I was late to the lunch for Earth Sciences First Year students which was jointly sponsored by the Provincial Mining Industry Association and the Society of Registered Surveyors. Not so late that the first pass of diners past the buffet tables was done, but almost too late to thank the dignitaries for their organisations’ kind hospitality. The stout woman with hennaed hair and wearing dark reds instead of blacks, who was third and the last remaining in the reception line looked me up and down then said, “Who are you? I think that you and I are the only people in the room wearing silk.”
I bowed. “I am Sung Nai, ma’am, and I fight professionally under the guidance of my gi teacher. He advises me to dress with a certain ‘style’ for public relations purposes.”
“That explains the boots then,” she commented and bowed in return. “I’m the Managing Director of Huanhei Mining, Lei Fang. I’m impressed that you’re investing in your education despite having turned professional.”
From her tone I wasn’t quite sure that Madam Lei hadn’t just been extremely rude but I answered, “My family values education and as a professional gi fighter, the end of my career could be just one severe injury away.”
“A clear head,” Madam Lei nodded approvingly. “I’m pleased to have met you Sung Nai. Do you have your professional name yet?”
“No ma’am. I’ll be qualified to receive it this year.” I wasn’t quite sure what her next remark was going to be so I tried to smile gently rather than, for instance, grin maniacally.
“Then I shan’t embarrass us both by asking for your card in return for this.” Madam Lei handed me her business card. “It may be that someday your desire for a sponsor and my needs for positive publicity may coincide.”
I bowed over the card in my hands and replied, “Thank you for your consideration, Madam Lei. I will pass your card to my teacher, Master Que, so he may include it in his instructions when we secure me an agent.”
“You’re doing well enough to have an agent?” Madam Lei sounded amused and I could hear where she would have inserted the word ‘think’ in her question.
I replied simply, “I have had offers.”
She laughed. “Not a presumptuous statement then. Good luck to you for this season then, Sung Nai. I will be interested to see what professional name you receive, named fighters make much better brand ambassadors.”
I bowed again. “I shall endeavour to advise you when the time comes, Madam Lei, but if I may be excused now, lunch?”
“Certainly, and before all the fried dim sum are gone,” she replied briskly. “These caterers do a very good money bag, and this room is full of teenage boys.”
Madam Lei was right, the caterers did do a very good money bag in among their range of dim sum. Fortunately their brief had also taken into account that the room would be full of teenage boys so there was lots of food. As an athletic girl I appreciated that, even if my growth spurts were well and truly done with.
I found Thi Mung and Tsing Ying looking at the handouts on the table belonging to the Society of Registered Surveyors. It wasn’t quite a stall, but they had Society members giving enthusiastic short talks to students who wanted to know more about the Society, surveying and career opportunities. Tsing Ying was the one who was most interested but the man who was talking to the two of them turned to include me as I walked over to join them and asked, “Young lady, if you wanted to know what the soil structure was, say here, what would you do?”
I smiled awkwardly and replied, “I’m probably the wrong person to ask that, sir. I practice Hoshun gi so,” I looked downwards using gi and then said, “alluvial silt deposits mixed with building layers going down almost a hundred chi, including a six inch layer of granite about ten chi below the foundations of this building that must have been imported, and then it starts getting into clay, and below that there are layers of sandstone and limestone.”
“If you can do that, why would anyone bother doing this sort of survey any other way?” Tsing Ying was looking angry again.
“Because that told me what’s below me in a circle about three chi wide, centred on me,” I replied, “but it’s only in my head and it has to be transcribed by me to be of use to anyone else. I’ll bet that the methods that this gentleman uses gathers information over a bigger area that anyone can look at and interpret. I can tell you what the earth underneath us is like all the way down to where everything becomes molten, but how much of that is useful? Particularly,” I finished acerbically, “when I don’t know what some of those transitional rocks are called.”
“And that was the gi-is-cool-but-not–everything speech,” finished the surveyor for me. “Without including the personal energy cost issue. Most people I know who’ve done what this young lady just did have to follow it up with a good lie down.” The three of them looked at me and I shrugged. The surveyor went on, “So, yes we use non-gi methods of surveying because the data collection is easier and the wear and tear on surveyors is less.”
Tsing Ying asked, “So why don’t you need to go and have a good lie down now, Sung Nai?” He turned his head to look at me.
“I’m a professional gi fighter,” I pointed out. “Manipulating gi and calling on my reserves is what I do. Assuming that professional gi fighters are all in the top ten percent of gi proponents in Tang-ji, then I already have more stamina when using gi than almost everyone else. On top of that, I’m Hoshun so earth is one of my focal elements. I probably couldn’t do what I just did continuously all day, but I can do it for a lot longer than someone who’s not put as much practice into their gi and studied under a master from another school.”
“So,” remarked the surveyor brightly, “you’re a specialist. Might I interest you as well as your friends in some of our ongoing financial assistance programs?”
I smiled back at him and replied, “I’m really more of a show pony, but I am interested in your association literature – as I said to someone earlier, every fight could be my last, and I do need to make provision for that possibility.”
