That night, Ren Baqian was sitting at a market stall with a guy and a girl.
The guy was wearing a blue short-sleeved t-shirt and jeans, looking suave. He was Ren Baqian's only friend, Chen Qing.
Ren Baqian sometimes wondered how he managed to become friends with someone like Chen Qing. Ren Baqian was born to an average family and was selfish, detached, and unmotivated. After graduating, he passed his first year earning a meagre wage at a small company.
Chen Qing was the complete opposite of him. He was wealthy, handsome, and highly competent. He was the center of attention wherever he went and was someone people would aspire to be. Having graduated from law school, Chen Qing was currently interning at a law firm and would soon become a full-fledged lawyer. That guy had an extremely bright future.
No matter how you looked at them, they were two seemingly incompatible people.
For some reason, Chen Qing seemed to like Ren Baqian a lot. The two had quickly become friends after only two short meetings.
According to Chen Qing, he was very similar to Ren Baqian. He felt both of them were drifters that did not belong with the rest of society.
Ren Baqian, on the other hand, did not feel the same. He led a lonely existence away from others simply because he was unable to integrate into their social circles.
Chen Qing was a skillful navigator of the social world, blending and mixing his way through various circles. He detached himself because he enjoyed watching the behavior of others.
The two of them could not be more different, yet they were friends.
What an odd occurrence.
Wearing a long skirt, the elegant and refined girl sitting with them was Jiang Nan, Chen Qing's girlfriend. Her looks were slightly above average, and she was also particularly strange person.
Being the handsome, wealthy man that he was, Chen Qing had a vibrant nightlife and frequently visited nightclubs. He would have a different girl in his hands practically every other night. Jiang Nan, who was his only official girlfriend of nine years, did not seem to mind his gallivanting ways. In fact, their relationship was great.
What shocked him the most was, even though Chen Qing bedded different girls all the time, he still had yet to make love with his actual girlfriend.
According to Chen Qing's drunken words, the best should always be saved for last.
No matter how he looked at them, Chen Qing and Jiang Nan were two of the weirdest people he had ever met.
"Where have you disappeared to for the past few days? I couldn't find you in your office, and none of your colleagues knew where you were. It's hard to imagine that you'd actually run off just like that," Chen Qing questioned as he drank more beer.
His voice remained rather flat, but Ren Baqian could pick up subtle hints of worry.
He knew that Chen Qing was a good bloke who would help him without hesitation if the need arose.
The current problem he faced, however, was not exactly something anybody else could help with.
"It's a long story." Ren Baqian sighed. "An escape from the brink of death!"
"Tell me about it?" Chen Qing prompted.
Jiang Nan attentively leaned forward as well.
"Forget it, I'm not going to bother. It's too much of a hassle." Ren Baqian shook his head, unable to formulate a coherent way of explaining his predicament.
"Let me just say that we all should treasure whatever it is we have in our lives. You'll realize just how much you've missed when staring at death in the face," Ren Baqian offered.
Chen Qing laughed, held onto Jiang Nan's hand, and said, "You must have been through quite a lot to say something this deep."
Ren Baqian nodded his head in acknowledgement.
After finishing half the alcohol, Ren Baqian suddenly quipped, "I've been reading quite a few Tang Dynasty time travel nation building novels recently. If someone really goes back in time, what kinds of knowledge and skills do you guys think would be good to possess?"
"Culinary skills, so that you won't starve and can find a job." Chen Qing burst out in merry laughter.
He suddenly became a bit more serious and continued on, "One must first consider the location, time period, and social class of the person to determine what's important. But, generally speaking, anything to do with daily life would come in handy. Things related to eating, whether it be it farming or cooking, could be useful anywhere. If there were patent laws during those times, advanced farming implements would definitely be one of the easiest ways to become rich."
Ren Baqian agreed with this point; it was what he had thought of as well.
"What about for the leaders of the society, what would they need the most? An emperor, for instance, what would be useful to an emperor?" Ren Baqian probed.
"Lots of things. An emperor is the ruler of an entire nation, practically anything could be useful to him. But if we consider the previous question as well, there are two main aspects to consider. The first is related to internal affairs, things like agriculture and improving food production efficiency. The second is related to external matters such as military affairs and includes stuff like introducing cement to improve defensive capabilities. Anything else would be pretty difficult for a layperson."
Ren Baqian nodded his head once again before asking, "What would Wu Zetian [Tang Dynasty's Empress Wu] like?"
This time, the one answering wasn't Chen Qing but was instead Jiang Nan. Her gentle voice was rather uncharacteristic for a Northeastern girl.
"A considerate man who can provide a strong shoulder for support. As a lady, I'm sure she would have liked to have things like that. Her high standing likely makes it difficult for her to find someone like that."
Ren Baqian thought about the lady in the red robe after hearing Jiang Nan's reply. It was practically impossible for him to imagine that lady being submissive to a man.
Instead, most of her time should be spent mercilessly shouting "behead him".
"What's up, are you preparing to go back in time?" Chen Qing joked.
Ren Baqian nodded his head seriously, "Yeah."
As they were parting ways after the meal, Jiang Nan said gently, "Our company is currently recruiting so if you'd like to change jobs you can consider joining us."
Ren Baqian knew that she was helping him save face. It was not difficult to guess that he was jobless after having gone missing for so many days. Ren Baqian smiled. "I'm thinking of taking a short break first. I'll definitely let you know if I need assistance."
The most important thing for him now was to find out why he was transported to that world and how he managed to come back.
How was he going to seek employment if he could not figure this out?
For all he knew, he might get stuck there forever.
Ren Baqian, for the next two days, holed himself up at home.
Unable to figure out why he was transported, he went on the web to read up more about agriculture and to look at blueprints of farming machinery.
In the event that he went back to that world, such knowledge would surely be of some use.
During these two days Ren Baqian had received an email from Chen Qing. Attached was a long document containing essential details about the Tang Dynasty and included a reading list as well.
At the end of the document, there was this sentence: "If you really do end up there, remember to bring these books."
Halfway through the document, Ren Baqian started laughing. Anyone who discussed such a topic would definitely take it as a joke. To think Chen Qing actually put some serious thought into this.
Saving the booklist, Ren Baqian prepared to buy a few of those that he was interested in.
While he was sleeping, however, a sharp cold woke him up.
He was in a daze but could sense that his surroundings had changed.
Ren Baqian was still lying on a mattress, but he felt the freezing temperature. During this season, it was considered lucky if the weather was breezy. For it to be this cold was seemingly impossible.
As he opened his eyes, he realized that he was surrounded by total darkness.
He touched his mattress and reached out for his surroundings. Instead of a bedside table, his hands felt a rough, uneven stone.
"Is this… a jail cell?" Ren Baqian was at a loss.
Scanning the area, he found the 20-centimetre-tall window with a faint light shining through it.
He was back in that world!
Ren Baqian's heart skipped a beat as he fully roused.