For an apprentice, half of the work was to learn skill, and the other half was to learn discipline. Everyone has fears when he first becomes an apprentice. You have to put up all the injustices, which was a rule at the workshop. The apprentices were the first to get up and last to go to bed. They had to follow all the orders and accept being bossed around. They subjected themselves to serving all people, swallowed the bitterness, pains, and tears and still pretend to be happy. I was trained in my master’s home. After the master vented his anger on me, I had to take whatever else came from the mistress at the same time. After going through three years of this, the most stubborn man would be bowed whereas the weakest person would become tough. I think it is fair to say that the character of an apprentice is not born. Instead, it is shaped by beatings and trials. Just like a blacksmith who can shape the iron to whatever he wants through hammering.
At those times when I had to put up with excessive beatings and mental torture, I did want to die. This was not something a man could bear. However, in retrospect, such disciplining and beating was as valuable as gold. After going through all this, there is nothing in the world you can’t put up with. For example, if I were drafted, I could be a good soldier. Soldiers can at least take a break between drills. Apprentices didn’t get any rest other than sleep. I would even doze off while I was having a movement, because when I had to work overtime during the nights, I only got 3 or 4 hours of sleep. I also learned to swallow a meal in one bite. Whenever I picked up my bowl, either my master or mistress would immediately call me, or otherwise a customer came and I would have to listen very carefully to how my master haggled with the customer over the prices. What else could I do if I didn’t finish the whole meal in one bite? Such experiences made me tougher and I learned to manage to put on a smiling face in spite of any difficulties The intellectual type, in my humble opinion, would never understand this. The students of today in western schools think it is a great accomplishment just to run a couple of times around the track at a sports meeting. They are pampered and massaged with rubbing alcohol and get to sit in cars. Even with all this, they are still temperamental. Those scions, what do they know about discipline and training? With that being said, it was the hardships that gave me the uncomplaining and hardworking attitude I now possess. I would never let myself be idle and I have no temperament while working. I’m as tough and resilient as a soldier and far more amenable.
Let me give you a concrete proof of this, after I finished apprenticeship, just like all the other craftsmen, I was eager to establish myself as a person living off of my skills, I bought myself a pipe, and smoked it whenever I got a chance, posturing as though I was somebody, puffing it slowly. I also picked up drinking from time to time. Once you picked up one bad habit, it was not difficult to pick up a second. All habits are the same; they are all for pleasure. However, that led to a problem for me. It was nothing rare to be a smoker or drinker; most people do. But I wound up smoking opium. During those days, opium was not prohibited by law. It was actually quite cheap. I tried it for relaxation, and then I got addicted. Before long, I was broke, and lost my gung-ho spirit to work. Before anyone came to dissuade me, I quit opium “cold turkey” by myself and never even touched tobacco again. I joined the “Rational Gate.” After you have joined the “Rational Gate,” it is understood that if you touched tobacco or alcohol again, bad karma would always be with you. If bad karma was waiting for me if I smoked or drank, why then would I dare? My determination, in retrospect, can be attributed to my hardships as an apprentice. I had learned to overcome all kinds of trials. It was frustrating when I saw other people smoking or drinking at first. It was like thousands of worms were crawling inside of me. But I couldn’t break my oath, because of the bad karma. Actually the bad karma was something in the future; and the itchy feeling was far more immediately real and pressing. It was mainly my determination rather than fear of bad karma. I succeeded due to my training and self-discipline which I earned due to my apprenticeship.
As for the skills I learned, I don’t think those three years of apprenticeship were wasted.. Any skill can be useful when applied in different circumstances over time. The basic method is fixed but it can have many applications. The skill of the bricklayers thirty years ago was all about how to polish the stones and make them connected seamlessly, very detailed work; today they also know how to use man made bricks and lime. The carpenters thirty years ago focused on how to carve flower patterns on the wood; today they have also learned to make foreign crafts. Our craft is the same, it only requires more flexibility. What we see is what we make. For example, if the family wants us to make a paper feast for the funeral, then we will have to make paper chicken, paper duck, paper fish and paper pork. If the dead person happens to be an unmarried girl, we may be asked to make a dowry made of paper, which could be composed of either 48 suitcases or 32 suitcases. We can make every thing out of paper from powder cans, oil bottles to closets and fitting mirrors. As long as we can see it, we can make the thing out of paper. This is our unique ability. We don‘t have great ability, but we have some intelligence. A mindless person would not make a good paper craftsman.
