Time passed quickly and the final exam was over in the twinkle of an eye. This time, Chen Yuanming didn’t engage with the trash in his class anymore but concentrated on assaulting his textbooks for a few days. Today, he was no longer that young man full of a meaningless sense of self-esteem. There was no fairness in this world and if he did not want to be discriminated against he had to demonstrate that he could not be taken lightly.
After answering the last question on the test paper and checking it twice, he finally exhaled and left the examination room. Following the final exam was a two-day vacation for teachers to mark and grade papers. Since only the top students had the responsibility to assist in grading papers, it had never been his problem, so Chen Yuanming started his winter vacation early.
In the past two days after studying, Chen Yuanming had exerted all his effort in organizing and combing through his memories. Now that he had accepted his identity as one who had revived after death, the memories in his brain were too complicated, and more importantly, he could not determine whether the things they contained were accurate or true.
In this year newsstands were still a rarity. The scarcity of newspapers and magazines was caused by the direct subscription model and no newspapers could be found anywhere. There was also no TV at home and even use of the radio was controlled. It was impossible to listen to news on time. Thus, it was not easy to match the memories in his mind with reality. Without any support he could only spend more time making preparations.
In the early morning of the second day after his exams, without informing anyone, Chen Yuanming took the keys and walked out of the house with the two dollars he had saved from hard work.
It had not yet snowed this winter, and the entire city looked grey. The city’s main roads currently only had single-lane streets, and half the vehicles on the roads were bicycles. Occasionally, a cable- powered bus would pass by lazily.
The 3 to 4 floor residential buildings along the side of the road were still brand new and shiny. He estimated that they had been built within the past two years. L city was a well-known heavy industrial city in the Midwest of China. In addition to bearing factories and mines, factories such as the towing plants, steel mills, and copper processing plants were also crowded around the urban area. In the early 1990s, large state-owned enterprises had not yet declined, and the city still glowed with majestic pride and momentum.
But to Chen Yuanming, this city was strange. In another part of his life, after graduating from junior high school, his grades were not satisfactory. In the end, he did not attend the regular high school and chose to study at the vocational high school. After two and a half years of part-time work and study, he entered the factory directly through a relationship.
However, in 1994, caught by the reform of the market economy system, the benefits of the factory began declining in the following years. After working less than a year, he resigned resolutely and embarked on a journey while drifting towards the north. In Beijing, Shanghai and then Guangzhou he moved bricks, drove cars, and sold computers in Zhongguancun. In 2003 and 2004 when the stock market started fluctuating he started studying stocks. To this end, he attended night school and entered the stock market around the time when the market had bottomed out to 1000-points in 2005. He then tossed about for two years in the stock market before making some achievements.
In his past life, the first half was filled with depression and in the second half he wandered from place to place leaving him no time to carefully observe the changes happening around him. Now, observing this city from a completely unfamiliar perspective, he found that his personal impression of his hometown was so poor that the only the unforgettable memory he had was of snacks eaten in his adolescence.
With a sigh, Chen Yuanming turned around and headed towards the city’s municipal government compound which had not been relocated. However, there was also no newspaper column at the door, so he walked to the Guangzhou market that was just a few bus-stops away.
In 1991, L city had just ushered in its first wave of development. A commercial street had been built not far from the People’s Park, and it was also named “Guangzhou Market”. It was just that this current Guangzhou market did not have the supporting facilities that the future version would have. The Youth Culture Palace had not been built, and Xinhua Bookstore and the Snack Street were nowhere to be seen. Only a three-story reinforced concrete building stood in the middle of a clearing. Since the disappearance of electronic tickets and cloth tickets in the late 1980s, malls had gradually become popular.
Entering the lobby of the department store, Chen Yuanming observed the scene in front of him. The architectural design of the store at this time was still far from that of later generations. The first floor was not a cosmetics and jewelry counter, but rather sold various daily necessities which were rigidly displayed on the shelves. The salesmen standing behind the counter still maintained the arrogance of the previous era’s supply and marketing cooperatives. They glanced at the poor-looking young man and then turned their faces and continued to chat with others.
