Striving for Science

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Chapter 13: Hotpot

After hanging up the phone, Dao Nian looked at the huge floor-to-ceiling windows and then turned his head slowly towards his subordinate, wh

o was hunched over and mopping the floor, "Tidy up, there's a guest coming."

The subordinate quickly stood up straight, casually tossed the mop in his hands. The mop fell into the bucket without splashing dirty water, "Sir, may I inquire about the level of reception?"

"Human." Dao Nian lazily leaned back on a soft seat and added, "Human who can remember my name."

"I understand." The subordinate's expression became serious, "We will prepare immediately."

Shen Changan didn't have much experience visiting friends' homes, and he found himself slightly excited for a moment. In the past, to avoid causing trouble for his friends, he would try to avoid going to their homes as much as possible. Perhaps because this peaceful city gave him a sense of security, or maybe because he didn't want to be alone at the moment, he readily agreed when Dao Nian invited him over for a hotpot.

And, perhaps even Dao Nian, who seemed to avoid contact with others, also wished to have someone accompany him for a meal.

Having bought a bag of fresh fruits from a fruit shop and a bouquet of sunflowers from a nearby florist, Shen Changan took a taxi and arrived at the entrance of the community where Dao Nian lived. There, he saw Liu Mao and another unfamiliar young man waiting for him.

"Mr. Shen," Liu Mao spotted him and was exceptionally enthusiastic, "Warmly welcome your arrival. Please come this way."

The fruits in Shen Changan's hands were taken away by the other party, and he was a bit stunned by his overly warm attitude, "Mr. Liu, you don't have to be so polite. I can carry these fruits myself."

"You are Mr. Dao's honored guest. How can you do such menial work?" Liu Mao handed the fruits to the young man beside him and personally led Shen Changan inside.

As they entered the community, Shen Changan noticed that this place was quite different. While it looked similar to other communities from the outside, the greenery was exceptionally abundant. The buildings were almost hidden from view due to the lush trees. Neatly arranged trees, along with artificial hills and ponds, adorned the area. Unnamed flowers were in full bloom, emitting a delicate fragrance.

In an era where every inch of land could be used to build another house, and not an extra blade of grass, the developer of this community could certainly be called the "best conscience developer."

Following Liu Mao for who knows how long, Shen Changan only remembered that he was walking along a cobblestone path one moment, and through a small forest the next. He dizzily arrived in front of a large mansion with an antique style.

The mansion had no surrounding walls; instead, lush flower beds formed a natural barrier, giving an indescribable charm and an air of mystery to the house.

Glancing at the fruits being carried by someone else and the bouquet of sunflowers in his arms, Shen Changan silently wondered if the gifts he brought were a bit shabby.

Just as he was thinking this, the mansion's doors swung open, and a group of people warmly approached, surrounding Shen Changan and leading him inside. Amidst this scene, Shen Changan felt a bit overwhelmed by everyone's enthusiasm. Suddenly, he thought of scenes from the classic novel "Journey to the West," where little monsters excitedly dragged Tang Seng into their cave. There seemed to be a similar lively atmosphere here.

However, the moment he stepped through the doors, all the commotion quieted down. The several people who had been all smiles and cheerfulness just a moment ago were now standing in an orderly manner on the steps of the entrance, as if taking another step would invite divine retribution.

"Mr. Dao Nian, excuse me," Shen Changan walked into the house, stepping on the soft carpet, which made him feel as though he was walking on clouds.

"Changan," Dao Nian, sitting on the sofa, raised his head, "Please have a seat."

"Thank you," Shen Changan stopped a few steps away from him, "I'm not sure if Mr. Dao Nian has allergies to pollen. If not, I'd like to put these flowers in a vase."

"Sure." Dao Nian glanced upstairs.

Half a minute later, someone came down from upstairs, holding a vase as radiant as jade, along with a pair of flower scissors.

Shen Changan wasn't skilled at arranging flowers. He trimmed the sunflowers a bit and stuffed them in the vase. Brazenly, he asked Dao Nian, "Mr. Dao Nian, where would be a suitable place for the vase?"

Dao Nian gestured to a wooden carved flower stand near the floor-to-ceiling window.

After placing the vase, Shen Changan turned his head and saw Dao Nian staring at him. Thinking that his flower arranging skills might have been less than appealing, he chuckled awkwardly and changed the subject, "Do you usually have so many people helping out at home?"

"Not usually," Dao Nian lowered his eyelids, gazing absentmindedly at the hot tea on the table.

Shen Changan felt a bit embarrassed. He was such a hassle when he came to the door as a guest.

"The hotpot is almost ready," As soon as Dao Nian announced, someone came over to move the table, set up the hotpot, and prepare the dishes. In just a few minutes, the coffee table between them transformed into an intricately carved wooden table, adorned with a copper hotpot that emitted a tantalizing aroma.

In this moment, he suddenly felt as though he wasn't here to eat hotpot but to witness the art of "how to eat hot pot elegantly". The side dishes on the table looked fresh and tender, making one feel tempted to devour them raw.

As the broth bubbled and boiled, Shen Changan blanched his vegetables and observed how Dao Nian occasionally picked up a piece of food from the pot with a leisurely demeanor. He chuckled, "Mr. Dao Nian, you don't usually eat hotpot, do you?"

"Troublesome," Dao Nian put down his chopsticks. His lips were reddened, yet his eyes were indifferent, devoid of any emotion.

"Then what do you usually like to eat?" Shen Changan scooped up the blanched fat beef with a spoon, and then scooped it up with clean chopsticks into the bowl in front of Dao Nian.

Gazing at the steaming fatty beef, Dao Nian remained silent for a few seconds. "Rice."