Hence, we worked as though it was not just work but also a game. The secret of our business is how to make the paper come alive, which is a brain exercise. I would say I had some intelligence in me. When I was an apprentice, most of the beatings I suffered was not because I couldn’t do the work, rather, it was mostly because I was disobedient. My intelligence might not have surfaced at all, had I been told to learn to hammer iron, or saw wood – hammering or sawing, such completely monotonous work with no changes. Fortunately, I was an apprentice to a paper craftsman. Upon learning all the basic skills, I began to exercise my creativity to make my paper crafts more lifelike. Sometimes, I spent a lot of time and materials, but still couldn’t make out the thing that I envisioned in my mind, but this would only make me more obsessive about accomplishing the task. I would observe more closely, and try every method until I succeeded. This is a very good habit indeed. I am not just smart, but know how to make use of my intelligence, which made me very thankful for the three years of apprenticeship. I formed the habit of using my intellect after those three years. Granted, I haven’t accomplished anything huge in my life. Nonetheless, anything that an ordinary person can do, I can learn 50 % just at one glance. I know how to build a wall, plant a tree, fix clocks and watches, tell the difference between real and fake leather, pick out the auspicious days for weddings, and the knack for all sorts of businesses. I didn’t learn any of these things specifically. All I did was to watch with my eyes and work with my hands, a habit that I formed during the three years of apprenticeship at the burial clothes shop. I didn’t realize until now -- and I am like a man who is starving to death -- had I had more schooling, and become a bookworm like a Xiucai or a school graduate, I could have been living in the dark all my life without really understanding anything! My skill as a craftsman didn’t bring me to high positions or fortune, but it did make my life interesting; a poor life, but an interesting one, with some flavor.
I was just turning 20, and had already become an important person among my relatives and friends. It was not because of money or status, but because my meticulousness and hard work. Since I graduated from apprenticeship, I stayed in the teahouse everyday, waiting for people of the same trade coming to ask me for work. I wasn’t idle even when there was no work to be done. Many of my friends and relatives would entrust me with various tasks for them.. I even started match making whereas I was just a newly wed myself.
Helping other people was a pastime for me, which I actually enjoyed. Why? As I mentioned before, there were two types of work for paper craftsmen, burning work, or white work. Burning work was fun and clean, whereas white work was different. When you pasted the ceiling, you had to tear off the old paper, which was so unpleasant. You can’t imagine how much dust there was on the ceiling, which had accumulated for long years. The fine dust would crawl into your nose. After tearing off the old ceiling in three rooms, we all became ghosts covered in dust. Once you tied firm the straw frames and started to paste the new paper, the new foil paper stank and hung over your nose. The dust and new paper can cause disease – what is now known as consumption. I didn’t like this kind of work. But since I was waiting for jobs on the street, I couldn’t really refuse any work. You have to do whatever you can get. So, to deal with such work, I would stay down below, cutting or passing paper, or stirring the glue, anything to avoid doing the work at the ceiling. Thus, I could bow my head and eat less dust. But even with that, I would invariably become covered by dust and my nose became like a pipe. So after doing such work for a few days, I wanted to do something different for a change. Hence, when friends and relatives asked me for favors, I was more than happy to help out.
In addition, whether doing burning work or white work, people like us would always be involved in weddings and funerals. When acquaintances hired me, they would also discuss other related matters, such as arrangement of funerals and weddings; the preparations for certain ceremonial items; and the hiring of chefs as well as, the booking of wagons and so on and so forth. I gradually discovered a lot of enjoyment in doing these things, and learned how to do them masterfully. I not only earned face for my friends and relatives, but also saved money for them, by not letting them be gouged by others. I myself also accumulated valuable experience and learned excellent social skills through the handling of these matters. Over time I became very street wise, and I was not even thirty.
