First Bit of Business
The blinding light flared in fits and starts and around 15 minutes later, Xia Lei put down the welding tongs, grasped the welded gear with his gloved left hand, and placed it on the dish of the electronic weighing scale.
Huang Wei-Guo and Ning Jing moved closer, and Long Bing and the staff member gathered too. Four pairs of eyes rested on the welded gear, first showing curiosity, then shock and finally looking stunned.
The gear Xia Lei welded was smooth and not a trace of welding could be seen on its surface. What was most praiseworthy was that Xia Lei had not done tig welding but spot welding. The gear was held together at three points – two at each end of the split and one in the middle. Every spot weld was precisely controlled at around 0.8 mm; it was very accurate.
This was a clever way to approach the task as three spot welds held the gear together while not increasing the weight of the gear by much. More importantly, the welded gear looked very strong, not at all like it would fall apart at a touch.
“Ch-check the weight.” Huang Wei-Guo urged the staff member.
The staff member plugged the electronic weighing scale in, and it displayed the gear’s total weight – 11.5g.
He matched the gear number and spoke excitedly, “Professor Huang, this gear was 10g. It increased by 1.5g.”
Huang Wei-Guo required the weight to not be over two grams of the original. The increased weight on the gear Xia Lei welded was 1.5g – it not only met his requirement, it exceeded expectations. What was more amazing was that he had welded three spots and every spot weld had been kept at 0.5g. His hands were like precision instruments!
It looked like a simple gear-welding on the surface but these numbers proved how amazing Xia Lei’s workmanship was.
Huang Wei-Guo excitedly snatched up the gear from the scale. It was still quite hot but he did not seem to feel the heat in his hands. He used all his strength to try to break the welded gear but it did not move and held strong. He raised it high above his head, then smashed it to the floor but the gear was still intact and showed no sign of splitting in half.
Xia Lei smiled as he said, “Professor Huang, you are handing me a compass hundreds of years old. It can also be considered a precision instrument, so it would probably not have to withstand a lot of force when it is moving and that was why I chose to do spot welding. If there were no other important requirements, I would do a tig weld but that would increase the weight significantly and that would affect the accuracy of the compass. Am I right?”
“Haha!” Huang Wei-Guo gave Xia Lei a hug, losing decorum in his excitement. “Master Xia, your workmanship is so wonderful it’s beyond words. Your idea was also a good one. Less added weight would mean greater compass accuracy. The possibility of us uncovering the secrets of this compass has increased greatly.”
“Professor Huang, are you saying that the job has been handed to me?” asked Xia Lei.
Huang Wei-Guo laughed, “Of course! There is no need for further testing. Welding that key was already enough to meet our requirements but Ning Jing and I decided to test you for the sake of knowing if you were dependable.”
Ning Jing spoke then, “Professor Huang, I’ve just thought of a better idea.”
Huang Wei-Guo turned to look at Ning Jing, “What idea?”
“Doesn’t Master Xia have a workshop? He can definitely produce the same parts and we can ask him to reproduce the broken parts, and at the same time repair the original broken parts. In this way, we will have two options. We can use the original parts and also try to use the new reproduced parts,” said Ning Jing.
Xia Lei thought for a bit, then interrupted, “Doctor Ning, you mean to process the same material and make equally weighted copy parts, yes?”
Ning Jing quirked her lips in a smile, “Yes, that is what I mean.”
Huang Wei-Guo clapped in delight. “Great, let’s do that. Ning Jing, I’ll let you handle this. Please bring the parts needing repair to Master Xia’s workshop and have them copied after repairs as you said. We can unlock the secrets of the compass with these two sets.”
“You can count on me,” Ning Jing quickly agreed.
“That’s right, Master Xia, what should we pay you?” Huang Wei-Guo suddenly remembered about remuneration.
“Just pay me what you feel is right, Professor Huang,” said Xia Lei smilingly.
“How can that do? Let’s see… The Archaeological Bureau shall pay you 50,000 after you repair the compass. Will this do?”
“Yes, it will do.” Xia Lei agreed quickly.
50,000 looked like a big number but Xia Lei was not profiting greatly. If Huang Wei-Guo requested this same thing of an elite Master welder, the Master might not even be bothered with this sum of money. Most importantly, even if an elite Master welder were to do the job, he would not be able to reach the degree of perfection that Xia Lei had.
The one profiting from the deal was the Archaeological Bureau, with Huang Wei-Guo as representative, not Xia Lei.
However, Xia Lei was not greedy either. Thunder Horse Workshop had yet to open for business and it had already got a 50,000-yuan-worth bit of business, and that made Xia Lei happy. His career was just beginning so he did not expect a mini-windfall like this.
“There’s no time to lose; Ning Jing, please pack the things and go to Master Xia’s workshop,” said Huang Wei-Guo.
“Yes, of course.” Ning Jing went to work immediately, gathering the broken parts and compass into a safe.
