Uncle Three started working in the business as a teenager and had seen a lot of things go wrong on many occasions. As a result, he generally always planned things out before setting them in motion. Sometimes, I thought he was too cautious. Take the last tomb for example. He had prepared a lot of things but eighty percent of the equipment wasn’t even used. That was why I didn’t expect him to be so impatient this time that he simply grabbed his suitcase and ran out the door. Knowing that I couldn’t stop him, I shouted, “Be careful!” He made a noise of assent and then ran into the elevator.
It just so happened that at this time, the attendant at the hotel’s foot-washing center came up to settle the bill with me. When he saw this scene, he smiled and said, “Why is your uncle in more of a hurry than you, his nephew? It seems your roles are reversed. You even have to worry about him.”
I couldn’t explain it either so I just smiled and took the bill, but my face immediately darkened when I saw that it was for more than four thousand yuan. I couldn’t help but secretly curse in my heart, damn it! That old geezer fucking went down again yesterday to do who knows what!
As I looked at the bill, I couldn’t help feeling a little worried. I had spent a lot of money over the past few days. Uncle Three originally had very deep pockets when our adventure started, but after we made our escape from the Seven Star Lu Palace, he spent the money like running water. Some had even been donated to the village that suffered from the forest fire we had started. He’d practically used up all the cash on him and wasn’t in the habit of carrying around credit cards because he said the way he did things was “old-fashioned”. As a result, he had been shamelessly spending my money over the past few days, saying that he would pay me back once his company transferred some more money over to him. I only remembered this now as I watched him turn tail and run. Does he know that I’m about to run out of money and that’s why he ran away? I wondered.
I was already feeling very upset, but when I took out my wallet and looked at it, my heart froze. I had become way too accustomed to quickly handing over my money without paying much attention to how much was left. As a result, there were only a few bills left in my wallet. Pan Zi was in a deep coma now and I didn’t know when he would wake up. Although the doctor said that there was no hidden danger and that his body just needed some time to recover, I figured he wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital for another ten days or even half a month. Pan Zi was alone and helpless, and I knew that this small amount of money wasn’t enough to find someone to help me take care of him.
But the most pressing thing right now was that four-digit bill in front of me, which was a problem that was a little difficult for me to solve. I gave the attendant an embarrassed smile and said that I didn’t have enough cash on me right now so I would have to get it and send it to him later. He knew that I had been paying for everything over the past few days without hesitation, so he just smiled and said, “It’s fine, it’s fine. It can wait until tomorrow. You can take care of your business first.”
As soon as he left, I immediately started to panic as I thought of everything else I’d have to pay for. Fucking Pan Zi’s medical expenses in the hospital were four figures every day so where was I supposed to find the money to pay for all that now that Uncle Three had run off? I couldn’t call my old man. He’d more than likely just scold me to death. Business had been so dismal in recent years that he already had a lot of opinions about it. And now that I was copying my good-for-nothing Uncle Three to go grave robbing? Forget it.
I went back into my room, still feeling anxious, when I suddenly saw the gold-threaded jade coffin cover still lying in my bag. Uncle Three treasured this thing so much that he even wrapped it in four or five layers of oil paper.(1) I looked at it and suddenly had a rather impulsive idea. I need to plan carefully for the next ten days, I said to myself. I can’t simply eat and sleep here every day like a fat pig and then write an IOU. I’ll need to find an antique market to sell this thing. Then I’ll use the rest of the money to travel around Jinan. It definitely won’t be a waste of time.
When I thought of this, I felt that it was very reasonable. I originally came here with the attitude of someone wanting to travel but now it had turned into something like investigating the X-files.(2) Why bother? I also had to take into account the fact that this matter couldn’t be done in a sloppy manner; otherwise, I’d be kicked out. It wouldn’t be a big deal for me but it would be a huge problem if they stopped Pan Zi’s treatment.
When I looked out the window and saw that it was still light out, I knew that I would have to move quickly if I wanted to get rid of this thing. I went down to the lobby and asked the attendant if there were any places to sell antiques. The attendant was very enthusiastic and even escorted me downstairs to call a taxi for me. When I got in the car, I told the driver to take me to a place where there were a lot of antique dealers. He readily agreed and told me that he would take me to Yingxiongshan Market.(3) Once I arrived there, I realized that it was indeed an interesting place.
