☆ Chapter 27: Pleasure Boat
 巳 | ci | one of the ancient Chinese two-hour periods; designated for 9-11 am
Every spring season, the people that had been cooped up in the city for the winter all flowed outside the city gates in groups to bask in the natural scent of the grassy fields and hire a pleasure boat to go sightseeing.
This was the time when Lan River was most bustling with activity. The bazaar and temple fairs were all taking advantage of this period to collect money. Many peddlers walked around, shouting for passerbys to buy the local specialties of Lan Zhou. Furthermore, there were a few street troupes and jugglers that would start performing upon coming to an area crowded with people by arranging makeshift public venues.
On Lan River, there were innumerable small boats with sails that looked that specks against the blue waves. On the multitude of beautifully decorated pleasure boats, there was bound to be a few that held banquets for the sake of conducting blind dates or for poetry clubs. All the young misters of each family were dressed in bright and clean clothing, leisurely waving a fan with one hand while long swords were strapped to their waists, full of an heroic and outstanding air.
All the young madams and misses also took this chance to look for their ideal husband. Whether they were looking for a principal husband or a secondary husband, it all depended on their own ability and the status of the other party. If both parties were willing, a matchmaker would be dispatched to link the two together. If one party was not willing, just simply turn one’s head and re-select.
Ruan Zhu had transmigrated not too recently, so how could she know of these things? She came out merely to enjoy the fun. Because she was still considered a bride, her appearance was delicate and colorful. She wore a lake blue skirt made out of diaphanous muslin, embroidered with small pinkish white orchids. Paired with the head ornaments she had forged at Ming Xiang Cui Yu that accentuated her delicate features, her entire appearance was unspeakably eye-catching.
Yun Shi Yi carried her down the carriage. The young man couldn’t help but have his eyes linger on her body as he took in her stunning appearance. He once again felt proud in his heart and pleased with himself and carefully rearranged her slightly rumpled clothing.
“The pleasure boat I rented is not lacking in anything, so do not hesitate to play to your heart’s content. Once this husband has finished settling work matters in the city, I will come and accompany you here.” As she had just come to Lan Zhou and had yet to make friends, Yun Shi Yi was worried that she would become bored and stuffy staying at home all day so had suggested they go out for the day. Unfortunately, he once again couldn’t accompany her. He had partnered with a friend earlier to import a batch of Phoebe zhennan wood[a] from the South. Not wanting it to be detained by the corrupt local authorities in Liu Zhou, he was currently planning to send men to negotiate and resolve the situation.
Yun Shi Yi’s face was bright and clear as if he had been cleansed by a spring wind but Ruan Zhu still noticed a trace of melancholy in his face. Feeling a bit worried, she feigned a light tone and said: “Then you have to hurry, ah~ Don’t wait until the gates are closed, leaving me alone on board. At that time when I leave with others, where would you look for me?”
Yun Shi Yi caressed her fine jet-black hair and saw that in her beautifully coiled suiyunji hairstyle, an unusual gold buyao that he knew she had personally designed was inserted. He praised his young wife’s aesthetics in his mind–this style of buyao has never been worn by anyone else.
Ever since they got married, it seems they’ve never gone on an outing together! He was reluctant to leave, embracing her for a while longer. The tip of his tongue brushing against her ear, he murmured: “Wife, I will rush over as quickly as possible.”
Ruan Zhu’s heart felt as sweet as honey and her eyes flickered with affection. In a low voice: “Eldest Cousin, I want to be alone with you tonight. Don’t let Second Cousin come over.”
“That is exactly what I wanted.” Yun Shi Yi’s brows and eyes curved in a smile. The beautiful woman in his arms also coincidentally smiled, revealing her two shallow dimples. His heart itched at the sight. If there was no one around, he would have passionately kissed her.
But by the side, Yun Feng was not caught up in their atmosphere and urged: “Master, it’s almost the hour of ci. The ones assisting cannot be kept waiting in Tian Yi Pavilion. May Master not delay this matter.”
Yun Shi Yi sighed. Letting go of Ruan Zhu, he turned and re-entered the carriage with Yun Feng.
Ruan Zhu watched as the back of the carriage faded from view, feeling a little disappointed. There was finally a chance to come out and play but she was still alone. Lately, she also didn’t know where the hell Yun Shi Wei has gone to. Early in the morning, there would be no trace of his silhouette and he would return all smelly late in the evenings. She had two hubbies yet neither of them could stay by her side to keep her company.
