Day 02 16:33
In the evening, Song Ran rode his old bicycle to the school to pick up Bubu.
Yesterday, Bubu did not wait for his guardian to arrive. Nimbly escaping like a little monkey, he had slipped away from beneath the teacher’s eye. However, since he now had Big Brother to drop him off and pick him up, today he boldly stood at the front door. After seeing Song Ran, Bubu quickly pasted a little red flower onto his cheek. When Song Ran asked him about it, Bubu told him with a face full of accomplished pride that he had shared the story of the chipmunk and the grey squirrel with his other friends. It was well-received, and every little girl in class gave him a sticker.
At first, Song Ran was astonished by his superb recollection ability and expressiveness. But on second thought, Papa He could even come up with a bizarre thing like Little Q; someone like that was absolutely not on the same wavelength as other people. As the saying went, a tiger father would not beget a dog for a son.1Outstanding parents produce outstanding children Bubu had inherited his genes, so he would definitely be a bit smarter than other children.
Bubu had tasted the sweetness of the spotlight. After dinner, he pestered Song Ran to tell him another story, wishing to earn more small red flowers tomorrow.
This time Song Ran picked a book for him entitled Giraffes Can’t Dance. The adult and child comfortably curled up on the sofa, conjuring life-like and vivid imagery with their tireless chatter.
The story was a very simple one—it was about a small giraffe who liked dancing. But because of its four long legs, its body structure was different from that of the other animals; as a result, it always took tumbles and often made a spectacle of itself. In the end, it found a natural music that best suited it and finally became a giraffe who could dance.
After listening to the story, Bubu bounced into the middle of the living room and stood on tiptoe, stretched out his neck to mimic a tall giraffe, and practiced dancing by kicking and tapping his feet. Bu Doudou was robbed of its territory. It stood up haughtily, leapt onto the sofa armrest, and stretched.
It protested at Song Ran.
Song Ran hurriedly closed the picture book and scratched its furry cheek. He ingratiatingly said, “You two are both named Bu, and both rule the roost,2Originally ‘ancestors’, which denotes position of great respect in the family, and is not meant to be taken literally but I cannot simultaneously satisfy both of you. Why don’t you two show me a bit of mercy, and try to get along well with each other?”
Bu Doudou used its canine teeth to express its objections, biting him.
“That was uncalled for!” After blowing on his finger, Song Ran indignantly said, “No supper can for you today.”
Bu Doudou eyed him with a baleful glare.
Song Ran immediately quailed. “Fine, you can have it, you can have it.”
Otherwise, why would people say that those who straddle two boats will suffer karmic retribution? Song Ran held two posts. If he wasn’t acting as a slave to the cat, then he was acting as a slave to the child; in this household, his position was so low that he was practically in the dirt.
At 8:50 p.m., Bubu was sitting at the dining table with a little canvas tied around his neck and small oversleeves on his arms, earnestly filling in the white paper with coloured pencils.
Song Ran had drawn a set of lineart animals for him. There was a chipmunk and a squirrel, a giraffe and a little cricket, as well as tree leaves, mushrooms, and big tree stumps. All of it was to occupy his entire attention span while Song Ran himself grabbed a kitchen knife and minced wonton filling in the kitchen with great vigour.
He chopped out a drumbeat and chopped out a rhythm.
At first, while Song Ran was chopping meat, Bubu was constantly standing next to him with hands tucked behind his back, craning his neck this way and that to observe. This child was severely deprived of love. It had been so difficult to come across a person who was willing to patiently accompany him that he felt as if he’d uncovered a precious treasure; as a result, he was not willing to separate from Song Ran for even one minute.
It wasn’t a problem if the child was too clingy, but the sight of a kitchen knife chopping meat was too cruel and completely unsuitable for children to watch.
Song Ran thought up a plan. He spent five minutes drawing a sheet of lineart animals and offered a set of forty-eight colored pencils, which successfully piqued Bubu’s curiosity. The child could amuse himself within his line of sight, and they would be able to coexist harmoniously.
