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    Asianovel

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    Chapter 270 - Blackboard

    Shen An and Shen Yin prepared hot tea for their guest, but Zeng Ziqian waved them off, hastily taking his leave. The urgency to promptly implement the compost rotation method was apparent on his face.

    Shen Lie personally accompanied him. After only a few steps, Zeng Ziqian remembered something and stopped, turning to ask Shen Lie and Sang Luo, "I intend to bring two farmers who are familiar with composting methods to the capital. I might need them to provide some practical guidance there. Do you have any recommendations?"

    "To the capital?" The couple exchanged glances.

    Sang Luo inquired, "When do you plan to depart? And how long will you be away?"

    "Leaving as soon as possible, probably tomorrow. By waterway, it should take around forty days. Accommodation and meals will be provided, and the government will give an allowance of eight hundred coins for this trip."

    Sang Luo understood. "Alright, I'll inquire around now. If I find suitable candidates, I'll send them to the prefectural office early tomorrow morning."

    "Very well," Zeng Ziqian agreed before departing.

    San Luo waited for Shen Lie to return and asked, "Did you ask Uncle Chen Youtian and Village Chief Zhou if they're willing to make the journey?"

    Old Man Chen was indeed an excellent choice, but he was already over sixty years old and might not endure such a long journey. Chen Youtian was also an experienced farmer, while Village Chief Zhou, apart from his farming skills, could read and write. San Luo would feel much more at ease if the two of them accompanied her.

    Given Zeng Ziqian's urgency, the couple decided to visit the Chen and Zhou households that very night.

    "To the capital?" Upon learning about San Luo's literacy class, Chen Youtian, who hadn't slept and was busy making desks and chairs with the help of Old Man Chen, nearly dropped his jaw in disbelief under the light of the lamp.

    "Yes," San Luo explained the situation and asked Chen Youtian if he was willing to make the trip.

    Before Chen Youtian could reply, Mother Chen eagerly answered, "Of course we're going! It's the place where the Emperor resides! The government will provide food and shelter, and they even give eight hundred coins."

    The Chen family has been earning a substantial income under the guidance of Sangluo, yet even eight hundred coins are considered a significant sum in the eyes of Old Lady Chen. More importantly, it is an opportunity to enter the capital city – the very place where the emperor resides, a destination that, despite her advanced age, Old Lady Chen had never dared to dream of visiting.

    "What a blessing this is!" Old Lady Chen was afraid that Chen Youtian might be hesitant to accept, fearing the responsibility.

    Her response was swift, and Chen Youtian did feel a flicker of intimidation. He turned to Sang Luo and asked, "You're just teaching about composting?"

    "Yes, I suppose I should also explain the method of crop rotation."

    Chen Youtian was originally from the Sangluo Sect and was skilled in farming. He could do this; his lips, dry from nervousness, quivered as he glanced at his father, then his mother, and finally Qin Fangniang. All of them were shining with excitement.

    "Alright, I'll go!"

    Sangluo smiled. "Uncle Youtian, don't be nervous. I'll also ask Village Chief Zhou. If he's free, you two can travel together by waterway. Most of the time, you'll just need to follow the officials."

    Upon hearing that Village Chief Zhou would also be going, Chen Youtian's tensed shoulders relaxed slightly. "It's good to have company. It makes me feel more at ease."

    On the other side, the Zhou family had also heard from Shen Lie about the trip to the capital. They were equally nervous and excited. Apart from being anxious, Village Chief Zhou was so thrilled that he felt giddy.

    "I've never held an official position higher than village chief in my life. I didn't expect that through A'luo's connections, I'd have the chance to make a trip to the capital."

    He immediately went to the Chen family to meet with Sangluo and Chen Youtian. After asking Shen Lie about the weather in the north, he packed two sets of clothes accordingly. The excitement of both families was such that they tossed and turned in their beds that night, unable to sleep—this, however, is another story.

    Over at the Shen residence, Shen An, Shen Ning, and Shen Yin were equally thrilled. As soon as Shen Lie and Sangluo left, Shen Ning, having sensed some movement, got up and asked who had come. After hearing Shen An's explanation, he understood the situation.

    The moment he finished listening, Shen Ning realized something. "Second Brother, has Eldest Sister-in-law accomplished something great again?"

    "A significant achievement," Shen An replied. Having studied, he was well aware of the significance of increased crop yields for the people of Great Qi.

    Aside from his joy, he also felt a distinct pressure, one that finally made him understand why his older brother had been studying relentlessly ever since his sister-in-law was repeatedly rewarded. There was hardly a moment of rest for him at the provincial school.

