CH 2.2

Name:The Litchi Road Author:Ma Bo Yong
On March 12th, two riders mounted on short-legged Sichuan horses departed from the city of Guangzhou and sped towards the northeast direction, heading for Conghua.

Last night, Li Shande hastily made a list and entrusted Su Liang with the purchases. He bought two Sichuan horses, hired a local guide, and headed straight for Conghua County, famous for its bountiful lychee harvest.

At that time, lychees were produced in Guangzhou, Guizhou, and Luzhou*. However, for some unknown reason, the imperial edict specifically mentioned lychees from Lingnan. Of course, he had to find a way near Guangzhou. From the guide, he learned that lychee production in the Lingnan region was very different from the agricultural practices in the Central Plains. This region was home to various ethnic groups such as the She, Yao, Li, and Miao, collectively known as the “Dongliao”*. They lived in and out of the mountains, with scattered tribes and no organized registration by the government, let alone the implementation of the rent and tax system.

*Guizhou and Luzhou are not part of the Lingnan region. Guangzhou is the sub-capital of Guangdong, the heart of the Lingnan region. Conghua County is in Guangzhou. I have written a brief overview of the geography of Lingnan in the previous chapter’s footnotes, so please refer to that.

*A derogatory term for the Gelao tribe and other ethnic minorities who existed in the southern part (well Lingnan ig). ‘峒’ means cave or cavern and ‘獠’ is the one that’s the derogative term in the word and there’s no actual translation for it.

To govern Lingnan efficiently, the authorities resorted to the method of contract farming. Every year, they issued dozens of exclusive contracts to the highest bidders among merchants from different regions. With these contracts, the merchants could hire the Dongliao people to farm various fruits and vegetables without paying additional taxes. This approach not only reduced potential conflicts for the government but also allowed them to collect the imposed taxes in advance. Merchants fiercely competed for these contracts, as the more they invested in farming, the greater their profits. For the Dongliao people, this arrangement provided a stable income from farming and a steady supply of salt, tea, medicinal herbs, and alcohol from the outside world. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

After listening to the explanation, Li Shande was deeply moved. He could also sense an underlying intention. By involving the Dongliao people in cultivation, they would become accustomed to a settled life and would be less inclined to return to the hardships of the mountains and forests. Naturally, they would become attached to the land ruled by the central government. From then on, the virtues would spread far and wide, and the surrounding tribes would gradually adapt. The name “Conghua” (literally means “to assimilate”) was aptly chosen.

He Luguang may appear rough and bold, but his mind was remarkably meticulous.

On both sides of the official road in Lingnan, one can see trees, vines, and creepers everywhere. These lush green plants fill almost every corner, exuding a vibrant vitality like crashing waves. If the willows of Ba Qiao were to grow here, there would be no danger of baldness.

The Sichuan horses were not fast, and the two riders had traveled most of the day before finally entering Conghua. The guide pointed to the rows of green trees on either side of the road and said, “These are lychee trees. But they have just begun to blossom, so it is not yet time for the fruit to ripen.”

Li Shande couldn’t help but tighten the reins. It turned out that this was the culprit who had tormented him to death.

He lifted his eyes and looked carefully. These lychee trees had thick and round trunks, with lush crowns that resembled a round hat placed on a flagpole. Clusters of long, feathery leaves stretched between the gray-black trunks and yellow-green branches, forming a dense and impenetrable foliage. Though it was not yet time for fruit, the flowering season had arrived. The leaves were adorned with densely packed white flowers, almost petal-less, resembling a circle of fuzzy thorns inserted into the calyx. This display of magnificence may not catch a poet’s attention, unlike peonies or chrysanthemums.

Even if Zimei himself was present, he would have a hard time composing anything remarkable, right?

