Shengtian, Taiqing Palace.
In the small square in front of the temple, a fancy starting ceremony was being held. Entertainment media all over the country flocked to this occasion to interview the crew of a TV show.
An incredibly popular " little fresh meat 1 " type of actor dressed in a blue Taoist robe was demonstrating to the reporters.
"Just like so. You stand in front of the praying mat, feet splaying. As you bow down, your hands meet in front of your abdomen. Remember, your left hand has to be moving away from your right and cover the spot roughly where your heart is. Bend over like this and that's the first bow… repeat it for another two times and you have the three salutes and three bows of the Taoist etiquette."
Seeing that his demonstration was natural, smooth, and rather presentable, the press was all amazed and showered him with questions. "Have you learned all that specially for the show?"
"Yes, I had about two hours of practice. That was not all of it. There are also other rites that the whole cast had to learn."
"Could you tell us how do you feel about all this?"
"Well, it is a fantasy drama we're shooting, but it'll be nothing like the fantasy series before. We are very rigorous in referencing the traditional Taoist culture. We've shot our scenes in many authentic scenic spots and we've also had an old Taoist priest as our consultant. Things like the costumes, props, quotations were all made as realistic as possible. You will be able to see all those when the show's on air."
A few questions later, the ceremony was over and the crowd scattered gradually. The group had a few outdoor scenes here in Taiqing Palace, which they would shoot later.
The little fresh meat got rid of his fans and hopped into his van right away. His butt had barely touched the seat when his manager tossed over a script. "Just got this. It looks pretty nice. Your schedule should fit."
The little fresh meat flipped through it and said impatiently, "Xianxithemed again? Are those investors out of their mind?"
"Well, that's the fad at the moment! These Xianxia series are outshining those ' divine anti-Japanese war dramas 2 '—they go through the censorship ten out of ten times. Some have indeed gone for family ethics drama, but none came through. We need you decision now, or someone else will take it."
"Fine, fine. I'll take it!"
Taking up the script, the little fresh meat looked rather annoyed. He was secretly amazed at the same time, for he had played in a couple of similar series before. The storyline was idiotic and special effects looked like primary school projects. There was so much Mary-Sue sort of setting going on that nothing could embellish the cliche, not to mention the abominable costumes, makeup, and props.
Things had completely turned around now. Everyone was squeezing their brains out to make Xianxia stories into serious dramas. The strict requirements were unbelievable.
These people were insane!
The little fresh meat pursed his lips. Whatever, as long as the money was good, he couldn't care less.
As a matter of fact, he was not the only one with such feelings. The common people of the country were all to some extent sensing something was off.
When did it begin? This summer? No, from early autumn this year… they couldn't exactly pinpoint that feeling. It just felt odd.
Almost overnight, TV dramas had taken a 180-degree turn. Education on the traditional culture was promoted all over the country and Taoism was mentioned more and more frequently in the news.
The internet novel readers realized that cultivation-themed stories were flooding the websites, all copiously quoting authoritative works. Game lovers also found their world taken over by cultivation games, which, instead of the made-up crap, were coming up with serious game settings.
What was more, even the transformation tasks in the games were ridiculously designed. The players were actually being tested on real Taoist scriptures. One had to search the texts themselves and type down the answer word by word.
Further more, tourists also discovered that they were seeing fewer greasy, fat monks in the mountains. Instead, solemn and ethereal Taoist temples were there for them to visit. These were decent places. No one was hard-selling fortune-telling, stick-drawing, or palm-reading. When touring inside the temples, unless the tourists struck up a conversation first, the priests would not even bother to look at them.
Children of certain regions were enjoying better quality education in their selectives than their proper syllabus. Two cities had announced that they were changing the between-class exercise to a perfected version of Taiji boxing.
People had put all of these together concluded that more than one thing was out of place.
Some went to work as usual, trying hard to earn a living; some disliked what they were seeing and blocked all information; some, like Li Dong and his buddies, were faintly touching the truth.
"Dong Zi, watched the news yesterday?"
"Ha, they're doing it so openly these days. When did you ever hear of a show having its starting ceremony held in a Taoist temple? So, believe it now?"
"Fine, stop gloating!" Li Dong replied grumpily as he evaded his colleagues and hid in the landing of the staircase.
Ever since he joined the chat group, his worldview was reshaped in no time. He had made quite a few good friends there and even met the two living in his city in real life.
Qian Qiu's real name was Zhang Qianqiu, whereas Headmaster was called Yan Han. Both were from affluent families. Their parents were into business and they themselves had successful careers.
The three were of similar ages. The topics of their occasional gatherings were always around cultivation. Both Zhang Qianqiu and Yan Han had long set their minds to visit all the famous mountains and rivers there were to find immortals and become their pupils. Li Dong, on the other hand, was still hesitating and could not bring himself to make that final step.
"Dong Zi, have you decided yet? Winter's coming in no time and Yan Han and me cannot wait any longer!"