    They were the two being carried along, and the faster his sister-in-law advanced, the farther they fell behind, increasing their burden of anxiety.

    "I'll go take a bath." Then he would read some more!

    ...

    Indeed, Shen Lie felt pressured, but he didn't show it much in front of Sang Luo. After a few days away from home, he washed away the dust of travel, and after a quiet chat with his wife, they retired for the night.

    The next morning, just as the sky began to brighten, Chen Youtian and Zhou Cunzheng arrived at the Shen residence, each carrying a basket on their backs, ready to accompany Shen Lie and his brother to the provincial school.

    The Shen family had just finished their breakfast, and a delightful sweet aroma lingered faintly in the courtyard. Looking at Shen Ning, Sang Luo exchanged a glance with him. Shen Ning chuckled and went back inside to retrieve two small bamboo boxes. He said with a smile, "My sister-in-law just made these new treats this morning. Take them with you for the journey, Uncle Chen and Uncle Zhou."

    Zhou Cunzheng exclaimed, "What a treat for us today!"

    Grinning, he thanked Sang Luo and Shen Ning before putting the boxes in his basket. Chen Youtian also accepted the gifts with a smile. As the two men placed the items in their baskets, Sang Luo noticed that besides the bundles, there were also some bread and water.

    Sang Luo had her own errands to run in the city. It was the fifth day of the month, and Shen Lie and Shen An needed to deliver a batch of cakes and bread to their shop. Setting out together, Chen Youtian and Zhou Cunzheng's baskets didn't draw any attention. Apart from their excitement and the suppressed corners of their lips, they looked no different from their usual trips to the fan workshop or into the mountains.

    Upon entering the city, Shen Lie and Shen An personally delivered goods to their shop and reconciled the inventory with Xin Niang who was waiting there. Then, they escorted Chen Youtian and Zhou Lizheng to the provincial government office. Sang Luo, on the other hand, went to the rear courtyard to visit Fan Feiniang.

    Fan Feiniang had heard about Sang Luo renting a manor to establish a workshop a few days prior and was quite curious. However, due to her discomfort and concern about passing her ailment onto A Yao and Qian Bao, she hadn't visited Daxing Manor yet. Last night, she learned that Sang Luo had developed composting and crop rotation methods, both of which she had discovered years earlier. The composting method alone could increase rice yields by forty pounds per acre, while the crop rotation method eliminated the need for frequent fallow periods.

    Zeng Zixuan had written a memorial last night and entrusted some of his affairs to Governor He early in the morning, preparing to head to the capital himself.

    Fan Feiniang was thrilled, eagerly awaiting her guest's arrival. She instantly perked up, no longer slouching on her imperial couch. Rising to her feet, she went out to greet Sang Luo.

    "You finally came to see me! Tell me, what great endeavors have you been up to in just these few days?"

    As she called for tea and snacks, she pulled Sang Luo towards the flower hall. Her keen sense of smell detected a pleasant sweet aroma, drawing her gaze to the small basket in Sang Luo's hands.

    "What have you brought for me that smells so delightful?"

    She hadn't had much of an appetite for several days.

    "S egg tarts, freshly made. They're a new product the shop is planning to introduce, but we don't have the right tools yet, so they don't look too appealing. Try them first to see if you like the taste."

    Indeed, egg tarts.

    The specialty shop at Daxing Village hasn't introduced any new products for a while now. With the village currently raising a substantial flock of sheep, there's certainly no shortage of goat milk. Thus, Sangluo has been pondering the development of some innovative items utilizing this abundant resource.

    Crafting such a delicacy was no simple task, with no ready-made tart shells, aluminum foil, or granulated sugar at hand. While the absence of butter meant the pastry wouldn't be quite the same, a vegetable oil substitute would suffice. Honey took the place of white sugar, and the smallest bowl from a set gifted by the Wangs on their housewarming was repurposed as a tart mold.

    After several attempts with an earthen oven and a few botched batches, I finally managed to produce something decent for her, albeit... rather oversized.

    Madam Fan, enticed by the aroma, couldn't resist the temptation. Upon entering the flower hall, she opened the basket and picked one to taste. It was an unfamiliar delicacy, and for someone not usually keen on food, her eyes lit up in delight: "This is delicious!"

    Granny Zhong heaved a great sigh of relief on the side.

    After Fan Feiniang finished her meal and wiped her hands clean, she began chatting with Sang Luo. She was intrigued by the composting techniques and crop rotation, but given the existence of the curved plow and papermaking method, she accepted them well. The conversation soon shifted to the workshop, "I've been meaning to ask you, since your fans are produced in a workshop with hired workers, aren't you worried about the recipe being leaked?"