The guide told Li Shande that the most famous lychee producer here was not the big plantations, but a Dong girl named Ah Tong who lived below Shimen Mountain. The lychees she grew were exceptionally large and round, with thick and juicy flesh, earning her the best reputation far and wide. However, her fields were small, covering only about 30 mu, and the lychees she produced were not for sale, but exclusively for the Governor’s Office.

Li Shande sneered coldly. With his title of Litchi Envoy and his work for the emperor, the Provincial Office dared not take on him. He shook the reins and galloped toward Shimen Mountain.

Ah Tong’s lychee field was located in the sunny foothills of Shimen Mountain. A clear stream meandered beneath the mountain and the field was strategically located where the stream curved. With an abundant water supply and shelter from the wind, it could be considered prime farmland with excellent feng shui. The field was adorned with countless lychee trees, neatly spaced and picturesquely arranged. Each tree is surrounded by rich mud and organic fertilizer, indicating the diligence of the owner.

They entered the field and were immediately approached by three or four Dongliao men with unfriendly expressions. After the guide explained their purpose, the men reluctantly stepped aside to make way and mentioned that Sister Tong was inside tying bamboo ropes.

Li Shande dismounted and walked into the lychee grove, taking several dozen steps, but he only saw the swaying shadows of the trees and couldn’t find anyone. Perplexed, he looked up and noticed that there were many thin threads between the trees, resembling spider webs. Curious, Li Shande reached out and pulled on one of the threads, finding it surprisingly strong, probably made from bamboo poles.

“Hey, did the stone-backed lady sent you to cause trouble?”

A clear voice suddenly rang out from above, coming closer and closer as if it was descending directly. Startled, Li Shande instinctively moved aside, but with a “plop,” he stepped into the manure under the tree roots. The manure had been properly fermented and dried, making it very loose and soft. Once his boot sank into it, it became difficult to pull it out.

As he stepped into the manure, a dark figure jumped down from the tree. It turned out to be a graceful young woman in her twenties, wearing a short shirt made of bamboo cloth. Her wrists and ankles were exposed, and her skin was like wheat. She carried a wooden spindle on her right shoulder, wrapped in a coil of bamboo threads.

Seeing Li Shande’s predicament, she burst out laughing and grabbed his clothes, pulling him back and dragging him out of the manure pile along with his legs.

“I am Ah Tong. What do you want me for?” The woman spoke fluent Chinese but with a strange accent.

“Wh–What is this stone-backed lady?” Li Shande asked, still in shock. The tips of his boots were splattered with disgusting juices.

Ah Tong looked around and leisurely picked a small bug off of the tree. It was the size of a peach pit and its shell was a brownish-yellow color. It looked kind of like a rock. “You guys call this a stinkbug, we call it a stone-backed lady. They just love to crawl onto the lychee branches to make trouble. It looks like it’s going to start fruiting soon, so we gotta get rid of them.”

Pressing her fingers together, she smashed the stone-backed lady into pieces and then casually wiped her hand on the tree trunk. Li Shande composed himself and performed a respectful fist and palm salute. “I am the appointed lychee envoy from the capital, sent by the emperor himself. This time, I am in Lingnan to request local lychees for tribute…”

“So, it turns out to be a townie!”

The Dongliao people refer to the people of Guangzhou city as “townies” which was not exactly a amiable nickname. Li Shande was about to say more, but Ah Tong interrupted and said, “It’s still early for the lychee fruit to bear, so you better go back.”

Li Shande hit a soft nail and had no choice but to speak modestly, “In that case, can I ask the young miss a few questions?”

“Young miss?” Ah Tong tilted her head curiously. The officials of the Governor’s Office usually referred to her as “Liao woman”, which wasn’t a flattering term. But being called “Young miss” this time was quite pleasant. 

She lowered her head and looked at the dung covered boots. Suddenly, she realized that the city dweller had neither cursed nor whipped her. His temper was surprisingly good.