The boat that Yun Shi Yi had rented was over ten meters long. Richly ornamented, it had a very elegant air. There were various delicate fruit pastries and desserts; vegetables, rice, oil, and salt; all the utensils and other necessities one could think of required for eating; even multiple sets of clothing already prepared. Ruan Zhu looked at it all and involuntarily laughed. In the past when she had read novels that depicted the wealthy going out for an outing, she had always thought they prepared for the trip as if they were going through a regular day in their lives. She hadn’t thought that she would be able to experience it herself.
The boatman steered the pleasure boat away from the shore and let it slowly travel along the river.
In her previous life, Ruan Zhu had never come to such a large area before but it was only natural as the lakes and ponds near her city had all become so polluted that they were in no condition to be seen by tourists. If it wasn’t a plastic bag, then it was a plastic water bottle floating on the surface. Contrast that with this era’s clear and crystalline blue jade surface that gleamed with the sun’s reflection like a natural mirror. The sun’s rays shone on the water droplets like a layer of gauze.
If at this moment she was in a small canoe rather than this large pleasure boat, she would have really wanted to extend her hand into the lake water to have a sense of the water quality of a thousand years ago.
“Miss, this is the iced strawberry drink prepared as you described. Please have a taste to see if it is to your liking.” Nuan Chun carried a bright white jade cup over.
Ruan Zhu accepted the cup and sampled it. She nodded: “This is fine.” She truly wasn’t accustomed to the tea of this era and stir-fried tea also wasn’t something easily manufactured in a short amount of time. So instead, she had taught them how to make fruit juice. Though the spring season’s fruit selection was limited, she was luckily fond of strawberries.
Carrying the jade cup to the deck, she turned her gaze outwards. Ships of all different sizes were interspersed on Lan River, weaving back and forth. She suddenly felt carefree and relaxed.
The boatman was in his forties and his small eyes were rather shrewd. He had often teamed up with courtesans by helping them solicit customers on his boat for some extra income, so he fawningly said: “There are no Madams and Misses that come to play on Lan River that don’t have some brothers to drink wine with. If Madam has a brother that she would like to invite, why not tell this little one which household he is from? This little one will call him over for you.”
Ruan Zhu was startled. Why were these words sound so familiar? They were like the words that a brothel owner would say to solicit customers in movies and television. Too busy to think too deeply about it, she hurriedly dismissed the idea: “No need, I don’t have one.”
But when she slightly thought harder, the meaning became clear. It seems he had wanted her to visit a a prostitute. Using her previous world’s method of reflection, if she had accepted a male prostitute, did that signify as her visiting a prostitute or would others see her as the prostitute? One really couldn’t do things where they spent money yet still incurred losses. Furthermore, there was also the dangerous possibility of being infected by sexually transmitted diseases. It’s said that at the end of the Qing dynasty, there was an emperor that had died precisely because he had visited a low-grade brothel and carelessly caught an STD.
The boatman was a little disappointed, but he had been doing this for over ten years now so what kind of people had he not met before? Just from looking at the clothes of the Madam in front of him, it was possible to see that she was extremely well-off who could, in passing, give a courtesan several taels of silver at once. If he could split it with his partner, that would be the equivalent of the pay gained as a boatman over several days’ of hard work. He was a secondary husband and after his stupid son had separated from the family, he fundamentally didn’t have any assets to his name. He had to suffer so much and it was all for the sake of his child. He thickened his face and smiled: “There’s no shortage of us good brothers on Lan River so this little one will first call two of them over for Madam. If Madam is not fond of them, then we can just send them back. It would not use much money.”
Ruan Zhu had not expected he would think for himself and act accordingly[b].
But Nuan Chun and Nuan Qing seemed to be accustomed to this. Which family’s young Miss, which family’s Madam, would not bestow their fellow womenfolk a spring excursion while recruiting a few courtesans to sing and dance for entertainment? Even a few honorable Madams would frequently call their friends to visit the brothels together.
The two men that were called were around sixteen or seventeen years of age. With a face full of makeup and dressed in bright red and green clothing, just looking at them caused one to have a headache. The men had muddled around in life and being a courtesan was about all they could do. Looking at their appearance, they were obviously also false women and seeing them made her want to spit. It would be a wonder if she could muster up any desire for any of them.
Ruan Zhu very gloomily asked the boatman: “Are all of your Lan River brothers of this conduct?”
