At roughly 4 pm each day, Red Star Primary School's gates would usher in a crowd of parents, and within this crowd, hawkers would start getting busy.
There would be hawkers selling barbecued food, hawkers selling fruits, and of course, there would be Lin Fan selling his scallion pancakes. In fact, he wasn't the only one selling scallion pancakes. The competitive pressure was immense.
Being a young man, Lin Fan was naturally not as brazen as the elderly aunts there and was always unable to seize the best spots because of this.
"Hey young man, what's with you today? Is there something wrong with your eyes? You've blinked over a hundred times in the past 10 minutes!"
A particularly conspicuous, mustached middle-aged man, asked. He was dressed in a robe, had both hands hidden in his sleeves and he stood next to Lin Fan's worn out cart, gazing at him.
"Wow! You really are Diviner Tian! You can even tell how many times I blink!."
Lin Fan's mind was in a mess. He wondered if he had been possessed. Why were things appearing in his head? And an abnormally thick Encyclopedia too.
"That's just a nickname. Since school hasn't ended yet, why don't I read your fortune for you for $5? I, Tian, am capable of seeing into the future, past, and present. No matter who or what it is, with one glance, I can tell you your fortune."
Diviner Tian sat atop the small bench, with his head twisted to one side. He was trying to trick Lin Fan into believing him. Being in this business, he had no choice but to bluff his customers. How else would he earn his living?
"Come on, if you really are so great, you would have become successful long ago. Why would you still be here, squatting in front of a primary school like me? However, you must be really proud of yourself, Tian Han Ming, to do this in front of a primary school, teaching these kids to believe in your trickery."
"Please don't call me that from now on. Call me Diviner Tian. I cannot reveal heaven's mysteries. However, the spot I am standing on right now is a sacred piece of land, where businesses can flourish easily. If you're interested, give me a piece of scallion pancake and it's yours."
Lin Fan gave a small chuckle. He had nothing more to say. When Lin Fan had first started hawking, business wasn't going smoothly and this Tian Han Ming tricked him into one of his scams.
Ever since then, Lin Fan saw through his tricks. To even scam a poor man like him, did this Tian Han Ming even have a conscience?
"Big Sister, please slow down, you have to take a look at this."
At this moment, a fifty-something-year-old Aunty was passing by. Diviner Tian suddenly called out to her. His fingers started to move as if he was counting something. And the more he counted, the more his expression turned into that of shock, almost as if something grave had happened.
Looking at this scene, Lin Fan let out another cold laugh. "There goes another victim." he thought. Even so, each time this happened, Lin Fan couldn't help but be filled with envy.
To get paid just for spouting some nonsense, it seemed like too good of a deal.
This Aunty seemed like someone who believed in fortune-telling, as she stopped in her tracks, with a look of surprise on her face, "Master, what's the matter? Is there something wrong?"
"Your eyes tell me that a major incident may happen to you in the near future." Diviner Tian said, raising his tone as if what he was saying really was real.
The primary school students still hadn't been dismissed. Lin Fan just stood there, watching how Tian Han Ming was tricking his victim and couldn't help but feel a slight admiration for him. With each lie he told, there would be a different reason behind it, and each of them actually made sense.
5 minutes later…
The aunty nodded her head worriedly, then handed $10 over to Tian Han Ming. As she left, she continued to thank him profusely, as if he had just saved her life.
"How's that?" Diviner Tian waved the money in his hand proudly before stuffing it into his waist pocket.
"Old cocky b*stard…"
Even as Lin Fan said that, his heart was still filled with envy.
Ever since starting this scallion pancake business, times had been tough, especially since there were several other scallion pancake hawkers next to him. With regards to skill and quality of the pancakes, Lin Fan could not compete against the others. Earning just $100 in a day was considered lucky.
Moreover, whenever the city's enforcement officers came to do their rounds, the entire day's revenue would be gone.
*Ding dong! Ding dong!*
The sound of the school bells ringing echoed through the city. Lin Fan took a deep breath and placed all his equipment and ingredients in position as he awaited the incoming parents.
What troubled Lin Fan the most were the stalls stationed in front of him. The owners would compete viciously for sales and when the parents reached his own stall, very few would even care to look at his pancakes.
In a place like Shanghai, some parents wouldn't allow their children to eat these snacks sold on the streets, saying that the food wasn't clean or hygienic. Therefore, the number of patrons was very limited.
The sound of chatter began to fill the place as a crowd moved towards the school gates.
The street hawkers started to get busy as well, including Diviner Tian.