She took the spindle and casually tossed it into Li Shande’s arms. “Since you’re asking for my help, first help me connect the thread.” Li Shande was taken aback, and Ah Tong explained, “During the recent rainy season, the stone-backed lady came out, so we had to put bamboo ropes between the trees for the big ants to pass through and chase the stone backed lady away.”

It turned out that the sik threads were used for this purpose, and Li Shande suddenly realized it. Confucius once said, “I am not as knowledgeable as the old farmers,” and indeed the study of agriculture contained profound wisdom. He was a passive person, and since he had asked others for help, he could only inexplicably follow Ah Tong into the forest.

He was over fifty years old, and the physically demanding work of climbing up and down was indeed a challenge for him. He had no choice but to follow Ah Tong’s lead in setting up the lines. She showed no signs of hesitation, ordering the esteemed Lychee Envoy around like a lowly servant. The two of them worked tirelessly until the sun was about to set, finally completing four rows of fruit trees. Li Shande, drenched in sweat and panting heavily, sat down by the field to catch his breath. The pile of manure next to him didn’t bother him at all.

Ah Tong smiled happily as she handed over a bamboo tube filled with refreshing stream water. Li Shande gulped it down with satisfaction, feeling an indescribable sense of contentment.

As the sun set in the west, several other Dongliao men had already lit a fire pit in front of the guardhouse in the orchard. In the middle of the fire pit were about ten slender bamboo skewers on which pheasants, frogs, field mice, and even a fat earth snake were impaled. These products were sprinkled with asiatic dogwood herb and sizzled enticingly. Li Shande’s heart trembled with fear, and he only dared to eat the meat from the skewered pheasant, avoiding the rest. The others devoured the food without any scrupples.

I had heard before that the Baiyue people were fierce in their customs. Those with wings do not eat head covers, and those with legs do not eat table tops.* Everything else was fair game, and it really wasn’t an exaggeration.

*I couldn’t find the meaning for this proverb, but by context, it might mean that they don’t eat the extreme things, but all the other stuff are okay?..

After satisfying her appetite with the snake meat, Ah Tong wiped her mouth and playfully kicked Li Shande’s leg. “You, as a townie, are quite different from other townies. When they come to the lychee village, they act superior, demanding this and that and looking at us like dogs,” she remarked.

Li Shande thought to himself, I am almost a dog myself, how can I afford to look down on others?

Ah Tong added, “I really appreciate your help with the lychee trees this afternoon. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!” After saying that, she lazily leaned against a pillar. Out of nowhere, a leopard cat jumped out from nowhere and rolled around in her arms.

Li Shande took out a notebook and pen and said, “I have a few questions about the properties of lychee that I would like to ask you, young miss.” Ah Tong stroked the leopard cat and smiled, pursing her lips. “Let’s be clear from the start. The fruit here has already been reserved by the Governor’s Office, so it’s not for sale.”

“This errand of mine is for the emperor.”

“Who is the emperor?”

“It is the emperor, even higher than the governor. If he wanted to eat lychees, the governor wouldn’t dare say anything.” Li Shande was beginning to understand the way to talk to these Dongliao people, to be direct and not mince words.

Ah Tong couldn’t quite grasp the concept of someone higher than the governor. Rubbing her head in frustration, she gave up thinking and said to just ask the questions.

“How many days does it take for a lychee to completely change its flavor from the time it is picked from the tree?”

“Not more than three days. On the fourth day or so, they become inedible.”

This is consistent with what Li Shande heard in the capital. He then asked, “If you want to prevent it from going bad, are there any methods?”

“Don’t pick it at all,” Ah Tong replied, causing the surrounding Dong people to burst out laughing. Li Shande did not know what was so funny.

“…..I’m asking how to preserve them after they are picked!” He scratched his hair irritably, his head covered with bits of leaves and small insects.

Taking advantage of the firelight, Ah Tong studied him for a moment and said, “You are the first townie to do farm work here, so Ah Tong will teach you a secret of our Dong village!” Li Shande’s eyes brightened and he quickly steadied the pen and paper, “I would like to hear the details.”

