When the train pulled in to Bao Shung we and the Raus had the advantage that our luggage was already near one of the carriage doors. Rau Wang and his brother Rau Mung were able to get their suitcases off the train, then have Rau Wang go back to help his mother with the younger children. I know that’s what they did because Master Que had me mind our suitcases on the platform beside Rau Mung while he went off to do something for five minutes or so that turned into about ten. He came back to find me being introduced to Madam Rau and the younger Rau children. Rau Ying, who was the oldest girl at about ten, had actually worked out who I was because she knew Master Que’s natural name as well as his professional one, and asked me for an autograph. I was awkwardly flattered because, of course, I couldn’t do things like that yet.
I was trying to explain why when Master Que returned. I’d just gotten out, “I’m not allowed to yet,” and I could see Rau Ying was about to ask me why. Some expressions must be common in younger siblings.
Master Que said in a no-nonsense fashion, “My student doesn’t yet have her professional name so she has nothing to sign, as yet. If she were an amateur fighter then she could give you an autograph using her natural name, but as a professional fighter that would be inappropriate.” Rau Ying looked crestfallen and Master Que, who had missed the explanation asked, “How did you know who she is? I’m quite sure there have been no photos of her whole face published.”
“Well,” Rau Ying explained again, “I saw the card that you gave our mother and I thought your name was familiar. Then, when I woke up just before we got here, I remembered that Que Tze is the natural name of Shui Tzu Dan and I know you have a student who’s doing really well this year. Miss Sung is the only person you’re travelling with and she’s the right size and a girl…,” Rau Ying trailed off nervously before finishing, “and the rest of it was just being sensible.”
“A scholar would call that logic and be proud of himself,” Master Que told her, “and you should be too.”
Madam Rau was looking around as if looking for someone and said, “Has anyone seen your aunt or uncle? One of them was going to meet us here so we wouldn’t get lost on the way to their place.”
Rae Mung asked, “Wouldn’t they be looking for us down at the second class carriages? We did tell them that was how we were travelling.”
“You’re right,” his mother nodded. “I should have remembered that. Now, let’s get moving so as not to keep your aunt or uncle waiting.” She bowed quickly to Master Que and added, “A pleasure to have met you and your student, sir, and I am sorry for your inconvenience.” She moved the family off so quickly that I barely had a chance to say good bye.
Master Que smiled and, when the Raus were out of earshot, commented, “No doubt Madam Rau hopes to clear the platform before the conductor and his superior can corner her to pay for the upgrade to their tickets.”
I admit that I’d forgotten that point. “Can they afford that?”
“Probably not,” replied Master Que carelessly, “but when I was negotiating our discount voucher for our inconvenience, I may have paid for the boys’ upgrade in full as adults. Out of my money, of course, and I might have reminded the conductor that they went through the same inconveniences. Madam Rau may not have too much to reimburse the railway for after all.”
I looked at Master Que and commented, “It occurs to me, sir, that you can be remarkably kind hearted.” When he started to object, I added, “You took me on, didn’t you? Besides, one thing you have taught me is that kind hearted and good hearted are not at all the same thing as soft hearted.”
He looked at me and nodded. “Yes, they’re not.” He flexed his shoulders and went on, “But it can be so much fun when the venal confuse the two. Let’s go find ourselves a hotel room.” He picked up his suitcases, “And we should really try and watch one or two of the boys’ bouts during the tournament. Out of politeness, of course.”
“Of course,” I agreed, and with that we went to find a hotel room.
Fortunately we had arrived early in the week so we were able to get rooms in Master Que’s first choice of hotel and he was able to get us exclusive use of a practice room in Master Lin’s school. While Master Que was negotiating with Master Lin, I went to the post office and updated my mailing address. I saw several more gi fighters in the lobby of our hotel when Master Que and I returned to get ready for dinner after conducting our business and more again when we went out to eat.
I was wearing one of my brocade jackets, because we were going to one of those establishments Master Que had a silent partnership in, and a man I didn’t recognise whistled at me before suggesting that I spend the evening with him. Master Que looked him up and down, then told me, “Ignore him, he’s a sponsorless amateur and not a potential patron. I doubt that anything about him compensates for that.”