"You know my background. My family is by no means well off and my parents barely have any income. If I quit my job and something goes wrong, I, I…" Li Dong faltered, trying to find an excuse, though he was simply telling the truth.
"Don't worry about that. Yan Han and I have talked about this. We will each give your parents 10000 yuan 3 every month as their pension and hire someone to take care of them as well. Any maladies or troubles would been taken care of without delay."
"No, I can't let you do that. That's way too generous of you!" Li Dong refused right away.
"What's wrong with being generous? It is within our capacity and of course we will help you out. The purpose of this group is to stop anyone from falling behind, so that when the world changes, we can look out for one another."
Still driving, Zhang Qianqiu went on, "Dong Zi, we're not abandoning our families or severing our bonds with the world for good. All we are going to do is to find us a master. You know what, just think it as a long vacation. What's wrong with taking a trip?"
So be it!
At that, Li Dong found it impossible to refuse the proposal. He replied, "Well, ok. I'm coming with you."
"Haha, that's all the answer I want. Make some preparations. We're leaving the day after tomorrow and our first stop is Phoenix Mountain!"
"Phoenix Mountain? Is it solid?" Li Dong was taken by surprise.
"Tsk, guess what, half of Phoenix Mountain has been sealed off since last year and with all the barbed wires, there was no way to get in. Would you believe that everything is fine? I'm telling you, something must be going on there!"
After three busy months, the industrial distribution of Phoenix Mountain was completed.
First of all, not far from the liquor workshop—about 20 minutes of walk away—was another new courtyard built for the fruit workers. Both courtyards were in a lower ground with a lot of space and plenty of sunlight. This area was the front section mostly dedicated to growing fruit trees.
Then came the back section, where three courtyards had been built. One of them was a tea workshop. The tea trees had just been planted and there wasn't any harvest so far. The tea growers were already there, though.
Of the other two, one was the dwellings for crop farmers, while the other one a workshop for grain-basking and shelling.
Other than those, there were now minnows in the mountain brooks and a lot of bamboos were planted in both the front and the back section as an ornament.
The brewers, fruit growers, tea planters, and crop farmers added up to 14 in total, all highly skillful middle-aged or elderly people compelled to finding a job by various burdens in their lives. In his thirties, Guo Fei turned out to be the youngest of the bunch.
The "suffering" was unspeakable!
Lured by the big paycheck, they did not realize what they had gotten into until they were on the ship. The offspring of the Blood Mosquito Undead Insect slithered into their body and, good gracious, the "connection" the insects brought was beyond description.
All in all, the sight of Miss Qiu was like the Creator himself. They wholeheartedly wanted to kneel down and worship the ground she walked.
Fortunately, Miss Qiu was as fresh as daffodils and good-natured; she was kind to everybody. Whereas the other lady, Miss Jin, was a pain in the neck.
One day, in the liquor workshop.
Onlookers gathered around the main house of the brewery, all straining their necks and looking inside on tiptoe. Inside, Gao Mingde and Guo Fei were carrying out the last procedure: distillation.
"One, two… lift!"
Bending down, the two lifted a large barrel with their full swing. The barrel was filled to the brim with the raw material—fermented chaff.
The raw material was put into a steamer and sealed with an air-tight lid. The firewoods were than lit, heating the steamer with strong fire at a high-temperature.
The firewood was taken from trees on the mountain and was of great quality. The flames licked the steamer and before long, temperature in the room rose rapidly, the heated air rolling out in waves. Both men were soaked wet by now.
Liquor-making nowadays generally used one of the two techniques, that was solid fermentation or liquid-state technique.
In solid fermentation, raw materials were in a solid state. Through fermentation, starch in grain transformed into alcohol, fat into fatty acid ester and organic acid, and protein into alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, and nitrogenous compounds. All of these ingredients put together and there was liquor.
In the liquid-state technique, all raw materials were liquids—or, in plain terms, edible alcohol and flavorings. Basically, no above-mentioned ingredients were involved in this method. The process was less time-consuming, the yield higher, and the cost lower. Therefore, this method was widely adopted.
Liquor brewed from solid fermentation was exceptionally valuable. Even brewing houses that were remotely famous would produce some for appraisal and window dressing. Gao Mingde had worked in large breweries before and knew the drill, which was not common knowledge among average people.
Steam rose out of the steamer in spurts, which rose to the surface of the raw material and the change took place in no time.
"The liquor is coming out!"
With his ample experience, Gao Mingde had kept his eyes on the steamer pot. He let out an abrupt roar, which startled Guo Fei, who then turned down the fire right away and heated the steamer with a gentler flame until all of the the liquor was out.
"Gosh, that smells good!"
Guo Fei opened the lid and was greeted by an intense aroma of the liquor, which did not resemble the least of the tang of new brews. Ladling out a little, he was going to taste it by force of habit. The ladle was almost at his lip when he realized suddenly. "Master, can I, can I drink it?"
