Edited by DancingDolphinsYo
Ning Lan squatted at the west entrance of the labour deployment centre. In his mouth was a cold Chinese pancake, and he dug into his pocket with one hand, feeling an identification card and two red notes of 100 renminbi in it. This was the total of what was left of his belongings.
Counting with his fingers, he realised that the cheapest dormitory hostels around this area were at least 60rmb a night, and at the very least, he needed to have two pancakes and a bottle of water every day. This meant that within three days, he must find a job and a place to stay.
Spring had just arrived, and the weather up north was still extremely cold. The snow had only stopped in the morning, and outside the doors of the centre, there was a winding path created from people’s footsteps. The terrain was uneven, and the melted snow had flowed onto the road, forming dirty little puddles.
Ning Lan happened to be squatting by one of those puddles. An icy wind blew, and he huffed into his hands, rubbing them vigorously. In this so-called labour deployment center, most of the people coming and going were either fraudulent agents or farmers who were here for the first time and did not know anything. He, too, did not know what went wrong with his brain for him to actually come here to seek a job.
If not for the fact that he had nothing left from the wages that had been paid to him at the end of the year, as well as having to run and hide, not daring to appear in the industry that he had been working in for the past few years, he would not have ended up in such a state where he needed to seek a brick-transporting job.
He had been squatting here for nearly the entire morning already, yet there was no contractor that was willing to hire him. Their reason was that his limbs were too slender, and he did not look like he had the strength.
His bottle was empty, and Ning Lan swallowed down the last bite of the pancake with much difficulty. It felt as though he was getting a heartburn, and he cursed savagely, “Fuck…”
Wobbling as he stood up, Ning Lan planned to toss the empty bottle and the plastic bag into the trash. But when he stood in front of the trash bin, he felt that he was an idiot. The surroundings were covered with rubbish, yet he still wanted to make a contribution to the capital’s environment?
Throwing the things in his hand away, he was just about to turn around when a drink can rolled to his feet, bumping into them before rolling away again. Turning his head, he saw a little bright red sedan that had stopped by the roadside. The window was wound down, and the female driver, whose basketball skills were not very good, smiled at him from behind a pair of sunglasses. “Sorry, Xiao-xiongdi1. I didn’t aim correctly.”
Ning Lan was in a bad mood, but with the years of habit ground in him because of his work, he just smiled. Bending over, he picked up the can and tossed it into the trash before stuffing his hands into his pockets and sauntering back to the west entrance. He continued observing the various people who were anxious about their livelihoods, pondering if he should try his luck over at the east entrance in the afternoon.
In these dusty fringes of urban areas, the clacking of high heels was extremely out of place.
“Xiao-xiongdi, you’re looking for a job?”
Ning Lan raised his head, and the female driver from before was smiling faintly at him.
It took him only seconds to notice the outfit of this woman, who seemed to be around thirty years of age. He then quickly reacted, beaming brightly, “Yes, is Xiao-Jiejie2 going to introduce a job to me?”
Zhang Fan brought Ning Lan to the office of the planning department, located on the 26th floor of Starlight Entertainment. From a drawer, she withdrew a contract and placed it in front of him. “Take a look, if you agree to this, just sign on the last page.”
On the way here, Zhang Fan had already gotten Ning Lan’s basic information from him, including his height, weight, age, place of birth, education level, horoscope, and even the size of his shoes. By this point, Ning Lan was still unsure of what he was supposed to be doing. The contract was filled with tiny words, and he felt giddy just looking at it.
Zhang Fan saw that he was in a daze, and so, she took the contract back and circled the key points with a marker pen. “It’s a 3 year contract, and you’ll be paid immediately with effect. You’ll have a base salary as well as bonuses, and the bonuses include album releases, commercial performances, participation in programs and various other public activities. If you have the ability, get as many of them as you can. The company will not hinder your progress.”
“How much is the base salary?” This was the thing that Ning Lan was most concerned about.
Zhang Fan named a number, and it was twice the base salary that Ning Lan got at the restaurant he worked at.
He flipped directly to the last page, putting his signature down on the line.
Zhang Fan was a little surprised. “You’re not looking through it again?”
Ning Lan tossed the pen aside, stretching his waist. “No need, Jiejie, you don’t look like a fraud. Also I’m a brokeass, there’s nothing to be scammed from me.”
“Aren’t you afraid that what you signed was a contract to sell your body?”
“This is a society with laws. If there are really such underground dealings, you also won’t bring me to a place like this surrounded by windows… Also, didn’t the contract mention that I have some other group members? There are other people with me, so what’s there to be scared of?”
Zhang Fan laughed in amusement. She had not thought that in her careless search, she would have found such an amazing person.
“Take out your ID.” Zhang Fan stretched out her hand.
Ning Lan took out the card and placed it on the table. Zhang Fan picked it up and took a look, raising a brow. “Aren’t you just 18 years old? Why did you say that you’re 23 in the car?”
Ning Lan froze. He had nearly forgotten about this matter.
“I’m really 23, there’s a problem with my ID,” he explained.
Zhang Fan waved at him, “Doesn’t matter. Just say that you’re 18 in the future.”
Ning Lan acknowledged it. Whoever gave the money, was the lord. As long as they gave enough, it was ok even if they wanted him to pretend he was 8.
