Brother Dao was a person who adhered to the spirit of loyalty and brotherhood. Peoples of all trades in Wu City were willing to associate and give him respect. He was also of poor origins so didn’t go around oppressing his fellow neighbors and other common people. Other than helping people collect their debts, he also took his guys up the mountains to gather firewood which was only worth one coin per bundle. And even then not many people bought it anyway. Other than some wealthy families who would buy it, the average common families gathered firewood themselves.
Nowadays, the society was breaking down, even gambling parlors were not as grand and busy as before with only some wealthy people playing inside. As for those gambling addicts who needed to take out high interest loans, they had also lessened considerably.
“We’re here.” Brother Dao lead Lin Yuan to the city’s eastern part.
Compared to the northern part of the city, the eastern part could be considered a refugee camp. Only people who had no regular jobs lived here, relying on taking manual labor or selling some small trinkets as a means to maintain livelihood.
When walking through, Lin Yuan even witnessed a group of children fighting over a dry bean curd cake. This type of food was cheap and able to fill the stomach, but it was awfully difficult to eat, just a few and your throat would be feeling uncomfortable. During better times, it was used to feed livestock.
Lin Yuan turned his head, unwilling to look further.
The sight tugged on his conscience but as for helping, he had yet to have the ability.
Brother Dao remained expressionless. When he first came to Wu City he also lived in the eastern part so he was very familiar with the situation in this part of the city.
“The brother I mentioned, his surname is Yang, looks very dignified and has an indomitable spirit. Although he is poor, it would be unwise to belittle him.” Brother Dao said to Lin Yuan.
Lin Yuan replied sincerely with cupped hands: “I wouldn’t dare to.”
Being born in this time period meant living a life of fighting with animals over food and yet be responsible for maintaining one’s life. Lin Yuan might be an orphan but he had never lacked for food or warm clothes in the orphanage. The biggest grievance he had to face was losing in a fight over snacks and candies with other children.
Thinking this way, Lin Yuan felt that he must be considered one of the fortunates.
Brother Dao shouted a greeting outside the place they stopped at: “Brother Yang, I’ve brought someone to visit you!”
Coincidentally, brother Yang was at home that day. Lin Yuan heard footsteps and then the creaking of the door.
The person was wearing a tight sleeved shirt but compared to brother Dao, had a leaner physique. One hand was carrying a bundle of firewood as if about to send it somewhere. He had upturned monolid eyes that curled downwards in the inner corners which made him appear rather haughty, looking out of place in this run down area.
“Who might this be?” Yang Zi’an put down the bundle of firewood and let them in before closing the door.
Brother Dao replied immediately: “This is my newly acquainted brother, surname Lin given name Yuan. He has a business proposal, is brother Yang willing?”
Yang Zi’an quirked his lips in a bitter smile: “Brother Dao, look at me, nowadays I am unable to sell any firewood, I don’t have any options for being picky.”
The way he spoke, as if even if it was murder and arson he was still willing to participate.
Brother Dao sighed: “My situation is soon to worsen as well. The price for food is increasing, even if hungry none of us dare to eat, instead chew a few dry beans to help the hunger.”
Lin Yuan discovered that if he didn’t say anything quick, these two would continue to compete who was more miserable so he quickly explained his motive of hiring workers.
Yang Zi’an looked surprised: “20 people?”
Lin Yuan nodded: “The business has yet to become stable, if it succeeds than I plan to hire more.”
Soybean oil was not a business he could do for too long. The most important thing was to make money then buy some more land and stock up the granary. The land he bought was also rather remote without any people nearby or important battle sites, extremely appropriate for staying away from the upcoming war and upheaval.
“Early spring I must find some people to open up the land for farming.” As he spoke, Yang Zi’an already led them inside to sit. It was a very simple house with just four bare walls. The houses in the eastern part were built by their dwellers themselves and were originally grass huts. But with the weather getting cold the only option was to find a way to reinforce it.
The wall was made up of mud and hay, the roof was thick sogon grass. This kind of dwelling was just barely able to be lived in, just enough as a shelter. It would not protect the sweller much from the cold in the winter or the heat in the summer. Truthfully, it was not a good place to live in but there was no other choice.
Lin Yuan: “I also need to find some tenant farmers.” He had no connections here so finding tenant farmers was not an easy task, it would be a headache if he were to stumble upon crafty troublemakers.
Yang Zi’an heard farm field and his eyes light up. The thing to put manual laborers at ease the most was farmland, anything else was just empty talk.
“How much is the rent?” Yang Zi’an asked.
Lin Yuan: “50% of the harvest.”
Yang Zi’an swallowed.
He had never seen such a generous landowner before. Nowadays, even for the kindest landowner the most they would leave their tenant farmers was 40%. Ruthless ones just giving 20% was also reality. 20% grains was only enough for tenant farmers to maintain livelihood if they scrimp and save.
“Let’s do it.” Yang Zi’an said, “here I have 60 people, 20 people to extract oil, 40 to open up the land.”
Lin Yuan’s eyes widened: “It’s not yet spring, the earth is still frozen, can it even be opened?”
Yang Zi’an waved his hand: “We were originally farmers, relying on the land to live. Recently the weather has warmed a bit, the earth is not as hard so we can have the land ready before sowing the seeds.”
