Chapter 9 – Phoenix Man (9) *edited
“I believe you.” Upon hearing Jiang Pingxiu’s words, Yan Jingze said firmly, leaning in to give Jiang Pingxiu another kiss – this version of Jiang Pingxiu was truly adorable.
Jiang Pingxiu’s face instantly turned red. He instinctively wanted to shy away, but he couldn’t bring himself to.
Seeing his reaction, Yan Jingze laughed and ruffled his hair. He went on to share his plans for the near future.
This time, he wasn’t planning to go back home for Chinese New Year, but after the Spring Festival, he would make a trip back to give some money to his parents and arrange for his younger siblings’ education.
As someone who had transmigrated, he didn’t have deep emotional ties to the original owner’s parents and family. Nevertheless, he preferred spending Chinese New Year with Jiang Pingxiu, even if he wouldn’t completely ignore his own family like the original owner had.
Regardless of whether it was for his younger siblings or for Jiang Pingxiu, education was a transformative opportunity for them… He had to ensure that they all pursued education.
Shocked by Yan Jingze’s plans, Jiang Pingxiu looked at him in amazement.
He had actually thought about Chinese New Year plans for a while.
He didn’t want to return to his village for the holiday. He still remembered how their neighbors claimed their land while plowing, accusing his grandmother of theft. He also remembered instances of people blocking their door, accusing his grandmother of stealing their belongings. Moreover, he recalled how people around his age in the village used to b*lly him.
But he had always assumed that Yan Jingze would go back for Chinese New Year.
Their current life was too blissful. Just the thought of being separated from Yan Jingze, of having to spend Chinese New Year alone with his grandmother as they used to, made him feel uncomfortable. He decided not to bring up the topic of Yan Jingze’s Chinese New Year plans. However… Yan Jingze wasn’t going back?
Jiang Pingxiu’s voice quivered a little, “You… Are you going to spend Chinese New Year with me?”
“You’re my wife, who else would I spend Chinese New Year with if not you?” Yan Jingze laughed.
Jiang Pingxiu’s face turned red again, and his heart raced faster and faster.
He felt that today was the happiest day of his life.
The next day, when Jiang Pingxiu went to the shop, he brought along his Grade 7 Chinese textbook.
He hadn’t really attended junior high, so he could barely understand the math and English textbooks. But he thought he could study Chinese on his own, starting by reading the lessons and trying to memorize the texts.
Mornings at the shop were usually slow, and Jiang Pingxiu wanted to read. He also felt a little embarrassed… as he hesitated, he thought of Yan Jingze.
After all, Yan Jingze was a university student. If he only had a junior high school education, could he even be on the same level as Yan Jingze?
And… there were so many good-looking and knowledgeable people in college. What if Yan Jingze fell for someone else?
In the past, Jiang Pingxiu had prepared himself for the possibility that Yan Jingze might not want him, that Yan Jingze might abandon him. If Yan Jingze wanted to break up with him, he would leave immediately.
But things were different now.
Now, he didn’t want to let go of Yan Jingze at all.
Just the thought of Yan Jingze wanting to break up with him now…
Just thinking about it made Jiang Pingxiu feel miserable; his eyes started to turn red.
He couldn’t be without Yan Jingze.
He wanted to become someone worthy of Yan Jingze.
With these thoughts in mind, Jiang Pingxiu immediately took out the Grade 7 Chinese textbook.
“Pingxiu, what are you looking at?” Xiao Zhang was the first to notice Jiang Pingxiu reading and walked over to him. He pulled the book from Jiang Pingxiu’s hands and glanced at the cover. “Grade 7 Chinese? Why are you reading a Grade 7 Chinese textbook?”
“My brother… he asked me to continue studying,” Jiang Pingxiu said, pulling the book back from Xiao Zhang’s grasp with force.
“Studying? Can you even understand it?” Xiao Zhang said, “And how much money and time does studying require? It’s better to earn money like we’ve been doing for the past seven or eight years… Some people who graduate from college still earn only three to four thousand a month. What’s the point of not studying? We would have earned around two hundred thousand in these seven years.”
Xiao Zhang’s words were spoken quite loudly, capturing the attention of Brother Wang and Master Chen.
Brother Wang laughed heartily, “Pingxiu, you want to study? Good luck! Go on to college in the future and become a university student!”
However, Master Chen shot Xiao Zhang a stern look, “Xiao Zhang, what nonsense are you talking? Education is always good! Even if college graduates only earn three to four thousand, they have social benefits and work in offices with weekends off… Do we have that?”
Xiao Zhang was a bit defiant, “Some business owners only graduated from elementary school, but even college graduates work for them!”
“Those business owners are from a time when everyone was poor and didn’t have the conditions for education. If they were born now, with parents urging them to study, could they not get into college?” Master Chen said, then turned to Jiang Pingxiu, “Xiao Jiang, if you want to study, study diligently. At your age, it’s the right time to go to school. Even if you don’t go to college, learning some skills is good. We need certifications for auto repair.”