“You take a large jar, don’t peel the lychees, put them in the jar, seal it tightly and soak it in the stream. They will stay edible for up to four days.”


Li Shande felt deflated and thought, What kind of ‘secret’ is this? One of my duties at the Shanglin Office is to store ice in the winter and deliver it to the palace and various government offices to keep fruits and melons cool in the summer. If it weren’t for the scorching and ice-free Lingnan, would I even need this so-called secret from this Dong girl?

Seeing Li Shande’s lack of enthusiasm, Ah Tong became slightly annoyed. She pushed aside the leopard cat’s tail and approached him. “Townie, I’ll tell you another secret, but keep it to yourself, or I’ll cast a Gu poison* spell on you,” she warned playfully. Li Shande nodded attentively, and Ah Tong continued proudly, “Before you put the lychees in the big jar, wash them in salt water. This will keep them fresh for up to five days.”

*An ancient Chinese Black Magic 

Li Shande was disappointed. Sealing, salt washing, and cooling were all methods that had already been used by the Shanglin Office, but they were only temporary solutions. Ah Tong became quite dissatisfied, raised the paw of the leopard cat to scratch him, and said, “You are too greedy. Are you not satisfied with all the benefits you have gained?”

Dodging the dog’s paw, Li Shande had no choice but to express his true desire. Ah Tong had no idea of the distance between Chang’an and their current location, let alone the vastness of a journey of 5000 li. But as soon as she heard that the journey would take more than ten days, she immediately waved her hand and said, “Forget it. In just over ten days, the lychees would be infested with worms.”

“Is there really no way for you Dong people to keep lychees fresh for more than ten days?”

Ah Tong muttered and passed the information on to the others, who all shook their heads. In this region of Lingnan, where lychees were readily available for picking, no one bothered to study methods of preserving them for more than ten days. Li Shande sighed, realizing that he shouldn’t have pinned his hopes on some secret technique from the mountains. He had to rely on himself after all.

He let go of the entanglement of preserving the lychees and shifted his focus to a topic crucial to his own experiment. He asked, “When can the lychees here in Conghua bear fruit and develop their shells?

The development of their shells means that the lychees are fully ripe. Without an immediate answer, Ah Tong called a fellow villager and returned shortly with two lychee blossoms. Ah Tong placed the flowers in front of Li Shande and explained, “Look, the one with slender pedicel is called short-stemmed flower and usually bears ripe fruit in June or July. The one with thick and sturdy pedicel is called the long-stemmed flower, and it can bear fruit as early as May or June.”

“Are there any that are even earlier?”

“There is an earlier variety called ‘Sanyuehong’* (literally march red). It can be harvested by the end of March. I have planted a few trees in my field and they have already borne fruit.” When she said this, Ah Tong made a disgusted face and scoffed, “But the flesh is coarse and sour. I advise you not to eat it. We all use it to brew wine.”

*I noticed that most of the official articles and websites have used the pinyin and have not used an official translation. so I just followed them.

“Is it possible to ripen this variety earlier, regardless of taste?”

She propped her chin up and thought for a moment. “There is a method called consummation. While the lychees are still green, you can pick them and bury them in a rice jar mixed with plantains. This will make them ripen several days earlier*. The plantain is the male and the lychee is the female. It’s like the union of a man and a woman in marriage—once they’ve consummated in the room, they naturally turn ripe and red.”

*There’s actually a scientific reason. Plantains/Bananas in general release a gas called ethene which causes other fruits and vegetables to ripen… (but her analogy is so funny lol)

Ah Tong spoke in a frank and natural tone, causing Li Shande to blush deeply. He couldn’t help but think that these mountain people had such vulgar names for ripening fruits.

He had asked enough questions and put down his paper and pen. He instructed the guide to unload several rolls of silk from the Sichuan horse. When she saw a pink roll, Ah Tong was so pleased that she ignored the leopard cat and rushed over to wrap the cloth around her body, swaying back and forth in the firelight as if it were a skirt.