"Of course. How are we supposed to know what to improve if we don't know what it tastes like? Miss Qiu has warned us beforehand, though. A little sip is enough, or you might get yourself killed," said Gao Mingde.
"Sure! I know what to do!"
Touching the edge of the ladle with his lips, Guo Fei took the tiniest sip.
The taste of newly brewed liquor was not settled. It had a heating property and was slightly toxic. The liquor needed to be put aside overnight and would only become edible after it cooled down.
This sip, however, felt simple yet strong. It was long-lasting and with a clear aftertaste. The liquor was mellow and well-balanced.
As the saying went, good liquors ran in a single line. The aromatic liquor was spreading out even when it was still in his mouth. The softness slid down all the way down his throat and into his stomach. The taste was comforting, unbelievably comforting!
What was more, with that comforting sensation, a warm flow seemed to have run through all his meridians and his spirit was much lifted.
"Oh my, I'm getting dizzy." Shaking his head, Guo Fei passed the ladle over. "Master, you go have a sip."
Gao Mingde also drank a little and the sensation was even more tender on him. When the warmth flushed into his stomach, his fifty-year-old "little brother" went "stiff" for a whole two minutes.
"Good, good. That's a great liquor!"
The expression on the old man's face was halfway between laughing and crying as he praised the liquor nonstop.
The crowd gathered outside was also excited and they were calling out one after another, "Old Man Gao, just tell us, exactly what did it taste like?"
"Exactly! Take out some and let us have a whiff!"
They were all feeling envious, but dared not ask for a drink. While the bustling was still going on, a few men at the back stirred and the flurry soon reached the front row.
"Miss Jin is here!"
Everyone shuddered at once. They all adored Miss Qiu, but the other one was a whole different story. She was an exploding firework!
"Why, you're having a party in broad daylight!" Xiaojin made her grand entrance with her special greeting and burst into the room. "Good stuff. Gimme some."
"There, there you go."
Guo Fei dared not even look up as he handed her a new ladle.
"Still a bit weak. Have another go, see if you can come up with some stronger liquor.
Xiaojin downed half a ladle in one go and smacked her lips; she was a little unsatisfied. Who were they kidding? Did they know who she was? Miss Northeast, the expert in drinking straight from beer bottles, the white-mink-wearer, and the owner of any table she sat by.
"That'll do. You can put it into a jar now." She waved her hand.
"Well, we weren't given any jar. We only have a few buckets." Guo Fei was instantly troubled by the order.
"Weren't given? Are you saying you can't do without the jars?"
"No, I, it…" The fellow was almost bursting into tears.
"Jin Jin, you're scaring them again!"
Just then, another voice came from outside, just in time to save Guo Fei.
The crowd was instantly relieved. Long Qiu strode into the room, glared at the girl, and smiled. "Use this one. Is it big enough?"
With that, she waved her hand and a giant gourd appeared out of the thin air. The gourd looked like it was cast out of jade and stood over a meter high.
"It is! It will do!"
Baffled, Guo Fei nodded and started pouring in the liquor in a hurry. The gourd was just about the right size.
Long Qiu then took out a box of incense sticks and smiled. "Uncle, my brother knew that you are in poor health and made this medicinal incense for you. Burn one every day. You will be fully recovered in one month.
"Hm? Thank you! Thank you so much!"
Gao Mingde was utterly surprised. Fighting back his emotions, he thanked Long Qiu repeatedly.
"You're welcome. We'll leave you here, then."
Storing away the giant gourd, she left, dragging Xiaojin behind her and followed by eyes filled with reverence.
As soon as the two girls left, the room erupted with a hubbub of voices. Everyone was talking at the same time, their tone full of excitement. They would dart a look at Gao Mingde every now and then, not trying at all to hide their envy.
"Did you see that? Did you? How do you think the gourd was summoned? That was indeed a doing of the immortals."
"Old Man Gao, which universe did you save last life that they now think so highly of you?"
"Gosh, I wish I was sick!"
They were quite bitter inside when they first came here, but that feeling died away in a few days. They were completely overwhelmed—they were given the chance to see the immortals!
'I might have been locked up for the time being, but I'm in such a favorite position that an opportunity could show up anytime. Even if I can't become a cultivator, I still have my offspring to count on.'
Veteran employees would count for something no matter what. What if one of the grandchildren was chosen? Life would be so sweet after that.TL/N: refers to stylish, good-looking young men - usually aged under 30 - who have trim physiques, flawless skin and often can be seen wearing makeup (but not necessarily good at acting). TL/N: the mocking term given to a type of TV dramas set around the time of the Second Sino-Japanese War, generally depicting the Japanese army as extremely weak and the Chinese protagonists as exceptionally strong. The state has since announced a limit on TV dramas that sensationalize the history of the war. TL/N: roughly 1500 USD