t give Su Tang a chance to say a single word before he was already shooing her away. Su Tang was stunned at first, but then her face flushed with anger.
In modern times, if she had encountered something like this, Su Tang would have been glad to argue with him all day. It would be good if she could record it all with her cell phone, and then write a big essay online to ruin the restaurant’s reputation when she went home.
But she was now in ancient times, so she could only put up with the fact that she would be looked down on by others because of her clothes.
Su Tang clenched her tiny fists before spinning on her heel and walking away from Fuxing House without saying a word. As she left, she happened to notice that some people eating inside were pointing at her and laughing at her and her brother.
Su Tang clenched her teeth, pulled Su Nuo behind her and left. She would remember what happened today.
Hearing the commotion coming from downstairs, Huang Daxing, the boss of Fuxing House, came down and asked, “What’s going on?”
When the waiter saw the boss was coming, he quickly leaned forward ingratiatingly. “It’s no big deal. It was just some idiot peasants from a village who didn’t know what kind of place our Fuxing House is, they dared to come directly to the door, but fortunately I sent them away and it didn’t affect our distinguished guests.”
When he spoke, he seemed to forget that he was only a waiter and that his own parents were also peasants who made their living farming in a village.
When Huang Daxing heard what the waiter said, he just nodded and went back upstairs.
After Su Tang pulled Su Nuo away, she took a deep breath and suppressed her anger. Su Nuo looked at his sister like this and spoke with reddened eyes. “He is a bad guy! Bullying my sister!”
Su Tang didn’t expect that the little guy would say something like that. She turned to look at him and found that the boy’s eyes were red with anger. He already wasn’t a little child who didn’t understand anything. How could he not know that they had both been looked down upon just now?
“Xiao Nuo you will study hard in the future, and then everyone will respect us and no one will not look down on us anymore, okay?” Su Tang had never felt quite as firmly as she did in this moment that she must send Su Nuo to begin his studies soon.
In this country, or even in this world, only by studying and getting ahead would they not be treated so lightly.
Su Nuo nodded firmly in response, “OK, I will study hard in the future. I will take the entrance examination and become an official who protects his sister.”
Although she had felt insulted just now, her anger disappeared when she heard her brother’s words. Su Tang smiled and reached out to pat Su Nuo’s head. “Good. Anyway, Fuxing House doesn’t want to work with us, so let’s just find someone else.”
It wasn’t like Fuxing House was the only place in the food business. If she couldn’t strike a deal in one place, she would just find a second place.
Just as Su Tang was pulling her brother away to find another place, a young man and his servants appeared not far from where they had been standing.
“It’s them.” Pengmo looked somewhat surprised to see the retreating backs of Su Tang and her brother. It had only been a few days since they came to Qinghe Town but they had already seen this sister and brother pair twice.
When the young man heard what he said, he also glanced in the direction where Su Tang and brother had left. His hand rested idly on the sword that was strapped on his waist and his face was an expressionless mask. “The largest restaurant in Qinghe Town doesn’t seem very good at all.”
Pengmo was surprised that this young master actually said such words, but he quickly smiled and said, “Of course. There’s no way it could compare to the restaurants in the capital.”
Pengmo assumed that the young man was just not used to the restaurants out in the countryside yet. When he heard Pengmo’s words, the young man just glanced at the other man before turning to leave. The way that little money grubber didn’t smile at all today somehow seemed very annoying to his eyes. This run-down restaurant had spoiled his mood.
Pengmo was surprised to see the young master leaving. “Young master, weren’t you going to Fuxing House for a meal?” How could he say he wanted to eat somewhere but then just leave when they got there?
“I lost my appetite. I’m not eating any more!” Pengmo heard the young man’s answer and all he could do was shake his head helplessly before following him away.