Jiang Pingxiu nodded earnestly, “Yeah!” He was determined to study hard and get into college!
He started reading even more seriously, picking up the book whenever he had free time.
However, studying secretly during work made him feel embarrassed, so he continued to work as usual, sometimes even more, and in between tasks, he would glance at the classical poems written on scraps of paper and try to memorize them.
But this approach wasn’t very effective. He needed to study seriously… He had to focus on his studies, just as Yan Jingze had advised.
At noon, when the shop owner’s wife came by, Jiang Pingxiu took a deep breath, went to find her, and hesitatingly explained that he wanted to resign.
Initially, the shop owner’s wife intended to persuade Jiang Pingxiu to stay. However, when she heard that he wanted to study, she stopped trying to persuade him to stay. Instead, she asked him to work until the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, and then they would hire a new employee after that.
The number of car wash customers was relatively high during the Lunar New Year, and the prices for car wash services even increased. So, even during the New Year, the shop owner’s wife didn’t want to close down the business.
Jiang Pingxiu agreed.
Yan Jingze only learned about this on the evening of that day, and he smiled but didn’t object.
That car wash shop made people work thirteen hours a day. Even when the employees were eating, they had to start working immediately if a customer came in for a car wash. Despite the long hours, the income wasn’t high. With an additional five hundred yuan per month, the wage would only amount to three thousand five hundred yuan. In his eyes, it wasn’t a great job, especially considering there was no formal contract involved. In fact, it wouldn’t matter if Jiang Pingxiu left the job directly.
However, Jiang Pingxiu really liked that shop. So, when he talked about resigning, he felt somewhat guilty towards the owners.
Given the circumstances, it was fine for him to continue working until the fifteenth day of the first lunar month.
Yan Jingze’s hometown didn’t have telephone access, but there was a phone in the village.
Before the New Year, Yan Jingze had made a call, saying that he would work during the winter break and that he wouldn’t be able to return immediately due to expensive travel tickets. He expected to come back around the eighth day of the first lunar month.
Then, he started teaching children at the tutoring center and did online work from home, maintaining a continuous stream of earnings.
That year, New Year’s Eve fell on February 11th.
The tutoring center closed a few days before the New Year. Once it was closed, Yan Jingze focused on various online tasks he had taken on.
Many people wanted to rest during the New Year period, so there were plenty of tasks available online. This allowed him to earn quite a bit, but he found himself sitting in front of the computer so much that his back would ache.
Yan Jingze was busy, and when he worked, Grandma Jiang would turn the TV’s volume to the lowest setting.
This elderly lady couldn’t quite understand how Yan Jingze could earn money by typing on a computer, but she still thought Yan Jingze was very powerful and greatly admired him.
When he took a break, she would immediately prepare an egg soup for him to nourish him.
With added brown sugar, the steaming egg drop soup was always consumed entirely by Yan Jingze.
Although egg drop soup with brown sugar was a staple postpartum meal in their hometown, adding sugar was beneficial for those who engaged in mental labor.
This was Grandma Jiang’s care.
On New Year’s Eve, the car wash shop only operated in the morning. As the time seemed about right, Yan Jingze rode his bike out and picked up Jiang Pingxiu, bringing him back home.
The shop distributed some New Year’s goods to the employees: a bag of red dates, a bag of sunflower seeds, a bag of peanuts, and a bottle of cooking oil. These items weren’t particularly valuable, but it was the first time Jiang Pingxiu had received New Year’s gifts from someone else, so he was especially happy.
He placed the gifts in the front basket of his bicycle and followed Yan Jingze back home. On the way, he didn’t forget to recite his lessons.
The elementary school teacher from the remote village taught Mandarin with a non-standard accent, mixing up retroflex and alveolar consonants. Yan Jingze corrected Jiang Pingxiu when he heard mistakes.
Originally, the original owner also spoke non-standard Mandarin, but he had started correcting it in high school and had improved. Now he could even teach others.
The streets were quiet on New Year’s Eve. They rode slowly along the non-motorized lane, conversing as they went. They didn’t feel the cold.
When they arrived home, they saw Grandma Jiang making dumplings.
The white dumpling wrappers danced in her hands, rapidly transforming into dumplings, filling their hearts.
After making dumplings, they also stewed a chicken, cooked a pot of braised pork, fried meatballs, steamed a fish, and added a variety of vegetables. This New Year’s Eve dinner was quite sumptuous.
Yan Jingze had only the memories of the original owner, and this meal could be said to be the most sumptuous in the original owner’s memory. Not to mention Jiang Pingxiu and Grandma Jiang – they used to struggle even to make dumplings with pure meat filling.
Before Jiang Pingxiu started earning money, they found it hard to even afford meat. It was only after Jiang Pingxiu began to earn money that their lives improved a bit. Even though Jiang Pingxiu gave most of his earnings to Yan Jingze, he also gave some money to his grandmother.
That evening, all three of them ate a lot. After finishing dinner, they gathered in Grandma Jiang’s room to watch the Spring Festival Gala. While watching, Grandma Jiang brought out two red envelopes and gave one to Yan Jingze and one to Jiang Pingxiu – each containing two hundred yuan.
