In the morning there was a message at the front desk for me from Mr Han. The vendor had accepted my offer on the house.
I hugged myself for a few moments, and then went to tell Master Que. He was still eating fish rolls and drinking tea in the park.
When his mouth was empty he said, “Congratulations! Have you told your lawyer yet?”
“He’s next on my list, I wanted to make sure he’d had time to get into the office before I called him,” I told Master Que. “Then I’m going to go see Mr Han and give him Mr Su’s card.”
“A good plan,” agreed Master Que, “and don’t forget to ask Mr Han when you can move in and about the furniture. You’ll need somewhere to sleep and if you have to use your own furniture, then theirs needs to be out of the way.”
“Plus you need something to sleep on too,” I pointed out.
He shrugged. “I’ll get my furniture from Jingshi shipped over here. Not a problem, and that’ll be me taken care of. Except perhaps for some new bed linen – I think things were getting a bit thin when we left and I hear that this place is colder than Jingshi in winter.”
“Not by much,” I replied, “but the humidity is apparently higher in winter and that makes it feel different. And you’ve reminded me that no matter what I do for a bed, I still need sheets, a cover and, probably, blankets. Should I be fighting before the end of the month?”
Master Que grinned at me. “I’ll see if there’s anything suitable,” he promised, “and I quite understand your concerns about cash flow. As a member of your household and the most glorified of hangers on, I applaud that concern. When you go off to see Mr Han, I’ll start plotting your tournament campaign for the next few months.”
I bowed. “Thank you, Master Que. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
I went back to the hotel then and called Mr Su. I left a message with the receptionist of the wine coloured finger nails because Mr Su was in a meeting, and then I went off to see Mr Han. Mr Han was not surprised to see me and received a copy of Mr Su’s business card with every sign of pleasure. I asked him about when I could move in, when I would have to make rent payments and what the vendors intended to do with the furniture currently in the building.
“We expect our rental clients to be two weeks in advance with their rent, and you would have to make your first payment before you move in, so that I’ll give you the keys,” he smiled at me. “The vendors say they want to look at the furniture before they make a decision but they’re also prepared to let you move in tomorrow, so I’m not sure what they’re actually doing there. Frankly, I suspect that they don’t realise how much furniture there is.”
I blinked. “Is that a polite way of telling me that they might leave a lot of it there?”
“Yes,” Mr Han smiled apologetically. “It does seem likely, and you and I both know that we’re talking about rather more than the usual old kerosene heaters or lanterns left in a storage area.”
“Considerably more,” I agreed. “If they leave it, does it become mine as part of the sale?”
“Normally, I would say yes,” replied Mr Han, “as it would be goods abandoned on the property, but some of those stored pieces are antiques, I’m sure of it. My advice to you would be to have your solicitor discuss it with their solicitor, have appropriate wording placed in the contract, and then stick to both the letter and the spirit of it. That way, if anything valuable is found to have been left behind, everyone is covered.”
“I shall speak to Mr Su about it,” I said. “Do I give him your details and those of the vendor?”
“I shall contact him and provide that information,” promised Mr Han, “and I will forward the draft rental agreement to him by courier immediately. His office may contact you this afternoon concerning it.”
Mr Han and I parted amicably at that point, allowing me to pick up one or two supplies that I was sure I could get less expensively off campus than on. I went past the bank branch I would be dealing with and left a copy of Mr Su’s card with their loans staff. My morning’s business complete, I returned to the hotel to meet Master Que for lunch, and was promptly carried off to a steamed bun shop that was all linoleum floors, plain formica tables and metal chairs. Fortunately the in-house seating was just an add on to a wonderful commercial kitchen – I may have accused Master Que of trying to fatten me up.
Then we had the conversation about my tournament schedule. Essentially, I was going to be based in Xiamtian because I had to be at the university for classes during the week, and although I could conduct another summer campaign to get my competition points and earnings up, it would be safer to have all of that in hand during the year. That meant I had to hit every points generating tourney in Xiamtian during the year, all four of them. Four tourneys not being nearly enough, I was going to have travel and ideally have time to get a reasonable amount of sleep in a bed before each tournament. Getting back in time for classes on the first day of the week was also vital and Master Que had obtained train and bus timetables plus a map.
