Li Zhao could not stand it anymore.
He despised Song Yucheng, and felt that it was an insult to let a kept pet like him stand with them. He would have followed that outburst with worse if he didn’t have to be wary about it being broadcast live.
Song Yucheng, however, cared not. He scoffed, and his gaze went to a camera close by. “Just you try and touch me. I spend my own money – what does it have to do with you?” His words held a double entendre.
“This is a livestream! There are tons of people watching!” Li Zhao was young, and his grip grew tighter at the slight provocation.
“So what?” Song Yucheng drew close, as if to pick a fight, and he lowered his voice of warning so that only the two of them could hear. “You know that this is a live broadcast, so you should be cooperating with me more. I’m going by a script here, okay? What if I say something I shouldn’t because of pressure? If that happens, netizens all across the country will be able to see how this pitiful orphan got pushed into being a scapegoat for you noble young masters and ladies to get your 15 minutes of fame.”
Orphan? Pitiful? Was this some new collection of jokes?
Everyone in the inner circles of Beijing knew that he, Song Yucheng, had been taken in by Xu Muzhi at the age of twelve or thirteen, and had become a kept pet at fifteen. Xu Muzhi went to visit him twice a week – more often than he went to see his own mother. As for the house Song Yucheng lived in right now, it was in an area known for its villas. Who knew how much he had taken from Xu Muzhi over the years. Who knows? He might even have more liquid assets than these young masters from affluent families. And now he’s acting like some innocent? What else could this be but an act?!
Li Zhao could barely contain his anger, but he thought of Chu Rong’s aim in coming on the programme, and he did not dare delve into details; he just glared hatefully at Song Yucheng.
But Song Yucheng was not going to shut up because of that.
Li Zhao had not deliberately set out to bully the old Song Yucheng but he had mocked the old Song Yucheng often when he’d joined the group. Plus, Li Zhao had known that the old Song Yucheng was bound to follow a script, yet he had picked fights and stirred up trouble with the old Song Yucheng.
So Song Yucheng decided that he was going to make full use of the script to annoy Li Zhao. There was no sense in holding his anger back and swallowing his words since he was going to play the part of a vile guy. He was going to enjoy bullying these “frail maidens” and get lots of satisfaction in doing so.
At that thought, Song Yucheng glanced meaningfully at Chu Rong; he seemed to be hinting that he would use his position to bully him.
“Not happy about it, huh? You think I’m an embarrassment to you, hmm? You still have to suck it up. You’re also here to serve as a support role for Chu Rong, so you should be cooperating with me. Stop trying to act like a good guy, Li Zhao. You have to learn how to be bullied if you want a good reputation. Be more respectful to me, or our Uncle Xu won’t let you off if you do end up messing things up for Chu Rong.”
Li Zhao’s family was nothing compared to Xu Muzhi after all.
This made Li Zhao explode with rage, and the words he spewed became malicious. “Don’t get too arrogant, Song Yucheng. You’re just Xu Muzhi’s leftovers right now. When this programme ends…”
“So what.” Song Yucheng cut him off dismissively. “I can find sponsors again. Everyone in these circles know I’m a rent boy anyway. Would I need to worry about my next meal when my price is on display for all to see? I hear that you have an elder brother who has a taste for this, and your father too…”
“Shut it!” Li Zhao’s usual pampered young master demeanor was replaced by a mask of anger with this short barbed exchange. His glare bore into his eyes, and the hate seemed like it could burn right through him.
But Song Yucheng raised his eyebrows and laughed complacently like he had just enjoyed some beautiful scenery. The laugh which rippled from him instantly dazzled the young men and women in the area, and they stood dazed. Li Zhao, who was closest to Song Yucheng, felt as if the skin of his wrist which Song Yucheng was touching was growing hot like he had a fever. The anger in him which had been about to explode was defused instantly.
Song Yucheng, on the other hand, paid him no further mind. He put force into his hand, and wrenched Li Zhao’s collar-grabbing hand away, then casually threw him to the ground. He went into the building with his luggage in hand.
“Are you okay?” The production crew who had dispersed hurriedly sent people back to ask what was going on when they saw the atmosphere sour.
“It’s fine. It was just a small conflict.” Chu Rong was the first to react, and he quickly helped Li Zhao to his feet. He looked at Li Zhao’s wrist again, and saw a clear circle of red. It was obvious that Song Yucheng had used all his might when he had grabbed him earlier. What Chu Rong saw was also broadcast to the livestream feed.
The number of people scolding Song Yucheng on the bullet screen increased at that scene. Even the netizens who didn’t usually leave comments couldn’t help expressing their displeasure.