“This is a gift for you, Miss Ah Tong.”

“Is this a betrothal gift?” Ah Tong said as she looked at Li Shande, her eyes sparkling with curiosity.

“No, it’s not!” Li Shande shouted in shock and quickly explained, “This is an advance payment for your help, young miss. I want to purchase all the nearby Sanyuehong varieties, and I need your help to speed up their ripening as much as possible. The sooner the better.”

“Oh, business, huh!” Ah Tong draped the silk cloth over her back and pouted slightly with her small mouth. “I thought I finally found a townie willing to work and help me manage the farm together.”

“Miss Ah Tong is extremely beautiful and destined to find a good match. As for the old man, let’s forget about it, just forget about it…” He wiped the sweat from his brow. If his wife misunderstood and thought that he had come to Lingnan to take a concubine, even without the emperor’s decree, his soul would have long been shattered on the ridges in Dongshi.

“All right, all right! You’re such a strange person.”

As she left to make arrangements, Ah Tong muttered to herself. Before she left, she kicked the leopard cat in frustration. Instead of running away, the cat laid down and exposed its belly.

Leaning against the embankment, Li Shande was about to take a short nap when he noticed the leopard cat lying on its back, staring at him with a majestic tilt of its head. Accustomed to bowing and scraping as a low-ranking official in Chang’an, he found that the leopard cat’s commanding gaze was similar to that of his superiors. Years of ingrained habits led him to approach the cat by the doings of ghosts and gods and caress the cat’s belly. Li Shande adopted a humble posture, caressing the leopard cat with such devotion that it purred contentedly.

It was a long night and surprisingly it just flew by.

In the blink of an eye, the calendar flipped to March 19th, another scorching hot day.

With the leopard cat in her arms, Ah Tong waited at the intersection of the official road in Conghua. Behind her, ten water barrels stood in a row, each filled with nearly a hundred catties of ripening Sanyuehongs. Following Li Shande’s instructions, these fruits had been washed with salt water beforehand.

Soon, the sound of galloping hooves echoed in the distance, and a group of horses quickly approached.

When Ah Tong looked at the leader, she noticed that besides Li Shande, an old Hu merchant was also there. The four riders behind them were dressed in merchant clothes, and their horses were different from the ordinary Sichuan horses and Dian horses found in Lingnan. They were large northern horses. On the backs of these horses was a long mat, and on either side of the mat was a rattan basket, each containing a small narrow-mouthed jar. Nearby was a bundle of six or seven small fist-sized jars.

As the riders approached, Li Shande greeted Ah Tong. Ah Tong noticed that his complexion was pale, with a dark gray tinge around his eyes, and even his hair had turned slightly gray compared to before. The leopard cat in her arms let out a cry, but Li Shande didn’t look in that direction. Instead, he wore a serious expression as he issued his orders.

One by one, the riders dismounted and scooped the lychees out of the water jars. Each fruit was covered with scales and had a bright red color, indicating that they were surprisingly ripe. They took a stack of square papers from their waists and carefully wrapped each lychee before placing them in the jars.

Suddenly, Ah Tong noticed that as the horses moved, a clinking sound came from the jars. She was alarmed and quickly said to Li Shande, “If the lychees are soaked in water for more than a day, they will spoil.” 

Li Shande smiled and replied, “No need to worry, no need to worry. These are specially designed double-layered jars filled with water between the outer and inner layers to maintain moisture.”

He smiled naturally, but deep inside, his heart ached a little. These double-layered jars were not cheap, costing around 300 guan each, and they were not available in Guangzhou City. Only the ships of the Hu merchants carried them.

“What exactly are you planning to do, townie?” Ah Tong asked, not quite understanding.

