Please let me know if the font for Nai's letter is hard to read.
Madam Sung Fen returned from the post office carrying a sealed and wrapped box. She put it down on the black lacquered sideboard with lattice doors that stood in the hallway outside her husband’s study, regarded it pensively for a few moments and then went to get things done before her daughter Sung Ruh brought the younger children home from the movie they’d gone to see. It took her a great deal of willpower, but she did not return to the box on the sideboard until her husband, Scholar Sung Kao had returned home.
She took him his customary cup of tea as he sat at his study desk to go through the day’s mail and as she set it before him she said, “I collected that registered parcel today, the one that Hu and Ruh weren’t allowed to pick up for us.”
“Oh,” her husband looked up, interested, “what was in it?”
“I don’t know,” she sat down opposite him. “I haven’t opened it.”
He raised a scholarly eyebrow and asked, “Why not? It’s supposedly addressed to both of us.”
“It’s from Nai, and it’s addressed to both of us.”
Scholar Sung put down the cup of tea he’d just picked up and said, “Ah. I agree. It would be wise if we looked at it together.”
“I’ll get it then,” she replied, and Madam Sung went out into the hallway to fetch the parcel from their daughter. When she returned, she put the parcel on the desk before she sat down and observed, “It was mailed from the capital.”
“What could she have sent us that requires this level of security?” Scholar Sung regarded the wrapped box with some ambivalence. “I suppose we’ll just have to open it to find out.” He picked up his letter opener, considered the paper and seals before him and asked, “Shall I do the honours?”
“I think this would be a good place to start,” his wife pointed out a crisply folded corner of paper held down by both paper and wax post office seals on one end of the box.
The letter opener made short work of the parcel’s seals and they were left looking at an ordinary cardboard mailing box. Scholar Sung took a deep breath and opened it. Inside were clear, plastic bags containing red money envelopes that had been stamped with felicitous designs before having traditional New Year greetings brushed onto them in gold ink. Resting on top of the bags of red envelopes was a white, mulberry paper, letter-sized envelope addressed, in the blackest of black ink, to “Father and Mother.”
“We’d better read it,” said Scholar Sung as he picked it up.
“Together,” agreed Madam Sung as he carefully slit it open with the letter opener.
Dear Father and Mother,
I remain safe and well, and I trust that you and everyone else at home do too.
Although I had expected that I would return home for the New Year holiday, it is now not possible for me to do so. I was fortunate enough to receive a tertiary school place in the final sweep offers; however the location of the school I will be attending is such that I do not have time to return to Jingshi before going there and still be able to properly organise my accommodation and registration before the tertiary school year commences.
Consequently, I forward both my apologies and regrets for my absence, along with the red money packets I have prepared for everyone. I would be grateful if you could distribute them on my behalf – each plastic bag has a list of the people the envelopes in that bag are intended for.
Once I have organised accommodation close to my tertiary school, I will send you a remittance so that you can forward my books, the piece of calligraphy from my bedroom wall, and my poster of Tai Ru Jin to me.
If you need to contact me, I can be reached at my post office forwarding address.
As always, I wish you both good health, good luck and much happiness throughout the coming year.
Your loving daughter,
“Your loving daughter,” observed Scholar Sung. “No mention of ‘obedient’ or ‘dutiful’ daughter.”
Madam Sung observed, “There’s not been much for her in that, has there?” She sighed. “And she didn’t ask us to send on her birthday presents. Of course, after the last few years, why would she even think there might be presents?” No need to mention to her husband, of all people, that the empty bed upstairs was still covered in unopened gifts.
“She hasn’t told us where she’s gotten a tertiary place or in what course,” continued Nai’s father.
“Well,” Madam Sung said sharply, not quite snapping at her husband, “after you made such a big fuss about a school that still had places open for the final sweep of offers not being good enough for one of your children, what would you expect?”
“For her to come home and let me find her a husband! A sensible man in his middle years to go with her birth prediction because that’s what will make her happy.” Scholar Sung snapped back his answer. “Why wouldn’t she want that?”
“Because she’s not ready yet?” Madam Sung looked at her husband with exasperation. “I wouldn’t want to not be married to you. There have been problems at times, of course, and I had my heart broken at least once before I met you-.”
Scholar Sung interrupted, “I intend to spare her that, at least!”
“Spare her from growing and growing up?” Madam Sung shook her head, “At her age only three or four years makes a tremendous difference. It would be one thing if we were looking at a boy at much the same stage of development that Nai’s at, but I don’t think I’d want any girl to marry a man of the age you have in mind who’s prepared to marry someone who doesn’t know who she is yet herself.”
“Then you’re pleased that I’ve met with no success so far.” He sounded hurt.
“I think that shows you’ve been looking at men with the right sort of character,” Madam Sung smiled at him, “even if prematurely. Also, there’s nothing wrong with acquiring a knowledge of the available possibilities – it’s called research.”
She didn’t mention it but she did wonder how Nai had earned the money to be able to put together red money packets for what looked like the entire family. Perhaps the gi fighting friend she was travelling with was paying her a small stipend for being an aide or assistant? A few low value notes to everyone was a generous gesture but, when she saw Nai next, she might have to talk to her about the importance of saving some of her money for future problems.
This is now followed by Scenes From A New Year's Party.