In the morning we had breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. I was amazed that Master Que didn’t smoke through the meal, but he did drink a great deal of tea. Afterwards he sent me on a walking tour of the city’s central parks while he went to the police station to give his statement. We were to meet up for lunch at little place he knew and he carefully marked its location on the map I got from reception.
The weather was good, there was no mention of me in the newspaper except for a small line in the sports section that “Student of Shui Tzu Dan” had won the professional open division in a minor weekend gi tournament, and the riverside public gardens of Lanchow really are very charming. It was almost a guilty pleasure to set my own pace and path through them, having neither to keep up nor slow down to stay with a group. Being on my own I got to decide which of the diversions I would divert to look at more closely and I spent a very happy half hour at a tea shop beside a fishpond stocked with multicoloured carp. The wind chimes on the Red Bridge also caught my attention.
By the time I reached the Sunflower Moon, the little restaurant Master Que had suggested for lunch, I was ready to eat. I was also ready to Question Master Que’s sense of proportion because the Sunflower Moon was three stories tall and occupied half the block. The line out the front door extended halfway to the corner. Most of the people in the line were dressed up for an occasion. I had serious doubts that we would be eating here.
Then Master Que was at my elbow. “Come along,” he said, and knocked the ash off his cigarette. “I’m ready for my lunch.” He led me across the road, dropped his cigarette in the gutter, and marched straight up the stairs, ignoring the queue. He went in through the doors and stopped at the hostess’ desk. She was doing something with cards and a seating plan while the family at the head of the line waited patiently. Master Que said firmly, “My usual table please, Madam Kwong.”
She looked up startled and the patient family’s adults looked indignant. “Master Que.” She bowed. “We are honoured by your presence. Your table will be prepared at once.” She rang a hand bell and a waiter appeared. “Luk, please escort Master Que and his guest to his balcony.”
The black clad waiter took us up the stairs to the third floor and across the bustling dining room to a set of glass double doors that opened onto an open balcony that gave the dining room a view of the mountains to the west. Out on the elaborate tiling of the balcony floor two more waiters were just finishing setting up a table for two. “This way please,” chirruped our escort as he held the glass doors open. I followed Master Que out onto the balcony and we were seated at the table. Tea for us to drink, an ashtray for Master Que and a card were all produced in rapid succession.
The point of the card was that that the food was brought around on trolleys. As the trolley went past you asked for a plate of food if there was something you wanted to eat on it. If you took a plate of food, then your card was stamped in the appropriate price category on the card. At the end of the meal your bill was worked out by the number of stamps in each section of your card. It was a very popular arrangement as the queue at the front of the Sunflower Moon showed.
“Master Que,” I asked quietly as the first trolley went back inside and we divided up the spring rolls between us, “why did you just walk up to the front desk? Why weren’t we sent to the back of the line?”
“I’m half owner of the business.” Master Que had his crisp pastry-wrapped rolls and was mixing his little bowl of dipping sauce to his own taste. “Naturally I’m a silent partner but while I don’t eat here for free our arrangement guarantees me a table straight away whenever I do eat here.”
“Oh.” I was surprised. I hadn’t really thought about Master Que’s finances and I suppose I had assumed he was living on what he received in students’ fees. Of course that didn’t make any sense when I considered how few students I’d ever seen him teach.
“I invested most of my tournament earnings in property and in businesses like this one,” he explained as he picked up his first spring roll with his chopsticks. “I receive enough in return to keep me comfortably and provide as many cigarettes and as much tea or whatever as I want. We’ll get an account started for you tomorrow when the banks are open.”
“Won’t I need identification for that?” I had visions of being hauled home once I proved my identity to a bank’s satisfaction.
“You’re old enough not to need a counter signature on your account and you won’t need a guarantor unless you take out a loan. All you need to do is apply for a tax file number when you open the account. They can both be under “Student of Shui Tzu Dan”. You can change the name of the account and attach both your real and professional names to the tax file later.” He smiled at me. “The Tax Office doesn’t care what name or how many of them you pay tax under as long as you pay tax on all your income.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t expected it to be that simple.