Li Shande waved his hand, indicating that he would wait a moment before speaking. After the riders finished their preparations, he nodded respectfully to the Old Hu merchant. Su Liang walked over to the riders, made a subtle hand gesture, and solemnly said, “Depart!”

The four riders turned their horses’ heads and charged north, each carrying two jars at a galloping pace. Dust filled the air, and the sound of horses’ hooves echoed wildly. When the dust settled, the riders had turned into four distant black figures. Soon, the figures seemed to disperse, heading in different directions.

As Li Shande watched the disappearing black figures, his gaze resembled that of a desperate gambler, fixated on a dice thrown high in the air that has yet to land.

“Zi Mei, as you requested, I am here to fight to the death,” he murmured.

In the more than fifty years of his life, Li Shande had always dealt with numbers. The imperial examination was his path to success, and after entering the civil service, his daily interactions revolved around account books, granary inventories, calculations, and practical matters. He was unfamiliar with the political maneuverings of the court and was not well versed in rhetoric. Throughout his life, numbers were his familiar domain and he trusted them. In a crisis, numbers were the only thing he could rely on.

During the long journey from the capital to Lingnan, Li Shande pondered a question using his mathematical knowledge: ‘Where is the limit for the lychee transportation?’

Whether it was Liu Shuling, Han Fourteen, or Du Fu, they all believed that fresh lychees were highly perishable and could not be transported to Chang’an. This conclusion was not wrong, but it was too vague, and no one could give a detailed answer. In fact, when Li Shande seriously delved into this question, he discovered its astonishing complexity.

Which variety of lychee is more resistant to spoilage? When is the best time to harvest them? How fast should the couriers travel to ensure successful transport? What is the relationship between lychee weight and transportation? Should the couriers use stable Sichuan and Dian horses or faster Yunzhong and Hetao horses? Should they take the Mei Pass to Jiangxi or the Xijing Pass to Hunan? Should they follow the river upstream to Ezhou or go straight to Bianzhou? If there is a combination of land and water transportation, how should the routes be designed to maximize capacity? How far can each route go before the lychees spoil?

With numerous variables intertwined, ranging from lychee varieties to storage methods, transportation vehicles to shipping routes, climate and hydrology to station planning, an infinite number of combinations emerged. During the trip, Li Shande realized that understanding this matter on paper alone would be futile. He needed to conduct an actual experiment to shed light on the subject.

In terms of the principles of the experiment, it is not inherently complex. When it comes to transporting fresh lychees to Chang’an, there are only two approaches: extending the time before the lychees perish or increasing the speed of transportation.

For the first point, Li Shande didn’t have many good solutions. The secrets of the Dong people weren’t reliable, and his only discovery was a double-layered jar on the Hu merchant ship. Originally used to transport spices by sea to prevent the loss of fragrance, Li Shande thought it might be suitable for transporting lychees. First, wash the lychees with salt water, place them in the inner layer of the jar, and seal the opening. Then fill the outer layer with cold water, changing it every half day to prevent the temperature inside the jar from getting too hot.

For now, this is the extent of what can be done.

And the second point is where the real trouble lies.

With Su Liang’s help, he acquired nearly a hundred horses, hired dozens of horsemen, and procured several swift boats. They were divided into four teams, each carrying double-layered jars filled with lychees. They would set out simultaneously from four different routes.

The first team took the Mei Pass, passing through Qianzhou, Ezhou, and Suizhou, following the same route as Li Shande’s journey. The second team took the Xijing Pass, a valley road built since the Eastern Han Dynasty. It went from Ruyuan to Chenzhou, Hengzhou, and Tanzhou before reaching Jiangling, taking the shortest straight route. The third team also took the Meiguan Road, but after crossing the river, they went north in a straight line to Suzhou. They joined the Tang Dynasty water transport route along the Yangtze River, the Yellow River, and the Luo River, and finally reached the capital. The fourth team boarded a boat directly and entered the Zhen River via the Pearl River, then the Zhen River and the Mei Pass, and finally reached the Gan River. They sailed upstream along the Yangtze River to the Han River and Xiangzhou, before switching to land transportation via the Shangzhou Road.