Chen Yuanming ignored them and looked carefully along the shelves. The front row was the most popular school supplies counter. The School bags, pencil boxes, cartoon-shaped erasers and books were very unpleasant looking but students in his classes found them attractive.
Further back was a watch counter. A row of wall clocks was hanging on the wall and each one shone brightly, although you could, at a glance, tell that the shell was made of plastic. Inside the glass counter were watches, half of which are all kinds of electronic watches and the other half which were firmly locked in the cabinet, looked like quartz watches.
Chen Yuanming looked at them one by one. The price of an electronic watch was generally 50-100 yuan, and some of those that were marked as waterproof and had buttons were sold directly for 150 yuan.
Although the most popular season for electronic watches had passed, this kind of style was still a teenager favorite. The other day when he was fighting with those bastards in the front row, one of them wore the most expensive style of electronic watch. Quartz watches were now another fad. Cheap ones cost more than 200 yuan. A few expensive ones from the Double Lion and Citizen brands were sold for more than 1,000 yuan.
“”What do you want to see?! Can you afford it?”
Although he had stood there for only a few minutes, the salesperson behind the counter was immediately impatient and yelled at Chen Yuanming. Won’t a poor boy poking around in front of the counter affect business?
Chen Yuanming ignored her and still carefully looked through the entire row of shelves. He then turned to walk to other counters, the signs commonly found in the malls of the future were basically nonexistent. Compared with the 100 yuan salary that most people earned at this time, the price of each item was too high and the store itself could not quite be described as a “department store”.
After walking around, Chen Yuanming began to develop a vague idea in his heart. If he remembered correctly, beginning from the 1980s to the 1990s, was the most glorious era for individual and private entrepreneurs. If he could find a suitable channel to purchase goods …
Suddenly, a voice came from beside him, and Chen Yuanming turned his head, only to see a boy standing behind him. The boy was not much different from him but more than half a head taller. He was wearing a dark coat and a bright green woolen scarf, but the colors matched quite well and made him look very cute. The child’s eyes were wide, and his eyelashes were long and thick. He held a large bundle of woolen yarn in his hand and looked at Chen Yuanming in surprise.
“Why are you here? Buying something for your family?”
Who was this? He appeared to be a little bit familiar, but he was completely unable to remember the other person’s name. Chen Yuanming stood awkwardly in place and responded with a half-smile. Realizing that the Chen Yuanming didn’t recognize him, the boy swooped up and shook Chen Yuanming’s shoulders for a while.
“Bad boy! Have you forgotten your second brother after only two years ?!”
Ah, with this sentence the bulb in Chen Yuanming’s head suddenly lighted up, “Sun Lang?”
“Crap! Who else could it be?!”
This time, Chen Yuanming really remembered that this boy was one of his former neighbors. He had also lived in the staff quarters with his family until 3 years ago. Later, his parents drew lots according to the length of their service at the factory and won the right to move to the newly built family area.
There were two children in the Sun family. Sun Lang was the second child. He was half a year older than Chen Yuanming. When Chen Yuanming was young, he had always called Sun Lang second brother. He was a buddy who had grown up wearing the same pair of pants but later due to their increasingly different social circles they had gradually lost contact.
“What’s wrong with your head? Did you fight with someone? Brother will help you get revenge!”
A rough hand rubbed the gauze on his forehead. In pain Chen Yuanming gritted his teeth and batted his hand away “It was an accident.”
“Ha! ~~” Sun Lang didn’t ask any more questions and happily dragged chen Yuanming to the door, “Let’s walk. Go home and eat with your brother.”
“Wait a minute, I still …”
“Wait? Are you buying something?”
“No, I am just walking around …”
“Hey ~~ The store won’t run away, it’s noon, come home and eat with me!”