It was Grandma Jiang’s thoughtful gesture, and Yan Jingze accepted it, planning to take her shopping in a few days.
The New Year’s atmosphere in big cities was never as strong. Just like how Jiang Pingxiu’s car wash shop stayed open until New Year’s Eve and then rested only on the first day of the lunar year, many stores continued business during the New Year.
Supermarkets and such remained open during the New Year.
On the first day of the lunar year, Yan Jingze took Jiang Pingxiu to a large shopping mall in the city.
After Jiang Pingxiu went to work on the second day of the lunar year, he took Grandma Jiang to the hospital for a health checkup.
Grandma Jiang’s health was pretty good, probably due to not having had access to much fish and meat in the past. Her blood pressure and other indicators were excellent, so with proper care, she could live another twenty or thirty years without any problems.
Yan Jingze was quite happy. He took Grandma Jiang to the zoo and also shared some interesting anecdotes with her.
For example, he mentioned how medical technology had advanced to the point where women could transition to men, and how in foreign countries, men could marry men, and women could marry women.
Grandma Jiang was surprised by these revelations and stared in awe at the videos and images on Yan Jingze’s phone.
After spending two days with Grandma Jiang, Yan Jingze returned to work.
He continued working until the seventh day of the lunar year before embarking on the journey back to his hometown.
On the morning of the eighth day, he arrived in the village carrying bags of various sizes.
His younger brother was playing a game with some people at the village entrance, holding wooden spears. When he saw Yan Jingze, he started running towards home, shouting, “Brother’s back! Brother’s back!”
Finally back at home, Yan Jingze found the whole Yan family waiting for him.
Although from the bottom of his heart, the original owner looked down on this family, he wouldn’t even help pick up a fallen bottle at home, the original owner’s academic performance was truly excellent. He could be said to be the most promising person in the village, and because of Jiang Pingxiu, he hadn’t burdened his family with expenses.
Regardless of whether it was the Yan family members or others in the village, their impression of the original host was very positive at this time.
When the Yan couple saw Yan Jingze, their faces lit up with smiles. His younger sister and younger brother looked at him with admiration. Only Yan Damei had a touch of displeasure on her face, but she still obediently called him “brother.”
“Have you eaten?” Father Yan asked.
“Not yet,” Yan Jingze smiled.
Immediately, Father Yan said, “We’re just about to have lunch. Damei, reheat the chicken leg!”
Yan Damei pursed her lips and entered the kitchen with Yan Ermei. Soon, the sound of sizzling could be heard from inside. After a while, they brought out some simple dishes.
The food was quite modest. The meat dishes consisted of just a small plate of salted pork and one chicken leg. Father Yan used tongs to pick up the chicken leg and handed it to Yan Jingze, saying with a smile, “Yan Da, here’s a chicken leg for the New Year. You and your younger brother each get one. I’ve been saving them for you in the freezer, so they definitely haven’t gone bad!”
Yan Jingze looked at that chicken leg, feeling a bit conflicted.
The original owner had grievances against his family members. He believed that his family, which had raised him, was in a terrible state. He was also upset that even though they were poor, his parents still insisted on having more children.
Clearly, they could have had just one child, and their family’s situation would have been much better. But Father Yan felt that having just one son was risky, so he insisted on having another… In the end, they ended up with four children. With four children in the family, how could their lives be any better?
The original owner was full of resentment.
However, Yan Jingze had a more open-minded perspective and didn’t harbor ill feelings toward his parents and siblings.
The Yan couple weren’t the best parents, but there was nothing to be done about it.
They had never left the county where they had lived since childhood. Their horizons were limited, and their mentality of having children to support them in old age was deeply ingrained. Despite their ignorance, they had never mistreated their children.
For example, during the New Year, while the Yan couple favored their sons with the chicken legs, their two daughters could still have substantial portions of chicken meat. The only ones left with the smaller parts, the chicken wings and chicken heads, were the Yan couple themselves.
Yan Jingze handed the chicken leg to Yan Ermei, who was staring at it eagerly. According to his memories, this family’s most neglected member was Yan Ermei.
“Why are you giving her the chicken leg?” Father Yan frowned, and even his younger brother seemed a bit displeased, causing Yan Ermei to tremble. She stared at the chicken leg in front of her, afraid to touch it.
“I can eat chicken legs at every meal in college. I’m not short of chicken legs. Let Ermei have it,” Yan Jingze said.
Upon hearing this, Yan Damei, Yan Ermei, and Yan Xiaodi all looked at him with envy. Going to college allowed him to have chicken legs every day?!
Yan Jingze continued, “By the way, Dad, this time I’ve come back for the matter of Damei, Ermei, and Xiaodi’s education… Pursuing education is the best thing they can do. They all must go to college!”
Damei, Ermei, Xiaodi – Eldest Sister, Second Sister, Little Brother (these are not their names but like ‘Yan Da’ Eldest Yan nickname of Yan Jing Ze.)