“Where did they get this moron? What is wrong with him?! He’s hitting other people for no reason.”
“Yeah, that’s right! Li Zhao really held it in. I would have stomped him flat if it were me!”
“Argh, I’m gonna blow. Is this guy really here to film a show, or is he here to ask to die?!”
“Get lost, Song Yucheng! Get lost from ‘Swapping Lives’!”
These comment bullets dotted the entire livestream screen in an instant, and the netizens’ anger reached a new high. Song Yucheng and Li Zhao had spoken in low voices earlier and the netizens had not been able to hear them, but that did not stop them from forming a bias and concluding that Song Yucheng had bullied Li Zhao.
Those with quick fingers took screenshots and made them into mocking image macros, which were then posted on the internet to ridicule him further.
Song Yucheng’s public persona was well and truly set as the bad guy now. The broadcast had only been live for a few hours, and he had already been tagged with scummy adjectives like ‘trash’, ‘malicious’ and so on.
But Song Yucheng was most happy to hear of this situation. He couldn’t wait for those keyboard warriors to throw out worse insults.
Because the worse their insults were now, the greater the satisfaction he would get when he slapped their faces!
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pension lodging, Chu Rong and his group were in a pickle.
They had no way of paying for three days of rent because Song Yucheng had refused to cooperate. The group could choke on their anger but do nothing to change their predicament. After some discussion, they finally decided to pay for two days’ rent first, then think of what to do the next day.
That night was definitely the toughest night for these city-bred young masters and ladies. They awoke haggardly the next day with aching muscles and sore backs. All their poise, grace and noble bearing and gone up in smoke in the face of the need to survive.
Even so, they thought of Song Yucheng in the other room and felt a measure of comfort. Song Yucheng had spent all of his own money after all, and he would have to wander the streets tonight if he did not find some way to make money.
What they did not know was that Song Yucheng had inherited the skills of the old Song Yucheng, and that he would have his own solution to the problem. He would be able to find a solution even in some mountain valley, let alone a town.
July was one of the hottest months of the year, but it was the best time for willow trees to grow and flourish. Glistening jade-green branches drooped from their crowns, swaying in the breeze, pliable and tough, yet characteristically elegant. This beautiful scenery was most common in this small county.
Song Yucheng’s main idea centred on these willow trees. He borrowed a pair of scissors from the landlord and snipped off several branches from the willow trees in the yard. He filled about half of his back-carry basket with willow branches, and walked straight off to the marketplace when he was done.
“Where’s he going?” Li Zhao had just got up, and he couldn’t help asking about it when he saw Song Yucheng’s departing figure.
He had brooded over the entire sequence of events of the conflict yesterday, and the thought that he had actually been dazzled by a “bunny rabbit” shamed him immensely. This was why Li Zhao was especially conscious of Song Yucheng’s actions, and he wished for him to be unable to earn any money today so that he would have to come to beg to be taken in after wandering the streets.
The rest of the group had more or less similar thoughts. They had bad impressions of Song Yucheng after all, and were all harbouring some thoughts of schadenfreude.
Only Chu Rong had mixed feelings about this. He had a nagging feeling that Song Yucheng’s true personality was not what he saw. That laugh he had thrown at Li Zhao yesterday… that laugh had rippled through the air like billowing peach blossoms in an instant. That was not the manner in which a substitute would act.
But he quickly put his feelings aside and called for the others to prepare to set out. It was not time to observe Song Yucheng. They had no money left now, so they absolutely had to find work today or they would have to stay hungry for three days.
The others also understood the severity of the situation, and they listened conscientiously to Chu Rong’s instructions. They packed up in double time and followed Chu Rong out the door.
Quite a few self-made big shots would write a line similar to “depending on the sale of insoles to get the funds to build the foundation of wealth” in their biographies, but the truth was, you can only daydream about making money when you can’t even afford to come up with the money to buy the insoles to re-sell them.
And Chu Rong and his group were facing this precise awkward situation.
This group of young masters and ladies had never lacked money in their lives. They went round and round the town several times under the scorching sun, but were unable to find any work they could do.
Come to think of it, life in the small county town was slow, and opportunities and job positions were far less accessible than in a big city. More importantly — no one was willing to hire them.
One look, and the townsfolk could see that these young masters and ladies could neither lift nor carry; they were not capable of delicate work and were unlikely to be able to manage heavy manual work. Hiring these people would mean more trouble for themselves instead of lightening their workload.
“I’m really sorry. We have no need for extra hands.” This was their umpteenth rejection. The city slickers all stood dumbly in place after hitting dead end after dead end; they were at a loss.
