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An Offer Is Made
Master Que
This follows on from A New City and comes in at 3,862 words. [Nai is over 99,000 words in total now...]

We went from the Association rooms to lunch at a local hole in the wall place that Master Kung recommended. After we both tackled what was described as a small summer fish plate, we went back to the hotel, Master Que to have a nap and me to pick up my admission paperwork and head off to the university to find my way around. Even though I didn’t actually intend to enrol that afternoon it did occur to me that if I found the admissions office, and they were open, and no-one else was there, then I’d kick myself if I didn’t have my paperwork.

I did find the Student Services building, the Earth Sciences Faculty offices and the Chancellor’s Office. Student Services was open and very glad that I hadn’t come looking for living accommodation. What they could help me with was a map of the campus and notes on what was open. The faculty were only available to students before lunch on weekdays and the Student Registration Office had been open for two hours that morning and would open again, for full time office hours, on the first day working day of the new week, otherwise known as the day after next. That was when the final gearing up to the beginning of the new academic year would happen.

It occurred to me that Mr Han was being very accommodating and I resolved to not be a difficult client if I could help it.

I found the Student Registration Office with the help of the map; it was in the backside house of the building that housed the Chancellor’s Office. The entire building was a courtyard house built on an official scale and if I read the signage, including the ‘Keep Out!’ and 'Private!’ ones, correctly it contained not only offices but residential apartments for various university officials. It seemed very convenient but remembering some of the student/faculty issues my father had discussed over the years, I had to wonder who it was convenient for, exactly – particularly as the apartments had no private outdoor space. I finished off by double checking the opening time for the Student Registration Office and then followed the map to find the Earth Sciences teaching rooms.

The Yu Tan Kee Lecture Theatres were on the western side of the campus and screened from the Chancellor’s Office building by a windbreak planting of willows, phoenix trees, ashes, camphor laurels, and one large, foreign oak that looked big enough to have been planted during the Northern Occupation. The building itself was an odd admixture of Occupation architecture and the styles in place before the occupation. The block shape the northerners favoured had been combined with the windows I would have expected to see in a more traditional pavilion. A statue of the Celestial Land Dragon clung to the roof above the door, his nine heads watching all the approaches. The sides of the building were sculpted and tiled, the eastern side showing a pattern of leaves in the tiling and a waterfall cascading in stone down the rear corner. The northern wall had a sculpted river system with towns, crops, forests and mountains picked out in tiles. Those mountains led into the volcano that had been modelled over the northwest corner of the building and that had been cut open to flow into the geologic model laid out on the western side of the building. The southern frontage of the building appeared to be a plain Occupation style façade, until to you looked up to be overshadowed by both the Celestial Land Dragon and the tea party happening under the shelter of the eaves over the front steps. Barely under the level of the roof was a relief carving of three men lounging around a low table: one in foreign dress; one a scholar; and one dressed as a sorcerer. The teapot in their midst made it clear that they were drinking tea, which was being poured by a lady with a fox’s tail, while two more ladies with fox tails sat to one side playing a flute and a three stringed lute.

I looked forward to finding out the story behind that. The three ladies could have been Graces, but if the symbology was Northern, then I was completely lost…

The Earth Sciences laboratories were next door to the west in a brutally plain concrete building that looked like it had been plonked into place by someone who had given no consideration to its surroundings and context at all. I could see that two buildings like the Yu Tan Kee side by side across a small section of grass and bicycle parking might have been a bit much but the lab building looked as if someone had chiselled off anything that might be considered ornamentation. The banner over the door declared it to be Laboratory Building Number 5 (Earth Sciences). A walk around the building revealed that there were entrances on the southern and western sides, a piece of graffiti copied from a revolutionary slogan in a popular comic series, and a vine less than a hand span tall growing up the northwest corner of the building. The building’s architecture was severe enough to make the vine look like a seditious act.

In contrast to the other two buildings, the faculty offices were housed in a building that reminded me more of a traditional inn than anything else. I didn’t attempt to enter it as I expected no-one to be there, or at least expected no-one who was there to be available to speak to first year students who were not yet enrolled. Even so, I gained the impression that there was an internal courtyard garden and, given the exotic plants that featured in the plantings around the building, I suspected it contained some more fragile specimens that required protection from the prevailing conditions. I also assumed the exotic plants were courtesy of the Geography portion of the faculty, rather than a matter of happenstance. Somehow I thought the entire set up boded well for my studies.

