"This Fresh Petal Incense, for example, got me thinking all night yesterday and I still couldn’t figure out the ingredients. To be honest with you, incense has been my hobby for three, four years now, during which time I have gathered quite a few excellent materials and considered myself to be a connoisseur of some sort. However, after I smelled your sachet, I felt all my past efforts were in vain."
"Well, it contains 25g of clove bark, 50g of jasmine, 50g of spikenard, 50g of croton root, 25g of chrysanthemum, 100g of guaiac wood, and 25g of magnolia," Gu Yu was not holding anything back and directly enumerated the ingredients. "Grind each of those into fine powder. After concocting them into a mixture, it will give off an orchid-ish scent."
"Orchid? That explains the inexplicable characteristic I found in the scent. So that’s why…"
Clutching the sachet in her hand, the old lady talked to herself, realizing now where the subtle implication came from. She then smiled and added, "Xiao Gu, even if the others figured out the ingredients, it’s very unlikely that they’ll be able to duplicate the Fresh Petal Incense."
He didn’t try to show his modesty this time.
The most intriguing thing about incense-concoction was that through mixing seemingly unrelated materials, a unique aroma could be created.
For instance, when bold rose and intense styrax were put together, they would release an overpowering fragrance. However, when adding the serene agarwood and solitary camphor seeds to the mixture, what would it turn into?
The answer was straightforward. It would remind one of the end of spring, when all spring flowers would eventually wither.
Countless types of incense existed around the world, each with its unique smell, nature and character. The same went for all the incense makers out there, who all had their own inheritance, technique and understanding.
Gu Yu could create an implication that resembled a secluded orchid in a deserted valley, leading a life above the mundane affairs. However, the same ingredients would not amount to the same product in another incense maker’s hands.
As for the recipe Zeng Shufei inquired about yesterday, Gu Yu could not be bothered to deal with him then. That guy had his intention written all over his face. Gu Yu chose to tell Granny Zeng now because the old lady did not see it as a source of profit.
In return, his gesture had also won much appreciation from Granny Zeng, who flipped through the materials again and paused unexpectedly. She asked in a surprised tone, "Xiao Gu, it seems there’s no agarwood in your recipe?"
"Why should there be any agarwood in it?" He did not quite understand the question.
"Isn’t it supposed to be used in concocting…"
The old lady stopped halfway through her sentence.
Gu Yu blinked. It then dawned on him and he replied, "Granny Zeng, I see what you mean. Precious spices such as agarwood, sandalwood, ambergris and musk had been highly praised since the ancient times. That tendency continued to modern days, especially with the commercial speculation, which had made agarwood and sandalwood a must-have in incense-making, otherwise the product would be deemed cheap. You are someone from a wealthy background and use expensive incense. What you’ve learned, the gifts you were given and the products recommended to you, were all expensive ones."
"I won’t say that there’s anything wrong with that, for a school of incense makers do use that concept. The spices are given the status of emperors, subjects, assistants and supplements, and then concocted accordingly. The mellow agarwood possesses a cultivated quality, which could harmonize the dispositions of the other materials, thus it is deemed an ‘emperor’ and frequently used. However, there are other schools of incense makers, who prefer common spices that can also produce excellent effects."
"Such as?" Granny Zeng asked immediately.
Gu Yu looked around and set his eyes on the fruit plate in front of him. He picked up four pieces of fruit with his dexterous hand and laid them in a row on the table. He then explained with a smile, "For example, take some lichee shells, papaya seeds, orange peels and pear dregs. Dry them out in the air and grind them into powder, then add some honeyed water to the powder and roll it into pellets. Put the pellets in some vessel and steam over fire. Then, you’ll get Junior Four-Integration Incense."
The old lady murmured and, lost in thought, stared at those fruits.
Agarwood, sandalwood, ambergris and musk were called the four great spices. There was a recipe where one took an equal amount of each spice and mixed them together. The final product was called Four-Integration Incense.
Yet the incense made from fruit peels and residuals was good enough to take the name "Junior Four-Integration", which was an undisguised sarcasm and criticism.