The man was still being ribbed by his companions when Master Que swept me out of the lobby.
We ate at the Celestial Lotus that night. We began with a selection of steamed dumplings, followed that with spring rolls and money bags, and then shared three plates of vegetables, tofu and lamb respectively. Our table was a respectable one and we were able to see the evening’s comings and goings from where we sat. The best tables had a view over a small private garden that ran alongside the dining room and gave the diners there not only a pleasant view but a little more privacy as they were not completely surrounded by other tables. Master Que quietly told me that the garden was actually there to satisfy a local planning ordinance about how much of the block could be occupied by buildings. Knowing that, it was quite amusing to see several gentlemen negotiating with open wallets to get one of those tables.
The other diners tonight were mainly locals, although one of the open wallet negotiators seemed to be hosting a group of foreign business men. I’d never seen so many foreigners together before and, although I tried not to, I’m afraid I probably stared. They all wore similar suits, which were dark without actually being black, over pale shirts – except for the one man whose shirt was royal blue. Their shoes looked almost normal being, as far as I could tell, black leather, but they all wore a coloured strip of silk tied around their necks, under their shirt collars, and falling down the front of their shirts almost to waist level – I assumed it was purely decorative. Seen in a group, it was clear that their eyes really were almond shaped and even from the distance we were at I could see that some of their eyes were very pale in colour. Because they were fully dressed there was no way of telling if they were really hairier than the Khem, not that I would have wanted to see any of them undressed, but one of them had such silver hair that, until he turned around and I caught a glimpse of his face, I’d thought he was an old man.
Master Que, meantime, was much more interested in a table of gi referees dining together at the really good end of the garden–view tables. “Lau Yang, Chau Kong, Dee Hua and Han Tsu plus, I suspect, the local senior officials. I’d give a great deal to know what they’re talking about – I wish my lip reading skills were better.” Unspoken was the assumption that using gi to eavesdrop on that group would not only be bad manners but A Very Bad Idea.
“If it affects us, then I’m sure we’ll find out about it at the tournament,” I offered prosaically.
“I’m sure we will,” replied Master Que, “but some things are useful to know in advance.”
“Yes, but when it’s things like exam questions then that’s cheating.” I smiled at him.
“True.” Master Que sighed. “Well, perhaps I’ll get a karma bonus for containing my curiosity.” He surveyed the table. “Do we want a sweet to finish off?”
I considered then answered, “I’ve had enough to eat, thank you.”
“So have I. Let’s pay and leave then, shall we?” And so we left the Celestial Lotus with the two groups that had occupied our attention still at their tables.
The next four days fell into our usual pattern of training, now taking into account the additional hazards I would face if I reached the national tournament, eating out and relaxing. Breakfast was provided at our hotel and as the week went on there were more and more gi fighters in residence. From the conversations I overheard in the breakfast bar there were no more practice rooms to be had for love or money in Bao Shung by two days before the tournament. Lunch was at one of two little places near Master Lin’s training school, depending on which had seats available when we were ready to eat. After the Celestial Lotus, dinner was at the vegetarian Righteous Bowl, a selection of stalls at the weekly night market, the Golden Monkey with their peach-themed menu, and the Illustrated Manticore which specialized in food introduced by the foreign invasion.
It was at the Illustrated Manticore that we ran into the foreigners again. This time they seemed to be hosting their local associate but he was having to translate for them so he was hardly acting the part of a guest. I noticed that this time one of the foreigners, the one who’d had the blue shirt the last time, had his neck strip of material tied in a neat bow. They, like us, had opted for the barbeque meal and so they were sitting opposite us on the tables that formed a square around the chef and the barbeque plate. Under the circumstances I did my best to confine my attention to Master Que and the food. That became more difficult after they sent us a bottle of spirits.
Master Que allowed the waiter to pour him a small glass, about a teacup’s worth but I declined, saying, “Please thank them for the kind thought, but I‘m in the tournament tomorrow and I don’t dare indulge.” I added a seated bow across the table for good measure. The foreigners waved back except for a curly haired one who tried to bow instead, and didn’t make too bad an attempt at it. Two of the foreigners kept making drinking motions at me until the waiter spoke to their local guest and he spoke to his foreign hosts. There was then some discussion on their side of the table and, the restaurant being too full for conversation across the square to be polite, some note scribbling by the local business man.