Up until there was a loud, “Harumph!” from behind me while I was bent over with my hands behind my back, sniffing a lily-like flower I didn’t recognise to see if it had a scent as well as purple and white flowers with violently coloured pollen.

I turned and found myself being regarded severely by a tall man with hooded eyes, slicked back hair, and a set of blacks tight enough to look restraining. I bowed politely and asked, “How may I help you, sir?”

“I’ve been watching you go around the buildings for nearly half an hour now. Are you looking for something or someone I can help you with?” His voice was as severe as his look.

“I’ve been accepted into this year’s first year intake of the undergraduate Earth Sciences program, and I wanted to find out where everything is before I come back to enrol next week – so I don’t automatically become lost and confused.” I looked at him considering me, and asked, “May I ask who you are sir? If you have an office here then you are probably someone whose name I should know.”

He gave a wintery smile of approval. “I am Professor Tian Pan. It is good to meet a student who means to begin diligently. I shall expect to see you in the Introductory Geology lectures, Miss…?”

I bowed again. “I am Sung Nai, Professor.”

“Ah, our prodigal prodigy. I am enlightened.” His expression was still wintery and he was no longer smiling.

“Sir? Enlightened about what?” I was confused.

“About the sort of person who would wait until the last moment to accept a place in the course.” He indicated my clothes. “I hope you have decided to be diligent about your studies and not coast by on your family funds.”

Filial piety warred with the desire not to start the year under a cloud with my teachers and achieved a partial compromise. “My parents didn’t sign my application so I had to wait until I turned eighteen to be considered for a place. My birthday was just before the final sweep offers.”

Professor Tian inclined his head gravely. “In that case, my apologies for the implied slight, Miss Sung. No doubt I will see you again in the next week or two.”

I bowed again and resolved to be on time for Professor Tian’s classes – he was obviously prepared not to like me and I didn’t want to give him a real reason not to.

“Your manners, at least, do you credit Miss Sung,” the professor’s voice still sounded wintery. “We must hope they survive the vicissitudes of the academic year. Please be careful about lingering here alone, there have been some vandalism issues during the vacation period,” and with that, he left.

For my part I decided that perhaps I should continue my investigations of the campus elsewhere, and that was how I found the Water Sciences building and its fountains. If Earth Sciences shouted its presence to the rest of the campus with the Yu Tan Kee building, then Water Sciences did it with the fountains that surrounded their buildings. I didn’t recognise all the motifs, but the largest fountain, around which their lecture, laboratory and faculty buildings were arranged was obviously in praise of all things water. Lesser fountains and no less than three fishponds of differing environments and fish studded the plaza. I imagined that once classes commenced the area would be crowded because even then there were plenty of people around doing, well, quiet afternoon out in the park type things. I made a note to mention it to Master Que as a place where he might find a casual game of mah jong if he wanted one and moved on.

My map and the sign posts I found to the east of the Chancellor’s Office said that Life Sciences was in the northern portion of the campus, along with Physical Sciences. Modern and Classical Studies were in the south-eastern quarter of the campus and as I knew I would have compulsory Classical Studies subjects that year, I decided to head there next.

The Classical Studies Library is housed in the Nientsien Pagoda, a building that predates most of the university and a great deal of Xiamtian. I’ve notice since the first time I saw it in person on that day that everyone who photographs it seems to go to a lot of trouble not to show the far more modern extension they tacked on the back to take the much increased number of books that increasing the scope of the university during the latter half of the Occupation required. Yes, it’s a low unobtrusive building meant not to distract from the pagoda’s magnificence, but it too is roofed in bronze tiles and the two are connected by a glass and bronze shuttered walkway and study area that ties the two together. Of course, no photograph can show that it actually goes down six storeys into the ground and that the builders did this tricky thing that stabilises the Pagoda’s foundations on their way through….

The rest of the Classical Studies buildings were of the courtyard house design. As far as I could tell, each department had its own building with their offices, small lecture rooms and class rooms in it. I was beginning to wonder where they held the lectures that all the Sciences students would have to attend for their compulsory subjects when I got to The Tower.