It was Master Que’s judgement that I could safely afford to attend weekend tournaments no further away than Pushang east along the train line, a place called Guifu Harbor on the coastal line south, Shantou on the northern line and Qian Junction on the line to the west coast. The long distance buses were not going to be as much help as we had hoped. I looked at the resulting tournament schedule and said, “I need to fight more often than that for the money if not for the points. Also, practice and experience.”
“Oh, I agree,” answered Master Que, sitting back in his armless, unpadded, metal chair. “There’s the Student’s Tournament at the end of the month that’s already been recommended to us, of course, but I’ve been looking into the local professional tournaments and there’s a mid-week one run by one of the local television stations. There’s a guaranteed appearance fee plus a prize purse, and they don’t demand an exclusivity deal – in fact they like their fighters to be working towards a berth in the national championship at the same time. Their season is twenty-six weeks.”
I asked, “When does it start? I would imagine they have fighters lining up for it. Also, is it Masked or barefaced?”
“Masked,” replied Master Que. “Apparently they want as much spectacle as possible. You may have to have an agent to be considered for participation.”
“How much is the appearance fee, how much are the purses, and how much would an agent take?” I looked at him and added, “As my teacher/manager do you count?”
“The agent requirement may be to do with contacts as much as anything else,” said Master Que, “if it actually exists. I will make further enquiries. I understand that the appearance fee is around two thousand standard taels per episode.”
“Then I am interested, as long as it fits in with my timetable,” I added. “I’ve got at least one finish at six during the week.”
“So noted,” nodded Master Que, and he called for the bill.
After that my afternoon involved talking to Mr Su about the contract and the legal status of furniture, arranging to pay three weeks rent to Mr Han’s office the following day, sourcing some basic bedding for Master Que and myself, and trying not to run around in ever decreasing circles. I did resign myself to spending the night after next in the hotel simply because we weren’t going to be able to leave by checkout time, and that was going to leave me moving my things into the house on my way to the first of the university’s orientation days. It was also going to give the vendors an extra day to move things out before Master Que and I moved in, so I could only regard it as a game of balances that wasn’t going to turn out too badly for me.
The following day, midweek, I did pay my rent and I did get the house keys, and then I went shopping for the contents of a list of basic household requirements that Master Que and I had drawn up at dinner the previous night. If you want to drink tea, then you will need teacups, a teapot, a means of heating/boiling water, a tea measurer, and tea. That sort of logical thing, and the sort of thing I didn’t have anything of because we’d been travelling around, also the time honoured work around of raiding the parental kitchen and linen cupboard, as all my siblings who’d moved out of home had done to a small extent, simply wasn’t an option. I acquired sheets, towels, pillows, a couple of roll up mattresses, a broom, a wok, some kitchen knives, and some plates. And all the rest.
Frankly, I would have liked to have dropped my shopping off at the house and be done with, but Master Que advised me not to as there was no guarantee that unattended useful things wouldn’t be carried off by the vendors’ moving people. For my part, I was wondering how many trips I would need to do between the hotel and the house before I was due at orientation….
Master Que and I ate early that night, he had spent the day putting together an application for me to take part in the midweek contest we’d discussed the previous day, and I set my alarm for a much earlier wake up.
It was dark when I climbed out of bed and got dressed. It was still dark when I left the hotel with my load of household supplies, I was leaving my suitcases for the second trip because I didn’t want the desk clerk to think I was skipping out on our bill. A taxi made my first trip to the house much easier than I had feared, and I retrieved everything from it after I paid my fare, so there were no problems there. The keys opened the doors, and locked them behind me just fine because I didn’t want someone wandering in off the street. Everything looked fine, until I entered the main house and went past the ancestral table.
In my defence, it was still before sunrise and I hadn’t had breakfast. Also, nothing was missing.
That was the problem. The remembrances of the late owners’ family members passed beyond this life were still there. They should have been the first things that the vendors had removed. A five minute pass through the main and front buildings convinced me that nothing had been moved, let alone removed. My schedule gave me no time for temper tantrums and I went back to the hotel for breakfast, the rest of my things, Master Que, and checkout. I was going to have to try and see Mr Han on my way to the orientation day.