When it was delivered I showed it, and it was beautifully written, to Master Que. It read, “Which division? Amateur female, eighteen years?”
My response, unfortunately not as beautifully written, was simply, “Open professional.”
I thought that the local business man looked impressed when he read my response and his companions suddenly seemed more serious after he spoke to them. His final note, and I’m sure he could have won prizes for his calligraphy, read, “Some of them have watched C-grade cage fight movies, and one of them in particular seems to be an aficionado of the genre. I may be some time explaining the difference between cage fights and the national professional tournament system. May I tell them your name?”
Master Que wrote our reply. It read, “Good luck with your explanation! You may tell them that she is my student.” Naturally he signed it with his professional name.
We were getting up to go then as we’d eaten enough and wanted me to get an earlyish night before the tournament in the morning. I thought the local business man looked very impressed, and when he took a second look at Master Que, my teacher smiled and bowed in acknowledgement. A few minutes later outside Master Que added to me, “You realise that we may just have made that poor man’s night? I think he’s finding being their guest a lot of hard work.”
I remarked, “They did seem to need him to talk for them, didn’t they?”
“Perhaps they couldn’t get a professional translator,” suggested Master Que. “Or didn’t think they needed one because he speaks their language.”
“Or maybe he was the one who thought a translator wouldn’t be needed,” I offered. “It can’t be cheap, having someone around all the time for something like that.”
“Possibly,” agreed Master Que, “but I doubt we’ll see any of them again, so we can put the subject out of our minds and clear our thoughts for tomorrow.” I agreed and we made our way back to the hotel and our beds.
We were out of bed and down for breakfast early the next morning. Even so we didn’t beat the rush; all the journalists and the other gi fighters were down to breakfast early too. However, most of us were leaving by the time the fans in residence started arriving for their meal and I, at least, was amused that the only person who managed to get themselves bailed up by a fan was a veteran sports journalist. I’m afraid everyone abandoned him to the remorseless questioning of someone’s sister who, from what I heard, wanted to become an investigative journalist – she was still at it when we left the hotel for the stadium so it seems she had the persistence for her desired profession.
It became clear when we reached the stadium, having put on our masks as we passed through an alley several blocks away, that this was going to be the largest tournament I’d been in so far. There were separate entrances for the professional and amateur competitors, in fact there were two entrances for the amateur competitors, as well as multiple entrances for the audience. Once inside, I discovered that entry was more a matter of getting your name crossed off the list as everyone had already stated that they were coming. They had even preassigned the changing rooms and I was happy simply to have a clean and convenient one even if it was a little small, but they might all have been like that.
Once I was changed I didn’t have long to wait for my first bout as they were running three rings in the open professional division and I was in one of the first set of three bouts. I’m not sure what my Qianting opponent thought he was doing, but he had some glaring holes in his guard and I defeated him in three moves. From his reaction I think he had expected that his next move would win the match for him, but that, I’m afraid, was his problem. After that I settled down with Master Que to see how the rest of the round went because they were doing random opponent matching for the second round and I had no idea who I might face next. What that told me was that my competition was formidable, and that I had absolutely no desire to lose.
Which is not quite the same thing as a desire to win. I had that too, but it wasn’t my strongest emotion on the day.
The ranks of the professional competitors were divided between the four gi schools in approximately the relative proportion of each school’s adherents in the general population. That told me that fighter ability and not the relative strengths and weaknesses of each school was the important factor here. Gender distribution too indicated that fighter gender wasn’t a factor in determining who was here. As the first round progressed it seemed to me that the winners were either fighters of greater ability and/or those who could think on their feet and react fastest. Anyone who took their opponent for granted for any reason seemed to face a guaranteed loss. My first opponent might have assumed he could set up my defeat at his leisure, but none of my future opponents were going to make that mistake.
This is followed by Surprises At The Provincial Tournament.