On the fifth floor, there was an elegant room located near the window. With curtain screening the door, the line of sight of prying eyes were all obstructed. The two gentlemen, one dressed in black, one dressed in white, each with their distinct presence and demeanor, took a seat opposite of one another. Standing quietly in attendance on the left and right were Zhong Li and Zhong Yuan respectively.
“Young masters, what would you like to order?” the attendant asked politely.
“What are the best dishes here?” asked Feng Xi.
“Light Breeze Skims Across the Waters, Duckweed Withers, Dew Coalesce in the Cold Moonlight, and Phoenix Trees Shed their Golden Leaves1,” the attendant replied respectfully.
(t/n 1. These are 4 lines from Liu Yong’s poem: Melody of Green Butterflies. It sounds a lot better/poetic in chinese/vietnamese because each line is only 3 to 4 words but when you translate it into english, a lot of words is needed to understand the whole meaning )
“Attendant(Xiao’er ge), are you reciting poetry or naming dishes?” Yu Wu Yuan couldn’t help but laughingly asked as he listened to the elegant names of the dishes the attendant gave.
“Young Master, these are the four most famous dishes of our restaurant,” The attendant bowed his head and replied. He felt that only these elegantly named dishes were suitable with the identities of these two men in front of him.
“Well, to give such an elegant name to a dish, it seems like the owner of Sunset Tower is also a refined and cultured individual.” Feng Xi couldn’t help but chuckle. “What do you think, Young Master Yu?”
“Wu Wuan is usually ignorant of these things. As long as Young Master Feng thinks it’s good, I’m fine with anything,” Yu Wu Yuan said as his line of sight fell on the potted orchids in the room.
“Then serve those four dishes and bring two bottles of Duan Hong Ye,” Feng Xi instructed the attendant.
“Yes, young master,” The attendant replied.
Following the attendant’s departure, the room fell into silence. With the title of the Four Great Young Masters, these two men indeed had an extraordinary bearing of grace and elegance. With this chance encounter, they should’ve been singing praises for one another but for some unknown reason, they kept a distance and seemingly did not make an effort to get too close.
They sat a mere table away but were seemingly separated by the great distance of the Han River. From where they were, they observed and admired one another but did not cross that distance.
Sitting upright, Feng Xi played with the jade ring on his thumb. His gaze would be directed towards the window but sometimes his eyes would fall on Yu Wu Yuan. His long, phoenix eyes always held a hint of an inexplicable smile. With his noble demeanor and leisurely attitude, he truly lived up to the name of the Noble Young Master of Wulin(martial arts circle).
Yu Wu Yuan’s posture was relaxed and at ease as he leaned against the back of his seat. He was also facing the window, his eyes somewhat hazy as if he was peering off into the distance. His expression was calm yet reserved. He was clearly sitting there but was seemingly so far away. It was as if he had immersed himself into the heavens and earth, like the boundless water, able to give a clear reflection of the world and all living things yet at the same time, deep enough to swallow it whole.
Moments later, the wine and dishes were served.
“Light Breeze Skims Across the Waters, Duckweed Withers, Dew Coalesce in the Cold Moonlight, Phoenix Trees Shed their Golden Leaves, and two bottles of Duan Hong Ye” the attendant said, dispelling the silence within the room. “May young masters enjoy the meal at your leisure.”
The attendant proceeded to leave but once he got to the door, he suddenly turned around and asked, “ Don’t know if the two young masters would like to listen to a song?”
“There’s a songstress here?” Yu Wu Yuan finally withdrew his line of sight from the horizons and looked towards the attendant gently.
“Young master, don’t misunderstand. Our Sunset Tower is not a brothel and the songs that Miss Feng, Feng Qi Wu, sings cannot be compared to those songs sung by the women at the brothels. She is a young lady from an influential family who is clear as ice and clean as jade, if not because someone…..” the attendant’s voice suddenly trailed off and he gave a heavy sigh. Then he went on and said, “Miss Feng is the best singer in Yucheng City. If you wish to find out how great her skills are compared to those girls at Yu Lin Pavilion(brothel), this little one1 invites the two young masters to have a listen. This little one never boasts.”
