Chapter 11: Some things are irreversible
After being released from school in the late afternoon, Xu Tingsheng walked back home along Road 11.
Initially, he had still thought that he had forgotten how his bicycle looked like, having looked for it in the bicycle shed for a long time. Finally, he remembered that he had gone to Yanzhou the previous weekend, not actually having ridden it over to school.
No wonder his father had asked during lunch whether he should wait for him.
When Xu Tingsheng arrived home, his mother had already finished preparing dinner, currently breaking some eggs and heating up some rice wine while his father sat by the dining table with a teacup as he conversed with a guest.
The guest visiting their home couldn’t actually be considered a guest. It was the son of a neighbouring family, named Wang Jingfang.
Wang Jingfang’s name had actually been given by the sole teacher of Daluo Village Primary, Mr Wu. In the hometown dialect they spoke, ‘Fang’ was equivalent to ‘Ten Thousand’. Ten thousand yuan had still been a great amount of money that year. By the logic of boys being more valuable than girls, his sister had been named Wang Jiaqian, ‘Qian’ meaning ‘Thousand’. These two names were much liked by the villagers, but weren’t the names that Mr Wu, someone who had christened most of the children in the village, liked the most. He said that while these two names possessed sufficient meaning, they still lacked depth.
Mr Wu had been happiest with the names he had given to a pair of brothers of the village. The elder brother was named Li Congjia, the same as a later Emperor of the Southern Tang, while the younger brother was named Li Congliang.
No one in the village had known that what the characters ‘Cong’ and ‘Liang’ together connotated. It had only been when a girl who had been working in some city of Guangdong for a few years returned that the matter had been exposed.
“The two of us are the same!” She had said to Li Congliang, with ‘Congliang’ entailing a prostitute having gone back to the right path.
Xu Tingsheng was greatly thankful for his father not having gotten Mr Wu to choose his name for him, even though his name also appeared rather perfunctory.
“Mom, Dad, I’m home.”
“Jingfang, you’re here? Stay behind for dinner later.”
Xu Tingsheng tried to appear as natural as possible as he greeted everyone.
“Your sister is doing her homework. You go call her then,” His mother said.
Xu Tingsheng knocked on the door of his sister, Xu Qiuyi’s room. There was no response.
“Doing her homework… she’s definitely sleeping again,” Xu Tingsheng thought.
Opening the door, his sister was indeed currently sprawled across the table in deep sleep, still smiling amidst her dreams as two big dimples were revealed on her face. His sister was that kind of miraculous person, loving to eat and sleep since young, yet still possessing a good figure, her results being even better. If not for that accident that had occurred in the family in his previous lifetime, she would probably have been an eternally happy and cheerful little girl.
It was the tough times that had befallen the family that had forced her to learn to be sensible early on, becoming thrifty and independent.
Sometimes, if you very much love a person, you would wish that he or she need not be that sensible, a necessary precondition for this being that you possess the strength to protect him or her.
“Qiuyi, Brother will perform to my utmost in this lifetime such that you will never have to become too sensible, forever remaining a happy and adorable little girl,” Xu Tingsheng said softly.
“Ah…brother, what did you say?” His sister dazedly awoke, yawning as she asked.
“Uh…nothing. Mom asked me to call you over to eat. Hurry up, or you’ll be beaten again.”
Xu Tingsheng leapt up in shock, frantically leaving the room whereupon he went to chat with his father and Wang Jingfang.
Wang Jingfang was of a similar age to Xu Tingsheng, the two having been playmates when they were young. To put it simply, he was that person who had accompanied him in doing many naughty things ever since young, along the line of stealing chickens or pushing down fruits from trees to eat. Everyone had such a person in their younger years.
According to the memories of Xu Tingsheng’s previous life, Wang Jingfang had not continued studying after having graduated from junior high. Instead, he had opened a farm and bred pigs for two years at his home, then suddenly sold his pig farm and joined the army. Sadly, being a soldier had already no longer been a very good path. After having left the army, Wang Jingfang had not returned home, instead having found a job as a security guard in the city.
When the two had met once more in his previous life, Wang Jingfang had already been married, also having sired a two year old child.
That return trip of his had been in order to avoid his debtors.
Wang Jingfang had married his wife in the district where he had served the army. After he had left the army and they had been wed, his wife’s entire family had come to live with him, the grandparents and the little children, the parents as well as a little brother, all not working and just relying on that little bit of income he had in order to survive. Not having had a choice, Wang Jingfang had gotten a bunch of credit cards, swiping the cards in other to pass his days, offsetting card with card. Finally, unable to go on any longer, the twenty over cards combined had left him ridden more than 400000 yuan in debt.
At that time, just having graduated not long ago, Xu Tingsheng had given him two thousand yuan for emergency purposes. Afterwards, he had not heard any further news of him, just knowing by word of his mother that he had been chased out by his parents, his whereabouts unknown.
