Chapter 4 – Republic Beauty
In the red-light district, Willow Lane was quiet at the moment, and not much was going on. The main door of Slumbering Flower Hall opened, but it wasn’t for attracting customers. A pimp* yawned as he strolled out from within. He bought two servings of soy milk and youtiao at a breakfast stall and then sent it to Maiden Li’s room along with a wash basin filled up with water.
The copper basin filled with steaming water was placed on a small table. A small comb typically used by a woman was dipped into the water before moving back to its spot before the mirror.
Two faces were reflected in the mirror. The person sitting in the chair was Boss Qu, while the one standing next to him and serving him was Maiden Li.
The two parts of the mustache were finally tamed, as they stuck tidily above Boss Qu’s lips after Maiden Li combed it. Satisfied, he touched his mustache and said, “This is good, now Ning’er will be able to recognise me.”
Maiden Li laughed, “My, you’re talking as if Ning’er only recognises your mustache.”
“If she could recognize my mustache, now that I’ve left for two years, that would already be pretty good. ” When he thought of his daughter who looked at him like he was a stranger, Boss Qu could not help but sigh. He turned to her and asked, “Where are the things I told you to buy? Did you get it?”
“I have them here.” Maiden Li pulled open the drawer, displaying item after item: a silver pearl hairpin, Peony Pavilion’s make-up rouge box, one bottle of the Two Sisters brand perfume…Finally, she retrieved a silver bracelet and shook her head at him. “The others aren’t worth much. On the other hand, this bracelet took me a great deal of effort before I could get it for you. Master Zhang of Qingyun doesn’t normally make accessories for others. You’ve no idea how much pillow talk I had to give him before he would accept. Look at this, the fine workmanship makes it good enough to be the most valuable item in a wealthy young woman’s dowry.”
“You women know what to buy best.” Boss Qu took the bracelet contentedly and glanced over it again, before bending down to pull a briefcase out from under the table. As he opened it, he nudged his chin at her, signalling that she could take some.
Maiden Li swallowed her saliva, slowly reaching in and greedily grabbing a handful. Her palm was filled with lustrous silver when she pulled out.
“Just how much money is stored in that briefcase?”
When Maiden Li told her mahjong playing buddies the next day, they could not help but ask.
“How would I know?” Maiden Li pinched a mahjong tile in her fingers, and replied absent-mindedly, “But I reckon it would be enough to reserve our entire Slumbering Flower Hall for a whole month.”
They let out gasps of astonishment. One said enviously, “With such a rich customer, you won’t have any worries for the rest of your life.”
“What rich customer? He’s nothing but a daughter obsessed maniac.” Maiden Li sneered, “When you speak to him, at least 80% of the time, he’s talking about his daughter. He says his daughter is some fairy from heaven, a rich and grandiose flower in the mortal realm. I can’t even compare to her finger.”
“Is she really that pretty?” One asked.
“As if anyone’s seen her before.” Maiden Li played the tile in her hand, “All I know is that she has been sickly and weak since birth. Since she was three, she has never left her house. Bet she has bound feet… I win!”
The mahjong table was bustling with noise. One held a tile and asked, “But speaking of which, you really brought him a bracelet from Qingyun?”
Ning Ning clenched the bracelet in her hand. Across from her, Boss Qu was still rattling on, “Qingyun’s Master Zhang doesn’t make accessories for just anyone. I only got him to make one after asking an acquaintance of mine. How is it? Is it pretty? Do you like it?”
Who would like an imitation…?
In Ning Yuren’s lifetime, she had filmed lots of Republic films. There was an longtime fan of hers infatuated with those films and thus, gifted her a complete set of silver adornments from the Republican period that happened to be from Qingyun in the past. After Cui Hongmei borrowed those accessories, Ning Ning never saw them again.
However, after Ning Ning already experienced the real deal, how could she not see that was a fake? Ning Ning could guarantee that Boss Qu had definitely been scammed by his acquaintance! However, she could not tell him the truth as she was currently a young girl who had never left home and could not even tell a chicken apart from a duck. Thus, she could only go against her conscience and say, “Mm, it’s pretty good.”
“Come, let dad help you wear it.” Boss Qu quickly clasped the pair of bracelet onto her wrist, then smiled, “It’s so pretty. My Ning’er is the most beautiful girl in the world.”
Ning Ning lifted up her right and left hand and took a look, feeling that her social status have been lowered significantly by these imitations. Thus, she replied dispiritedly, “Though I know you’re lying, thank you nevertheless.”
Boss Qu was stunned for a moment before turning around and shouting, “Wang ma!”
“Master.” The family’s middle aged maid hastened over.
Boss Qu spoke coldly, “Say it. How do you see young miss?”
“Young miss is a Qing dynasty princess, a fairy that fell from heaven, and a noble flower in the mortal realm.” Wang ma looked at the ground. As if reciting from a menu, she had memorized a huge string of phrases. “Young miss is the most beautiful girl in the world and no one compares. ”
Ning Ning said, “… Stop, I’m about to puke.”