Lin Yuan knew nothing of farming but the people at Yang Zi’an’s side were all of farming origins, no one could be more professional than them in relation to farming and agriculture.
“If brother Yang say so then that is what we will do.” Lin Yuan said quickly, “I also need to have some people build a house.”
He prepared to build a communal building similar to apartment buildings for the tenant farmers. In this era, death was caused by a number of things but the most important was illness. Just a cold meant death, not to mention other more serious kinds. He had no desire for his tenant farmers to become disposable objects, every once in a while needing a replacement.
Anything else he had no ability for, but improving the living conditions was doable.
It didn’t have to be anything fancy, just three floors high. Except, there was no concrete now. He could find a replacement for cement and bricks, though. While expensive, Lin Yuan could still support the expense.
In short, so long as there was money, Lin Yuan was sure the artisans and smiths of this time would be able to build a building with only three floors.
Lin Yuan had never belittled the laborers of ancient times.
With everything discussed and agreed upon, Lin Yuan lead 20 people to the farmstead he rented for his temporary oil plant. Yang Zi’an also prepared to bring people to open up the land. They hadn’t discuss wages but both agreed, once the land was opened up the same people would be Lin Yuan’s tenant farmers. In other words Lin Yuan didn’t need to give money or provide living quarters, only guarantee they had food.
Yang Zi’an even said: “We can set up a shack to live in, sleeping close at night. No one died from cold before.”
Lin Yuan: “…..Fine.”
Brother Dao also went back to pick up his guys. A total of 40 grown men stood in front of Lin Yuan but he couldn’t help sighing. Those like brother Dao with a muscular physique was too few, he could tell that brother Dao must have had good days in the past.
The average person, no matter how much physical labor they worked, if their diet was also not good, then they wouldn’t be able to grow any muscles, instead they would just look malnourished. At least they were not too old and still had strength.
But once they grew older, then they would begin to suffer pains and ailments.
Brother Dao’s guys didn’t have any dependents. They all came from the same village where the villagers scattered in all directions when they fled. The ones following brother Dao had lost touch with their own families. Now, they were just responsible for themselves. As for finding their lost families, they didn’t dare to think of it.
The world was this large, once they lost touch then it would be difficult to reunite during ancient times.
Yang Zi’an’s people on the other hand did have dependents, their burden being greater. Hearing that there was work, every one of them laughed and smiled in joy. It had been a long while since they had not felt hungry.
A large group of people left for the oil plant. Normally, such a large crowd could not be seen so the passerbys on the street looked at them in curiosity.
A small child drinking squash soup asked: “Mama, what are they doing?”
The woman also didn’t know: “Mama also doesn’t know.”
Curious passerbys: “This many people, not carrying any weapons or anything, what are they doing?”
“You ask me? Not like I know.”
The farmstead was very big, but inside other than a few stoves and metal pots and wooden stools, there was nothing else. The backyard had a well so at least getting water was convenient.
Lin Yuan explained in detail how to extract oil. The day before they must let the soybeans first ferment. Then on the second day could the process begin. Because there was no special chemicals the oil production could not be compared to modern times. But in comparison to squeezing oil from vegetables the situation was much better off.
A group of grown men stared gaping at the pot of oil, their eyes disbelieving.
“So this is oil?”
“Oh my heavens, oil is actually not squeezed out.”
Some asked Lin Yuan: “Boss, how much is the oil?”
Lin Yuan: “10 coins a pound.”
“That cheap!” The men discussed with each other and decided to chip in and buy a pound worth of oil home so that their families could try some. After entering winter, they didn’t dare to buy any oil, their normal diet being a few mian wo (TN: Chinese doughnut) a day.
After learning the steps, they began to work, cherishing the opportunity since scattered work could not be found anymore and firewood did not make enough. If there was no money then they would starve.
If one starves for too long then one would become bloated and death would not be long to follow.
Brother Dao supervised on the side. After watching for awhile he couldn’t resist entering the fray. Watching water become oil was as if seeing water produce money. It made one’s heart pound eagerly.
The sky gradually darkened and the last orange light disappeared with the setting sun. The farmstead was lit with oil lamps. Lin Yuan tried to convince them to rest for the day but this group of people were unwilling. They were still affected by the novelty. As more pots of oil came out their sense of accomplishment was no less then plentiful harvest after farming.
And this was much lighter work compared to harvest.
“Alright, then I will go back first, you all make sure to rest.” Lin Yuan notified them. After finding out brother Dao did not want to go back either, he decided to leave first by himself.
Brother Dao had two people send him home. Lin Yuan did not refuse. He had no choice, currently he was rather frail due to young age and lack of exercise. If he were to encounter a robbery then he would end up returning home stripped of everything.
The two fellows sending him home were not much older than him at 17-18 years of age. At first they were rather reserved as Lin Yuan was their boss but soon they became more familiar and began to talk.
“I have never seen this much oil in my life!”
“You can even take a bath with that much oil!”
They asked Lin Yuan excitedly: “Boss, how did you know that oil can be produced this way?”
Lin Yuan told a small white lie: “In the north, a visiting merchant used the information to buy a house.”
“Boss, you weren’t afraid he was lying to you?”
“Merchants can be ruthless!”
Lin Yuan looked at their innocent and naive faces and sighed soundlessly. The history books would not record these regular people. The flesh and blood of the living would soon become dust in the wind.
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