On my map The Tower was Modern Studies Building One and its size there had made me expect that it would be another courtyard building. Obviously I hadn’t looked up in that direction, or at least hadn’t paid attention to what I was seeing when I did. It was ten storeys tall and faced with polished stone. Visible through the locked glass foyer doors were instructions on how to access nine floors of lecture theatres and three floors of faculty offices. Also clearly posted evacuation procedures, probably a good thing in a building with multiple rooms that could hold nearly a thousand people each.

Clearly this was not going to be the same as secondary school.

The rest of the Modern Studies buildings seemed to be on a more normal scale compared to The Tower. Also older and consisting of smaller classrooms, except for one which seemed to have been given converted into a pair of theatres, one for live performance and one for cinematography according to the signage. The cinematography theatre already had a session list posted inside their door and I was interested to see that in the week classes started they were going to be screening the Nihonga samurai movie I’d seen in the capital. I decided I wanted to see it again so I could try and sort out what was going on with Shiro and Mifune.

Then it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.

Master Que and I ate at a specialty seafood restaurant on the opposite side of the Citadel to the university because we could, and because we wanted to see another part of town. We were eating fish steamed with ginger and bamboo shoots from a common platter when he asked me what I thought about the houses we’d seen. I finished filling my bowl, put down the serving utensils and said, “Assuming nothing better turns up tomorrow and the inspection reports are good, I think the courtyard house will be the way to go.”

“It will take a great deal of housekeeping and up keeping,” pointed out Master Que. He poured himself another cup of tea. “It has both size and age against it on those fronts.”

“An ideal house is going to cost more than I can afford at this stage of my career,” I pointed out calmly while picking up my chopsticks. “As I recall, you were the one who told me that.”

“I believe I was,” agreed Master Que with a chuckle of amusement. He pointed out, “You could go against my advice and overcommit yourself.”

“I don’t think so.” I picked up a piece of fish. “Reckless disregard of your advice seems a particularly foolish move.” I ate the fish. “Besides, I like the courtyard house. I think I could be happy there.”

“It seems to have no major defects and it’s well out of the usual flood zones,” pointed ut Master Que. “Those are generally considered better reasons for buying a property.”

“I was counting those among the reasons I thought I could be happy there,” was my rejoinder.

“Perfectly reasonable,” agreed Master Que. “Tomorrow our good friend, Mr Han really starts to earn his money!” Then we clinked glasses together as if we were drinking rice wine, and went back to concentrating on our food.

I was up early in the morning and had breakfast without Master Que at a little place on the other side of a sliver of park from our hotel. Its main attraction when I first saw it was the line of people out the door. I simply joined the queue and ordered what the people in front of me ordered – a large tea and two fish rolls. I ate on a bench in the park and it was a most excellent beginning to the morning. Moist, steamed smoked fish inside a crisp pastry and a good quality black tea. I finished eating a little before I expected Maser Que to emerge from his room for breakfast and I went back into the hotel to lead him to my find. I was able to intercept him before he entered their restaurant and lured him outside with the promise of a decent meal.

Once he was fed, Master Que was grateful. “I did wonder what you were on about,” he admitted while wiping his fingers on the paper serviette that had come with his food, “but that was a distinct improvement on yesterday. How did you find this place?”

“I followed the queue,” I admitted. “I thought that anywhere with so many customers at this hour of the day must be doing something right.”

“A good thought,” agreed Master Que. “So, shall we go and pursue your business acquaintance with Mr Han?”

“We should,” I agreed, and so we walked to Mr Han’s office.

We arrived there in time to have another cup of tea before we presented ourselves to the receptionist, Miss Cheong. She greeted us by name and showed us in to Mr Han who stood and bowed. We, of course bowed in return and politely declined his offer of tea.

“I’m afraid that there have been no more properties join our listings that might interest you,” said Mr Han, “Unless you have a hitherto unexpressed interest in prestige properties with ocean views or units in the southern transport corridor.”

“I don’t,” I agreed shaking my head, “but I would like to see the courtyard house again please.”

“Of course.” I thought Mr Han was cautiously pleased and he drove to the house again.

