Fat Man and Peb­ble Zhang

The World of Chinese - - Cover Story -

As ev­ery­one in the mar­ket knows, Peb­ble Zhang's prof­itable stall once be­longed to Fat Man. De­spite be­ing only about 20 me­ters away from Peb­ble Zhang, Fat Man's stand can only sell about 10 bar­be­cue fish dishes a night, while Peb­ble Zhang's can hit 60 or 70. Fat Man of­ten has no busi­ness and noth­ing to do af­ter 9 p.m., but he can be seen strain­ing his neck to see how many fish Peb­ble Zhang is sell­ing.

Fat Man, you see, used to make rice balls, but then moved onto the more prof­itable bar­be­cue fish with a secret recipe he claims to have per­fected. His bar­be­cue fish be­came a hit.

But when Fat Man re­turned to Nan­jing from a Spring Fes­ti­val visit to his home­town, he found that the mar­ket­place had been re­ar­ranged, with Peb­ble Zhang in his old spot. Bar­gain­ing fell on deaf ears, with Peb­ble Zhang ask­ing for 50,000 RMB. Fat Man had no way to de­fend his in­ter­ests, be­cause Peb­ble Zhang's broth­erin-law was an “ap­pren­tice” to the head of the realty man­age­ment com­pany in charge of the night mar­ket, a sup­posed en­forcer with a pen­chant for beat­ing mi­grant work­ers.

To make mat­ters worse, Peb­ble Zhang, ac­cord­ing to Fat Man, stole the orig­i­nal owner's bar­be­cue fish recipe, claim­ing he did so by pick­ing through the garbage sta­tion be­hind Fat Man's old kitchen.

How­ever, a veteran of the rivers and lakes drama, Fat Man had his own tac­tics; he be­friended Brother Dragon, a dis­trib­u­tor and a “liv­ing rowdy ghost” who mo­nop­o­lized the beer sup­ply in the mar­ket. Fat Man bided his time un­til one night, af­ter too many beers, Brother Dragon got drunk and uri­nated in public. This scan­dalous be­hav­ior from a well-known fig­ure soured his stand­ing with the mar­ket's reg­u­lars—but not Fat Man. See­ing an op­por­tu­nity that night, Fat Man kindly es­corted Brother Dragon home to avoid fur­ther dam­age to his rep­u­ta­tion.

Their power com­bined, they formed a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial mo­nop­oly on the fish sales in the mar­ket by in­sti­tut­ing a 2 Rmb-per-kilo “com­mis­sion fee” on the sup­pli­ers—a scheme that turned out to be rather prof­itable. His stall may not sell the most fish, but Fat Man kept his rep­u­ta­tion in the so­ci­ety via the fa­vor of a friendly rowdy ghost.

Fat Man can be seen walk­ing a dog in the mar­ket most nights. Brother Dragon had tried to raise the dog, named Lit­tle Tiger, to be a fierce and loyal hound, but it turned out to be a cow­ardly lit­tle mutt. Fat Man liked the dog, and as he walks it up and down the mar­ket streets, he tells any­one who will lis­ten that it was a gift from Brother Dragon.

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