( 1. The term used here is ‘xiao de’ which is a humble way of addressing himself towards those who are superior to him)
As his last words were spoken, he had a proud look on his face. The two gentlemen couldn’t help but smile and did not question his unfinished words.
“Earlier I seem to have heard the song “Farewell” from afar. Was that sung by Miss Feng?” Feng Xi lightly asked as he stopped stroking his jade thumb ring.
“Yes, that is the song Miss Feng often sings!”
“In that case, please invite Miss Feng to sing a song for us,” Feng Xi said as he waved his hand.
“Yes!” the attendant replied and left.
Zhong Li stepped forward to pour wine for the two men.
“Young Master Yu, let’s have a taste of the famous dishes and wine of this Sunset Tower,” Feng Xi said with a smile.
“Hmm.” Yu Wu Yuan brought the cup of wine to his lips and had a taste. Moments later, he nodded and said with a smile, “It’s warm and fragrant, this is good wine!”
Feng Xi also took a sip and nodded. “You’re right.”
Then he picked up his chopsticks and extended it towards the ‘Light Breeze Skims Across the Waters’ dish and picked up a piece which looked like a purple water lily.
“So it’s eggplant, hmm…..yes, eggplant is usually difficult to cook because it absorbs oil easily and would thus often taste too greasy, but this tastes light and sweet and just melts in your mouth. You can taste not only the fragrance of eggplant but also lotuses.”
“In the middle of the duckweed it’s a bit yellow, no wonder it’s called ‘Duckweed Withers’.” Yu Wu Yuan extended his chopsticks towards the dish that looks like duckweed and picked up a piece to try. “It’s actually cucumber, hmmm… it’s perfectly half-cooked, making the texture smooth and crunchy. It tastes best when it’s still rich with juice. These must have been freshly picked.”
“Dew Coalesce in the Cold Moonlight?” Feng Xi looked at the thin, circular pieces on the plate that were round and smooth as the full moon. Picking up a piece, he could see a pearl-like drop of dew on it. When he bit off a corner, a stream of crispy sweetness enveloped his taste buds. “It seems the main ingredient for this dish is lotus root. The lotus root is quite young and tender. Cutting it into evenly thin pieces and dotting it with the dew of snow lotus, it’s not only delicious but also a feast for the eyes. ‘Dew Coalesce in the Cold Moonlight’, a good name indeed!”
“Phoenix Trees Shed their Golden Leaves turns out to be napa cabbage,” Yu Wu Yuan tasted the last dish. On the plate, the cabbage leaves were displayed in the shape of a palm. It was yellow in color, giving off a lustrous and tender countenance.
“Ha, I didn’t expect Sunset Tower’s most famous dishes were all vegetable dishes, all made with ordinary ingredients,” Feng Xi said with a sigh.
“To utilize ordinary ingredients and cook them with such flavor, present them uniquely and give such unusual names, the owner of Sunset Tower is indeed not an ordinary person,” Yu Wu Yuan praised with a smile.
“Judging by the style of this restaurant, it’s not difficult to imagine what the owner is like.” Feng Xi admired the surroundings and said, “Within simplicity there is elegance. Some things may appear ordinary but it’s actually unique. Such masterpieces, I haven’t seen for a long time.”
“As the sun sets behind the tower,
As the call of an eastern bean goose breaks out,
the wanderer south of the Yangtze River
Takes out his machete to have a look
He slaps the railing of the window
No one understood
The intention of his ascent,”
Yu Wu Yuan leisurely recited a poem as he peered out the window. Against the horizons, there were a few ships slowly sailing by. “Don’t know what the owner of Sunset Tower had in mind when he built this restaurant.”