This time I paid more attention to the route there and to the address, to say nothing of the rest of the street. Heng Mien Street was all courtyard houses but I thought that less than half of them were still family residences in their original form. Some seemed to have been divided up into apartments and some seemed to have light industrial use. To be fair, they might always have contained family workshops but those probably hadn’t been like the motorbike emporium on the corner with Kung Tao Street.

I worked hard on getting second impressions of the house too. The rooms were graciously proportioned and there was a large room on the ground floor of the eastern building that I think was originally used as a class room that Master Que and I agreed could be easily used as a practice room. That building also had three serviceable suites of personal rooms, a working bathroom with tiles that were only twenty years out of fashion, and a small kitchen that could be fitted with a small refrigerator but already had a working sink, power points, cupboards and a very old fashioned fireplace with a dead pot plant on it.

Outside the large room there were steps down into the courtyard from the internal covered verandah that connected all four main buildings and I used them so I could get a closer look at the courtyard’s problems. The change in perspective was amazing. Suddenly it was clear that what I had thought was rampant overgrowth and clutter was actually the framing of garden rooms, and probably a certain amount of line of sight blocking so that the doings of the east and west buildings had some privacy from each other. If I wanted a clear, open courtyard with a few focal plantings, then there was a lot of work to be done. If I wanted to continue the garden plan already in place, then not nearly so much.

Then frankly, I cheated. I sat down on a conveniently place stone garden bench and examined the place using gi. I found solid foundations and walls. The pipes were hollow, or at least empty of earth and stone, and unbroken. The underlying gi was harmonious and I could see the feng shui involved in that. Satisfied that the building was not going to fall down, I stood up and went back to my inspection.

The southern building had the main entrances to the complex, the main kitchen and the formal shared and receiving rooms. It was shorter than the northern building because the south eastern corner held the gate that was the main entrance, and both the gate and the privacy screen beyond it needed some repair work. It was apparent that the kitchen hadn’t been used in years, except for an electric jug at the power point nearest the door, and the main dining room showed similar disuse. Some of the network of parlours that also occupied the building, on the other hand, seemed to have been in regular use.

Aside from two bathrooms and a small kitchenette, the western building was all suites of personal rooms. The backside house was still full of miscellaneous odds and ends of potentially dodgy physical integrity.

The main house was obviously the one where the late owner had lived. The kitchen area, more substantial than in either the west or the east house, had a normal sized refrigerator and every recent kitchen gadget that had come on the market, useful or not. Apparently the late proprietor had liked his toys. The main bathroom, the building had three, looked like it had been renovated only ten years earlier and with an eye for not dating the décor but other parts of the rest of the building hadn’t been changed since the Occupation - if not earlier. It was all perfectly sound, if dusty, even if some of it almost dated back to the Fu period.

We were standing on the verandah of the main house when I gave Master Que a little nod and said, “Might we talk business Mr Han?”

“Of course, Miss Sung.” He smiled genially at me.

“Then perhaps you can tell me why your clients have put such a low price on this house for what it is and its condition?” I looked at him expectantly.

“They want to realise their inheritance quickly,” replied Mr Han. “New ordinances have made it almost impossible to demolish buildings of this age to free up the land, and some of the heirs are concerned that they could be forced to fund restoration of the building if they retain control of it for too long.”

“I see,” was my answer, and I at least thought I did. “I’d to make an offer for the property, contingent on satisfactory inspections and legal searches, as well being able to enter into an appropriate residential rental agreement for the building until it becomes my property.” I’d had Master Que coach me on the right words.

“I shall convey your offer to my clients,” agreed Mr Han. “What shall I tell them that you are offering?”

I named the figure that was stated in the ad. “Plus, assuming I proceed to purchase, the first six weeks' rent of my occupancy, any rent after that to come off the purchase price. If I choose not to proceed to occupancy, they keep all the rent. If they sell to someone else while I’m still proceeding with the purchase, then they keep the rent but they reimburse me for the cleaning costs needed to make the place habitable.”

“That’s very practical and forward thinking of you,” commented Mr Han.

“I have an experienced advisor,” I replied modestly.

Mr Han glanced at Master Que, who was pointedly not taking part in the conversation, and smiled slightly. “So I see,” he nodded. “I will endeavour to get a quick response from my clients.”

I bowed. “Thank you,” seemed the only thing left for me to say.

This is now Followed by In Which I Begin To Meet The Locals.