On our way there, I listened to the taxi driver talking non-stop about how the Yingxiongshan Market had a relatively large collection of antiques and calligraphy products so there were a lot of people and it got quite noisy. Even though most of the goods were fakes, you could still talk to the bosses who were only too happy to boast and brag about their products.
I got out of the car with the jade coffin cover sitting heavy on my back, thinking about finding a bigger shop since this wasn’t something that ordinary people could afford. Big shops usually had connections with relatively rich customers so I could give the boss a two percent commission if he acted as an intermediary between us. I was also an old expert in this regard so no one could fool me.
When we were coming back from the Seven Star Lu Palace, I discussed the value of this thing with my Uncle Three. He said that it was worth a million yuan but there wasn’t a market for it. First, it would be hard for anyone to buy such an expensive thing unless they were a foreigner. Second, it was too big. Big things were inherently harder to sell than small things. He said that if someone really wanted to buy it, then he would be willing to let it go for eight hundred thousand yuan. With those words, I now had a bottom line to keep in mind when haggling over the price.
I started to look around, but I had barely taken a few steps when I suddenly saw a bronze incense burner sitting in a shop window. It had some figures carved on it that left me feeling shocked as soon as I saw them. All of the figures had big stomachs, which were very similar to the mural Uncle Three had mentioned seeing in the undersea tomb. I bowed my head to take a closer look when the shop owner suddenly came out and said, “Oh, you’re a man who knows his stuff. This is the most valuable piece in my shop.”
As soon as I heard his accent, I could tell right away that he was from Beijing. “What is this engraved on it?” I asked him. “Why is it so strange? It’s from Hainan, right?”
Upon hearing this, the man’s expression suddenly changed and he hurriedly ushered me into his shop. “Today, I’ve truly met an expert,” he said. “This thing has been here for years yet you’re the first one to notice it. You are correct, it is indeed from Hainan.”
He was in the antique business so he was used to giving flattery. I looked at his expression but couldn’t tell if he was speaking the truth or just trying to sell this thing to me. I didn’t have much information on hand so I would definitely give myself away if I pretended to be knowledgeable. In the end, I had no choice but to say, “I’m no expert. I’ve just seen this kind of thing in Hainan before and thought it was strange. I don’t even know what it’s called.”
The man asked me to sit down and then brought over a cup of tea before saying, “Then you’re being modest. But it doesn’t matter. If you really don’t know, I’ll tell you. The figures carved on this incense burner are a kind of ghost called the ‘Forbidden Woman’, which has a long story. If you’re really interested, I can tell you all about it.”
When I saw that I could gain some clues, I pretended that I wanted to buy it and quickly nodded. He motioned for me to wait and then took the incense burner out of the window. When he put it on the coffee table, I was surprised to find that I could suddenly smell a strange fragrance coming from it. He smiled, “It’s a very peculiar scent, isn’t it?”
“What spices are in it?” I asked.
He opened the incense burner’s lid and I saw a tiny black stone sitting inside. His smile turned a little smug when he saw my stunned expression, “This is the bone of a Forbidden Woman. That sweet smell is called ‘bone fragrance’. It’s good stuff. You can even put it beside your bed to have a comfortable night’s sleep.”
I suddenly felt a little nauseated, “What the hell is a Forbidden Woman? It seems a little immoral to use the scent of her bones to fall asleep.”
He smiled and said, “The Forbidden Woman is more of a big concept than an individual idea. It’s basically equivalent to a general term for any kind of bad thing that happens. For example, people who are sick or injured all say that it’s because of the Forbidden Woman. It’s really hard to describe her in concrete terms, but if you really want to call her something, you can say that she’s an evil spirit.”
“Oh, so this is her bone?” I asked with a frown. “But where did it come from? Based on the sea gunk encrusted on the lid, it seems to be a marine treasure.”
The man chuckled, “And you say you’re no expert? That’s correct, this thing was fished out of the sea by a fisherman’s net. But even though there’s some sea gunk on it, it’s rare and expensive so the price isn’t cheap.”
I didn’t have enough money on me at all, so I just sighed and said, “Unfortunately, I prefer clean goods. I don’t want this marine treasure. If you really want to sell something, why don’t you sell me the bone fragrance inside?”
The man’s expression changed and he said with an apologetic smile, “How could I do that? If you buy the bone fragrance, then who’s going to want to buy this incense burner?”