They had originally envisioned themselves being able to just go out to some random little shop to do odd jobs and earn a bit of money, but this fanciful illusion was shattered now. The status, wealth, knowledge and skills they relied on in their city were all useless in a small county town like this. Even skills like postpartum sow care or techniques in milking cows would be more practical.
“That’s life.” The cruel reality Chu Rong and his group faced made the livestream watchers sigh in sadness. More sighs along the lines of “full of ideals, but reality is cruel” came shortly after.
Amidst the buzz of the netizens’ discussion, Chu Rong and his group circled the town once more.
They were not picky about the pay this time — they would accept it if it meant that they could fill their stomachs. However, their hopes were dashed. They were unable to secure work even when what they asked for so little.
Time passed quickly, and it was soon noon, when the sun was hottest. The broiling heat turned their skin red and all that walking had soaked their clothing in perspiration, making the fabric cling to their bodies; it was hell for them.
“This remote town has no jobs available at all? Is the production crew screwing with us?!” Li Zhao had the worst temper, and he was so angry that he dashed the straw hat in his hand to the ground.
He felt like he was going mad. He had been walking about the whole morning with no break. It would have been fine if they had got something out of it, but the truth was that they didn’t even have any money to buy a single thing.
“We would have enough to buy a meat pastry by now if we had put a broken bowl along the street and stood by it.” The unsuccessful beginning, plus hunger and tiredness made Li Zhao feel like he was about to go crazy.
The other young masters with him were much the same. They were not cursing on the street, but their spirits had sunk to their lowest, and they had started to doubt if they would be able to hang on till the end of the three days.
“Let’s calm down first and look for a place to rest and think of a solution for a while.” Chu Rong was still sort of calm though he was at his wits’ end like everyone else; he could still keep a mask of calm. He saw that everyone was in a bad mood, so he tried to quickly calm them first and make decisions later.
Even so, Chu Rong also knew that the three days would be difficult. What the production crew had planned for them was not something as simple as making them face tough times. Chu Rong’s spirits sank lower when he thought of the filming which would happen later.
However, their plight was the greatest draw for the netizens watching the livestream, especially Chu Rong, who had been hailed as “the nation’s little brother” from childhood. Being able to watch him find things difficult and suffer setbacks also whetted some twisted appetites.
“Tsk. Looks like none of the participants in this season will be able to win the money again.”
“Isn’t that good? We’re watching to see this reversal after all. People born with golden spoons in their mouths are not omnipotent either.”
“That’s why a person will have to rely on his own efforts, but I think this Chu Rong kid is pretty good. He doesn’t panic when things go wrong.”
The comments on the livestream all sighed with feeling, and looked very much forward to how they would handle the situation.
The “Swapping Lives” programme had an adaptation period for every season from its inception. Though the cast was different, the tasks were about the same, and guests had to survive for three days on ten yuan.
This was the simplest task of the programme, but it had put all of Chu Rong’s group on the spot. It wasn’t because they were not outstanding enough, but that they were still too young and had not enough experience to help them find the most appropriate solution when in an unfamiliar environment.
Chu Rong and his group were losing heart, and the netizens watching the livestream were rueful.
Just then, a person suddenly asked curiously, “Say, what’s that one called Song Yucheng doing right now?”
“You need to ask? He must be lazing about somewhere. What’s there to watch~”
“Yeah! He’s not with the main group, so I’ll have to pay to watch just him. I’m not going to care about that trash!”
This question was shut down in a few messages.
The “Swapping Lives” programme director had a good head for business. He had made it so that if the viewers wanted, they could pay more money and watch the livestream of the individual cameras of each participant.
The main broadcast focused on where the majority of the group was. To put it simply, the cameras of the main broadcast followed where there were the most participants.
If someone wanted to watch individual livestreams, he would have to fork out more money for it.
Chu Rong’s individual camera, for example, had lots of fans paying to chase him around, all for exclusive footage of “the nation’s little brother”.
Song Yucheng’s situation was the complete opposite. The first impression he had made on the viewers had turned them off, and no one was going to want to watch his individual livestream.
It was two in the afternoon in the blink of an eye. Chu Rong’s group had no income still, and were forced to return to the pension lodging to rest with their rumbling stomachs.
Their situation was clear. Chu Rong and his group were definitely going to fail their adaptation period.
The viewers couldn’t help feeling a little sorry. Chu Rong and his group were the most outstanding of all the participants in the four seasons so far after all.
Just then, a comment on the bullet screen suddenly popped up. “Woah, woah, woah! Did you guys see that Song Yucheng? He got money!”