After being dragged out for several steps, Chen Yuanming smiled bitterly, stopped insisting, and followed Sun Lang out. A Twenty-eight flying pigeons brand bicycle was pulled out of its parking spot at the door and Sun Lang shoved the yarn in his hand into the basket in front of it. He shouted at Chen Yuanming, “Hurry up, I’m starving ~”
Shaking his head, Chen Yuanming jumped onto the back seat of the bike.
“Hang on tight, brother. The bike is fast!”
This was a true statement. Though he looked like a ball in his winter coat Sun Lang could pedal the bike very fast. The new family building was located in a newly developed area. There were no paved roads at all and as a result Chen Yuanming almost flew off the bike, so he was forced to firmly grasp Sun Lang’s waist to keep his balance.
It only took ten minutes to get to Sun Lang’s house and the two chatted along the way. The initial awkwardness gradually faded away. Chen Yuanming seemed to finally find his own place in this era and even his facial expression relaxed.
After the bike was parked in the community parking shed, Chen Yuanming watched Sun Lang carry the piles of yarn in his hands and could not help but be a little curious.
“Are you knitting sweaters now?” The woolen threads didn’t look too thick and most were bright colors. Furthermore, it was a little out of season to knit at the end of January.
“No~~” Sun Lang smiled and waved the bag he was carrying in his hand. “My mother picked up the extra work and the mall provides the wool. She knits it according to the seasonal style. It’s 35 yuan per piece! She can make three pieces in two months!” That gives her just enough time to catch the spring sale. Several people in her unit with good craftsmanship are doing it together.”
It turned out to be this kind of work … Needless to say, Chen Yuanming fully understood that some of the high-end knitted sweaters in the shopping malls were directly distributed to private individuals, which was a lot cheaper than employing the uniform factory foundries. The styles were also better.
At this time, many idle female workers took on this type of extra work. But his mother was relatively clumsy, and she was doing the tiring work of loading and unloading at the factory, so she had no spare time to earn extra money.
“But I’m miserable. Every day I am used as a wool rack, you see how my hands have developed calluses…” Sun Lang complained to Chen Yuanming with his hands raised, but his face flaunted a smile.”
“Is this child labor unpaid?” Chen Yuanming couldn’t help joking.
“Five-yuan pocket money! New year’s money is taken care off!” This time Sun Lang was really showing off.
While talking and laughing they arrived at the third floor. The new family building had a unified six-story structure and their family’s location on the third floor was quite good. There were ten family homes in a row, all of which are were a one bedroom and one-hall structure. Each home had its own bathroom and kitchen. This 340 square-meter apartment was already a very high-end home at this time. So, when Sun Lang’s family moved away, they were the envy of all their neighbors.
After knocking on the door, a woman who was a little older, but had a bright-eyed appearance and the flavor of a Jiangnan lady appeared in front of Chen Yuanming.
Sun Lang’s mother, Liu Yunzu, had been a scholar. In the early years, her family had opened a private school where she studied Confucian classics and poetry. However, in those years, her family declined and because their status was not very good, she was married off to the son of factory workers. Nevertheless, Sun Lang’s father, Sun Jun, was also a fighter and after reaching management level at the factory he transferred Liu Yun to the finance department as an accountant.
“Doudou!” Liu Yun shouted in surprise when she saw the boy outside the door and pulled him directly into the room. “Where did you meet him?! Oh, I haven’t seen you for a long time, you’ve really grown up! I heard you’re in the key class of the No. 3 Middle School? Your grades must be good! How is the family? Is everything OK? “
A series of questions were blurted out but the sense of care behind them could be discerned. Chen Yuanming smiled and answered patiently until he was dragged away by Sun Lang.
“Which one of us is your son? Is the meal ready? Let’s eat quickly!”
“You are so annoying!” Liu Yun grabbed the bag from her son’s hand and poked his chin. “Wash your hands quickly, I’ll add another pair of chopsticks! The house is a bit messy, Doudou, don’t be surprised.