“I wouldn’t suggest you try to buy property before you turn eighteen,” Master Que advised me, “or enter into a business partnership because officials will get fussy, but getting yourself a bank account shouldn’t be a problem.”
We ate companionably for the rest of the meal with only light conversation revolving around the food and the view. When we were finishing off our tea at the end, Master Que’s business partner emerged from the kitchen and they had a discussion about the quarterly profit. I admit that I tuned their business talk out and looked at the view while I drank my tea. Fortunately I paid enough attention to be able to bid him a polite good bye when their conversation was over.
Conversation over and tea gone, we made our way back downstairs with our stamped card to pay our bill. As we left there were still people waiting to get in. It seemed the Sunflower Moon was very popular and with their food I thought they deserved to be.
“Now we will go to the practice room I have hired for us,” announced Master Que as we went down the steps of the restaurant. “We have a few things to go over after yesterday and you need to prepare for the tournament in the middle of the week.”
The practice room was attached to a gi school only a few blocks from our hotel. Its entrance was separate to that of the school itself so I got the impression that it and the other, similar rooms along that separate back corridor had been built specifically to be rented out. This afternoon ours was the only one in use and we worked through until early evening. We methodically went through the challenges of the previous day’s tournament and worked out how my responses could have been better. Then Master Que ran me through my standard forms and I finished off by trying out an idea I had for duplicating the attack the thief had used on the train. By the time that was done it was time for dinner.
We ate on the way back to the hotel in a little hole in the wall place that served dumpling soup and steamed buns. The food was as good as the Sunflower Moon’s. We went back to our rooms at the hotel, I showered and then I slept. In my dreams that night I was running away from something, trying not to be found. I think I was looking for something too.
In the morning after breakfast Master Que took me to the Lanchow branch of his bank, the Vault of Industrious Diligence. As he said, they were happy to open an account for me based on my tax file application and my money, although we did keep back enough for expenses. The bank issued me with an account book and a chop, or account seal, and there I was. I wasn’t worried that there wasn’t very much in the account but I was pleased that I had one.
After we were finished at the bank we went back to the practice room and to work. This time the other practice rooms were in use as well. We broke for lunch and Master Que took me to another little place for eat, this one tucked into the side of an alley. I didn’t see anyone from the other practice rooms until the gi master we were renting from came round to lock up. I let Master Que exchange pleasantries with them while I hung back. Frankly I found them a bit intimidating without my mask. Fortunately they seemed to think I was showing proper deference.
They were all older than me by almost a decade and all were male. There were a pair of brothers who were built like oxen and were using the last room on the corridor. In the room between them and us was a sharp-faced man who reminded me of a knife. In the room nearest the door was another pair, one made out of whipcord and the other looked like he was made of jelly. They all knew each other and it took Master Que only a few minutes to establish that none of them were entering the professional open division the day after next. It was a professional tournament with no amateur competition but there was more than one professional competition. As well as the competition that awarded points towards access to the provincial level competitions there was a round of an ongoing provincially-based and beer company sponsored professional gi league plus a local round of a televised league.
That was something I hadn’t expected and it worried me but Master Que didn’t seem surprised at all. He declined an invitation to dinner with the other fighters and took me to a tea house. Dinner was a chicken dish with garlic rice and lots of tea. Afterwards we went back to the hotel then I showered and slept. I tried to talk to Master Que about the television cameras but he assured me that it wasn’t going to be a problem. “The television crews will only be interested in the league they’ll be there to film,” he told me between sips of tea. “In some ways their presence means there will be less chance of being unexpectedly filmed because there will be less chance of other cameras roaming around. We will keep our masks on in the public areas and that should suffice.”
We went back to the training room for the day, well I thought it would be for the day, but Master Que finished us up halfway through the afternoon and took me on another walk through the central parks. Dinner was in another little side street place then we went back to the hotel, collected our clean laundry then I, at least, showered and went to bed.
The only dream I remembered of the night was the one where I wasn’t allowed to enter the tournament because I was naked except for my mask.
I was up early the next morning and we went to breakfast as soon as the restaurant opened. I tried to read the paper but I couldn’t concentrate and had to give up. Master Que read right through it and seemed to find something of particular interest at the back of the news pages. I was too preoccupied with running over my best opening moves for each school of opponent to make conversation.