Each of these four routes has its advantages and disadvantages. Li Shande doesn’t expect to establish a continuous route right away; he just wants to know how far fresh lychees can be transported.

Today, Ah Tong saw only the first four riders. The rest of the horses, riders, and boats had already set out, positioned at the rotating junctions along each route. Li Shande’s request was simple: to push the limits, regardless of the horses’ endurance, and to ride until the lychees had completely deteriorated. To motivate the riders, he even set up a tiered reward system.

In this way, they could barely simulate the highest level of courier speed used by the imperial court.

Despite Li Shande’s careful calculations, the cost of implementing this approach was surprisingly high. A good northern horse in Guangzhou would cost about 13 guan, while an experienced rider would charge a minimum commission of 5 guan for a single trip. Add to that the cost of fodder, saddlery, provisions, firewood, bribes at checkpoints along the way, and various costs associated with river transportation, and the expenses became even more substantial.

And this cost was only for a single trip. If they were to make multiple trips, the cost would double and even multiply.

Therefore, Li Shande’s initial idea was to seek financial support from the Provincial Governor’s Office. Unfortunately, General He Luguang turned a blind eye to his request, so he had no choice but to take a risk and collaborate with the Hu merchants. 

In reality, Li Shande was overly optimistic about the speed at which the entire plan would consume funds. The money he got from selling the travel permits quickly ran out. In the end, Su Liang proposed a solution: to borrow 2,500 guan in advance, but Li Shande would have to go back to the Governor’s office to get four blank travel permits.

Without hesitation, Li Shande agreed and quickly signed the loan contract. He had become completely numb. The previous wealth of 996 guan seemed insignificant to him, and the 200 guan of incense money from Zhao Fu Temple was just a trivial matter in his eyes.

After the financial issue was resolved, Li Shande immersed himself in planning and coordination day and night, pushing himself to the brink of exhaustion. For seven days in a row, he worked tirelessly, almost to the point of exhaustion. It was only when the horse team set off that Li Shande finally relaxed. He had done all he could, now all he could do was wait for fate to unfold.

He took the leopard cat from Ah Tong’s hands and gently scratched its chin, feeling a subtle and inexplicable joy flow through his body.

“Miss Ah Tong, I am truly grateful to you. If it weren’t for you teaching me about the Sanyuehongs and the ripening techniques, I would have been in dire straits by now.”

Li Shande’s words were not mere courtesy. His greatest enemy was time. This experiment required them to carry lychees and monitor their condition at all times. If they waited until the end of April, when the lychees were fully ripe, it would be impossible to reach the Empress’s birthday on the first day of June. Ah Tong’s two suggestions had helped him gain a whole month’s time.

Ah Tong raised her head proudly, waiting for him to continue praising her. But after a moment, there was no response. Irritated, she shifted her gaze to see that Li Shande’s hand, which was caressing the leopard cat, was trembling slightly.

“What’s wrong with you? Sick?”

Li Shande forced a smile and said, “No, I’m just scared. In all my life, I’ve never spent so much money on something with such an uncertain outcomes.”

“Why are you still doing something that seems pointless?” Ah Tong found the city dweller completely unreasonable. Li Shande let out a long sigh, as if he was releasing all the burdens in his chest. The expression of extreme exhaustion on his face somehow brought out a hint of determination in his eyebrows.

“Even if I fail, I want to know how far I am from the finish line.”

Translator ramblings^^

yo it’s been a long time…

a quick heads up, but my updates would probably be even irregular from now till August as I am on vacation and have returned to my home country. Where I reside, there is very limited internet reach. I also can’t devote much time towards this as I have to prepare for a very important upcoming exam…

I hope you understand and please enjoy the chapter.

I am so sorry for being irresponsible…