“Wow!” Sung Ming regarded the combined proceeds from the red money packets he’d received with all the unbridled enthusiasm of a seven year old. “I’ve got enough to get three of the medium-size kits or one of the big ones!”
“What sort of kit?” That was from his older brother, Sung Hu, who still lived at home because although he was at university, he was at Jingshi University so there was no point in him moving out. Older brother Hu was also the only one of his brothers who was also interested in the model kits that Ming liked. “One of the Metal Girders ones or more of those War Cat Battles models?”
“War Cats,” answered Ming. “Metal Girders is sold out everywhere, unless you can afford one of the supersets.” He grinned at his brother. “Even with Nai’s envelope, I didn’t get that much money. Besides, the models from the third season have just come out.”
“Nice,” his brother nodded appreciatively. “Which sizes are the Lightning Driver and the Guan-she?”
“The Lightning Driver’s a medium but the Guan-she is one of the big ones.” Ming scowled. “I’m going to have to choose because I can’t get both right now.”
“It will be character building for you,” Hu told his youngest brother piously before asking casually, “So, how much did you get from Nai?”
“Ten taels.” Ming gave a little happy dance. “The same as I got from Father and Mother, and more than I got from anyone else. I didn’t expect anything from Nai and she gave me most!”
“You must remember to thank her,” Hu told him.
“I will. Did she give you anything?” Ming suddenly looked worried, “Or should I not have asked? I know Ruh didn’t get so many packets this year because she’s older…”
“It’s all right,” Hu assured him, “I asked you first, remember? I should open mine now.” The young man opened the red envelop with his thumb, looked at the thin stack of blue-green notes inside it, and went still before he said, “She’s given me enough for at least half my textbooks for the coming year.”
Before Ming could say anything in reply, their eldest sibling, Kae, said loudly from the centre of the room near their parents, “Excuse me everyone, Jiang Ma and I have an announcement to make!”
Everyone turned to look and Kae’s husband, Jiang Ma, said, “As you may be aware, this New Year begins a very auspicious twelve months for us and we have decided to try to start a family.” He took a deep breath and added, “All being well, our first child should be born just after the Moon Festival.” The room dissolved into a congratulatory babble as the assembled family and connections surged towards the couple to offer their felicitations. Hu moved quickly to make sure that he was among the first to speak Kae. His brotherly kiss of congratulations on her cheek punctuated his quietly voiced advice, “Before you discuss what help you might need in setting up your nursery, you and Jiang Ma should check your red money envelopes from Nai.”
“You think so?” Kae shot Hu a sharp look, but pulled her envelope out of the pocket she’d shoved it into before handing around pieces of glutinous rice cake at her mother’s request, and opened it. She gasped and then reached out to tug at her husband’s sleeve. “Ma, open your packet from Nai.” When he looked at her, surprised that she’d interrupted while her oldest brother was speaking to him, she added, “Mine is in hundreds. Look in yours, please.”
Jiang Ma and Sung Chao looked at each other, then pulled out their envelopes from Nai and opened them. Kae and Hu’s eldest brother flicked through the small wad in his envelop in a practised move and gave a small whistle. “Five hundreds,” he said appreciatively. “Do either of you have any idea what our sister is up to that she can afford this?”
“I have a theory that I can’t prove,” Hu admitted quietly. “Let me gather a few more data points, then do some calculations. If they confirm what I’m thinking, I’ll be happy to share with you.”
“But not our honoured parents,” added Chao shrewdly after a glance at where their parents were being congratulated on their future grandparenthood.
“No,” agreed Hu. “I think it would be best for everyone if I leave that conversation to Nai.”
In a corner of the room, the Sung’s third daughter, Shu Hao, was speaking with her husband, Shu Qiu, and her mother-in-law. “No,” the older Madam Shu said firmly. “Your sister has very kindly remembered me as well, and I’ll buy the new rice cooker and dishes – that seems only fair since my hand tremors are the main reason that we need a new dinner service. You two combine your money with your savings, and you’ll have enough for a security deposit on a bigger flat.”