Master Que was up and about when I returned to the hotel. He listened to my tale of the uncleared altar and said, “At least there wasn’t a cat or a dog.” I took his point and when I went to get what I expected to be my last breakfast of tea and fish rolls, I bought two servings.
Even with my earlier trip to the house, there was an enormous pile of things stacked around us in reception when we were checking out of the hotel and getting everything moved required two taxis. Fortunately Heng Mien Street still wasn’t busy when we pulled up outside the house because it took time to unload and pay off two taxis. It took time too to get everything in off the street and inside. That done, Master Que and I went to investigate the family shrine of the previous owner and the rooms we had intended to claim for our own.
The shrine was easy, and Master Que agreed with me that it appeared unchanged from when we had viewed the house. I bowed to it, placed the cup of tea and the two fish rolls on the offerings section, bowed again, and said, “I am Sung Nai, the new tenant. Obviously there has been some mix up and I will endeavour to get it corrected as soon as it can be. Please bear with me and my household in the meantime.” I bowed again.
Whatever was going on, I did not need anyone’s neglected ancestral spirits turning into hungry ghosts right where I was living.
Neither of the sets of rooms that we had intended to use had been cleared of furniture, in fact none of the rooms I wanted to use had even had a stick of furniture moved, much less been cleared. Someone had been through the house though, because some of the furniture now sported coloured dot stickers. I really needed to talk to Mr Han because someone was obviously planning to come back and we were definitely now in ‘access by prior arrangement only’ time.
I checked the time and then we moved Master Que’s things and his share of the bedding up to the second floor of the east building. Master Que had thought he’d take the suite of rooms nearest the head of the northern stairs but that was fully furnished, albeit covered in dust sheets. The third of the four suites from the northern end of the building though, was larger than the other three with not only a sitting room and a bedroom but a study/library as well. It was also almost completely unfurnished. That third room was cunningly hidden behind a door that sat flush with the sitting room wall and ran the length of the other two. It did have a window of frosted glass that let onto the corridor that ran between the rooms and the courtyard-facing verandah, but I had thought that it belonged to the suite next door. We established that for a secret room it was disappointingly empty and then I had to leave if I was to have any hope of seeing Mr Han before university started.
Fortunately Golden Mountain Real Estate opened at half past eight and the university program began at half past nine. I was at their front door at quarter past eight and all things were possible. Miss Cheong unlocked the front door precisely on time and we bowed to each other before I entered. “How can we help you this morning, Miss Sung?” Even at this hour of the morning she was beautifully turned out.
“I’m concerned about the vendors’ intentions concerning their furniture,” I told her. “I had thought that they intended to begin removing it before I moved in, but nothing’s been taken yet and it seems they intend to take things because there are items marked with dots. The problems are that their furniture is taking up space I intend to use, and now that we’ve moved in, I need them to only turn up by arrangement so one of us can make sure our things don’t get carried away with theirs.” I added, “I don’t want to be rude, but I have to be at something at the university at half past nine.”
“Mr Han won’t be in until nine this morning,” said Miss Cheong. “It would be best if I take the details and give them to him to follow up when he arrives. Can you come back after your event finishes?”
“It’s scheduled to go to half past four, so I could be here at five,” I replied apologetically. “Is that too late?”
“Not at all,” replied Miss Cheong, and she took down the details of my concerns about the furniture. That done, we said farewell and I hurried off to the first orientation day.
There were a lot more people on campus today, probably because we had all turned up at once. I’d caught a taxi from the real estate office and I was able to tell the driver to take me to a drop off point about a block past the university gates. There were cars and taxis queued to get in through the university gates and the buses were disgorging hordes of fresh new students my own age. I resolved to walk to class from home whenever possible. Foot traffic through the pedestrian gates was still solid and shoulder to shoulder.
Once we were inside the university grounds we started to go off in different directions. I knew that there would be about a thousand students in the Earth Sciences intake, including me, and all of us needed to be at the induction talk at the same time in the same place. There were the same number of students in Water Sciences, plus there were the intakes for Modern, Classical and Literature Studies, Life and Physical Sciences, Engineering Studies, and Artistic Applications. That made for some fairly large streams of people heading in very different directions, and a lot of people trying to figure out how to get to where they were supposed to be – it made me glad that I’d invested some time in learning some of the university’s layout.