He was already such a good child at the tender age of four, but his sense of safety was sorely lacking. Speaking from the heart, Papa He’s natural gift for raising children was a topic that Song Ran could joke about for a year—he couldn’t raise even dogs to be like this.
Song Ran held the stainless steel kitchen knife in his hand as he recalled that attractive voice. He thought deeply about how the other was a top-class expert at teasing others, digging pitfalls in what should have been the smooth course of love, and felt resentful to the point that his teeth itched. Wrath turned his complexion from green to red, and then from red to purple, before he exploded once again in an instant. After using the flat of the knife to gather the minced meat into a pile, he chopped in a frenzy to vent his anger.
Bubu was frightened by the murderous aura filling the air; he held out a small hand and patted his own fragile heart.
The minute hand marched forth and pointed straight up: precisely 9 o’clock.
“Pikapika—pikachu! Pikapika—pikachu! Pikapika—pikachu!”
The Pikachu ringtone abruptly burst from the living room. The harsh sound pierced their ears, nearly causing Song Ran to chop off a finger. Bubu pushed away his paper and pencils, jumped down from the table, and bolted over to pick up the phone. “Dada!”
For the sake of demonstrating courtesy, Song Ran suppressed his boiling anger and slowed down the speed at which he chopped meat, which made his efficiency drop by 90 percent. Halfway through chopping, Bubu quickly ran over from the living room, joyfully calling out, “Big Brother is home. Does Dada want to talk to him?”
Mr He, I’m grateful to you for thinking so highly of me, but I don’t wish to speak with you!
Song Ran deftly slammed down the kitchen knife. He strode out of the kitchen, held up his right index finger in front of his lips, and softly said to Bubu, “Shh.”
Bubu promptly braked, staring curiously at him.
Song Ran then held out his left index finger and pointed with both fingers in the direction of the bathroom, forcefully jabbing a few times. Then, he made a cross with his fingers, pantomiming rejection with a big X.
Bubu got the hint, accurately conveying to the opposite side, “Big Brother said he’s pooping, so he doesn’t want to talk to you!”
Song Ran turned into stone.
At this moment, he only had one thought in mind—compared to admitting that he doesn’t close the door when using the bathroom, it would be less embarrassing to admit that he had openly lied.
“Forget it.” He listlessly rested his forehead in one hand and reached out. “Give me the phone.”
But Bubu said, “Okay, bye Dada!”
It couldn’t be—was the hurdle so easily cleared?
Song Ran saw the child press the ‘end call’ button. Ecstatic, he let out a long sigh of relief.
“Big Brother, Dada said that he can’t disturb your pooping, or you’ll get constipated.” Bubu’s eyes squinted as he smiled, offering the cell phone to him. “He wants you to call him after you finish pooping.”
In the kitchen, the knife flashed through the air and the minced meat on the chopping board flew in all directions.
In his violent fury, Song Ran only used one minute to finish chopping an amount of meat that originally would have needed five minutes to chop. He continued by washing spring onions, cutting tofu, pouring cooking wine, adding soy sauce, and sprinkling flour all in one go, and followed up by using chopsticks to mix everything at full speed by hand. Finally, in the amount of time it would take for people to normally resolve a physiological need, he finished preparing the meat filling and dug out a stack of wonton skins from the refrigerator.
After preparing all the ingredients, he picked up the cell phone and tightly gripped it in his hand.
What was he scared of?
People who have an image to maintain would need to take their image into consideration, but in Papa He’s eyes he already doesn’t have any image to speak of. As the saying went, dead pigs do not fear being scalded by hot water, and shameless people are unrivaled by anyone else on earth. In the coming ten days to half a month, they would be cooperating without meeting each other, but after meeting each other they would no longer need to cooperate; after raising the child, they would part ways. There were two security doors between them, and they’d have nothing to do with each other, so what was there to be afraid of?
Come, don’t hesitate to talk to me.
Song Ran armoured himself with a set of buffs to reinforce his resistance to provocation. After pressing the big red parental speed-dial heart located in the center of the nine-button grid, he put the cell phone on his shoulder, tilted his head to clamp down on it, and staunchly began to wrap small wontons.