    In influential families, secret formulas were only entrusted to loyal servants bound by life-long commitments.

    Sang Luo replied, "They've signed confidentiality agreements, and the crucial steps are handled by those we trust more. The less critical tasks are assigned to the workshop laborers. Honestly, this isn't a long-term solution. If the business expands, we'll inevitably need more people."

    Fan Feiniang was tempted to suggest purchasing some loyal servants, but considering the current population situation in Great Qi, she held her tongue. Instead, she asked if Sang Luo had come to the city for a specific purpose.

    "Ayao and Qianbao are still so young and need constant care. You wouldn't have come all this way just to see me, would you?" Sangluo's words made Sanlang chuckle. "No, indeed. I came to order some ceramic molds for the tarts you mentioned, as well as to purchase some items."

    She shared with Fan Feiniang about her initiative to establish a literacy class for the workshop workers, saying, "I'm here to buy teaching aids."

    Fan Feiniang was incredulous. "You're hiring a tutor to teach the female workers and their children how to read and write?"

    Sangluo smiled. "No need to be so surprised. They might end up working for me in the future, and it's always better for employees to be literate."

    Fan Feiniang responded, "…You really have foresight. Aren't you afraid they might learn enough to seek other opportunities?"

    "I've done what I wanted to do," Sangluo said with a broad-mindedness.

    "Hmm, doing what you want to do, huh?" Fan Feiniang mused aloud, nodding. "Yes, that's true. Your sincerity will earn their loyalty in return. What kind of teaching aids do you need? A ruler?"

    Sangluo shook her head with a smile. "Learning will depend on their own initiative; there's no need for a ruler. I plan to visit the carpentry shop to see if I can find a black-painted wooden board."

    The literacy class included both adults and children. Children might find it easier to learn by reciting the Thousand-Character Classic, but adults might struggle and potentially feel overwhelmed.

    Thus, Sang Luo decided to differentiate her teaching methods slightly. She would still teach the Thousand-Character Classic, but she would also incorporate simple, practical, and engaging content, similar to the flashcards used in later generations for children's literacy. The lessons would start with the most common items that peasant households encountered, gradually progressing from easy to difficult characters.

    She and Shen Ning had been secretly making paper at home, so using cards and ink was certainly feasible. Now that their family was less financially strained, they no longer felt the pinch every time they used ink. However, for on-the-spot teaching, large cards wouldn't be as convenient as a chalkboard that could be easily written and erased on.

    Of course, Sang Luo was an ordinary mortal, not a polymath or a genius. She only knew that chalk seemed to be made of gypsum powder, but she had no clue how to make a blackboard.

    Who would bother thinking about such things unless they needed it?

    Apart from ordering molds and purchasing gypsum powder, she planned to visit a furniture shop today to see if she could buy or commission a lacquered wooden board.

    Only by trying would she know if it was possible.

    "A lacquered board? What's the use of that?"

    "I'll try writing on it with a white chalk. I'm not sure if it will work, but I need to gather both materials to find out."

    Fanyang was intrigued by the concept of chalk, but she didn't ask further. Instead, she turned to Aunt Zhong and asked, "Doesn't the rear palace storehouse have a set of old lacquered furniture?"

    Aunt Zhong nodded. "Yes, they might have been discarded by a previous official."

    Madam Fan called out to Sang Luo, "You don't need to go to the furniture shop either. It's not easy for the lacquer to dry. Come with me to the storage room. I remember there's a desk used for office work. Once dismantled, it would be just boards. Let's see if they could be of use."

    Sang Luo's eyes lit up at the unexpected favor. "That would be perfect! I wouldn't dare to use newly lacquered boards for at least ten days or half a month."

    Aunt Zhong led the way and opened the door, guiding the three into the storage room where indeed, there was such a desk.

    "Is the size suitable?" Madam Fan asked.

    "It fits perfectly! What great luck I have!"

    Madam Fan chuckled and pulled Sang Luo outside. "Go buy what you need. I'll have someone dismantle the table and deliver the boards to your place later."

    Sang Luo, unassuming as she was, smiled and said, "I know you have capable people under your command. Could you also help modify the legs and other boards from the desk? Turn them into a stable stand that can securely hold the boards vertically? Not too tall, just high enough for a child in their early teens to comfortably write on it. Is that possible?"

    "Why not? Leave it to me. Just wait for it to be ready," Madam Fan assured her.

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