At that moment, Long Bing’s mobile phone suddenly rang and she walked briskly to the doorway to take the call.
Xia Lei looked at Long Bing in the doorway. ‘She looks like she has a hectic lifestyle. What is she so busy with? Was her recommending me to the Archaeological Bureau something she did because it was convenient?’
“I’m all packed. Let’s go, Master Xia,” said Ning Jing.
Xia Lei nodded. “Okay. Let me carry the box.”
Ning Jing, however, refused. “No, I’ll carry it. I can only feel safe if it’s in my hands.’
“What? You afraid I’d grab the safe and make a run for it?” laughed XIa Lei
In the midst of his joking around, Long Bing re-entered the room and walked straight to Xia Lei. “I’ve something urgent to attend to so I won’t go to your workshop. I’ll look for you again when you’ve finished this.”
“Okay, sure, since you’re busy with something,” said Xia Lei.
Long Bing wasted no further words. She turned and left the room.
Xia Lei followed her out of the room with his eyes and more questions surfaced in his mind. ‘Look for me again when I’m done with this – why look for me? She seems to have been keeping an eye on me since Macau. What is she up to? Argh, what a headache.’
“Master Xia, she left. Why are you still spacing out? Let’s go,” urged Ning Jing.
Xia Lei smiled awkwardly and followed Ning Jing out of the display room.
Ning Jing drove her car and arrived at Thunder Horse Workshop. A look of shock spread over her face when she got out of her car and saw the little roadside shop which was still under renovation.
“This is your workshop, Master Xia?” The little shop before her eyes was a far cry from the grand workshop she had imagined.
“Yes, this is my workshop. Isn’t it written on the signboard? ‘Thunder Horse Workshop.’ ”
“I thought…” Ning Jing was about to say something but she closed her mouth again.
Ma Xiao-An walked out of the shop and saw Ning Jing standing next to Xia Lei. He looked at Xia Lei and said, “Lei, this lady here is…?”
“This is Doctor Ning from the Archaeological Bureau,” said Xia Lei. He pointed at Ma Xiao-An and introduced him, “This is my partner, Ma Xiao-An.”
“Nice to meet you, Master Ma.” Ning Jing took the initiative and reached out her hand for a handshake.
Ma Xiao-An stretched out his own hand but found that it was greasy and covered with paint, while Doctor Ning’s hand was pale a delicate. He retracted his hand and gave an honest, sincere smile, “Hehe, my hand’s dirty so let’s not shake.”
Ning Jing took her hand back. Girls like cleanliness so if Ma Xiao-An really used his greasy, paint-covered hand to shake hers, she would have been disgusted. She looked at Xia Lei, who was standing next to her out of the corner of her eye. She said nothing but she had made a comparison in that one look. They were both Masters but one was dirty and chubby while the other was dashing and clean. Why were they so different?
“Xiao-An, please tell the renovator that he can stop for today. I need to use the lathe, so ask him to come back tomorrow,” said Xia Lei.
“Sure, I’ll tell him right away. There isn’t much more to do anyway.” Ma Xiao-An went into the shop to talk to the renovator.
“Master Xia, your workmanship is excellent. You should have a better starting platform for your skill. This workshop is too small; it will bury your craft,” said Ning Jing.
“Eh?” Xia Lei laughed as he said, “A better platform? I don’t know many industry people, so you could introduce me to someone.”
“We aren’t strangers anymore, are we? Stop being so formal and calling me ‘Doctor Ning’. I’m older by three years, so why don’t you call me Big Sister Ning?*” Ning Jing, too, had a sweet and pleasant smile on her face.
“Sure, Big Sister Ning,” said Xia Lei right away.
Ning Jing giggled happily but said, “You can call me Big Sister but I can’t really help you on this since I don’t know many people from the industry either. I was just suggesting that you need a better platform to grow in your career.”
There was no one who didn’t want to grow in their career and lead a better life. Xia Lei, too, wished for a better platform for his growth but found it useless to dream in his current situation. This was a realistic and complicated world and those with the skills may not necessarily do well in life while those without skills lounge at the top, living the good life. However, Xia Lei was contented. He was already doing much better than he was before. He also had his own life plan and would take things as they come as he was in no hurry.
Ma Xiao-An quickly finished his talk with the renovator and he left on his three-wheeled cargo vehicle after greeting Xia Lei, not bothering to put away the tools and materials lying about. Xia Lei brought Ning Jing into Thunder Horse Workshop, prepared to start work.
*Xia Lei said he was almost 24 in Chapter 21, and Ning Jing said, “So you’re just 24”. She is 26. Later in this chapter, she says she is 3 years older when she thought he was 24… So technically the author was right when he wrote ‘I’m older by three years’ for Ning Jing since Xia Lei’s age is 23 after all, but she was under the impression that Xia Lei was 24…? I may just be nitpicking here but small things like this drives me nuts sometimes.