Chapter 101 - The Zhou Family
Yu Hai and Madam Liu looked at each other, and both of them could see helplessness in the other’s eyes . They were both the younger generation, so there was little they could do against the overbearing and shameless Madam Zhang . If they were too resolute and stuck to their guns, the two women in front of them would slander them in the village for being unfilial . On the other hand, if they yielded too much, this pair of locusts would gobble them up and devour everything they could get their hands on .
“Madam Li, why are you here again causing trouble?” Just as the married couple were trying to find a solution, the sound of Old Yu’s voice resonated in and provided them with a glimpse of hope .
Madam Li was still a bit timid in front of her father-in-law, so she weakly said, “Father, I was keeping Mother company…”
Madam Zhang abruptly interrupted her and pasted a smile on her face as she spoke to Old Yu, “Old man, Second Son still has a filial heart . Their family had come up with a new method of making money, so they were going to help us too!”
When Old Yu heard what she said, he looked towards Yu Hai with a remorseful expression and a tinge of gratitude . This son of his had always been filial since childhood . Even if he had caught a tiny tit, he would always bring it back home to let everyone eat some . In fact, after he settled down and got married, he still always gave the money he earned to the general purse and didn’t keep a private purse .
Ah, he was not worthy of his son . He even pushed his son out of the family during his most difficult time . Fortunately, his son was able to survive and even his leg was preserved…
Old Yu switched his gaze to Madam Zhang and glared at her, “I already know about the method for making money! Aren’t they just selling some appetizers to make a small sum of money every day? Stop trying to covet it, Second Son’s family is relying on this little bit of money to make it through!”
“What do you mean? It’s not a little bit of money, they make around twenty to thirty copper coins a day, ah! That’s more than what you and Eldest Son brings home every day! This is Second Son’s good intentions, so he should spread the wealth to the whole family . Husband, Third Son will be able to participate in the entrance examination for Rongxuan Academy soon . If he passes and then becomes a scholar who had passed the county level examinations, he can get a lot of benefits…his whole family is living in town right now and doesn’t he need money for living expenses?” Madam Zhang, once again, brought the topic of the conversation back to her younger son in an attempt to voice her complaints .
As Madam Zhang rambled on and on, Xiaocao and her family stayed mutely silent . It was obvious that she was forcing them to teach her how to make braised food . How did she manage to twist it around such that they were the ones volunteering for this?
Although Xiaocao had no qualms, her father was a different story . He had always been filial and was softhearted . In front of his father, Yu Hai wasn’t able to refuse any request . In the end, Xiaocao was forced to fork out a portion of the spices she had used yesterday and give instructions on how to use them to Madam Zhang . In a pique of fury, she pretended to forget to give the pair of women the complete details on how to prepare and clean the pig head and intestines properly .
She had already reserved the pig head and offal in advance from Butcher Wang’s stall at the dock’s marketplace . Furthermore, the butcher was a kind and honest man . To him, it didn’t matter who he made money from, but it was more important to preserve his relationships with and not have a reputation of breaking his promises . Thus, their ingredient supplies would not be endangered in the future . She planned on doing business as usual . As for who could make more money . . . that would depend on their own abilities!
Meanwhile, Third Young Master Zhou Zixu had gone straight home after buying the pickled vegetables from the market and was able to be at the table in time for the meal .
The three branches of the Zhou Family had not separated, so they were all present in the parlor for the meal . In the main hall, the ground was paved with glossy marble tiles that had been polished as bright as a mirror . The beams of the roof were painted in bright colors, and gorgeous glass lanterns dangled from the ceiling .
On the right side of the parlor was a display case made of red mahogany . On top of the case were a bunch of carefully arranged priceless objects: a blue and white porcelain vase made in the previous dynasty that was decorated with an image depicting ‘Gui Guzi coming down the mountain ’, a cloisonne enamel plum blossom vase, a long-necked vase made entirely of white jade with two round handles, and a variety of other delicate and well-preserved antique items .
A decorative screen made of red sandalwood was on the left side . The screen was inlaid with white jade that was carved into a picture depicting Five Hundred Luohan  . It was bright and beautiful and so luxurious that it was hard for a person to take their eyes away from it .