I took another look at it and saw a little bit of dust on top of it, which made it obvious that it had been on the market for a long time without being sold. This kind of thing was too unpopular so it would be difficult to resell it, especially because those who bought antiques for investment purposes generally didn’t like such things. As the saying went: collect gold in troubled times and antiques in prosperous times. It was only natural that the store owner wouldn’t bother to take care of things that couldn’t be sold.
I shook my head. In any case, it was useless for me to buy this thing because once I showed him the coffin cover and he contacted a buyer, I was sure that he would hand it over to me willingly. After thinking about it, I said with a smile, “Well, let’s put this discussion aside for now. I want to show you something.”
As I spoke, I unzipped my bag and showed him a corner of the jade coffin cover. I would be able to tell by his reaction whether he was an expert or not. Sure enough, his expression changed as soon as he saw it and he tucked the corner back into the bag without saying a word. Then he got up and pulled the shutters of the shop down, poured out the tea in my cup, and brought me another cup. My first thought as soon as I smelled it was, shit, this is first-class Tieguanyin tea.(4) It seems I’ve reached a higher level in his eyes.
The shop owner wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, “May I ask what your name is, sir?”
I could tell from his response that this man definitely wasn’t a simple antique dealer. With just a quick glance, he could tell that the jade cover had been taken from a tomb. I couldn’t help but smile politely as I responded, “My surname is Wu. And what is your name, boss?”
“You can just call me Lao Hai,” the man said. “Then, Master Wu, are you going to sell it or did you want me to appraise it?”
“Of course I want to sell it,” I said to him. “It’s a little hot to keep around.”
He paced around the room a few times before asking, “Is it all in one piece?”
I nodded. “Not a single piece is missing. It’s just out of the pot. Still hot.”
He sat down and said softly, “Master Wu, I’m a very frank person so I’ll be honest with you. Out of all the antique dealers in Yingxiongshan Market, I dare say that I’m the only one willing to accept this thing. But no matter how much I want it, it’s not necessary to haggle over such a priceless treasure. Just tell me what price you had in mind and I’ll give my friend a call to see if he’ll buy it.”
I thought it over for a moment. No matter what happened, I needed to get a million yuan for it. Da Kui’s family would get three hundred thousand, Pan Zi’s hospital fees would at least be two hundred thousand, and that fat guy already left a message telling us to send his share to him once we sold it. With him included, there went another hundred thousand.
When I remembered the life-and-death experiences we had all gone through, I couldn’t help but feel that it was too little. But Uncle Three had said that grave robbing was like that. Otherwise, why else would you rob one tomb after another? No matter how precious the things you brought out of a tomb were, they were all rubbish if nobody wanted to buy them. That was why he wouldn’t take anything too good because he knew he wouldn’t be able to sell it.
I estimated that one million yuan would be a good enough price and made a gesture to Lao Hai to indicate that. He looked overjoyed, which had me feeling a little depressed. Was the price too low? He picked up the phone, hid in the corner, and spoke softly to the party on the other end for a while. After the call ended, I saw that his face was flushed with joy.
“It’s done! It’s done!” He said exuberantly. “Master Wu, you’re in luck. Someone’s actually been looking for something like this. One million isn’t high but two million isn’t low either so I asked for 1.2 million for you. What do you think?”
When I heard this, my first thought was, only God knows how much you really asked for. You could’ve doubled it for all I know. But it was still two hundred thousand more than what I was expecting so I was happy with it.
“Then your share is calculated using the standard method, yes?” I asked with a smile.
He was grinning from ear to ear, “To tell you the truth, the other party has already prepared something for me so you can keep the 1.2 million. Looking at your injuries, this thing must not have been easy to take out of the tomb. You would do well to remember me. Next time you have this kind of thing, don’t bother going to someone else and just send it to me. I’ll give you an extra twenty percent on top of your asking price. You know, my client is very rich and willing to accept the things that others dare not accept.” Seeing that I was a little impatient, he hastily added, “Sit down for a while and rest. I’ll go prepare the money for you. Although my shop is small, it’s not short of cash. I’ll give you the 1.2 million up front.”
I listened to this grandiose statement and thought to myself, that saying is right. Out of the thirty-six professions, antique dealers are king.(5) There was some truth to the saying. It seemed that this guy had a knack for running a business. “Wait, what about this Forbidden Woman incense burner?” I hurriedly asked him. “Would you be willing to give me a discount? I’ll take the whole thing off your hands.”
The man snorted and waved his hand, “Take it if you like it. In fact, I’ll just give it to you. To tell you the truth, I only paid five yuan for it. All that talk just now was a trick to get you to buy it.”