Thankfully it was a fine day because the Earth Sciences induction talk was given from the steps of the Yu Tan Kee Building. The formalities were begun by the head of our Faculty, Emeritus Professor Doctor Yan Mat, whose stout figure reminded me of one of the group of good fortune figures you normally find in auspicious places in a house. I was seated close enough to see that he even had a thin, wispy beard. He welcomed us to the faculty and the university, and then reminded us that this was not secondary school and it was not the job of staff to remind us of our academic obligations and commitments before telling us to enjoy ourselves while working hard. He was followed by the coordinator of the first year Earth Sciences Undergraduate Program. Associate Professor Doctor Kee Jung welcomed us to the program, gesturing with long, thin hands to emphasis his points He explained what the year’s study would involve, and reminded us that we were no longer in secondary school. He finished by telling us that his door was always open but that out first port of call for academic help, after our lecturers and tutors, should be the Faculty’s academic advisers.
The academic advisers’ representative was a Doctor Bao Lao and he too spoke for fifteen minutes. He got in a comment about this not being secondary school anymore so he could tell us that we wouldn’t get reminders of work due dates from our lecturers, and probably not from our tutors. I was beginning to think that telling us this wasn’t secondary school was obligatory for each speaker. Then he pointed out that some subjects had prerequisites, which I had realised, and that he and his fellows could help us select the electives pattern that would most effectively grant us access to the more advanced courses of our choice. He also said, and this was new, that access to some advanced courses was dependent on completion to a required level of certain modules. I wasn’t the only person madly scribbling notes at that point.
The final fifteen minute speech was from Chancellor, who arrived by car from the direction of Life and Physical Sciences. He climbed the steps to the podium with an errant breeze whipping at the bottom of his scholar’s robe, and promptly dropped his speaking notes. While a pair of assistants chased after his papers he began speaking without them which, interestingly, made him slightly erratic. He introduced himself with a paraphrasing of the opening stanza of a poem called Red Winds of Zhongan, which I’d studied in the Night Court module of my Literature course the previous year. I thought it was very funny, even if I wasn’t quite sure what his name was after that, but I was the only person in my section of the audience who laughed. He then told us that he wasn’t going to remind us that we weren’t in secondary school anymore, because everyone else was going to do that, and told a funny story about a group of secondary teachers on an excursion to the university and commended us to the care of our faculty. The body language of his assistants suggested that he had left a few points out.
Then we broke for tea and snacks. Fortunately. It was while we were queueing for tea that I realised that it wasn’t just my intake who were present, but that some people had relatives in tow. What brought this to my attention was the lady in front of me in the queue who wanted a tray for her tea and snacks. I had assumed she was an older student but she complained that there was no way she could carry the drinks and food for three people with her bare hands. When the staff supervising the catering queried her, it turned out that she and her mother had turned out in support of her son. It was at this point, probably coincidentally, that the Emeritus Professor took the microphone again to remind everyone that only students and faculty staff had been invited to this event and so only they had been catered for. The lady in front of me started protesting to the catering staff that her presence was necessary, and she and her mother required refreshments too. When I looked around, it became clear to me that she wasn’t alone in her reasoning.
Whatever my parents’ other deficits might be, this was something that they had never subjected any of my siblings to. Embarrassment by inappropriate attendance was not one of their sins, even if inappropriate inattendance might be. Maybe a tenth of my classmates were accompanied by older persons today, some of them by more than one. Each of those people had occupied a seat that should have been occupied by another student, making that person stand, and now they were happily consuming the light refreshments supplied for students. Most schools have end of year awards ceremonies that families are invited to, and I knew that some schools invited the parents to year commencement events but it never occurred to me that parents would bring themselves to a university event that they hadn’t been invited to. To be fair, a good number of those parents were now looking embarrassed after the Emeritus Professor’s announcement. Another large proportion looked indignant and the rest looked as if they didn’t care, or in the case of the elderly man I saw with an ear trumpet simply hadn’t heard anything.
I decided to confine myself to tea and promised myself a large lunch.