“Why do you want to throw up?” Boss Qu pressed Ning Ning’s forehead with his palm, “Do you not feel well again? Should I call Physician Wang over?”
A sudden thought arose in Ning Ning.
When she had just transmigrated here, she was planning on faking amnesia in order to save herself some trouble but there was no way Boss Qu would accept this! He wiped the tears streaming down his face, turned around, and then pointed at Physician Wang’s head. “Cure her! I want to hear her call me papa!”
Henceforth, Physician Wang lived together with Ning Ning in the abyss of suffering. In half a months time, Physician Wang lost the last of his beard, while Ning Ning was treated with acupuncture, herbal medicine, and suction cups. Eventually, at her wits’ end, Ning Ning shouted, “Papa!”
From then on, Ning Ning would feel frightened whenever she saw Boss Qu. The moment his gaze fell on her, she would automatically play the role of his daughter Qu Ning’er!
To an actress, this wouldn’t be too difficult, right?… As if!
She always had a script on hand for her previous roles. What she should say and do would always be written clearly. What’s more, she was not required to accomplish everything that was on the script. There would be a stunt double for flying in the air to flee, and a body double for writing and drawing. Like a majority of actors, Ning Ning resembled an actor that’s from a production line* more and more, someone who was relatively important but replaceable.
But now, without a script or a double or anyone telling her what to do, she had to figure out who she had to play. Ning Ning gave Boss Qu a glance, thinking that it didn’t matter who she was, but right now she had to figure out who the person in front of her was.
Therefore, she slapped the other person’s hand away. “Don’t bother me!”
Boss Qu didn’t get angry, and instead asked her in a soft voice, “What’s wrong, who made you unhappy?”
“You!” Ning Ning rolled up one of her sleeves, raising her arm towards him, “You either don’t return home at all, or get others to drown me in herbal medication, prick me with needles, and even stick a bunch of cups on my back the moment you come back. Smell it! Even now, I smell like canned meat.”
Boss Qu grabbed her arm and smelled it like a big dog. “It doesn’t smell at all. It still smells so good.”
The more he compromised, the more Ning Ning wanted to aggravate him, because, in her point of view, disputes were the best way to probe the relationship between them.
A side of a person that is typically concealed is exposed in a dispute, and words that one wouldn’t say normally would be said unconsciously. Although the other party would justify it as rambling in the heat of the moment, according to Ning Ning’s past experiences, words said in the moment of anger were genuine…
However, when she considered the gun hidden on Boss Qu’s waist, Ning Ning dared not aggravate him too intensely in the beginning. She decided that proceeding step by step was much better… Accordingly, she still had time to beg for forgiveness.
“Hmph!” She pushed away Boss Qu, jumped off the bed and walked towards the wardrobe in bare feet.
Boss Qu bent down to retrieve her shoes and chased after her, “Ning’er, what’s wrong now?”
“I can’t stay here any longer.” Ning Ning opened the wardrobe, taking out the cheongsams, dresses, and coats one by one and hanging them over her arm, “I want to run away from home.”
There were so many good clothes in the wardrobe, along with matching hats and accessories. Though there was a mix of real and fake among the accessories, a majority of them were real. These items could not be eaten or consumed so only wealthy people could buy them. From Boss Qu’s speech and demeanor, it was extremely likely that he had gotten rich recently.
Of the newly rich, there are two types. Those who strike it rich overnight, and those who seize a steady flow of money. Just which type was he?
“You can’t go out.” Boss Qu snatched away the clothings she had on her arm, his face stern. “The world outside is very messy…”
Ning Ning thought he was going to a lecture about worldly affairs, hence she quickly held her breath to listen carefully.
“… There are shady wild men are everywhere.” Boss Qu’s expression was extremely serious as he exclaimed, “One look from them will get you pregnant!”
Ning Ning, “…”
Do you think I’m an idiot?!
Ning Ning did not want to act an idiot, but with such an upbringing, it seems the probability of raising an idiot were really high. She was at a loss momentarily, before asking, “Then wouldn’t it be okay if I just follow you? I promise not to wander, I’ll just stay where you can see me. Oh, I can also help you with work…”
“You can’t!” Boss Qu’s disapproval intensified, “You won’t be able to do the work I have.”
“How do you know I can’t when you don’t even let me try?” To be honest, Ning Ning just wanted to know what he does for a living.
However, Boss Qu seemed to be hiding his work from her. He stammered, “This is work for men, women can’t do it…”
After a pause, he added, “Anyway it will take at most, 5 years. No, 3 years! After 3 years papa will wash my hands of work, and then I’ll be with you every day at home so you will never be lonely anymore.”