We didn’t check out of the hotel before leaving for the tournament because we were staying one more night and getting another train in the morning. It was only a short, brisk walk to the tournament venue from the hotel and we put our masks on while we went down the alley along the venue’s wall. This time I was one of the first to register. We got my change room key, the room was another concrete box, and I changed into my dama and tabaki. After that we went and looked at the entrant lists for all three competitions.
Registration was almost over and no-one else from my first tournament was on any of the lists. That was good from my point of view because I believed that being an unknown quantity was more of an advantage for me than for my opponents. The professional open division had the smallest entrant pool of the three which also seemed like a good thing, until I found out who was in it. Mature fighters was an understatement. They were experienced, skilled and knew exactly what they were doing. I walked out onto the floor for my first match expecting to be a lamb to the slaughter. My first opponent had a mask that was as elaborate as Master Que’s.
He got me a blow to the side of the head early in the piece and my recollection of the bout, indeed the rest of the day, is slightly spotty. I do remember that I used my new darts. After the bout the doctor took a long look at me but he allowed me to continue. The mask on my next opponent was just as elaborate as the one on the first. It was another hard bout but I didn’t get a rap across the side of the head again and I managed to win – I remember feeling that I’d pulled it off by the skin of my teeth. Master Que had the doctor take another look at me at the end of the bout and again I was allowed to continue. Bout three was against a dragon-faced mask, every scale beautifully detailed, and I managed to bundle him out of the ring with my shadow tentacles. With much less personal embarrassment to my opponent this time.
My final opponent was another Hoshun, the first I’d ever faced in a tournament. He was probably twice my size, which doesn’t matter in a gi bout but it was still intimidating. He was also very, very good. We rippled the floor at each other and both managed to dodge. Jumping really didn’t help my head. We exchanged dust whips and shadow balls, which both of us dodged or blocked, then he tried to use shadow tentacles on me. I used my new darts on the tentacles as they reached for me and the tentacles dissipated into black mist before they disappeared completely, while the darts embedded themselves in the floor. There was a noise from the audience but I was too busy to pay it much attention. I meant to send a blast of dust and shadow at him next but I crooked my fingers just a little wrong and sent a blast of pure energy at him instead.
It was sloppy and untidy work. It wasn’t pretty, as I’d told my grandmother my colour, the colour I manifested pure energy in, is a dark olive sludge. It also worked. It hit him before he could get a shield up, he fitted and then collapsed. The referee called the bout in my favour and the doctor hurried across to him. Fortunately my opponent sat up after a few minutes and was able to stand after a few minutes more. Both of us spent the time between the end of our fight and the presentations in the behind-the-scenes clinic under the eagle eyes of the doctor and Master Que. I can’t speak for my opponent, the honourable Hu Xi Lu as he is known professionally, but I felt better for lying down quietly until the leagues were finished. Hu Xi Lu was kind enough to assure me that he was fine.
The two leagues had a lot more theatrics to their presentation than my competition and they did rather stretch on. The audience had begun to leave before we even reached the podium but I couldn’t blame them, it was getting towards evening and tomorrow was a work day. Lack of an audience didn’t stop me getting my prize purse and my points though, and once I had handed my prize purse to Master Que for safe keeping we spent half an hour or so exchanging pleasantries with my opponents. I noticed the press, of course, but I assumed they were interested in the people I was speaking to.
We changed, went back to the hotel and left our gi kit then went to dinner at the Sunflower Moon, where we had an inside table this time. After dinner Master Que dragged me into a store that was just opening for the night, with an interesting mix of wares, and we bought me two new pairs of boots. Men’s military style walking boots, one pair old-fashioned and the other modern. Expensive but the work in them was worth it. Back at the hotel I showered and slept like a log.
Our train to the next tournament didn’t leave until just before lunch so we planned a relatively leisurely departure from the hotel. I did wonder what Master Que was smirking about when he knocked on my door so we could go downstairs. Then, at our table, breakfast in front of us, Master Que showed me the main headlines in the sports pages of the newspaper. They were all about me.