So it was, tea in hand, I dodged the scrum of the food tables and found the assembly point for the next activity on my schedule. We were going to tour the Faculty facilities in groups of fifty. Fortunately this was being staggered across the morning in rotation with other activities so they only needed seven guides. My group all had seven stroke characters for our family names and our guide only had to tell four parents or grandparents that they couldn’t come on the tour. His name was Tay Yang and he told us that he was doing his doctorate in something I didn’t yet understand of petrochemically significant strata. I thought that it at least sounded impressive.
Someone had cunningly designed the faculty tour so that we didn’t reverse along our course at any point and run headlong into another group of fifty students. This design also mean that we went in the front door of the Yu Tan Kee Building and didn’t come back out the same way, thereby foiling the tag-along-plans of at least one mother. We went up to the top floor of that building but were denied the opportunity to go in the roof and have a closer view of the dragon. The signs on the subject were quite specific.
“People will go up there to rub a claw for luck, or even to try and steal a scale despite the dragon being sculpted in one piece,” Tay Yang told us then waited for the laughing to stop before he added, “and someone falls off the roof every six or seven years. Given the height, the results usually aren’t good so it’s far better not to be in danger of falling in the first place. Besides, our dragon is designed to be seen from the ground and I’m told he much prefers to be seen from his good side. If any of you really, desperately, want to see him up close and personal, then there are some engineering and art courses that are allowed an inspection with appropriate safety gear every year – take one. Now, this is the back way out if the main stairs and the lifts are clogged.” He opened the fire door beside him and gestured inwards. “All the way to the bottom, out the door right in front of the stairs, then wait for me please.”
We proved that we could follow instructions and so got to see the laboratories, the faculty offices including the courtyard garden, and have the landscaping explained. After the faculty tour was complete we split up, some for the Student Services talk, some to the Student Council briefing and the rest, like me, to the library tour.
It wasn’t, as I had assumed, a tour of the Nientsien Pagoda, although we did go there. It was a tour of the campus libraries, all of them. Fortunately they had a common membership and borrowing system, forced on them by the university I don’t doubt. The tour itself was very thorough and I doubt that I will ever need to know about, say, glacial spirits, but if the subject comes up I now know where to find the most relevant library. (In the black and red lacquered cabinet outside the geology faculty tearoom, as it happens.) We did actually spend half an hour at the Pagoda getting our library cards, and then it was off to lunch.
Lunch was provided for us and sponsored by the Wugao Chapter of the Xiamtian Earth Sciences Alumni Association. It was delicious and the esteemed alumni had catered for invited students, faculty, orientation volunteers and ‘various hangers on.’ They actually said that on their sign beside the entrance to the area where the food was set out. I channelled Master Que, my mother and both my grandmothers to go around the enclosure greeting all the alumni representatives and thanking them for their hospitality – which is how I came to meet Master Kung again. Kung Hsiao was this year’s Secretary of the Wugao Chapter of the Alumni and thus a big deal at today’s gathering, but he still spent a good five minutes chatting to me before the Chapter President interrupted us to introduce a new faculty member.
Which was how I found out the name of the scholar who’d propositioned me on the train when I was distributing New Year dumplings. Wu Gin was the newest geography tutor in the faculty and a research assistant to Doctor Bao Lao, who was introducing him around. Because I was speaking to Master Kung when they came up to him, I was included in the introductions but when we exchanged bows Wu Gin showed absolutely no sign of recognising me. Given the circumstances and length of our original meeting, that was hardly surprising and, seeing that he still looked as threadbare as he had on the train, decided that now was not the time to mention that we’d met before. I then excused myself to let the adults talk together.
Because I had no cards of my own the only business card I picked up was the caterer’s but by the end of the lunch I hoped I’d made a good impression on our hosts. Perhaps I should have spoken to more of the other students but they hadn’t been the ones throwing the lunch for us and I was surprised that more of them hadn’t been trying to speak to the Alumni representatives.
“So, who are you that Alumni Secretary Kung spends so much time talking to you?” The disgruntled voice from just out of my peripheral vision was male. I turned to face it and the owner was my own age, male, a foot taller than me, and with his thick, dark hair in a square buzz cut. Peering around his left shoulder was the girl from the family that had shared our train compartment on the final stretch into Xiamtian.
I bowed. “I am Sung Nai and I had met Master Kung previously through my gi teacher. I have met your friend before, although we were not introduced. May I have the pleasure and honour of your names?”
This is now followed by Making Friends.