Gu Yu did not stop there and continued with his examples. "You can also take some Arborvitae seeds and scald them briefly in boiling water, then immerse them in wine and seal the vessel for seven days. After taking them out and drying them out in the air, you can burn them in bronze censers. That’s how Cedar Seed Incense is made.
Mash some orange leaves and seal them in a small jug together with a few pieces of bamboo. Put the jug over fire and steam it, then use the bamboo pieces as an incense. Fume them with gentle heat in a censer. The smell is delicate, sweet and refreshing.
In fact, spices can be found everywhere. Take that tree in the yard as an example. When the bark comes off on its own, grind it into powder and you’ll get some excellent rosin.
Materials should not be categorized according to their price. The only genuine criteria are one’s preferences. Steaming agarwood essentially has no difference from steaming dried tangerine peel. If one cares too much over which spices are ‘better’, he would only make himself look vulgar."
Granny Zeng listened and watched him speak all this time without uttering a single word. After quite some time, she let out a deep sigh. "Xiao Gu, I should be the one whose mind got blown away today!"
Her claim was not without reason. Having been involved in the incense-collecting world for several years, only today did she come to realize that her past experience was only superficial.
The traditional incense ceremony was experiencing large gaps in its inheritance and few ancient techniques were actually passed down. The so-called incense-enjoyment in the market was largely made up by businesses using bits and pieces of the real thing, so as to cater to the needs of rich people and incense collectors.
Why was it called an enjoyment?
It was to remind you not to take it too seriously. It was only for fun.
Think about it. Who would not enjoy themselves when holding an orchid worth hundreds of thousands, a couple of walnuts that would cost a couple hundred of thousands, or a string of million-yuan Kynam beads?
After saying all those things at a stretch, Gu Yu slowed down and took a look at the time. He then said, "Granny Zeng, it’s getting late. I still have errands to run at home and should get going."
"What? You’ve got me all excited and you are thinking about leaving now? That’s just not right!" The old lady joked and added, "Xiao Gu, I had a good time today. Thank you for coming. However, I still have a presumptuous request. I want to ask for some incense from you."
"What incense do you need?" He asked.
"Anything will do, as long as it’s from you."
That was an incredibly favorable statement. He couldn’t help but warm up to the old lady. "No problem. When do you want it?"
"Take your time. Just let me have it when you’ve finished… A Hui!"
The old lady suddenly called out and a woman in her thirties showed up, holding a small box. She took it in her hand and smiled. "I don’t have anything appropriate for the occasion, so please take this as a small thank-you gift."
"Oh my, you shouldn’t have! That’s too much, Granny Zeng. I really can’t take it!"
Gu Yu stood up hastily and declined.
"Sit down, sit down. Please hear me out…" She made a downward gesture with her hand and said, "For one thing, I really like you and want to give you this as a welcome gift. For another, I can’t let you work for free, so this is also an honorarium. That’s a two-in-one present and you have no reason to refuse."
One should not decline a reward from an elder as it would make him look hypocritical. He had no choice but to accept it. "Thank you so much for the gift."
Gu Yu arrived there early in the evening and did not leave until past 10 PM. Even so, Granny Zeng was still not willing to let him go. She found this young man modest, polite and with an unassuming manner, which made her appreciate him from the bottom of her heart.
The old lady offered to give him a ride home. Seeing that it was quite some distance away, he accepted.
After Gu Yu got home, he took some time cleaning himself and attending to his own affairs. He forgot all about that gift until he had gone to bed. He was stunned to find out what it was when he opened the box. It was none other than the jade gourd incense holder.
Oh please! He only gave it a few extra looks and the old lady noticed it!
He was impressed by Granny Zeng’s acuteness and could not resist the attempt to check its value online. He was shocked for a second time. For something so tiny, the holder had a price tag of ten thousand yuan.
Gu Yu played with it in his hands and couldn’t decide whether he should laugh or cry as he thought, ‘I’d rather you give me ten thousand yuan in cash!’