The boring stuff
“I reject your reality and substitute my own.”
--Adam Savage, ‘The Mythbusters’
Chapter Forty Four – The boring stuff
Sunli followed Huang Ming into the city to look for Quan Lu. She maintained a few steps behind the young master who whistled an unfamiliar and yet annoyingly addictive tune as they slowly made their way through the streets on foot. He had eschewed the use of a carriage or horses, declaring that he preferred to walk and enjoy the city streets. Sunli did not care, she was told to follow him and keep him safe and that was the extent of her responsibilities.
Hence, she did not show any reaction as Huang Ming stopped here and there to peruse shops and street vendors. He was seemingly interested in a wide range of things: from textiles to handicrafts to antiques and everything in between.
Hours passed like this and Huang Ming showed no signs of ever going to Quan Lu’s residence, wherever that might be. She would have very much preferred if he had gone there first and then do all this loitering on the way home. Instead, she had the suspicion that Huang Ming had no desire to find Quan Lu at all, which was surprising to her after seeing how they were friends. Unless…
“Master Huang Ming,” she called out as he exited the latest shop they had visited. It was an apothecary, and he had shown great interest in the dried herbs and medical pills, even having some animated discussions with the doctors within who were surprised at the depths of his knowledge. Yet he had left empty handed, disappointing the owners who had high hopes of making a sale.
“What are you doing?” Sunli demanded.
“What do you mean?” Huang Ming asked in return.
“Madam Li told you to invite Quan Lu, and yet we have been walking around in the city for hours.”
“If you’re tired, you can return first,” Huang Ming grinned.
Sunli snorted. That suggestion cemented her suspicions about his behaviour. “Is he staying somewhere disreputable? You think that it might embarrass me?” the guardswoman accused.
Huang Ming’s grin faltered a little, but did not disappear completely. “There is some truth in that,” he admitted.
Sunli shook her head. “You do not need to worry about me. I am in the army, I have seen enough to know the ways of the world.”
“But I am also looking for a gift for him. I don’t want to show up empty-handed.”
“What exactly are you looking for?” Sunli asked.
“I have no idea,” Huang Ming said ruefully. “Seeing that medical supply shop reminded me of Quan Lu’s coughing, I was thinking of buying some remedies for him. But in the matters of health it’s not advisable to buy medicine on a whim.”
He fell silent and Sunli stared at him curiously.
Huang Ming did have some experience with science and medicine, but being in a new world he had to be careful when applying his ‘foreign’ knowledge. General knowledge like “boil water before drinking” or “wash your hands after going to the toilet” could be easily taught as a way to maintain hygiene. But when it comes to the specifics in science, it was much harder.
Consider something as simple as the body’s temperature. On Earth, the standard is 37 degrees Celsius, with 0 degrees being freezing point of water and 100 degrees being the boiling point. How were these standards derived? It was done by careful observation and precise measurement on Earth, this was common knowledge. But even on Earth there were variations.
The higher you go, the lesser the temperature required for boiling water. On normal sea level, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. But in the city of Kathmandu in Nepal which sits at 1300 meters above sea level, it boils at 97 degrees. Should one climb up 5300 meters, the temperature required would be a mere 82 degrees. It would be difficult for a mountaineer on Mount Everest to boil an egg.
How many degrees Celsius would it take to boil an egg in this new world? Is the standard body temperature on this world still 37 degrees Celsius? For that matter, what exactly is a Celsius in this world? He did not have an Earth-made thermometer. In fact, there were no guarantees that the mercury within it would behave the same way in this new world.
These were the same questions posed by the fledgling space exploration community in his original Earth, the same sort of doubts that the scientists had before sending astronauts into space. Such questions were usually answered by adapting the new environment to Earth conditions, or simply making do until better solutions could be found. It might seem like trivial, paranoid doubts; but Huang Ming knew he could not afford to take everything at face value.
It was these mundane and yet boring little details that reined Huang Ming in every time he had transmigrated into a new world. He could not freely use his accumulated scientific knowledge from other worlds and dimensions until he had a way to know that they work with the same rules. The potions and concoctions that worked in one might and magic world might not have the same effect in another. What would be a healthy supplement there could have deadly results elsewhere.
Huang Ming recalled the fanciful stories where characters were transported into new worlds where distances were measured in the millions, and yet their experiences remained the same. Such a huge world would have enormous differences in gravity and atmosphere, yet the readers were expected to suspend such practical concerns as they were not pertinent to the story. But Huang Ming had no such ease of mind; he was the one travelling to other worlds, not the reader.
It took him a few lifetimes to fully understand that transmigrating and starting all over again was not always the fun and games he had read about. There were a few times when such boring details were unimportant and he was free to rampage as he had liked, but such opportunities were few and far in between. He had learned harsh lessons: there was nothing worse than turning back on an enemy that you had thought defeated, only to suffer a terrible blow in return because humans of that particular world had two hearts.
However, such reservations did not mean he was completely hamstrung and unable to use his wealth of experience. He was annoyed at his weakness during the encounter with the thugs and decided that he could use some advantages to prevent such an occurrence again. While he was limited scientifically and magically for the time being, there were no such qualms when it came to simple mechanics.
Huang Ming had gone into the shops that sold handicrafts and fabricated goods because he wanted to know the methods of production and the tools available in this world. He discreetly ordered some tools and materials so that he could build simple devices as personal safeguards. Spring-loaded projectile launchers and hidden blades among others could prove useful. Maybe one day he could even discover this world’s equivalent of gunpowder. Still, he had to restrain himself and be cautious. He did not want to be another Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who was condemned as the inventor of finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.
“Are you alright?” Sunli asked after several minutes.
Huang Ming sighed tiredly. “Yes, yes…” he muttered.
“There should be an auction house in such a large city. Perhaps you can find something there,” the tall woman suggested.
Huang Ming smiled. ‘Is this the flag for an auction house event?’ he thought to himself cynically. “Ah, I should have talked to Ma Jun earlier,” he said aloud.
Sunli frowned, remembering the jovial, stout man who had visited Huang Ming. “The wine brewer? Why?”
“A fatty during an auction house visit is an absolute necessity,” Huang Ming chuckled.
Was his caution,
Blown out of proportion?
Until he can tell,
His knowledge in a cell.