The room was indeed a bit messy and piles of woolen yarn were laid out corners of the cabinets. Many had only a few strands left and were clearly what was left over after knitting a sweater. However, although it was only a one-bedroom room and a living room, the layout of the home was quite warm and comfortable and much more decent than the narrow small staff dormitory.
Looking at Sun Lang, who was bickering with his mother through the clear windows of this new house, Chen Yuanming had a hint of loneliness in his heart. How long had it been since his family had shared such intimacy? Was it since his grandma had fallen seriously ill? Or has it been since the family’s debts began to pile up? This was not the age of real class polarization between the rich and the poor, but poverty could deprive a person of so much that was impossible for them to get back on their feet…
After the duo washed their hands and sat at the table, Liu Yun served a bowl full of hand-rolled noodles. The toppings were shredded pork cabbage and some dried tofu. “Your uncle is working overtime today. Your sister is on the day shift and would close at three, we are the only ones at home, so I didn’t make too much.
Looking at the large pile of vegetables in his bowl in comparison to Sun Lang’s bowl that obviously had fewer meat and vegetables and more noodle soup, Chen Yuanming only felt warmth in his heart. He hesitated for a moment but was only able to only squeeze out the phrase “thanks aunt”.
“You’re welcome.” Sun Lang had already started eating and his mouth was busy slurping. He extended his paw into the chili pot, dug a large spoonful and threw it onto his noodles.
“Are you a reincarnation of a starving ghost?” After yelling at her son, Liu Yun pushed the vinegar bottle and the chili pot forward. “Dou dou, eat it quickly or it would get cold. Why don’t you put some on your food?”
“Ok.” It had been a few days since he had eaten meat, so Chen Yuanming was no longer polite. The rolled noodles were quite chewy and words could not describe how delicious it was.
Liu Yun also started eating, and occasionally asked Chen Yuanming a few questions. At the beginning, while at the staff dormitory she had a very good relationship with Wang Juan. However, when she started working as an accountant in the factory their relationship weakened and after leaving the dormitory they lost touch. Seeing her old friend’s son again, it would have been untrue to say she was unhappy.
After quickly eating the meal, Sun Lang who was already full started to burp and Chen Yuanming picked up his bowl and drank the last of the noodle soup. Liu Yun suddenly made a soft sound, “Doudou, your hand has frostbite?”
Chen Yuanming froze, put down the bowl, and looked at the back of his hand. “Well, it’s been like this for two years, besides its winter.”
“It’s too cold. It will be better for your mom to buy some ginger and rub it on. You also need to wear gloves when you go out. You boys always don’t know what to pay attention to. On a cold day like this how uncomfortable will your hands be!”
Listening to Liu Yun’s serious admonishments, Chen Yuanming’s fingers paused and he suddenly thought of something. This person in front of him may be the best person to put this into practice. Putting down his tableware, he looked seriously at the woman in front of him.
“Auntie, have you thought about selling something yourself? You know, like knitwear and so forth…”
 Zhongguancun (Chinese: 中关村) is a technology hub in Haidian District, Beijing, China. It’s pretty much China’s Silicon Valley.
 In 60’s to 80’s in china, before being able to buy certain factory goods you needed to have government issued tickets or coupons. The government used this method to ration the limited supply of factory goods. You can see photos of the coupons in this post here : https://www.ventureoutsource.com/contract-manufacturing/food-coupons-china-history/
 In the past, as there were no private entrepreneurs and stores, especially in rural china, all goods were purchased from supply and marketing cooperatives. With such control over the market one could imagine how some of the sales people would behave. Brief article discussing the role of the cooperatives here: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1137144.shtml
 Traditionally Chinese people regard Jiangnan as famous for its beauties. The reason for this might be because there are many famous poets for the area as well as many romantic stories.
T/N – Hi friends. This is my third promised chapter. From this point on, if I pick up this project, as readers what will be your preference? Should I re-translate from chapter 4 or should I continue from where the current translator has left off i.e. chapter 15? Let me know in the comments . Thanks.