“But-,” began her son.
“No,” Madam Shu cut him off ruthlessly. “We all three of us know that your older brothers moved me into the room that was supposed to be your nursery almost before your honeymoon was over. We also know who pays for all my living and medical expenses, don’t we?”
Shu Qiu tried again, “But-.”
“Your brothers are fine fathers and husbands,” sailed on Madam Shu, “but frankly I think it’s a good thing they only have sons, given that they both have some of the less attractive traits shared by my father and father-in-law. So, we don’t tell them about this extra money and we only let them know we’re moving when we get the mail redirected.”
“Mother Shu!” Hao was frankly admiring.
“Your sister and the Jiangs have had their troubles – losing both his father and older brother that way – long slow illnesses are always hardest on the families, aren’t they? You two, on the other hand, are only afflicted by the effects of Shu Wa and Shu Ming’s highhandedness.”
As Madam Shu paused, her youngest son protested, “Mother! We don’t consider you a burden.”
She patted his hand and went on, “I’m very fond of my grandsons, and I’m sure that the two of you want a boy, but I am looking forward to the possibility of granddaughters.”
“We should look in the northern end of the University Quarter,” said Hao firmly. “Somewhere around the middle of Qian Laoshi Street where they still have the older apartment buildings.”
“But that’s where all the senior professors live!” Shu Qiu was practically spluttering.
“That’s the idea,” Shu Hao and her mother-in-law smiled each other and then at him. “We want them to think of you as one of them; they’re more likely to recommend you for a senior position of your own that way.”
Not much later Hu was bailed up again by his oldest brother, his oldest sister, her husband and their younger sister Ruh. “So,” said Kae determinedly, “you were going to collect data points.”
“And I have,” replied Hu quietly. “This isn’t the time or place to go into the details of my reasons, but I believe our sister Nai has just won the open professional division of the national gi championships.”
“You were right,” commented eldest brother Chao, “that is a conversation to leave to Nai and our parents.”
“We watched the televised matches,” added Kae, “and even knowing what you and Ruh thought earlier, I didn’t think the winner looked like Nai.” She turned to her husband and asked, “What did you think, Ma?”
Master Jiang Ma sighed and said softly, “I’ve never seen Nai fight, in fact I couldn’t have told you which school she belonged to before the other day, and the masks are supposed to add a level of anonymity to the proceedings. It could have been Nai, but do any of us know anything about her style? Even in the normal course of events we didn’t have much to do with her, I mean she’s fourteen years younger than Kae and eight years younger than Chao here.”
“But only two years younger than me and two years older than Ruh,” replied Hu grimly. “I still don’t understand how we managed to teach her to be so quiet and…separate.”
“We weren’t deliberately unkind,” said Kae ruefully. “Well hardly ever. Siblings and all that, but I wonder how often anyone was deliberately kind or interested-“
“Parents.” Chao cut her off with a hiss, then went on brightly, “It really is worth trying an idea out just the once. I mean, who would have thought that traditional critical analysis of northern texts would be a thing that people wanted to read? Particularly northerners, in translation of course.”
“Explaining your success, eldest son?” Scholar Sung smiled beneficently at his children. “Being able to find a niche and develop it is a most useful skill.” His face dropped, “Your mother and I are worried, however, about precisely what niche your sister Nai may have found for herself. She has been very generous, but your mother and I can think of no reasonable circumstances in which she would have access to such sums.”
“Sir, I’m sure there’s a perfectly appropriate explanation,” Jiang Ma said respectfully to his father-in-law. “I can’t imagine one of your daughters not being respectable.” He considered for a moment, “Or, ultimately, responsible. Did Nai give no clue as to what she’s up to when she sent the red money envelopes to you?”
“She said that she’s about to start tertiary school, but didn’t say where. We only have the general post office address to contact her.” Scholar Sung smiled sadly. “I do, however, know how to get the post office to tell us where she is. I’m afraid I might have to decide to do just that.”