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To expand on this very short comment:
* I'm curious what Nai's decorating taste is like, given a budget and space to decorate.
* The courtyard house sounds pretty and I want it.
* I wonder if they can dust by magic. They do dust magic, don't they?
* I can see her father or parents turning up at her new house during cleaning time and going 'oh dear, our daughter has become a maid.'

I have this feeling that she's not going to decorate on purpose, to begin with...

I am trying to base the house on traditional Chinese courtyard houses, but I've probably taken some sort of left turn at Albuquerque somewhere without realising it. :)

They should be able to dust by magic but will they think to?

I know what will be going on when Nai's parents show up, but spoilers.... :)

I found myself recently comparing sample layouts online of old Roman villas and Chinese courtyard houses. At some point when I have time I want to sit down, read some more, and make some notes comparing and contrasting them. Which made this part particularly fun to read.

This one has more stories than the ones in Beijing apparently do.

Dust magic! And silly tricks with dust when they get punchy after too much cleaning! Now I'm pondering Nai and Master Que having a dust sculpture competition, with points awarded for style, form, subject matter, how well it holds together after any gi influence is removed, and how tidily it piles itself up when it finally does collapse.

Well, yes, I have answered the initial question, haven't I? http://rix-scaedu.livejournal.com/251644.html

I so look forward to Nai!

And Kitsune? Yay!

It's a tea party for learned gentlemen, why wouldn't there be intelligent, talented, cultured ladies present? :)

I went browsing for info on foxtails at RenFaires but it seems like there isn't a real consensus on 'em. :) Still, it appears they were at least worn historically... Under skirts in order to 'fluff' up one's rear to seemly proportions.

These Fox tails are definitely part of the ladies concerned.:-)

Aiee, kitsunes! They'll suck out your breath and soul! Run for it!

<adds 'housing inspector' to a list of potential non-combat occupations for Nai making use of her gi skills>
I wonder how many people do use gi professionally in non-combat jobs. There was the medical gi project the Emperor recruited Master Que's injured teacher into ...

<bounces for the next chapter>

(Also, wow, this is a *big* house ...)

Yes, Which is why Nai is wondering why it's in her price range....

Also, is it sad/worrying that I now have to start working out her university time table?

And the real estate agent had a decent answer. Sounds like the place will have serious upkeep costs to offset neglect, and getting started sooner will ... help a little at keeping them under control, but not *that* much.

Should it be? You suggested a while back that you were planning to run the story until her engagement, and as she scampered away from the national championships with one bout and a brief conversation with the emperor, that may be a ways off yet in story time. I suspect you can gloss over large chunks of classes if you want to ... or they may be fascinating. :)

I think someone in the family is really worried that not only can't they sell it for the unencumbered land value but that someone is going to come along and compel then to 'restore' it. Not to any particular previous state of the house itself but back to 'typical period.'

The estate sale did look like the most promising of the bunch, so with a moderately firm deadline, it's the one to take. I like the proposed arrangement leading up to the actual sale. Now to see what the owners think.

I like that she can check out the building with gi -- and I also like that that was brought up earlier around when Master Que was arrested. How many home inspectors (and building contractors, and miners, and geologists, and...) are Hoshun?

While it's always possible to have professors who are unpleasant for a variety of reasons, I hope that she doesn't end up with too many. The first one hasn't left a terribly good impression.

Yay more Nai!

I'm hoping the professor will improve with acquaintance.

I believe the sale will go well, (oh, and of course it was designed for when people had servants! (*face palms self*))

As for your middle question, probably an increasing number. Gi used to just be sorcerers but now its use is being spread around more generally and different minds are beginning to look at the possibilities.

Edited at 2016-03-26 05:36 pm (UTC)

Apostrophes on the loose

Very nice indeed.

• “Private!’
→ ‘Private!’
>(Match the quotation marks.)

• a lady with a fox’ tail
→ fox's

• It’s main attraction
→ Its

• the first six weeks rent
→ weeks'

Re: Apostrophes on the loose

Thank you and thank you. All fixed.

We arrived there in time to have another cup of tea before we presented ourselves to the receptionist, Miss Cheong. She greeted us by name and showed us into Mr Han who stood and bowed. We, of course bowed in return and politely declined his offer of tea.

showed us in to Mr. Han

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