We arrived at the village that night. This particular village was as old as Rain Village and I had actually looked at it back in the day, but I didn’t end up choosing it in the end.
There were a lot of old houses that had been built in the 1980s, many of which were abandoned and rotten now. They had a few parts that were left over from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but the main structure was built using ordinary building materials from twenty years ago. They had a lot of termites in them and weren’t very valuable anymore. The valuable corbels and lattice windows (1) had all been snatched up by antique dealers who rushed to the village in the early years.
But my standards weren’t that high. I wanted something old and simple, but I didn’t want it to be simple and delicate. Even just one or two old beams and the old window shelves inside could still be used for decoration.
This time, I was called because there was an old house in the village that was very dilapidated. If it was to be demolished as a whole, it could directly be used as firewood. I made a deal with the village head to buy it for seven thousand yuan. That way, I would be responsible for the demolition and could pick out the valuable timber.
I once found a golden nanmu pillar in one of the houses, along with a golden nanmu door panel. At first glance, I knew that the door panel was a modified coffin lid. I figured that the owner used to be a colleague in the business.
These two things were now in our village house; one acted as a supporting beam while the other acted as our door panel. Anyway, Faqiu Zhonglang Jiang and Mojin Xiaowei were here (2), so I wasn’t afraid of any residual evil in the door panel.
This old condemned house had a particularly beautiful caisson at the entrance, so I came as soon as I heard that it was going to be demolished. The rest of the house had basically been built with cement in the 1980s.
We would have to completely dismantle the caisson and replace the rotten wooden parts before we could set it up at the door of our house.
When I got to the house, I used a ladder to climb up and saw that there was another caisson inside this caisson. It looked like something from a particularly powerful ancient temple. It was very complicated and colorful, and the patterns on it all had Buddhist elements to them.
It appeared this caisson had been overlooked. When I told Fatty what I had found, he climbed up to have a look and took a picture with his cell phone. After he sent it to his group of friends, they immediately exploded.
“This thing is valued at more than eight hundred thousand yuan,” Fatty said.
I personally thought that the outside caisson was already very beautiful, but it couldn’t even compare to the one on the inside. I felt that it was probably done during the Cultural Revolution. Someone was worried that this internal caisson would be destroyed, so they made a more common version to act as an outer layer of protection for it.
But this meant that I couldn’t take this thing down myself. I’d have to ask my teacher to contact my juniors in the Department of Ancient Architecture and get their help. But just as I was thinking this, Poker-Face came up and swiped his very long fingers across several mortise and tenon joints that were covered in a layer of dust. He then pressed a spot, pushing and lifting it until the mortise and tenon below the caisson were dismantled.
It was only at this time that I remembered that he was a master at dismantling mechanisms, so taking care of a caisson should be like child’s play.
“It has multi-layered joints,” he said as he handed it to me.
I had learned this before, so my memory started to come back as soon as I took it. He was still holding on to the removed side with one hand, so I called Fatty over to help.
There were about a hundred parts removed from the first caisson, but the hidden one had a lot of small structures to it. Poker-Face searched for a long time and finally found an air port, but he said that we couldn’t remove it like this. We’d have to use scaffolding or it would easily collapse.
I knew that this thing would be damaged if we didn’t take it apart now and left it here overnight, because once old wood like this was completely exposed, it would easily fade and crack. As a result, I was determined to finish the work tonight.
“Are you going to sell it or not?” Fatty asked me. “The group is going crazy.”
I looked at the caisson and said to him, “This kind of caisson must have a lot of history, so I want to check the ancient temples first. I’m guessing it’s worth a lot of money.”
(1) It directly translates as “flower window” but it can look something like this:
(2) Two fancy names for tomb robbers in ancient China who were trained down through the generations in uncovering tombs, navigating crypts, avoiding traps, etc. Could also be called “Faqiu Zhonglang General” and “Mojin School Lieutenant”. More info here.
Sorry for the 2 day hiatus. Anna got “Sand Sea” into a pdf for you guys so I tried to go through and fix any of the typos I could find (It’s 1000+ pages so I’m sure I still missed a few, sorry!). Link to the pdf is here.