After the signing of the contract, Zhang Fan held out her hand to him. “Hi, I’m Zhang Fan. From today onwards, I’ll be your manager.”
Ning Lan smiled brightly and shook her hand, “Please take care of me.”
At noon, Zhang Fan brought him to the company’s cafeteria for lunch. Ning Lan discovered that all employees in this company were dressed very attractively, on par with the guests coming in and out of the star-rated restaurants.
He then looked down at himself. His ragged cotton-padded jacket was two years old, paired with a pair of jeans that had already turned white after multiple washes. Only holes torn around the knees were considered fashionable, but when they were torn at the bottom, they just looked extremely shabby. Ning Lan thought that he had to go buy some decent clothes once he received his salary. After all, he now would have to rely on his appearance for his livelihood, and he could not look too horrible.
After the meal, Zhang Fan led him to an empty room with a wall that was basically just a giant mirror. “In the next two weeks, you will just train properly here. The dance teacher will come later and you should learn the dance steps as quickly as possible. The lyrics and other things are simpler, and we also won’t ask you to sing live. You just have to lip sync on stage.”
Muddleheaded, Ning Lan just nodded and agreed. Not long after Zhang Fan left, the dance teacher arrived. It was a girl just past twenty years of age, and she introduced herself as Xu Rui.
“Xu-laoshi3, may I ask you a question?” Ning Lan grimaced as he pressed on his legs, stretching them.
Xu Rui looked like a gentle young lady, but she was very strong. Pressing on his shoulders, she did not relax a bit, “Just ask.”
Ning Lan gasped for air, “Your company, oh no, our company… when looking for dancers… you don’t go to dance troops or dance schools or something, but just grab people off the streets?”
Xu Rui looked at him, puzzled, “You were grabbed off the streets?”
Xu Rui smacked his waist and thighs lightly, wanting him to maintain his pose. “Hmm, no wonder you have no basics at all. With your ability, the company also won’t accept you as a dancer.”
Xu-laoshi pointed at the dimples on his face that faded in and out of his cheeks. “However, as an idol, after some cleaning up it’s still acceptable.”
Ning Lan was astounded.
Zhang Fan listened to Ning Lan as he shouted over the phone, unable to keep herself from laughing. “Don’t worry, you’ll just go on stage to sing and dance. Whether you can really become a superstar, it all depends on yourself.”
Ning Lan could barely hold onto his phone. “T-t-then w-w-when would I go on TV?”
“Why, you’re a wanted criminal?”
Ning Lan licked his lips, feeling guilty. “No, I… I just want to be prepared.”
“Next month, the Focus Show Music Festival. It’ll be your debut. Don’t be scared, you’re not the only one in this battle.”
Ning Lan now recalled about this, “What about my group members?”
“You’ll see them later.”
During the break in the afternoon, Xu Rui updated Ning Lan with the information that he sorely lacked. The boy band he was joining was called AOW, and there were a total of seven members.
Ning Lan looked at the debut announcement on Weibo, feeling amused. Were these not the seven little dwarfs?
Three members of the group had already been announced. Ning Lan glanced at their profiles. All three of them were at most 18 years old, and all were so young and tender. These children probably did not have to change their age like him, right?
“So you’re saying, if not for that fellow seeking trouble, I wouldn’t have had any chance at all?”
Listening to Xu-laoshi, Ning Lan understood clearly why he could join the group.
AOW had actually been formed in the second half of the previous year. They had also already recorded their single and were waiting to release it after the new year. Who would have known that when the new year started, one of the members, Feng Qiu, created trouble back at his hometown, fighting on the streets and getting dragged to the police station, and the incident even appeared on the local TV station. It was actually nothing major, but the only problem was that this Feng Qiu was a participant from a singing competition, and he was already somewhat famous. On top of that, he was supposed to have an adorable, innocent, youthful image. When the video of him fighting was released, his established image immediately collapsed. Both his fans and passersby blacklisted him and all requested him to get out of the entertainment industry.
“Mn, you can put it that way,” Xu Rui said. “We can’t change the date of the debut, and so the company can only look for a replacement. They’ve been searching all over, but could not find anyone suitable. Everyone had thought that the seven member group was about to turn into six members, but then you appeared.”
Ning Lan suddenly felt that he had just been entrusted with a mission at a critical time, and also that this company was really too casual. Were they not afraid that they had grabbed a crook?
Xu Rui smiled as she patted him on the shoulder, “Zhang Fan-jie is famous for her good eye. You know V-Wish? Every member has been personally selected by her, and when they first debuted, no one thought that they would amount to anything. As idols, their skills were secondary. But this can all be polished and trained up later, whereas having the spark to attract popularity is something innate.”
V-Wish was a girl group that was currently famous throughout Asia.
“Also, it’s very likely that the second she knew your name, she had asked someone to investigate you through all the various systems already. If you have any sort of unmentionable history, she definitely would have just thrown you out of the car mid-way and not even look back.”
Ning Lan laughed along, but he could not help getting goosebumps internally. After graduating from high school, he had pretty much just waded and crawled through society. He believed that he was experienced in life, but no matter how experienced he was, he would not be able to fit into this completely unfamiliar territory. He thought that it was still best for him to be cautious, so as to prevent himself from ending up in the same situation as that little brother with the surname Feng.
It was not easy to get such a bright, shining livelihood. Also… he heard that superstars earned money very quickly.
He really was in desperate need of money.