- The Night Market
You know why I like eating at this night market so much?" He sucked one long ribbon noodle into his mouth, glossing his lips with beef broth and chili oil. As he chewed with his mouth open and puffed to let off heat, he interrogated me with large, viscous eyes.
"Because it's cheap."
"It's close by."
One full-length ribbon noodle was finally mutilated by his teeth and sent toward his stomach. He lifted the noodle bowl with both hands, blew on the broth, and took a large gulp. Then he set the bowl down, tipped his head back, and exhaled a mouthful of steam, which rose into the air and mingled with the steam from the noodle maker's cauldron close by.
"Look at you, always thinking about the practical side." He stirred his chopsticks through the broth, searching for his next victim. "Well, I'll tell you: this night market hides a lot of secrets." Like a fearless whaler on the open sea, he skewered another noodle with his chopsticks, lifted it out of the broth, and disappeared it between his lips with a single slurp.
"You really wanna know?"
"Yeah. Tell me."
He looked heavenward and blew out another puff of steam. Oily droplets of sweat traveled down his neck toward the growing wet patch on his shirt. "Bro, you might think you understand this world, but you really don't. You think you know [End Page 51] this night market, but actually you have no idea. So I'm gonna do you a solid and let you in on what's actually going on here."
He grabbed the metal stool under his ass and scooched himself toward me. The scream of steel grating over concrete accompanied his ass to my side.
"Hey boss, let's have another bottle of white lightning! And, uh, a plate of cold spiced beef!" He turned his head and yelled, even though the vendor was only a few feet away from us. Then he shielded his mouth with his right hand and leaned close to my ear, like he was passing on a secret. "Pay close attention to this noodle maker."
"Here we go!" the noodle maker announced as he came to our table with a small, green glass bottle of white lightning in his left hand and a plate of spiced beef slices in his right. Holding both items over our table, he withdrew his hands at once and let them fall. The wooden tabletop received plate and bottle with a solid clunk. Luckily, the table didn't tip over, and neither the plate of food nor the bottle of alcohol broke.
"What about him? He's just another food vendor."
He slapped a thigh. "Man! Talk about weak powers of observation." He pulled his chopsticks out of his noodle bowl and took a hearty stab at the plate of beef. The thickest slice on the plate now hung helpless from his weapon. As he chewed the meat, he explained in a low voice: "You haven't noticed how ripped his arms are? And the way he walks—he drives with his feet, so he's fast and agile. Also, the energy channels by his temples bulge really far out."
"Well, of course his arms are strong, if he's pressing ribbon noodles all day. If you did that every day, you'd have big arms, too. And what energy channels? Those are just veins."
"Bro, you don't understand. Put it this way: this beef noodle vendor isn't just your average guy. Fact is, none of the vendors on this night market street are average people." He cracked off the cap of the liquor bottle and poured a glass for himself before pouring me one.
"What do you mean by 'not average people'?"
"Well, here in China, we've always had extraordinary people. Back in the old days, those people became swordsmen, the 'knights-errant'—practicing kung fu, fulfilling oaths and going on quests, drawing their swords when they witnessed injustice. But in the modern age...