Yesterday, his experience bar had increased by a large amount. Today, his guard will remain completely unbroken.
Calm and collected.
The ringtone continually played several times until the phone call connected. The sound of He Zhiyuan’s voice carried over. “Song Ran?”
It was more lazy compared to yesterday, and even more gentle.
Oh no, his ears felt a bit ticklish.
Song Ran’s ears reddened slightly and he retracted his shoulders as he strove to prevent himself from revealing his timidity. “I-it’s me.”
“You’re… pretty fast.”
He Zhiyuan laughed meaningfully.
Song Ran’s face paled, and he savagely stabbed his chopsticks into the minced meat. “I’m not constipated!”
Do you still know how to speak well or not?!
He Zhiyuan laughed again. “All right, at least it means that you’re physically healthy… What are you doing?”
“I’m wrapping wontons.” Song Ran replied, “This morning I boiled a pot of them for Bubu, and he quite liked them.”
All of his words were very curt, with each syllable clipped. It was as if he had turned on Google Assistant mode; he sounded as if he were not quite willing to actively engage in conversation with He Zhiyuan.
He Zhiyuan was at a bit of a loss—he didn’t do much, after all. Was the matter from yesterday evening really worth bearing this much of a grudge?
“Isn’t it troublesome to make wontons yourself?” He asked. “I remember that the supermarket sells ready-made ones.”
“Mr He, please, those are big wontons. Bubu’s mouth is small, so he couldn’t stuff them in even if he tried. The ones he likes are small wontons.” Song Ran picked up meat filling with his chopsticks and tapped it against the side of the bowl, skilfully knocking off a small clump. “Furthermore, how can the supermarket wontons be as tasty as my homemade ones? My wontons are filled with love. I start by using top-quality pork, top-quality green onion, top-quality tofu, and top-quality craftsmanship. Plus, I absolutely never add flavoring agents. They’re healthy, delicious, and filling—very suited to children’s palates.”
He Zhiyuan was tickled pink. “I haven’t eaten breakfast yet. Your advertisement was so loud and clear that hearing it made me hungry too.”
Song Ran raised his eyebrows as he picked up a wonton wrapper and stressed the key point. “Very suited to children’s palates.”
Children, not you.
After hearing this, that side clearly paused, and the trailing sound of laughter disappeared.
Song Ran stopped wrapping wontons, feeling somewhat guilty—was his tone a bit too aggressive?
Sure enough, He Zhiyuan’s slightly abashed reply came only after a long while. “If it’s like that, then go ahead and wrap them for Bubu to eat. This adult won’t blindly meddle anymore.”
Song Ran hurriedly said, “Mr He, I… I didn’t mean it like that.”
The other party was a technocratic elite who not only had a polite attitude but also knew how to flatter others, specifically finding opportunities to praise him a few times. Song Ran was actually perfectly fine; he was simply absorbed in his little temper tantrum and had pelted a brick at the other person’s forehead in return.
It’s fine for a person to be poor, but they could not be so poor as to lack even a sense of delicacy; even in poverty, one must show manners and poise.
Song Ran stared at the delicate snow-white wonton in his hand, and thought up a way to patch things up. “Actually… Actually, what I meant was that today’s wonton filling is the ‘child-friendly’ flavour that Bubu likes, not ‘adult-friendly’. Mr He, if you would like to eat it, in the future I will specially make ‘adult-friendly’ wontons for you.”
He managed to demonstrate his own hospitality, as well as a sense of thoughtfulness. Furthermore, something like wontons, which could only be eaten as breakfast and not as a proper meal, absolutely couldn’t be served when entertaining guests—who would invite others for breakfast?
Song Ran was deeply impressed by his own cleverness. In a wonderful mood, he weighed the small wonton in his hand, and put it onto a plate that had been sprinkled with a layer of flour beforehand.
On the other end of the line, He Zhiyuan smiled slightly. “Okay. If there’s an opportunity, I’ll definitely taste your handiwork.”