“Calculating the time, this should be around where Wang Jingfang enters the army,” Xu Tingsheng thought.
Wang Jingfang had precisely come here to discuss this matter of joining the army with Mr Xu, wanting to listen to his opinion. Seeing that dinnertime was here, as Mrs Xu set down the wineglasses, bowls and chopsticks, he made himself at home, sitting down to eat dinner alongside them.
Mr Xu poured wine for himself and Wang Jingfang, saying to Xu Tingsheng as he looked at him, “You drink after your exams are over.”
Regarding Wang Jingfang entering the army, Mr Xu used his personal outlook on life to judge it, naturally giving him his full support. This round of wine was more or less in honour of his departure.
As Wang Jingfang and Mr Xu clinked wine glasses, swallowing a mouthful of wine, the former said after a little hesitation, “About joining the army, I went to ask about it a few days back, and the people inside told me that the available places remaining are not many. If I really want to enter, I’d first have to fork out twenty thousand yuan. I wish to ask Uncle Xu-what is your take on this?”
Mr Xu pondered for a moment, “Is this about money…?”
Wang Jingfang hurriedly shook his head, “No, no. I have some money saved up from these two years, and as for the remaining portion, I intend to sell my pig farm. It should be sufficient with that.”
“So this is the process of Wang Jingfang selling the pig farm and joining the army. I wonder why I didn’t participate in this conversation in my previous life…could it be that I didn’t return home that week?”
Xu Tingsheng thought for a bit, then interrupted, “Why don’t you just raise pigs then? …About that, our teacher has said that joining the army is already no longer a very good path. If you didn’t have your pig farm and didn’t have to fork out that twenty thousand yuan, I think that going out to train yourself a little would not be a bad thing, but the way that it is now…why don’t you just continue raising pigs?”
Wang Jingfang shook his head, “On one hand, I still want to be a soldier. No matter what, it is still a path. On the other, the pig farm can also not be sustained much longer. As soon as that SARS came, the price of pork has been continually falling. Last month, there was still someone who was willing to fork out thirty thousand yuan, and I hesitated a bit. Now, the price has already fallen to sixteen thousand.”
Xu Tingsheng searched through his memories. During the SARS period of 2003, the price of pork had indeed reached a great slump. Many breeders had been unable to withstand the pressure, either selling their farms at a loss or slaughtering the pigs and burying them, causing the amount of living pigs to drastically decrease. However, this slump actually passed by very quickly. After the most dangerous few months had passed, in remote counties such as Libei County, the fear of the people towards SARS had very quickly vanished. The price of pork had rapidly skyrocketed, the market price reaching almost twice that before the occurrence of SARS.
Nearing the end of that year, due to the appearance of bird flu, chicken meat, duck meat and other bird meat staples had temporarily left the usual recipes of the people, objectively pushing up the price of pork yet further.
As he thought of this, Xu Tingsheng said, “I heard people say that SARS will be over very quickly. Let’s think of it this way: If the number of people who raise pigs decrease, after SARS is over, won’t the price of pork then shoot up?”
Wang Jingfang and Mr Xu both looked rather surprisedly at Xu Tingsheng, Mr Xu asking curiously, “Your meaning then is?”
Xu Tingsheng considered for a moment before answering, “What I mean is that not only should Jingfang continue raising pigs, it is best that you purchase some more pig farms at a low price following this wave of plummeting prices, increasing the scale of your pig rearing business. That way, after SARS is over, you might even be able to make a small fortune.”
Mr Xu hesitated for a moment before asking Wang Jingfang, “Jingfang, what do you think about what Tingsheng said?”
Wang Jingfang scratched his head, smiling, “I’m also not sure. I’m just selling seeing that everyone is also selling.”
Xu Tingsheng felt rather anxious as he hurriedly said, “Then, remember to properly think about it when you get back. Don’t hurry to make a decision; I feel that the possibility of the situation I spoke of happening is very high.”
Wang Jingfang nodded, not saying anything.
Mr Xu also did not speak.
After Wang Jingfang had left, Xu Tingsheng’s mother and sister having gone to see a movie after having eaten their fill, only the Xu father and son were left by the dining table. Mr Xu hesitated for a while before pouring half a glass of rice wine for Xu Tingsheng.
Xu Tingsheng raised his wineglass, clinking it with his father’s as he asked, “Dad, what do you think Jingfang’s decision will be?”
Mr Xu smiled, “Jingfang is different from you. His ideas are actually more similar to my generation of people, no longer having the courage to take risks after having tried it once. Whatever one says, becoming a soldier is also a bit more stable than what you said.”
Xu Tingsheng understood the meaning in Mr Xu’s words. On the surface, he was talking about Wang Jingfang, but actually, was he not also talking about himself?