上面交代过了：我若是始终仗着那份儿手艺吃饭，恐怕就早已饿死了。不过，这点本事虽不能永 远有用，可是三年的学艺并非没有很大的好处，这点好处教我一辈子享用不尽。我可以撂下家伙，干别的营生去；这点好处可是老跟着我。就是我死后，有人谈到我 的为人如何，他们也必须要记得我少年曾学过三年徒。
学徒的意思是一半学手艺，一半学规矩。在初到铺子去的时候，不论是谁也得害怕，铺中的规矩 就是委屈。当徒弟的得晚睡早起，得听一切的指挥与使遣，得低三下四的伺候人，饥寒劳苦都得高高兴兴的受着，有眼泪往肚子里咽。象我学艺的所在，铺子也就是 掌柜的家；受了师傅的，还得受师母的，夹板儿气！能挺过这么三年，顶倔强的人也得软了，顶软和的人也得硬了；我简直的可以这么说，一个学徒的脾性不是天生 带来的，而是被板子打出来的；象打铁一样，要打什么东西便成什么东西。
在当时正挨打受气的那一会儿，我真想去寻死，那种气简直不是人所受得住的！但是，现在想起 来，这种规矩与调教实在值金子。受过这种排练，天下便没有什么受不了的事啦。随便提一样吧，比方说教我去当兵，好哇，我可以作个满好的兵，军队的操演有时 有会儿，而学徒们是除了睡觉没有任何休息时间的。我抓着工夫去出恭，一边蹲着一边就能打个盹儿，因为遇上赶夜活的时候，我一天一夜只能睡上三四点钟的觉。 我能一口吞下去一顿饭，刚端起饭碗，不是师傅喊，就是师娘叫，要不然便是有照顾主儿来定活，我得恭而敬之的招待，并且细心听着师傅怎样论活讨价钱。不把饭 整吞下去怎办呢？这种排练教我遇到什么苦处都能硬挺，外带着还是挺和气。读书的人，据我这粗人看，永远不会懂得这个。现在的洋学堂里开运动会，学生跑上两 个圈就仿佛有了汗马功劳一般，喝！又是搀着，又是抱着，往大腿上拍火酒，还闹脾气，还坐汽车！这样的公子哥儿哪懂得什么叫作规矩，哪叫排练呢？话往回来 说，我所受的苦处给我打下了作事任劳任怨的底子，我永远不肯闲着，作起活来永不晓得闹脾气，耍别扭，我能和大兵们一样受苦，而大兵们不能象我这么和气。
再拿件实事来证明这个吧：在我学成出师以后，我和别的耍手艺的一样，为表明自己是凭本事挣 钱的人，第一我先买了根烟袋，只要一闲着便捻上一袋吧唧着，仿佛很有身分，慢慢的，我又学了喝酒，时常弄两盅猫尿咂着嘴儿抿几口。嗜好就怕开了头，会了一 样就不难学第二样，反正都是个玩艺吧咧。这可也就山了毛病。我爱烟爱酒，原本不算什么稀奇的事，大家伙儿都差不多是这样。可是，我一来二去的学会了吃大 烟。那个年月，鸦片烟不犯私，非常的便宜；我先是吸着玩，后来可就上了瘾。不久，我便觉出手紧来了，作事也不似先前那么上劲了。我并没等谁劝告我，不但戒 了大烟，而且把旱烟袋也撅了，从此烟酒不动！我入了“理门”。入理门，烟酒都不准动；一旦破戒，必走背运。所以我不但戒了嗜好，而且入了理门；背运在那儿 等着我，我怎肯再犯戒呢？这点心胸与硬气，如今想起来，还是由学徒得来的。多大的苦处我都能忍受。初一戒烟戒酒，看着别人吸，别人饮，多么难过呢！心里真 象有一千条小虫爬挠那么痒痒触触的难过。但是我不能破戒，怕走背运。其实背运不背运的，都是日后的事，眼前的罪过可是不好受呀！硬挺，只有硬挺才能成功， 怕走背运还在其次。我居然挺过来了，因为我学过徒，受过排练呀！
