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Friday, February 23, 2024

F³ It's Only Money 53

             Mei, despite only claiming to learn about Chinese folklore to bolster sales, was good at researching and relating the stories. I had a basic grasp on some of the stories, but Eastern mythology was just fundamentally different from Western, and it took a while to wrap my brain around it. Literally anything, and most did, could have a spirit and required a specific ritual to deal with it. So when Mei pulled up funeral traditions and the burning of joss money, all I could really do is shrugged. She had to connect the dots for me.

            “It’s like paying the debt of people in the afterlife,” she said.

                        I was familiar with the concept of Catholic indulgences, literally buying your soul out of hell and into limbo, but there was a wrinkle in this for me. “By burning the money?”

            “It’s not real money, it’s . . . it’s incense money, specifically made for this.”

            “Okay, I guess, but how does that connect to this?” I pointed to the figure.

            “Well, Jade Girl and Golden Boy carvings are meant to watch over people, and in some stories they’re even servants.”

            “Right, we covered that. The whole ‘take it with you’ idea.”

            “Yeah, but see, here’s the thing.” She pointed at a picture on the monitor.

            It was an example of the joss money, but whereas others showed a picture of a man or were decorated with metallic foil in gold or silver, this was copper, but stamped with black ink in the shapes of common household objects: food, clothing, tools, etc. Underneath the picture was an explanation that these were the daily essentials of the afterlife.

            “So Jade Girl could also be one of these ‘daily essentials’?” I scrolled up, looking over the other examples of the money, scanning over the captions.

            “Ah ha!” Mei shouted.

            I hadn’t noticed, but she had ducked under the counter and now stood up with a cellophane brick. Carefully slitting the end with a box cutter, she slid out a short stack of paper from the brick. Immediately, I could smell the incense.

            “Is that it?”

            “Uh huh. Gold, silver, and copper joss paper.” She pulled over the cookie sheet that caught the ashes from the incense sticks. Moving the incense burner off and transplanting the joss money and the figurine, she pulled a lighter from her pocket. “Ready to do this?”

            “Um,” I said. “If this works, that statue is going to turn into a human woman on your counter.”

            “Good point. Let’s move it to the floor.”

Friday, February 16, 2024

F³ Deep Dive 52

             This kickstarted a deep dive. She moved to her computer as I tried to keep up with my phone. Mei hadn’t been kidding. Lee had taught her about everything in the shop, and she had done even more research on items on her own because she thought the stories might help her make sales. And she had done more than digitize the inventory and sales records of the shop. She had gone so far as to digitize all of Lee’s old books, allowing her to read through them while he kept the originals for sale.

            She recited passages in Manadarin and Cantonese back to me, telling me all about the Jade Girl and Golden Boy folk tales.

            “You know—” she began.

            “I thought it was Yunu,” I interrupted.

            “It is. I was saying you know. As in you know how—”

            “Right, sorry. Go on.”

            “You know, I wonder why she has a name, at all.”

            I shrugged. “A spirit or some other celestial entity. Tons of things have names in Eastern mythology.”

            She nodded. “That’s true, but what if that’s not the case, here. Yunu is described as the Jade Girl and there’s the Golden Boy. What if they were human to begin with?”

            “Yeah, we kind of went over that.”

            “I know, but that was some kind of guardian spirit, but what if it’s more mundane, like, I don’t know, kings wanting their things.”

            Something clicked for me. “Wait, are you talking like Egyptian pharaohs? They get buried with all their earthly possessions, including servants?”

            Mei’s eyes lit up. “Yeah, like that! They’re servants, turned into statues so the kings can have their servants in heaven or something.”

            “So how do we bring them back? If they’re supposed to serve the person in the afterlife, there must be a way for them to carryover or something.”

            We both frowned, looking at our screens.

            “Funeral traditions,” I said, suddenly.


            “You said it. They watch over the graves and are supposed to serve or otherwise be buried with the person to help in the afterlife. So we go back to Chinese funeral traditions to see if there’s a connection.”

            “Oh! All right. Oh, there’s a ton of stuff on funeral traditions, though.”

            “I’ll get us takeout from upstairs,” I said.

Friday, February 9, 2024

F³ Jade Guardians 51

             I laid it all out for Mei—I had to ask her—without spilling the beans about Nikki being a vampire or the possibility of other supernaturals at the Fairhaven Club.

            “So this is like human trafficking at the next level? Turning women into statues and then smuggling them over as curios. Then they’re turned back into people?”

            “That’s as far as I can piece it together. What I need to know is how to turn them back. An incantation, a ritual, or maybe some other magic whatsit to undo it all. Was hoping that your grandpa knew of something. Some weird thing from mythology. I did a little research on the Jade Emperor, thinking there was a connection.”

            Mei shook her head. “No, nothing like that is attached to the Jade Emperor. Besides, he’s a good guy. None of his stories talk about him except as being wise and kind.”

            “Yeah, that’s what I got, too. Was hoping that there was something missing, though. I can’t figure the why of any of it. I mean, what’s the point of turning people into statues? Are they guardians or something, meant to come back alive to protect something?”

            It was a random thought, probably inspired by too many watchings of Indiana Jones and other fantasy movie offerings.

            “Guardians?” Mei said. “Wait a second.” She began typing on her phone, then scrolling. “Hey, here’s something. Yunu, the jade girl. They were carvings over graves to watch over and guard them. What if they weren’t always carvings? What if they were real people?”

            She showed me her phone, and I began reading.

Friday, February 2, 2024

F³ Preceding Reputation 50

             The young woman let out a low whistle as she leaned in to look at the figure. “She is gorgeous. The level of detail is amazing. Was this 3d printed? The work is so intricate, down to the embroidery on her dress. I can’t imagine carving—” she stopped as she touched it. “Wait, this isn’t plastic. It’s real jade!”

            I nodded.

            “How? Wait.” She looked at me. “Tortoises. You bought a ton of jade tortoises. Grandpa told me the story how the jade tortoises, the black tortoise, was used to stop the Chinese firebird here in Belport! He used to tell that story, a lot, how a guy bought a bunch of them so the fire department could use the tortoise on their engines to put out fires in the city. That’s you?”

            I nodded.

            She touched the figurine, gently. “Is this magic?”

            “That’s kind of what I need your grandpa for. I think, I’m not certain, though, that this is a real woman, turned into a jade statue.”

            Her eyes went wide with horror. “She’s alive? You’re not messing with me, are you? Grandpa told a lot of wild stories. I thought they were just to fool tourists into buying stuff.”

            “I’m sure some of that’s the case, but with me it was always more than that. Is there anyway we can contact your grandpa?”

            She shook her head. “Like I said, he won’t even do a cordless phone, much less a mobile. But I really did listen to everything he talked about. If some of it is real . . .” She trailed off, her eyes back on the figurine.

            “Well, I guess we can try it out. Here’s what I know.”

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