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Do you believe in a biological clock? I do because I get up exceptionally early on Thursdays.
I don't like setting alarms so on other days, I would usually wake up at 12 noon when the sun is already s.h.i.+ning its brightest.
On Thursdays, however, I would wake up at two in the morning without fail.
What I have most at home wasn't straw material, but tea leaves.
Before I started this business, my parents were in the tea business.
It was an accidental discovery that I could soak my materials in tea to make them appear old.
I would soak 25 dolls and a cloth in tea before getting breakfast. I leave home at 3:30 and reach the market in ten minutes' time.
Business wasn't very good today, but I'm accustomed to it.
I've only sold one and it's already 4:30.
I saw an old lady looking over at me. She had actually been looking at me since the opening of the market at four in the morning.
After the crowd around my area has dwindled, she finally came over to me.
The market consisted mostly of youngsters and those in their 30s and 40s. Any individual older than 50 was rare.
The old lady squatted down in front of me and pointed out, "You're selling dolls?"
"Voodoo dolls, 1 for 30," I said since she really didn't look like a wealthy lady. I could tell that her cloth shoes had been mended before.
"Exchangeable?" she asks.
It is a rule that barter trading is allowed. However, since youngsters dominate the crowd, there would seldom be people who bring items along to exchange for other goods.
"Sorry, only for sale," I answered.
She placed a pouch in front of me. "Not even this?"
It's a very black pouch and something within flashed under the street lights.
It's something yellow. Gold? The old lady didn't seem like she has anything valuable to offer so why would she exchange gold for a 30-dollar doll?
"Do you know what this is for?" I questioned.
"Yeah," she responded, raising her head.
She looked rather scary and there was even a deep scar on her face.
"Are you seeking revenge?"
"No questions. Focus on buying and selling. Rules," she said with an eerie smile.
"Oh… what's that in your hands, then?" I continued.
"Touch it. It's old stuff. You have two dolls left and I want both."
I picked the bag up and found it surprisingly heavy.
Just from the weight alone, it seemed that I won't lose out. It might just be a gold plate, but even a fake one would be more valuable than my dolls.
Frowning, I said, "This is a one-off deal, Granny. No going back on your words after the exchange."
She nodded. "Does this really work, though?"
"Yes. It's in your hands so whatever you want to do is up to you."
She handed me the pouch and stashed the dolls away in her pocket.
I closed my hands over the pouch and smiled. "Deal's done."
She got up and said, "What you have now is even more extraordinary."
She walked off without a backward glance.
Dahai turned to me and asked curiously, "You exchanged something? Did you finally made an exception?"
"Yeah, feels like it's good stuff," I explained, opening the pouch. It contained a golden pocket watch.
"Gold?" Dahai exclaimed.
"Seems like it. I'll get it checked tomorrow," I said.
"You have to get rid of that as soon as possible. Ghosts you know..." Dahai advised.
"I will. Thanks." I took out another three dolls from my bag and replaced it with the pouch before zipping it up.
There wasn't much of a crowd today, unfortunately, because the weather was a bit too cold. Business in the ghost market is seasonal in that sense.
Dahai sighed at the sight of the spa.r.s.e crowd.
"What is it?" I asked him.
"The weather's rubbish so there's not many people. I'm going, do you want to come along? I'll treat you noodles," he offered with a laugh.
"It's fine. I'll just wait a little more since there are still people walking around."
"There are no youngsters, though."
"You go ahead!"
"Alright, let's discuss the big business tomorrow," he said.
"The factory we have been talking about for three years? You've finally decided?" I asked, but Dahai has already taken his stuff and left.
What Dahai has in his bag was a huge bunch of old coins. Dahai is Nan Qian's distant relative.
I actually got my s.p.a.ce thanks to my connection with Dahai.
We're best buddies who've known each other since middle school.
None of us went to university so we ended up in this ghost market.
Nan Qian's surname isn't Qian. His surname is Pang, and his predecessor, Pang Long was one of the founders of the ghost market.
Pang Long was extremely rich and had five boys during the Ming Dynasty. As such, his sons were known as the five tigers.
Only the Emperor's sons were regarded as dragons back then. Ordinary citizens' sons were regarded as tigers.
Pang Dahai is the great, great grandson of the smallest tiger in Pang family.
These are things Dahai would mention when we chat casually at work.
The five tigers in the family took over all of Pang Long's business.
The first son inherited the ghost market and earned the most.
The second son then took over the shop evaluation part and was in charge of raising his family business' value.
The third son was the biggest shopkeeper in Beijing's money farm.
The fourth son took over his father's land, which wasn't worth much in the past. Luckily, land value has risen crazily over the years and it has now become the Pang family's main business pillar.
As for the fifth son… Dahai's been cursing at his ancestor every day. The fifth son was a reckless man that didn't have any redeeming qualities. He spent extravagantly and was disowned by his father at 17. He lived the rest of his life muddleheadedly. As such, Dahai wasn't really considered a kin but when he really needed help, the Pang family would come to his aid in secret.
These historical events happened before the reform.
If Dahai's ancestor had just been a little more obedient, Dahai might be a completely different person now.
Yet, it was this struggle that made Dahai what he is today.
It's also because of that that I get a piece of land within this ghost market.
The ghost market isn't occupied by just one family; Nan Qian only owns the Northern side even after a hundred years of development.
Dahai said that the person in charge of the matters regarding the northern side today was his patrilineal cousin, Pang Guang.
Pang Guang was easily recognizable since he had fat ears and a big bald head. I would see him occasionally in the market.
Dahai's copper coins were given by Pang Guang.
The coins made Dahai decent money since they were real money. The profits were shocking but Dahai only received commissions from his sales.