The patriarch and matriarch of the Zhou Family were sitting in the middle and seated on their right was the Zhou Family’s eldest son . The head of the Zhou Family had three sons and two daughters . The eldest son and second son were birthed by his wife . The eldest son was conservative in his business dealings and was only able to preserve their current family wealth . He was in charge of a portion of the family’s businesses and while he didn’t make any big contributions, he also didn’t make any large blunders .
The eldest son of the Zhou Family had two sons and a daughter . His oldest son was birthed by a concubine . Although his younger son was born by his wife, he had very little interest in doing business and had set his heart on his studies . He was truly a bookworm and pedant . His eldest son, on the other hand, had ambitions and grabbed every opportunity that came in order to show his abilities in front of the head of the family . Before he became an adult, he had helped his father supervise their store and had made sure everything was clear and orderly . He had carefully managed two stores, and they had increased their revenue by a third .
Furthermore, he completed the few tasks that the head of the family had given him perfectly, so the old man was quite pleased with this grandson .
The second son of the head of the family had died at a young age, so the patriarch had his married eldest son take a young girl from a declining family as a secondary wife in order to keep his second son’s lineage alive . Thus, Third Young Master Zhou was considered a part of the second branch’s family . Third Young Master Zhou’s mother had a strong personality, so after she gave birth to him, she established herself as the widow of the second branch and severed all her ties with the eldest son . From then on, she lived alone in a small courtyard on the west side of the residence . Other than stepping out on the first and fifteenth days of each month to burn incense for the second son of the Zhou Family, she spent the rest of the time in her residence . This was the reason why the head of the Zhou Family regarded the mother and son pair with importance despite their awkward status within the family .
The third son of the Zhou Family was a person who only knew how to enjoy life but couldn’t endure any hardships . The eldest son was always afraid of taking the slightest risk and had no courage . Thus, Patriarch Zhou had to take the reins back into his hands in his old age and become the primary driver of the Zhou Family again . He had no hope left for his sons, so he silently observed his grandsons out of hope that he could pick a successor out of them who would bring more glory and honor to the Zhou Family .
Although Zhou Zifang, who was the son of the eldest son, had decent abilities, he was still born from a concubine . Since ancient times it was known that there was a difference between children born from the main wife versus a concubine . In addition, he had a somewhat irritable temper and was quick to take offense . Acting hastily out of greed could lead to the ruin of an entire family’s fortune . Thus, as the patriarch observed from the side, he had to take a few points off of Zhou Zifang .
As for the second branch’s Zhou Zixu, he had displayed astonishing talents since he was small . However, despite his recent beautiful business victories, the boy was still too young . This really caused the patriarch to worry incessantly, causing his hair to turn white faster . . .
“Haha! I’m really quite lucky when it comes to food . Just got home in time to make mealtime!” Third Young Master Zhou, Zhou Zixu, held two jars of salted vegetables as he came in . When he saw everyone’s attention on him, he smiled a self-deprecating smile as he paid his respects to his grandfather and grandmother .
The head of the Zhou Family coldly snorted and said, “Looks like you still know how to come home! Every day you’re running off to who knows where . Ah, other than Zhenxiu Restaurant, you have never even touched the other businesses of the family! Oh right, you had talked about having a condiment factory before the end of last year . How is it going so far? At your age, your father had already made waves in the southern province’s market!”
Because he had an awkward status in the family, Zhou Zixu’s grandmother had raised him at her side since childhood to avoid having other people treat him badly . Thus, his relationship with his grandparents had always been good . This caused the other grandsons in the family to envy him . In fact, whenever the patriarch seemed displeased, the other grandsons kept quiet out of fear . Even Eldest Young Master Zhou had to consider his words for a bit before he would say anything . However, Zhou Zixu was all smiles as he replied, “Grandfather, don’t we still have you managing the rest of the family’s businesses? You’re old but vigorous . Staying at home doing nothing is really quite dull . As for my factory, didn’t you previously say that this is for me to practice? I’m still young, so it’s important to take it a little at a time, especially for business!”
“Is thirteen still considered young? It’s the right age for settling a marriage and getting engaged, ah! Second Son’s wife, you need to start considering his marriage prospects now . After he gets engaged, he’s considered an adult and should start doing some proper business and stop running around outside, avoiding home!” The Zhou Family patriarch was very unsatisfied with him and wished he could just press on that youngster’s head to transfer all of his knowledge of business matters to him .