Yet, there was no one in Lin Fan's vicinity. Nobody cared to patronize his stall. Several parents walked past the front of his stall, already holding scallion pancakes in their hands, bought from other stalls.
Lin Fan tip-toed and saw that the other scallion pancake stalls already had snaking queues. The hawkers were all terribly busy.
I can't just sit here. All of my hard work put into the preparations would be wasted! Lin Fan was getting desperate. Without a second thought, he started to scream out loud.
"Large and fragrant scallion pancakes for sale! Add ham for only $6! Add bacon for $7! Come and take a look!"
However, even after screaming for half a day, not a single customer came. Lin Fan was crushed. Despite all his efforts, nobody wanted to patronize him.
Upon hearing Lin Fan's shouting, the aunty who was manning the stall opposite his sniggered with disdain. As she made her scallion pancakes, she said to her customer: "That brat makes horrible-tasting scallion pancakes, that's why nobody buys from him. Some people don't know how bad they are and give it a try, but nobody buys from him twice."
The parents who were standing around all nodded in agreement. Apparently, some of the parents had tried the pancakes before, and the taste was indeed horrible.
Diviner Tian, after reading several parents' fortunes, looked over at Lin Fan. Seeing Lin Fan's miserable state, he broke into a chuckle, "Hey kid, why don't I take you under my wing. I'll cover your meals and accommodation, and I can guarantee you a brighter future than what you'd have if you carry on selling scallion pancakes. Once you finish your apprenticeship, I'll hand over this precious spot of land to you and you'll become rich."
"You can keep it, my spot isn't bad at all. There'll be customers coming over real soon." Lin Fan refused to follow this Fraud Tian and become a fortune teller. If he did, he would be the laughing stock of the town!
At this very moment, a sweet scent filled the air. Lin Fan took several whiffs of air. What an amazing scent! He turned his head, and what he saw made his heart skip a beat.
"One scallion pancake with ham and bacon, please." The beautiful lady had a clear and crisp voice that was soothing to the ears. She had sunglasses on and was dressed classily, in a black dress.
"Young lady, you sure have an eye for good food. This young boss is very skillful and makes excellent scallion pancakes. Why don't you let me read your fortune for you? When I'm done, the scallion pancakes should be ready as well." Fraud Tian said with a big smile on his face, exposing a row of yellow teeth.
The beautiful lady giggled, "I've tasted these before. I'm in a rush and there's no queue here, so I'm just going to quickly buy one for my colleague. As for the fortune-telling, forget about it. I don't believe in fortunes."
The beautiful lady's words were laced with negativity. Lin Fan, who was busy making the pancakes, felt his face redden. He knew that his scallion pancakes were bad and customers would never return for a second time.
Diviner Tian lowered his head but burst out laughing a moment later. He was an old-timer and could clearly hear the meaning behind her words.
Suddenly, the magazine within Lin Fan's mind was flipped open. The rows and rows of words drifted about inside his mind.
Lin Fan shook his head. I should try preparing it this way.
Lin Fan had never tried this method before. He had no prior experience, but at that moment, everything felt natural to him, as if he had done it many times before.
"Wow! This method of cooking seems new. How interesting!" exclaimed the lady, as she watched Lin Fan.
Lin Fan did not know what to say, so he gave a little smile.
Halfway through, the lady had to make a call and walked away from the stall for a moment. As Lin Fan carried on, he felt as if he was getting better and better at it. Within a few minutes, a beautifully-made scallion pancake, which surprised even Lin Fan himself, was ready to serve.
"This was made by me?"
Lin Fan was in utter disbelief.
The outer layer was golden-brown and crispy. The inside was white and fluffy. The fragrance of the scallion and the dough was overwhelming and incredibly appetizing. Even Lin Fan was tempted to swallow the whole thing in one bite, but he resisted.
"Is it done?" The lady had finished her phone call and was rushing Lin Fan.
"It's done, it's done." Without hesitation, Lin Fan placed the pancake into a plastic bag and tied it up.
The beautiful lady walked over and handed $7 over to Lin Fan. She took in a small whiff of air, "Where's this amazing smell coming from?"
Unfortunately, the lady didn't ask Lin Fan about the smell. She had tasted his scallion pancakes before and did not even consider that this incredible smell was coming from his scallion pancakes. She took the plastic bag and left, still without any idea of where the smell was coming from.
On the other hand, Lin Fan was still in shock. He knew that something weird had just happened.
Despite all this, Lin Fan's stall had no customers once again. Apart from that beautiful lady, no one else came to buy from him.