Translator: CKtalon Editor: CKtalon
Seeing how Salted Fish still had doubts, Fangzheng said calmly, “The first day of the tenth lunar month is celebrated differently in different areas. This day is not only Winter Clothes Day. Further south, this day is also a day to celebrate the harvest. This day is also the annual Cold Wave. With the weather turning cold, people need to eat things that correspond to the season to warm their bodies. Actually, that’s how the food for each festival comes about! This is the way to stay in good health, a way of survival, get it? Is that wrong?”
Salted Fish smacked his lips. “It does, well, seem interesting.”
Fangzheng continued. “In fact, since ancient times, with China’s huge size and diversity, people have always been simple and diligent. As long as it wasn’t during periods of war, nearly all families had a food surplus. For instance, many families are wealthy nowadays. The poor still exist, but many people have already reached the state of being able to buy anything they wish to eat, or the state of not even knowing what to buy at the supermarket. Is there a need for them to be gluttonous for some festival food?”
Salted Fish didn’t say a word.
Fangzheng continued. “That’s how festival food has developed to the present day. It’s no longer just food or a physiological requirement, but a kind of culture! It’s just like eating rice dumplings during the Dragon Boat Festival, mooncakes during the mid-autumn festival, or tangyuan on the fifteenth day of the new year. On this day, you eat such things to subtly tell yourself that it’s the day of a festival. You also tell yourself what festival it is, what is supposed to be eaten, and what the festival represents. It triggers the mind and makes you think of your predecessors. On Winter Clothes Day, by burning clothes to our ancestors, they might not actually receive them, but it’s a way to show respect to the deceased and advise the living. This is a form of passing down culture and filial piety. When children see their parents being filial to their ancestors, they will feel a sense of awe and reverence and will more effectively emulate them. Subtly, this is passed on for generations. Hence filial piety is part of the heritage of festivals.
“Festival food might not be the best, but by eating at that juncture in time, you are taking in the festival and its atmosphere. You are consuming a culture that has been passed down since ancient times and the joy of people gathering together because of the festivities. Only superficial people and the ignorant would think that festival food is a consumer product meant to satisfy the people’s gluttony.”
Having heard that, Salted Fish’s mind nearly melted to his tail. He felt his face burning red, momentarily at a loss for words.
Having said so much, Fangzheng knew it was enough. He rapped Salted Fish and said, “You come from Mount Numinous, and you are immortal, but the people here are all mortal. You have your pride and you feel superior to others, but you should have heard the Buddhist Dharma enough. So you naturally know what it means for all life to be equal. This equality has nothing to do with divine power, nor is it about one’s wealth, but about how all goodness is equal. When people are good, they lean towards Buddha, and their hearts are like Buddha! After becoming Buddha, shouldn’t you view everyone the same regardless of how much wealth or powers you have?”
Upon hearing this, Salted Fish suddenly stood up and used his fins like they were hands. He pressed his fins together and bowed. “Amitabha. This Penniless Monk has learned something.”
Fangzheng stood up and bowed as well. “Amitabha.”
Having said what was needed to be said, Fangzheng noticed that it wasn’t early anymore. He got Red Boy to buy some of the items needed for Winter Clothes Day.
After an uneventful night, at daybreak the next day.
Fangzheng had already brought his disciples to Zen Master One Finger’s grave where they respectfully offered incense. Each person took their turn. Remembering the experience from Tomb-Sweeping Day and the Hungry Ghost Festival, One Finger Monastery’s Lone Wolf, Squirrel, Monkey, and Red Boy already knew the procedure of paying respects, so they didn’t need Fangzheng’s explanations. All of them did it perfectly.
Salted Fish stood by the side, unsure if he should step up. After all, he wasn’t considered a member of One Finger Monastery. As such, he stood there looking awkward. To alleviate the awkwardness, he looked up into the sky as though everything that was happening did not have anything to do with him.
At this moment, Salted Fish saw a bald head appear in his vision, and he thought, “Is he here to mock me?”
“Go offer some incense.” What surprised Salted Fish was that Fangzheng passed him three sticks of incense and spoke very gently.
Salted Fish was taken aback as he asked, “I can?”
“Do it,” Fangzheng said.
Salted Fish’s eyes lit up as his heart warmed. He was ultimately not ostracized by the monastery. How touching! Salted Fish cut the nonsense and headed up to offer incense. Standing there, he mumbled. “Hey, young guy, I heard you passed away without living a hundred years. That’s sad. Look at me; I’ve already lived for…”
When Fangzheng saw Salted Fish speak for minutes on end without any intention to stop, he could tell that the fish was chattering away nonstop!
In ancient times, the rites of Winter Clothes Day were different from other festivals. People did the rites prior to daybreak as it was better to pay respects to the ancestors earlier than later. However, after some time, the morning rite changed to a noon rite. As this day was a ghost festival to begin with, it had quite a creepy vibe to it. Hence people had chosen noon when it was the brightest to repress that creepiness. It was better for humans in general, especially for those who were physically weaker. They preferred to perform the rites at noon. If they didn’t have time at noon, they could only do it in the morning or afternoon, but that was only when they had no other choice. However, Fangzheng had always followed Zen Master One Finger in doing the rites before daybreak, so he was used to doing them then.
“Bam!” Before Salted Fish was done with his drivel, he was struck on the head by Fangzheng. Salted Fish yelled in anger. “What are you doing?”
“You were made to offer incense, not chat and talk about your seniority. If you’re done, make way,” Fangzheng said.
Salted Fish grunted before making way.