The boatman was experienced and knowledgeable and knew that these two brothers did not conform to this Madam’s expectations. He smiled: “This Madam seems to be a foreigner. Among us brothers of the Lan River, there are multiple with reputation and fame. They are the Four Great Masters–Lu Piao Xiang, Wan Zi Yu, Feng Qing Bai, Shen Cong Yun. Which of them is not among the world’s best? They know how to write poetry and know martial arts so who knows how many women admire them? But the visitors they receive for the most part are only royalty or noble women. For the common people, even if they are very well-off, they may not necessarily have the chance to meet them.”
Ruan Zhu hmphed. Aren’t they merely prostitutes, relying on selling their bodies in exchange for money? What was the need for all these crazy fans? Towards Nuan Chun, she said: “Compensate these two with two taels of silver.”
This sort of trash, she’s seen enough on Mango TV[c]. She didn’t expect that the real thing was even harder to withstand.
The two courtesan’s ranks were not high and they ordinarily received aged commoner customers. When they had gotten on the boat and saw that their client unexpectedly was a young, beautiful and graceful maiden, they were secretly delighted. Who would have thought they would be sent away. But because they had earned some silver from this, it was worth it.
Nuan Chun sent away the two courtesans and whispered in Nuan Qing’s ear: “This trash isn’t even worth half of us yet dared to have our family’s Miss notice them. Really too shameless.”
Nuan Qing also felt disdainful: “They’re still courtesans from a brothel. Who knows if they have any shameful diseases on their bodies?” In Nuan Qing’s mind, their Miss has always been noble, a pure and holy one. He would be unable to bear it if this kind of lowly man were to touch her.
As the two of them were muttering in the background, they heard their Miss’s crisp voice: “Look at who is on that boat over there. Isn’t she awfully familiar? Oh, it’s precisely the one that wore the wrinkled and old green silk jacket. Wasn’t her name Yu something Hua? Oh right, Yu Lian Hua.”
The two servants looked towards the direction she pointed. About ten meters away from them was a very shabby boat. A very ordinary woman held onto a half-naked young man in each arm. Of the two men, one was feeding her wine while the other was adding food to her dish.
Ruan Zhu remembered–it’s the woman with the chastity belts. Baffled, she asked: “Didn’t she not have any money? How could she still have the leisurely mood to be with courtesans? The clothes she’s wearing now are still the same old ones she wore the last time. She had said that if she had money, she would use it improve the store front. Don’t tell me she used it all on courtesans?”
The boatman smiled: “Who among the women that come out to play don’t look for courtesans? That boat is shoddy and poor; it doesn’t even have a roof to keep out the elements. The courtesans on the boat are also the lowest ranking ones among the Lan River brothers so only some ten or so coins is enough to play with them. A few common and destitute women will choose these kind of courtesans to play with to draw a picture of a happy time.”
The upper class women of Tian Chu had the tradition of visiting courtesans. The earliest examples came from the Tang dynasty’s Empress Wu Ze Tian and Princess Taiping. After the country was established in the aftermath of the An Shi Rebellion, this fad emerged after several hundred years. Most of the homes of the well-off women were frequently filled with company–night feasts filled with flowery wine where courtesans that can sing and dance[d] would walk to and fro–their homes were pretty much the same as a bar or a nightclub. But these things, Ruan Zhu had yet to understand and would only gradually become aware.
As for the other female, for the sake of opening her new store, Yu Lian Hua had spent these few days wracking her head and with great difficulty had finally made some progress. Feeling ecstatic, she had run outside to while the day away as a reward to herself. It didn’t matter how good the men at home were–they couldn’t match up to the novelty of the ones outside. Assigning the two men to serve her at her side, she stretched her hands inside their pants.
The distance between the two ships was not far so Ruan Zhu was able to see everything clearly. She felt sick. Wasn’t she still eating? Doing that while eating, wasn’t that disgusting?
At this time, Yu Lian Hua all of a sudden looked over and was pleasantly surprised, her eyes immediately brightening.
[a] 金丝楠木, very expensive tree prized for its wood. Currently protected in China, where it is endemic. (Wikipedia & example of furniture made from this wood here)
[b] 自作主张, idiom meaning to act on one’s own initiative
[c] 芒果台, large Chinese broadcasting enterprise with lots of original shows (Wikipedia)
[d] 能歌善舞, idiom meaning a person of many talents