Sung Ruh was home from running errands to get herself ready for the new secondary school year. She wasn’t sure how Nai had managed glide through her last year of school without anyone realising what she was doing, because everyone seemed to know Ruh’s business and what she should be doing, right down to the last second – her father had even written her out a schedule. Sometimes it was enough to make her want to pull her hair out in frustration. Then she’d look around her room, freshly redecorated after her responsibility ceremony, and think how hurt Nai must have been, think that no-one would even consider that she might like to have pretty things, or simply new things, too. It was also entirely possible that everyone was overcompensating for Nai on the wrong person.
Her interview today with Mr Heng, although scheduled by her father, had contained a surprise. The tutor she and all her siblings but Nai had been sent to, had looked at the proposed schedule her father had sent along, put it down to one side and said, “We will, of course, go over all the mandatory sections of the curriculum, and we will at least consider your father’s wishes but we need to work with your strengths and interests this year to get the best results. Now, your brother Hu, for instance, studied more maths and physical sciences than your father ever intended. You may not wish to deviate from the subjects that your father has laid out here, but in the elective sections there is a much broader range of options than your father seems to have considered. For instance, there were more than three poets writing in the Ma Zung style and you could consider studying the Chomeng school or the Hai Mah movement instead of Ma Zung.”
“Won’t my elective modules depend on what my teachers decide to teach?” Ruh had been paying attention in her selective high school’s information sessions.
“Scholar Sung will not be the only parent determined to steer their child’s education that your teachers will have to deal with this year,” replied Mr Heng calmly. “Also, you can never have too many relevant examples from across the range of electives, as long as you can answer the relevant question in depth.”
Ruh had left Mr Heng’s office after promising to consider what she wanted to study in this, her final school year and picked up a copy of the Jingshi Evening Chronicle on her way home. Her father didn’t get it but it had half a day more than the morning papers to consolidate the gi results and Ruh wanted to know who’d made it into the provincial tournament – she hadn’t made it into the regionals herself but her brother Jin, this year’s family twelve year old, had made it through the regional tournament to the provincial level and she wanted to know who he’d be facing. She flipped the paper over to open it from the back page where the major sports headlines were, turned over back page, and took the paper to the phone so she could call her sister Kae.
As she expected, Kae was home from work by now and picked up their phone almost straight away. “Hi, Kae? It’s Ruh. Do you have today’s Evening Chronicle?”
“Hello, Ruh. Yes, I do. Why?” Kae was clearly puzzled.
“Have you looked at it yet?”
“Why, no. I haven’t had a chance to.” Kae was still puzzled.
“That’s fine,” Ruh assured her. “Just get it now and bring it to the phone, will you?”
“All right, I’ll just be a minute.” Kae put down the phone and was back again in a few moments. “Right, I’ve got it. Now what?”
“Turn it over and open up the back page,” Ruh instructed.
“I’ve done that.” Kae still didn’t know what Ruh was on about.
“Look at the photo on the facing page,” Ruh was trying not to be impatient.
“The caption says ‘Retired former national gi champion Shui Tzu Dan and his protégé arriving in Kwailong for the final professional regional rounds.’ He looks rather villainous and she looks surprisingly elegant. Old fashioned, but elegant. Those boots oughtn’t to work, but they do.”
“Kae!” Ruh let her impatience show because her eldest sister was missing the point. “I think that’s Nai!”
“Nai?” There was a pause, presumably while Kae looked at the picture again. “Do you think so? You can only see the lower third of her face because of the umbrella’s angle.”
“That’s why I wanted a second opinion!”
“Apparently I’m not a very good one,” observed Kae drily. “You might be better off asking Hu’s opinion, or Tsu,” she named their fourteen year old brother.
“If you think so.” Ruh added hesitantly, “I didn’t want to show our parents.”
“If it’s Nai, where did she get the money for the boots and that coat from? I’ve seen coats like that for sale and they cost more than my school clothes for this year put together.”
There was silence from the other end of the phone for a moment. “Good point. Don’t raise it with the parents and do ask Hu’s opinion. Call me back after the two of you have talked.”
“Okay, I’ll ask Hu.” They said their good byes and hung up the phone.
“All right,” said Hu from behind Ruh, “ask me what?”
This is followed by Hu's Opinion.