Fangzheng lit the fire, took out the clothes and asked for Zen Master One Finger to receive the clothes and money as he burned each piece, before burning some paper money.
After everything was done, as it was almost daybreak, he called out to Monkey and headed over to strike the drum and bell to usher in a brand new day.
After the sun leaped over the horizon, Fangzheng also turned busy. The flour he’d bought the day before was kneaded into dough and flattened. Then he split it into thin strands using a knife. This was a common dish eaten by northeastern farming families known as Home-made Noodles. After starting a fire, pouring in water, and having it boil, Fangzheng threw in a little bit of bamboo shoots, some oil and salt, and finally the noodles.
After the noodles entered the water, they appeared like tiny, silver dragons, soaring and tumbling with the bubbles like they were reaching for the clouds.
By the side, Squirrel gulped a mouthful of saliva and stared at the pot, asking, “Master, is this food for Winter Clothes Day?”
Fangzheng smiled. “Yes. On Winter Clothes Day, the food eaten is different depending on the area. Here, we eat more noodles. Besides, our monastery only has this for now anyway.”
Squirrel didn’t mind. After being in the monastery for so long, he had eaten dumplings, mantou, and all sorts of things, but he would be having noodles for the first time.
After the noodles were done, Fangzheng scooped them up and prepared a huge bowl for each person. However, he stopped them from taking the bowls already. First, Fangzheng took out a bunch of green vegetables and threw them into the pot, letting the water boil for another moment. Instantly, they turned tender green from the blanching. Then they were scooped up and placed into the bowls. Finally, a spoon of soy sauce was poured in for each person, and a bowl of clear soup noodles was done.
When Squirrel saw the huge bowl in front of him, he found the things in the bowl an especially beautiful sight. White noodles matched well with green vegetables. Together with a little sauce sauce that hadn’t dispersed yet, it was truly a sight to behold. Looking up at Fangzheng, he asked, “Master, can we eat already?”
When he looked up, he realized that Fangzheng had already lifted his bowl and started eating!
Squirrel didn’t stand on ceremony as he picked up the tiny bowl meant for him and happily jumped off the stove area and ran to the table to dig in.
Although the winter winds were biting cold, eating a bowl of hot noodle soup felt as though it could expel all the cold from outside. Instantly, the winter didn’t feel as cold as before. The only imperfection was the slurping sound of noodles and soup in One Finger Monastery’s backyard. It broke the serenity and mood of the monastery…
After having breakfast, Fangzheng stood at the mountaintop and looked down the mountain. The villagers had already woken up. They didn’t choose to pay their respects to their ancestors before dawn, but chose to do it at lunchtime. Therefore, most people didn’t wake up that early. Upon hearing the rooster crow and the voices of people, Fangzheng stroked his chin and mumbled. “It’s about time to head out.”
Having said that, Fangzheng returned to One Finger Monastery and called his disciples over and talked about his plan of heading out.
Just as Red Boy raised his hand, he heard a shout. “Me!”
Salted Fish jumped onto the table, yelling. Although Salted Fish had lived a long life, he only spent his time in the pond even on Mount Numinous and had little chance to leave. Now that he was finally free and that there was a chance to go down the mountain to have fun, his eyes lit up. It was as though he was an inmate regaining his freedom after being imprisoned for ten thousand years. He swept everyone with a strong gaze as though he was saying he would fight anyone to the death if they tried to snatch this opportunity from him.
The others might be afraid of him, but Red Boy wasn’t. He scoffed and said, “I want to go!”
Salted Fish shrank back a little when he saw it was Red Boy. He was puzzled. Since there was such a fierce guy around, why had he been sent there!? He lamented inwardly. Since a fish was sent, why was a brat sent as well?”
Since he couldn’t succeed by force, Salted Fish pounced forward and hugged Red Boy’s thigh while wailing. “Jingxin, please don’t take this chance from me. You have no idea how pitiful I am. I’ve lived for countless years, but I have never left that tiny fish pond by a meter. Now that I’ve finally left that place, please let me take a look outside. Boohoo!” With that said, his tears streamed down, and he looked truly sad.
Upon seeing this, Squirrel wiped his tears and pulled Lone Wolf’s ear to wipe his snot.
Lone Wolf smacked him to the ground and used his hind legs to bury Squirrel in snow.
Red Boy didn’t feel like Salted Fish was acting, or at the very least, there was a high chance of his words being genuine. Upon seeing this, he frowned and said, “That will depend on Master and us.”
Salted Fish immediately rushed to Fangzheng who shot a glance at Red Boy who had ended up being covered in tears and snot. He hurriedly shouted. “Don’t come over!”
Salted Fish instantly stopped in his tracks, looking pitifully at Fangzheng. Amidst his aggrieved look, there was a look of determination, as though he was saying he would smear all his bodily fluids over Fangzheng if he wasn’t allowed to go! He would even drown him with spit!
Fangzheng could also tell that Salted Fish truly couldn’t handle it any further. His heart softened, and he said, “In that case, Salted Fish will go down the mountain with me.”
When that was said, Red Boy threw up his hands while Salted Fish jumped up in joy. Like pulling of a magic trick, a cane appeared in his hand. It was truly a prop for him to enhance his performance. “Haha, great!”
Fangzheng raised his hand and smacked him, telling him to behave. Then he said seriously, “Bringing you down the mountain is fine, but This Penniless Monk has a request.”
“What is it? As long as you bring me down the mountain, I’ll be fine with ten, what’s more one!” Salted Fish exclaimed in excitement.