When Song Ran was provoked, he was like a spiny cactus, but after being soothed, he resembled a smooth succulent instead. With a pleasant attitude, he exchanged meaningless small talk with He Zhiyuan while wrapping one small wonton after another. In only a short while, two concentric rings of wontons were arranged closely together on the plate.
“… That’s not all—vegetables are a trivial matter. I’m even more skilled at stewing meat!” He beamed with joy, praising his own culinary skills. “The red braised pork I make is fatty but not greasy, tender and brightly glistening. There’s also steamed garlic prawns, clams stewed in egg, beef tenderloin with shacha sauce,3Wikipedia white cut chicken… As long as you can name it, I can pretty much make it all… Recipe? Following recipes is so boring. I usually figure it out myself!
“The sauce for white cut chicken? Is that so difficult? To tell you the truth, I’m excellent at mixing sauces… Cake? Forget cake, if Bubu eats too much he’ll get cavities. I also don’t really know how to use the oven, so I’m afraid of breaking it… I’m actually not bragging, out of the eighteen different culinary talents, the only remaining skill tree I haven’t put points into is western cuisine…”
Song Ran picked up a lump of meat filling with his chopsticks and cheerily wrapped it in the flat dough circle.
“Ah, that’s right. Papa He, what does Bubu typically like to eat? … You don’t know? This won’t do. How can you be a father and not know what your precious child likes to eat? How about this, I’ll help you make a file for Bubu and record everything that ought to be recorded, so that in the future when you find a new nanny, you can just give her the file…”
He Zhiyuan listened with genuine interest. “You have a lot of experience with raising children?”
Song Ran made a loud sound of affirmation. “Of course! My family had a big flock of younger brothers and sisters, and each child had their own file. Raising children is my old profession; I’m much more reliable compared to your family’s irresponsible Huang Guihua. If I were to work as a nanny, I guarantee you that I’d be earning many thousands more each month…”
It was only when he raised the topic of income, that He Zhiyuan remembered the purpose of today’s call. “Song Ran, let’s discuss this half month’s salary.”
Song Ran was flabbergasted. “Salary?”
Was it still necessary to pay a salary for helping to look after a child?
He Zhiyuan generously offered a price. “I’ll pay you according to the market rate, which would be eight thousand for half a month. Is that acceptable to you?”
Song Ran was struck dumb with astonishment, and the chopsticks fell from his grip—eight thousand? Was he being a nanny or robbing a bank?!
He Zhiyuan said again, “The eight thousand is for labor only, and doesn’t include consumables expenses. Keep a separate account for the vegetable and milk money, and I’ll reimburse you for that later.”
“You don’t… don’t need to go that far?” Song Ran thought that he was dreaming. “I’m only wrapping wontons. Is it really worth eight thousand in labor?”
And each one was wrapped so shabbily that they seemed as if they had tumbled on the ground several times, not looking even the slightest bit respectable.
He Zhiyuan replied to his question with another question. “How much will you accept?”
Song Ran was horrendous with numbers. He made a couple of gestures with his fingers on the countertop before he hesitantly called out a number. “Eight hundred?”
“Save your breath,” He Zhiyuan immediately rejected his counter-offer. “That’s below the minimum salary standard.”
Song Ran protested, “I can only be considered as short-term hired labour!”
“It’s also below the minimum hourly wage standard.”4China has multiple regulations regarding wages, so minimum salary and minimum hourly wage standards are not the same thing
He Zhiyuan’s rebuttals were watertight, rendering Song Ran speechless.
The two of them began to quibble over the phone. On one hand, the nouveau riche had money that he could not give, while on the other hand, the pauper who lacked money did not dare to carelessly accept any. This resulted in a long deadlock until a brand-new offer was finally pulled out—twelve thousand.
Song Ran feebly struggled, “Mr He, can you please be a bit reasonable…”
Song Ran made a serious face. “I’ll get angry for real!”
Song Ran: “I…”
“Fourteen thousand, fourteen thousand, fourteen thousand!”
Song Ran interrupted him. Raising aloft a little white flag, he tearfully waved it back and forth.