Chapter 27 Traveling Notes

There was no need to be too polite with Agui, so I went directly to the second floor and knocked on the door. Not only did people in the countryside usually go to bed early, but he and Fatty had drunk too much that night so they had gone to bed a little earlier than normal. They woke up at my insistent knocking and opened the door. When we went in, I asked him what was going on in the attic.

Fatty thought we were acting a little out of line at first, but after he went up to take a look, he came down and joined us.

“Agui, are you turning into a pervert? Please tell me you’re not hiding a beautiful girl in the attic. You mustn’t become a pervert,” Fatty said to him.

Agui was very embarrassed and obviously didn’t want to talk about it, but he felt that the relationship with us—especially with Fatty—was so deep that he couldn’t not talk about it. After hesitating for a long time, he eventually said, “This is amei’s Yuanchen Palace.” His accent was so strong that I had to ask him to write it down before I realized that he was saying three distinct words.

Amei was referring to Yun Cai.(1)

“What is this Yuanchen Palace?” Fatty asked.

“I don’t know. The master(2) is the one who said it.”

I knew what a Yuanchen Palace was; it was actually very common in southern Fujian. It was a term used in Guan Luo Yin.

The so-called “Guan Luo Yin” was a ritual where a master would take a person’s soul into the underworld to look for their relatives.(3) Everyone had a Yuanchen Palace in the underworld. This place was difficult to describe, but you could think of it as a symbolic mapping of your life. Different masters would show you different Yuanchen Palaces. For example, if you were an ordinary person, they would show you a house, and then let you see whether the rice jar was full and whether the lights inside were bright or not. If you weren’t an ordinary person, they may show you more than a dozen stone tablets in a house to see how well the articles were written and whether the handwriting was legible or not. These scenes would reveal all kinds of information about the owner of the Yuanchen Palace.

Agui began to cry, saying that he couldn’t go down to look for amei yet, but several people in his village who worshipped this god had already gone down. He asked them to find amei to see if she was doing well. They did find her Yuanchen Palace, but they couldn’t find Yun Cai.

They didn’t know where she went.

Agui became very anxious and asked the master about it. The master asked the person who went down to the underworld to draw all the details of Yun Cai’s Yuanchen Palace. Later, they said that it wasn’t enough to just draw it and that it would be better to restore it in the attic to see if there were any clues that could tell them where Yun Cai had gone.

If no one was found in the Yuanchen Palace, then this was indeed very strange and seemed to indicate that the Yin body’s condition was abnormal.

“There should be a book in the Yuanchen Palace with a lot of information in it,” I said to Agui. “If the Guan Luo Yin ritual is real, then this book—” As I was talking, I suddenly realized that I had made a mistake. That book only recorded the events in the living world and was said to be useless after a person died.

“The master asked me to lay everything out in the attic according to the drawing, and then he looked for clues. But after searching for a long time, he couldn’t figure out what really happened.” Agui’s tears were cloudy as two or three drops fell from his eyes. “Later, the master—that is, the businessman who came back from Vietnam—said that there was nothing else he could do but to go back to Vietnam to find the village spirit medium to deal with it. But I don’t have that much money.”

We were all silent. Agui looked at Fatty and said, “I don’t know if something happened to amei. Do you think she’s being bullied down there?”

Fatty’s face was livid, “A nice person like amei must have been reincarnated a long time ago. Where is that Vietnamese man? I’ll send him to hell right now.” As he spoke, he pulled Agui up and moved to pick up the bench, but I quickly stopped him.

“Show me that drawing,” I said to Agui.

He took out a piece of yellow paper from one of the drawers in the wardrobe. When I unfolded it, I saw a picture that had been drawn very clumsily with a brush. Despite this, it was clear to see that this Guan Luo Yin guy had clearly worked hard to draw everything in detail.

It was indeed the room in the attic.

I let Agui go back to bed and then squatted by the door to smoke. Fatty followed me down, neither one of us saying a word.

First of all, I didn’t know whether Poker-Face was considered a guru in this system, but I knew that there were many taboos in the underground that even he wouldn’t mess with. He was a living immortal, but he wasn’t Zhong Kui.(4) Otherwise, that strange Buddha statue would have blown up as soon as we entered the door.

Secondly, this kind of thing would be difficult to explain clearly. One was the emotional weight of the parties involved in this matter, which could have taken a positive turn depending on the outcome. If the others in that ritual said that Yun Cai was doing particularly well, then I could have accepted it. But the result of this feudal superstition was making people uneasy, which was very troublesome.

Now, if my grandfather came to me in a dream and told me that he was poor, I would obviously try my best to burn paper money for him. After all, it was basically difficult for ordinary people to escape this kind of behavior.

I didn’t know if this businessman who came back from Vietnam was trying to cheat Agui out of his money, but if that were true, then we should do as Fatty said and take him to the mountain and bury him.

But looking at the situation in the village, there were quite a few people who seemed to believe in it. This showed at least one thing—this person had a trick up their sleeve.

The anxiety in Agui’s heart wasn’t easy to dispel. Even Fatty and I may not be able to do it.

Caring about others was so messy.

“What do you say?” Fatty asked me. “Should we get involved?”

“It depends on which problem you want to solve. Do you want to deal with this Vietnamese guy, or do you want to solve Yun Cai’s disappearance?” I asked him.

It was purely a question of where Fatty’s worldview was.

“There’s not much to think about. Didn’t they say that people can go down to the underworld? Then let’s go down and see what this master can show us. If it’s all nonsense, I’ll send him to the underworld on the spot,” Fatty said.

<Chapter 26><Table of Contents><Chapter 28>



TN Notes:

(1) Amei (阿妹) in Mandarin means “younger sister” but I’d say in Agui’s dialect it’s probably just a sign of endearment.

(2) Master in this context is fashi (法师), one who has mastered the Buddhist sutras.

(3) Guan Luo Yin is a Taoist ritual used for the purpose of seeing how life is going for dead love ones (parents, children, relatives) in the underworld, or for visiting your house in the underworld. Guan Luo Yin is to be conducted in a temple which has a god’s blessing and protection. Every participant has their eyes covered with a talisman, are blindfolded with a piece of cloth, and will be seated with their shoes removed. They will be led on their journey to the underworld by the Chief Taoist Master. Every living person, past and present, has a home in the spirit world, known as a Yuanchen Palace, where the condition of each room is symbolically related to a tangible aspect of the believer’s life. Here’s an article and here’s a blog that discuss the ritual in more detail.

(4) Zhong Kui is a mythological figure who’s supposed to drive away evil spirits. He is depicted as a large man with a big black beard, bulging eyes, and a wrathful expression. Zhong Kui is able to command 80,000 demons to do his bidding. Info here.


Pic added 12/24/2022 (fan translation courtesy of me).

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