“Dad, I feel that you are actually still quite young. How do I say it, that is…you can still achieve great things,” Xu Tingsheng smiled as he said.
“Achieve the hell great things,” Mr Xu’s laugh had always been very hearty, a remnant of his younger, high-spirited days.
Now, he said with a smile, “Now, what I wish for is just you and your sister both being healthy and studying properly. This family will be depending on you in the future… myself, I don’t have much thoughts left,” At the latter part of his words, Mr Xu’s radiant smile had already been replaced by helplessness and desolation.
Seeing this, Xu Tingsheng suddenly said solemnly, “But you aren’t resigned to it. I don’t believe that someone who dared to start a factory at the age of eighteen would be willing to spend the rest of his lifetime like this.”
Mr Xu was silent.
Xu Tingsheng continued, “Dad, I am unresigned as well. I still like that you of the past, drinking wine in great bowls, conversing and laughing loudly. Mom told me about how you were in the past, waving your hands and treating all the female staff of the nearby three factories to watch a movie, even purposely giving your own movie ticket to mom…at that time, the you of back then were so wild and dashing.”
“Watch what words you’re using; you’re going to take your university entrance examinations like this? How is that called wild? That’s called…technique. If not for chasing your mother and being somewhat embarrassed to be too direct, do you think I would have beared to treat so many people to watch a movie?!” Mr Xu again slapped Xu Tingsheng just like he wanted, just that of course, it was only a gentle pat.
“Fine, technique… Anyway, I’ve always been thinking these two years that you can’t always be stuck in the fields like this. As long as there is a chance and a sum of money, you can start over once more.”
Mr Xu was evidently somewhat moved by his words as he pondered for a while before replying slowly, “How would it be so easy? Our family only has that little bit of money now, and I wish to use it for your and your sister’s education fees. Let alone not being sufficient to start a factory, even if it were, I also wouldn’t take such a risk with it.”
Xu Tingsheng hurriedly asked, “Dad, can you tell me how much money our family has now?”
Mr Xu looked doubtfully at his son, revealing, “A little more than thirty thousand yuan-what would that be enough for?”
In the year 2003, thirty thousand was not a lot, but also not very little, as Xu Tingsheng said after pondering for a while, “Dad, you can’t always limit your thoughts to opening a factory. Thirty thousand yuan is insufficient to start a factory, but you can start many other businesses with it. As for what exactly and how to go about it, let us father and son discuss it further after my university entrance examinations are over. Anyway, I hope for you to first find back your confidence and that drive you had before.”
Mr Xu thought about it, next smiling as he nodded, “We’ll wait for your graduation then.”
Hearing his father say so, Xu Tingsheng’s mood improved greatly as he clinked wine glasses with him, drinking it all down in a single gulp, “I’ll drink first to it, father’s…surging back into prominence, subjugating foes all around.”
Mr Xu laughed heartily, raising his wineglass and downing its contents with a single gulp.
Xu Tingsheng did not know how much this talk had moved his father, nor did he know whether his father had steeled his resolve. His thoughts were very simple: if his father still had that fervour and drive, deciding to surge back into prominence, he would help his father to think up an idea for it. Peacefully moving things from the back and becoming a rich second gen was also not a bad idea.
It was often said that it was naught but a father who knew his son. Actually, how did a son not understand his father as well? Xu Tingsheng knew that his father was actually greatly competent, at least more so than himself of his previous life, just that he lacked the desire for such.
Then… if his father still shrunk back in the end? Xu Tingsheng had also thought about it before. If so, he would work diligently and let his father live out his remaining years in peace and comfort through his own abilities.
The second day, Xu Tingsheng did not see Wang Jingfang.
On the third day, a Sunday, Xu Tingsheng slept all the way till noon. When he awoke, Wang Jingfang just happened to be visiting his home. Without even having put on his clothes neatly, Xu Tingsheng scrambled over.
Wang Jingfang was here to say his goodbyes. He had still decided to sell his pig farm to join the army.
“Won’t you consider it again? SARS will be over very quickly; I guarantee it,” Amidst his panicked emotions, Xu Tingsheng used the word ‘guaranteed’.
Wang Jingfang smiled, “I have already gotten the money from selling the pig farm and also finished using it. The matter of joining the army is already virtually set in stone… So, Uncle Xu, Tingsheng, I’ll be off then. I’ll see you again after I’ve left the army.”
Wang Jingfang left.
Xu Tingsheng waved at him somewhat blankly.
He had not been able to change Wang Jingfang’s choice of selling his pig farm at a low price to join the army, and also did not know whether what would follow in Wang Jingfang’s life would be the same as in his previous life.
He was just feeling rather chaotic inside.
Even while the fortune of rebirth had been gifted to him along with knowledge of the future, some people, some things-at the end of the day, they just could not be reversed.