(t/n 1. This is a poem by the poet Xin Qiji. Its a verse from the poem The Water Dragon Sings on the Pavilion for Appreciating Hearts. I did some research and I think it’s about a man, a wanderer from the south of the Yangtze River. He’s at a pavilion/tower and is watching the sunset and listening to the cry of a wailing goose from the window on the top floor. The goose is crying because he has lost his flock and this is a metaphor for being lost or lonely. He takes out his machete and looks at it but at the end he could only slap the railing of the window. This is supposed to signify that he is thinking of using the machete on the battlefield to serve his country but in the end he couldn’t. It shows the man’s eagerness and anger that he couldn’t fulfill his ambition and he’s alone at the top of the tower by himself as no one understands him. The first verse of the poem has the words “Louri Lou’ in it which is ‘Sunset Tower’ so that’s why I think Yu Wu Yuan recited this poem. I think he was wondering why the owner of the restaurant seemingly named the restaurant after this poem. )
“Oh.” Feng Xi smiled and his eyes reflected the golden glimmer of the setting sun as he looked towards Yu Wu Yuan. “Perhaps that person has poured the ‘intentions of his ascent’ into this tower, it’s just ….. Young Master Yu is the one that doesn’t need to worry about ‘no one knowing’.”
“It’s a pity that Wu Yuan is ignorant and senseless so it’s useless to mention ‘intentions of his ascent’,’” Yu Wu Yuan withdrew his gaze from the window. He instead looked at Feng Xi observingly, his eyes reflected the golden light of the setting sun but they were calm and collected, without the tiniest ripple.
“Then that’s a pity indeed,” Feng Xi stated rather regretfully.
Suddenly, the light sound of footsteps could be heard ascending the stairs along with a faint fragrance. The approaching footsteps came to stop in front of the thin curtain and the faint shadow of a graceful figure could be seen.
“I don’t know what song the guests wish to listen to?”
The woman’s voice was clear yet cold, carrying a hint of pride.
However, Yu Wu Yuan’s attention was on the dish Dew Coalesce in the Cold Moonlight as he had a taste and appeared not to have heard the woman’s question.
Feng Xi lifted his wine cup to take a sip and faintly replied, “ Whatever Miss Feng wishes to sing, you can sing.”
There was a momentary silence behind the curtain before the sound of the pipa suddenly resonated like the sound of falling pearls. Like the orioles searching for flowers, like the ice gathering beneath the stream, the song was not complete yet it had already stirred the heart.
Hearing the pipa, both men were taken by surprise and they glanced towards the curtain.
Who would’ve expected a person from such a place to exhibit such amazing skills.
“Who listened to the flute last night?
Lonely cicadas are ceaselessly wailing
Under the luminance of the cold moon, the clay-pot tea is an uncomely sight
In my dreams, I’d rather dance and sing”
The woman’s voice rang clearly through the curtain and lingered by their ears as they envisioned a lonely figure beneath the cold moon, the pot of tea and the calling cicadas in the night.
Listening to the wistful song while watching the sunset on the horizons, they momentarily felt a sense of loneliness though they were in the company of one another. In their hearts, there seems to be a tune of flute echoing alone, for who, it was uncertain.
After the song ended, there was a momentary silence. The woman outside did not sing another song and remained standing there quietly.
“Princess Xi Yun is truly talented. The poems she composed have actually passed along and are even sung at restaurants on these streets,” Yu Wu Yuan remarked with a sigh as he mentioned Feng2 Kingdom’s Princess Xi Yun who was famous for her outstanding civil and military talents.
“This song and this voice are full of emotions. It’s truly rare to come by,” Feng Xi also praised the person standing outside the curtain.
“It is said that Young Master Feng is a man of many talents. Although you’re a man of the Jianghu, among the Four Great Young Masters, it’s been said that you possess the most knowledge. After today’s encounter, I see that it’s indeed true,” Yu Wu Yuan suddenly stated as his eyes lightly fell on Feng Xi.
“In front of Young Master Yu, who would dare claim to be a man of many talents?” Feng Xi said with a light smile.
The two men casually conversed and seemingly have forgotten that there was another person standing outside the curtain.
“Dong… Dong… ” Outside the curtain came the sound of steady approaching footsteps.
“Young Master Yu.” The sound of footsteps came to a stop in front of the curtain and a deep voice was heard.
“Come in,” Yu Wu Yuan said as he placed the cup of wine down.
The curtain lifted and what came into view was a man in black and woman in green holding the pipa in her arms, her expression unchanged. The curtain fluttered to a fall, too quickly for anyone to notice the look in her eyes.
“Young Master Yu, Young Master has sent you a letter,” The man in black respectfully handed over the letter.