Three hours later, I had a huge sum of money in my arms and felt like I was on cloud nine. When I went back to the hotel, I was too happy to even spare the doorman a glance. I heard some people behind me make comments that I must have won five million yuan since you couldn’t even see my eyes behind my wide grin. After sorting out the money, I settled all the hotel bills first, went to the hospital and paid for a month’s worth of Pan Zi’s medical fees, and then sent the fat guy his share. Once that was done, I solemnly transferred my share—together with what Uncle Three owed me—to my own account. Now I finally felt at ease.
Over the next few days, I found a beautiful local tour guide to take me all around Jinan. But I was from Hangzhou and was used to seeing a lot of cultural landscapes so the more I saw them, the less interested I became. Later, I simply went to a fish farm to go fishing.(6) These past few days were the most comfortable time of my life but human nature was really despicable. Despite all this comfort, I actually began to miss the excitement of grave robbing.
Not much happened after that. This kind of idle life continued for about a week until I came back from the fish farm one day and heard the phone ringing as soon as I opened the door. Uncle Three was the only one who knew my hotel room’s phone number so I hurriedly picked up the phone, thinking that he had finally sorted out whatever he had rushed off to do. But when I picked it up, the person on the other end of the line turned out to be a stranger. “Do you know a man named Wu Sanxing?” He said without preamble.
His tone sounded urgent so I responded quickly, “Yes, I know him. Is there a problem?”
“He’s missing,” the man said.
I froze as soon as I heard this, but then I came back to my senses and asked, “Wait, what do you mean missing?”
“It’s been ten days since we lost contact with his ship,” the man said. “What’s your relationship with him?”
“I’m his nephew,” I replied.
“Then can you get to Hainan as soon as possible?” He asked.
<Chapter 34><Table of Contents><Chapter 36>
(1) Oil paper (油纸) is a kind of processed paper made of tougher base paper and coated with tung oil or other drying oil to make it waterproof.
(2) Super popular science-fiction American TV show from the ‘90s. The series revolves around Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully who investigate X-Files: marginalized, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. More info here.
(3) It’s a real market in Jinan, China that sells books, antiques, calligraphy works and painting, root carvings, etc. Supposedly one of the four largest and most popular antique markets in China. Yingxiongshan can be translated as “Hero’s Mountain”.
(4) Tieguanyin tea is a variety of oolong tea. The processing of the leaves is very complex and requires expertise. The top varieties of Tieguanyin rank among the most expensive tea in the world, with one variety reportedly sold at around $3,000 USD per kilogram.
(5) I wasn’t having much luck finding an explanation in English so I had to use a mishmash of google and the Russian translation to scrounge up the meaning. The 36 professions is the collective name of the main social industries in the Tang Dynasty in China, reflecting the division of labor in the social industries at that time. The 36 professions extended the industry classification of 72 professions (or 360 professions) commonly used by Chinese folk. Here’s the Chinese wiki with a list of the 36.
(6) A fish farm is a place where fish are artificially bred or cultivated, e.g., for food, to restock lakes for angling, or to supply aquariums. Some fish farms allow for recreational fishing. If you watched the K-drama “Bulgasal”, the detective was doing a stakeout at a fish farm (it looked like he was in a warehouse). There are also parks where you can pay to fish in the ponds there.
And we’re off! Just in time for me to break my 5 day streak (I have afternoon meetings on Mondays now so probably won’t be able to get the next chapter out tomorrow. But you never know, it’s definitely shorter than this bitch of a chapter)
5 thoughts on “Chapter 35 Hainan”
I daresay we’re all hooked again! 😉
That darn Uncle Three and his pesky disappearing act. Gets us every time 😂
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The one who should feel like he is on cloud is Lao Hai. Wu Xie is smart but not in making money or saving it. If Fatty had been with him, they might have made more money. And it’s good that Xiao Ge wasn’t with him in the shop, I’m afraid he forgot the reason when he went in the there and lost both of money and jade coffin cover. (Especially with that strange fragrance in the air) 😅
This part, was as long as 2 or maybe 3 chapters in addition to the translation note you provide (Though I love the long chapters) Thank you for the hard work.
Thank you so much for this exciting chapter and the helpful notes at the end.
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I assume this is the beginning of the cat and mouse game between Uncle 3 and Wu Xie. Ah well our boy got some rest, paid some bills, enjoyed some life. Now its time to hit the ground running.
Thank you for the chapter. 🙏🏼