Ning Ning’s eyelids twitched incessantly. Just what type of business only requires 3 years to live extravagantly for a lifetime? When she considered the current era, Ning Ning could not help but think of military firearms and opium smuggling…
Boss Qu started feeling anxious when he saw Ning Ning growing silent.
“Look, I even brought you some other things.” He hastily carried a huge pile of gifts over: a silver hairpin with pearls, Peony Pavilion’s make-up and rouge box, one bottle of the Two Sisters brand perfume and some more items. “Do you like it?”
Ning Ning glanced at him, but she did not take the gift. Instead, she took off the bracelet on her left wrist and proceeded to throw it at him.
“This can’t replace you!” She also took off the bracelet on the other wrist and threw it at him, “Or this! I’ll return both to you, so you come back to me!”
Such a superficial conversation could only probe for superficial information… Cough, to put it frankly, Boss Qu was just too easily swayed, so much so that Ning Ning felt that if she didn’t do something extreme , he definitely wouldn’t quarrel with her! Though this was true, she still didn’t dare throw the bracelet at his face, fearing that he would either not get angry or beat her to death from anger…
However, she seemed to have forgotten that she was a klutz.
The first bracelet hit Boss Qu on his chest, and the second hit him right smack in the middle of his forehead.
Clank, clank, the two bracelet touched the ground simultaneously. The second one even had a trace of red on it which looked suspiciously like blood.
Ning Ning sharply drew a cold breath of air, mustering some courage after a long while before slowly turning from the bracelets on the ground to Boss Qu’s face.
He was crying.
Ning Ning, “…”
A man in his thirties who was full of sinisterness and cunningness and who pulled out guns at people’s heads, stood unmoving in place, shedding tears as he stared at her… Forget it, why don’t you just put a gun to my head!
Ning Ning said, “Is, is it very painful?”
Boss Qu shook his head. His tears were like knives, cutting across his weathered face.
Ning Ning, “… Then why are you crying?”
Boss Qu turned around and brought his briefcase over. He opened it before Ning Ning. Instantly, she was face to face with a pile of silver dollars that illuminated her face. He scooped up a handful of silver dollars and offered them to her. His face held traces of tears but he still wore a fawning smile, “Ning’er, papa has earned a lot of money this time. I’ll buy you whatever you want. You… you have things you want, right?”
Ning Ning stared at his face, stunned.
In that moment, she suddenly came to a realisation. This person… would never get into a fight with her.
She hit herself on the forehead and covered her eyes, asking, “…I can have anything I want?”
Boss Qu hastily nodded his head.
“I want to change papas…” Ning Ning spoke sincerely. Transmigrating was already very exhausting, hence she wanted a more normal papa!
“This is the only thing you can’t have!” Boss Qu rejected resolutely.
“Alright.” Ning Ning put her hand down, and casually changed her request offhandedly, “I want the chopped off head of Yuan Shikai.”
(Note: Yuan Shikai is the senior general of the late Qing dynasty, subsequently the first president of the Republic of China(ROC) and self-proclaimed emperor of China)
She originally thought he would spend some time deliberating, and then slowly say “Let’s talk over the previous request instead.” However, Boss Qu deliberated for a while, then pulled out his gun and started walking out.
“… Come back!!” Ning Ning hurriedly yelled after him.
Boss Qu turned around, his gaze appearing to be bidding farewell.
“… I was only joking with you.” Ning Ning took two steps towards him, before opening her arms wide and speaking with embarrassment, “Actually, I don’t want anything, just give me this…”
Without waiting for her to take her third step, a pair of strong arms had already pulled her into an embrace.
Ning Ning also returned his hug. In her heart, she had now understood the kind of person he was.
The conclusion was … Boss Qu is simply a daughter loving maniac!
The daughter is the most beautiful, she is forever right, and even if she is wrong he will not correct her! He will satisfy all of his daughter’s unreasonable requests, he will constantly praise her and even force people around to praise her as the most beautiful girl in the world. Over time, what sort of a person will Qu Ning’er become?
She will think of herself as the most beautiful girl in this world!
Naive yet arrogant; willful and self-confident. Perhaps, she might even believe the Earth revolves around her!
This was the person Ning Ning was to portray.
Pimp- a man who controls prostitutes and arranges clients for them, taking a percentage of their earnings in return.
Republic – In direct translation of 民国（mínguó）which is short form for Republic of China. Used to describe the Republic of China period 民国时期 mínguó shíqí（1912 – 1949）
Youtiao- fried breadstick
Production line- over here it would be describing actors that have lost personality and are all the same.
Opium- a highly addictive narcotic drug acquired from the opium poppy. Heroin is derived from the morphine alkaloid found in opium.
Bound feet- the custom of applying tight binding to the feet of young girls to modify the shape and size of their feet. practiced in China from the Tang dynasty until the early 20th century, and was considered a status symbol as well as a mark of beauty.
Edited by: Tranzgeek
Thank you for reading! – Ruisi