提到我的手艺来，我也觉得学徒三年的光阴并没白费了。凡是一门手艺，都得随时改良，方法是 死的，运用可是活的。三十年前的瓦匠，讲究会磨砖对缝，作细工儿活；现在，他得会用洋灰和包镶人造石什么的。三十年前的木匠，讲究会雕花刻木，现在得会造 洋式木器。我们这行也如此，不过比别的行业更活动。我们这行讲究看见什么就能糊什么。比方说，人家落了丧事，教我们糊一桌全席，我们就能糊出鸡鸭鱼肉来。 赶上人家死了未出阁的姑娘，教我们糊一全份嫁妆，不管是四十八抬，还是三十二抬，我们便能由粉罐油瓶一直糊到衣橱穿衣镜。眼睛一看，手就能模仿下来，这是 我们的本事。我们的本事不大，可是得有点聪明，一个心窟窿的人绝不会成个好裱糊匠。
这样，我们作活，一边工作也一边游戏，仿佛是。我们的成败全仗着怎么把各色的纸调动的合 适，这是耍心路的事儿。以我自己说，我有点小聪明。在学徒时候所挨的打，很少是为学不上活来，而多半是因为我有聪明而好调皮不听话。我的聪明也许一点也显 露不出来，假若我是去学打铁，或是拉大锯——老那么打，老那么拉，一点变动没有。幸而我学了裱糊匠，把基本的技能学会了以后，我便开始自出花样，怎么灵巧 逼真我怎么作。有时候我白费了许多工夫与材料，而作不出我所想到的东西，可是这更教我加紧的去揣摸，去调动，非把它作成不可。这个，真是个好习惯。有聪 明，而且知道用聪明，我必须感谢这三年的学徒，在这三年养成了我会用自己的聪明的习惯。诚然，我一辈子没作过大事，但是无论什么事，只要是平常人能作的， 我一礁就能明白个五六成。我会砌墙，栽树，修理钟表，看皮货的真假，合婚择日，知道五行八作的行活上诀窍……这些，我都没学过，只凭我的眼去看，我的手去 试验；我有勤苦耐劳与多看多学的习惯；这个习惯是在冥衣铺学徒三年养成的。到如今我才明白过来——我已是快饿死的人了！——假若我多读上几年书，只抱着书 本死啃，象那些秀才与学堂毕业的人们那样，我也许一辈子就糊糊涂涂的下去，而什么也不晓得呢！裱糊的手艺没有给我带来官职和财产，可是它让我活的很有趣； 穷，但是有趣，有点人味儿。
刚二十多岁，我就成为亲友中的重要人物了。不因为我有钱与身分，而是因为我办事细心，不辞 劳苦。自从出了师，我每天在街口的茶馆里等着同行的来约清帮忙。我成了街面上的人，年轻，利落，懂得场面。有人来约，我便去作活；没人来约，我也闲不住： 亲友家许许多多的事都托咐我给办，我甚至于刚结过婚便给别人家作媒了。
给别人帮忙就等于消遣。我需要一些消遣。为什么呢？前面我已说过：我们这行有两种活，烧活 和白活。作烧活是有趣而干净的，白活可就不然了。糊顶棚自然得先把旧纸撕下来，这可真够受的，没作过的人万也想不到顶棚上会能有那么多尘土，而且是日积月 累攒下来的，比什么土都干，细，钻鼻子，撕完三间屋子的棚，我们就都成了土鬼。及至扎好了称秸，糊新纸的时候，新银花纸的面子是又臭又挂鼻子。尘土与纸面 子就能教人得痨病——现在叫作肺病。我不喜欢这种活儿。可是，在街上等工作，有人来约就不能拒绝，有什么活得干什么活。应下这种活儿，我差不多老在下边裁 纸递纸抹浆糊，为的是可以不必上“交手”，而且可以低着头干活儿，少吃点土。就是这样，我也得弄一身灰，我的鼻子也得象烟筒。作完这么几天活，我愿意作点 别的，变换变换。那么，有亲友托我办点什么，我是很乐意帮忙的。
再说呢，作烧活吧，作白活吧，这种工作者与人们的喜事或丧事有关系。熟人们找我定活，也往 往就手儿托我去讲别项的事，如婚丧事的搭棚，讲执事，雇厨子，定车马等等。我在这些事儿中渐渐找出乐趣，晓得如何能捏住巧处，给亲友们既办得漂亮，又省些 钱，不能窝窝囊囊的被人捉了“大头”。我在办这些事儿的时候，得到许多经验，明白了许多人情，久而久之，我成了个很精明的人，虽然还不到三十岁。