Madam Jiang, who was Zhou Zixu’s mother, agreed sweet-temperedly . Zhou Zixu let out a smile that was half a grimace at his mother and said, “Grandfather, how do you know I’m not concerned about the family’s businesses? I’m not running around without a purpose . After all, the last time I was at the docks, didn’t I find a dish of pickled fish that tasted quite good, eh?”
If he hadn’t brought up this topic it would have been better as the Zhou Family patriarch frowned after hearing this and said, “Has the chef from Zhenxiu Restaurant figured out how to make this pickled fish yet? He even boasted that he’s a famous chef but he’s no better than a little girl from the countryside!”
“Grandfather, please calm down . It’s not that the chef at Zhenxiu Restaurant was boosting his own reputation, but in terms of cooking, one false step makes a great difference . That pickled fish recipe was probably a secret recipe that was passed down from her ancestors, so it’s unlikely it’d be easy to just figure it out . ” The eldest grandson, Zhou Zifang, cleverly interjected and explained .
Zhou Zixu also agreed, “That’s right, that’s right! Let’s wait a little longer, if he really can’t figure it out then, I’ll just go to that little girl and buy the recipe from her . ”
The Zhou Family’s matriarch loved her grandson dearly . She nodded her head in agreement and said, “Xu’er is right! Also, let’s not talk about business during the family meal . Start the meal ah…”
Zhou Zixu hurriedly patted the jugs of pickled vegetables in his hands as if they were some priceless treasure . He sidled over to his grandmother, made eye contact with her, and said, “Grandmother loves grandson the most! Grandson also loves you very much . I know your appetite hasn’t been very good lately, so I especially went to a pickled vegetable store and bought some appetizers in hope that they’ll increase your appetite . Please try some! I personally carried them the entire way back home!”
When Matriarch Zhou saw her grandson’s smiling face, she immediately felt better . As if he was still a child, she gently caressed his head, and said, “My Xu’er is still so filial . Qinglian, go to the kitchen and take a portion of these pickled vegetables out . Let’s have everyone here try some . ”
Zhou Zixu’s mother, Madam Jiang, glared lovingly at her son and said, “Be careful of boasting too much in front of grandmother . In a moment if it doesn’t fit her tastes, what kind of situation do you think you’ll be in?”
Zhou Zixu sat next to his mother and pulled on her arm like a spoiled child . He pouted and said, “Mother, it doesn’t matter if other people give me face or not, but you need to help your son . If it’s not tasty, please still eat a little more!”
His grandmother pointed a finger at him and gently laughed, “You little monkey . . . with such a filial heart, I will also give you some face and eat a couple more bites…”
A plate of sweet and crispy radishes and a plate of fragrant and spicy wine marinated tofu came out . They were artfully arranged on a crystal plate with a light dressing of sesame oil on top . The tantalizing smell of sweetness and sour hit everyone, which increased all their appetites greatly .
Matriarch Zhou’s personal maidservant, Zitang, served her mistress a portion of the radishes and placed them into her congee bowl using ivory chopsticks . The combination of the sweet and crispy radishes with a hint of spiciness paired perfectly with the congee that had been slowly simmered with the best rice money could buy . The old lady’s eyes lit up in pleasure as she enjoyed her food .
“How is it? Grandma, does it meet your tastes?” Out of all of the grandsons, only Zhou Zixu would ever intimately call the matriarch ‘grandma’ . The rest of them all respectfully referred to her as ‘grandmother’ .
The Zhou Family’s matriarch carefully chewed and tasted the different flavors that came from the congee and pickled radishes . A bit of time passed before she finally met her grandson’s eager eyes and slowly nodded her head, “Not bad, not bad! How could I not believe in my grandson’s tastes?”
 Gui Guzi (鬼谷子) was Sun Bin's (famous general) master and had agreed to come down the mountain to save him after the Qi Country's envoy, Su Dai, asked him three times .
 Arhat or Luohan (罗汉) - a term originating from Buddhism . In Chinese Buddhism, it is used to describe a practitioner who had a higher level of attainment or pre-enlightenment but has not become a Boddhisattva, or a Buddha .