Economical with words, yet simple and understandable. Strangely, within this atmosphere, Shen Changan didn't feel awkward at all. Perhaps it was because Dao Nian exuded a contradictory aura. Despite his outwardly aloof demeanor, he radiated a mysterious sense of tolerance.

The hotpot broth bubbled and steamed, and Shen Changan, who once thought eating hotpot alone was unexciting, accidentally devoured two plates of tripe, two plates of fatty beef, a plate of duck intestines, a platter of mixed vegetables, and even added a plate of duck blood to the pot. Looking up and noticing Dao Nian watching him, he shyly retracted his chopsticks.

He seems to have eaten a little too much.

"Don't stop," Dao Nian seemed to understand what Shen Changan was thinking. "Enjoy it, keep going."

Shen Changan smiled embarrassingly as he poured a plate of enoki mushrooms into the white pot, "Mr. Dao Nian, do you have your ingredients specially airlifted from a certain place? Why is everything so delicious?"

Dao Nian turned his head slightly and lifted his eyelids to glance at Liu Mao standing in the corner.

"These vegetables are all grown by us, and the meat is from our own livestock. If Mr. Shen likes them, you can take some back when you leave," Liu Mao smiled, "Homemade things aren't valuable, they're additive-free and pesticide-free, so you can eat them with peace of mind."

Shen Changan quickly declined; he and Dao Nian weren't particularly close friends. Coming over to eat hotpot was already pushing his luck, asking for leftovers on top of that was just too much for him.

"Take it," Dao Nian insisted, "If you don't eat it, it will be bad."

Shen Changan dryly laughed, once again showing an innocent face to digress, "Mr. Dao Nian, have you always lived here?"

"No." Dao Nian lowered his eyes, as if no topic could arouse much interest in him.

Shen Changan glanced at his lower body, wondering if his legs, covered by the blanket, would start to ache on rainy days.

"Have you ever visited nearby scenic spots, Mr. Dao Nian? I heard from colleagues that the local traditional folk houses nearby are quite interesting," Shen Changan worried that staying in this desolate mansion would make Dao Nian even less inclined to speak. "We can pick a day with good weather and go take a look."

"If you're not interested in those, we can also go somewhere else." Shen Changan thought for a moment and turned to Liu Mao, "Mr. Liu, are there any other interesting places around here?"

"Please wait a moment." Liu Mao turned and went upstairs. A minute later, he returned with a small booklet in hand. "Mr. Shen, this contains all the tourist attractions and dining places in Wuming City."

Flipping it open and glancing at it, Shen Changan smiled and asked, "Mr. Liu's annual salary must be very high."

Liu Mao looked at him blankly.

"Because you're so amazing."

"You're flattering me." Liu Mao stole a glance at Dao Nian from the corner of his eye.

"Hmm." As if he didn't notice Liu Mao's gaze, Dao Nian nodded, "Useful."

"Thank you sir, I, I will definitely continue to work hard and not let you down." Liu Mao's eyes brightened, a look that was like a poor person suddenly winning twenty million prizes and falling into the ecstasy of being hit by a trap.

Shen Changan observed him, then glanced at Dao Nian. Being an assistant and receiving praise from an employer for being useful had led him to react in this manner. Is it so hard to work as an assistant these days?

"Leave." Dao Nian's eyebrows twitched slightly.

"Alright." Upon hearing these two words, Liu Mao didn't hesitate at all, disappeared outside the gate, and the whole room fell silent.

It always feels...... like something is not quite right.

Shen Changan secretly glanced at the closed door, then at Dao Nian with a complexion almost transparent. "Mr. Dao Nian, thank you for your hospitality today."

Dao Nian looked at him. "Feeling better?"

Hearing that, Shen Changan froze. "How do you know?"

"A feeling." Dao Nian pointed to the enoki mushrooms in the pot. "They're cooked."

"Thank you." Shen Changan dazedly scooped the enoki mushrooms into his bowl. These enoki mushrooms were somewhat different from the ones he usually ate, not only delicately tender but also easy to chew. After entering his esophagus, he had the illusion as if his body was being nourished.

"I just remembered some things from the past. Sorry for coming here with emotions as a guest and letting the host notice." The steam rising from the enoki mushrooms made his eyes slightly itchy. He blinked, suppressing the astringency in his eyes. "But after enjoying all this delicious food, I'm fine now."

"There are no worries that can't be solved with one meal, and if one meal isn't enough, have two." Shen Changan laughed. "So, thank you for your kind hospitality and your delicious food."

"You're easily satisfied." Dao Nian extended his fair hand, bending down to pick a piece of fruit from the tray and handed it to Shen Changan himself. "Very good."

Shen Changan was flattered to receive the fruit. It wasn't just any ordinary fruit; it was voluntarily offered to him by a person who didn't usually like to communicate much with others.

After finishing the fruit and the hot pot, Shen Changan sat with Dao Nian by the floor-to-ceiling window, watching the rain. After a while, he noticed that Dao Nian had fallen asleep leaning against the recliner. He got up and bid farewell to Liu Mao.

Seeing him off, Liu Mao's attitude was even more enthusiastic than before. He not only stuffed a bag full of vegetables and fruits into Shen Changan's hands but also personally escorted him to the car.

"Mr. Shen, you're welcome to come again next time." After saying this, he put away the smile on his face and turned to the driver. "Make sure to take Mr. Shen back safely. He's an esteemed guest."

Watching the driver nod incessantly, Shen Changan felt like a poor boy who had latched onto a wealthy family's thigh, receiving enthusiastic compliments from the mansion's steward.

It's weirdly embarrassing, actually.


Author's Note: Shen Changan: Hehe, so shy!

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