I left the lunch with a tote bag from the Mining Industry Association slung over my shoulder and filled with copies of literature from them and the Surveyors’ Society. I’d also put the business cards in there that I’d collected: Madam Lei; the caterers; the contact cards from all the information tables that had been scattered around the marquee that our hosts had erected for the occasion; and a fellow student who’d gone around grandly announcing himself as Kwan Ren, Entrepreneurial Financier, and pressingly his card on everyone. I was vaguely aware of a Kwan family involved in banking from the newspapers and I was perfectly prepared to accept that there was some familial relationship and, well, everyone has to be somewhere, although I had to wonder what he was doing in Earth Sciences if money and finance were his thing.
Thi Mung and Tsing Ying were equally laden, and we set off into the orientation fair with the realisation that if we picked up many more things then we’d need to get at least one more bag each. Thi Mung led us straight back to the sewing and costuming stands. Which led us to the Nihonga Anime Club booth where I found Hsiang Neko, my cat-ear wearing acquaintance from the train, handling the passing crowd. Thi Mung was entranced by their display of costume copies that members had made so they could dress up as their favourite characters. Tsing Ying was interested in the anime, a type of animation film or television series, themselves. I was quite happy to see Hsiang Neko again and she asked politely after Master Que. We all collected an invitation to the Club’s next screening night and as a parting question I asked her what her favourite anime was.
She blushed and said, “Well, at the moment it’s Otenga no Kami, which is rather adult. I wouldn’t be allowed to watch it if I was home with my parents. Long term, I’d say it was the reboot of Arabuster V.”
“The reboot?” The other person on the booth was temporarily free and gave his opinion clearly, “But the original is so much better!”
“I might agree with you if I’d been able to see a decent copy and not just an incomplete set of that chopped about northern translation by the Phronics people,” she returned without heat.
“That’d be enough to turn anyone off,” he nodded in commiseration. “I mean, who tries to cut out two entire subplots in the first season? Particularly when by then they knew those story lines were much more important in the second and third seasons.”
We left them discussing versions and translations, and moved on.
There was, again, no booth for the Gi Club which I thought was very short sighted of them if they had the Gi Associations handing out leaflets for them. Besides, even if they had an enormous number of members now, what would the Club do when those students graduated? It didn’t seem to be very good stewardship of the Club and its resources to me, and I was surprised that the Club’s patron hadn’t stepped in already. I said as much to the other two and Thi Mung said doubtfully, “I don’t think that tertiary school clubs and associations have patrons the same way secondary school ones do. Perhaps there isn’t a patron or if there is, they can’t intervene in the way the Club is being run?”
“The University Gi Club team did really well in the University league last year,” remarked Tsing Ying who then scowled as he added, “and sometimes someone who’s doing well can glide along in that glory without officials cracking down on things they ought to.”
I shrugged. “I’ll have to find the right notice boards so I can see when their meetings are. If they’re when I have classes or I’m doing things for my tournaments, well I can’t join them anyway. That will make it not my problem, at least for the time being.”
Thi Mung said, “Our schedules will change next semester when we finish Statistics and pick up an elective, won’t they? I’m wavering between something in cultural studies so I can study clothes or taking a chemical elective so I can build towards a speciality in minerals and crystals.”
“The two might not be mutually exclusive,” I pointed out. “Wasn’t it the King of Shuchan who made the then Solar Emperor a coat of jade to bribe him not to invade their country?”
“And Lady Hao Jung had a jacket of amethysts,” added Tsing Ying.
“I don’t think that those really count as clothes I could make,” said Thi Mung, “and that’s what really interests me about clothes. Not that I need to make up my mind now – I’ve got a few months to enjoy considering my choices yet.”
We spent the rest of the afternoon bouncing between the military stand that was handing out details of their program that supported students through their studies in return for a number of years’ service as specialist officers, two groups of traditional opera exponents, a foreign opera group, a historical re-enactment society, and the Dutiful Brotherhood of Righteous Fists.
The last group were the youth arm of one the more strident revisionist political parties which only had only recently obtained their first few parliamentary seats. They were, like everyone else with a booth, recruiting. They had a man and a woman, dressed as a couple, in pre-Invasion robes handing out leaflets that called for a return to “the virtuous way of life extinguished by the northern barbarians” but I couldn’t help but notice that they had chosen to dress like the urban or suburban middle-class and not like any type of peasant. The other member manning their stall was offering potential recruits unarmed combat classes but although he stopped Tsing Ying and made the offer to him but ignored Thi Mung and I. When he paused to let Tsing Ying reply to his presentation Thi Mung peeked around her friend’s elbow and asked, “Do you do self-defence classes? Or costuming?”
He ignored her.
“My friend has a good question,” said Tsing Ying. “Do you have self-defence classes?”
The spruiker puffed put his chest, “We train warriors who fight for a return to the glory of the old, independent Tang-ji, not maidens who should be tending their household linens!”
Thi Mung and I just gaped at him, then we looked at each. Thi Mung replied, “You do realise that you sound like a character from a bad novel? The sort of semi-historical epic that’s all about inter-related, middle-aged men who live in some sort of mansion or other and only have female relatives so the housework gets done? Very few people ever lived like that. They couldn’t afford to.”
I added, “And what about people like the Ping sisters? You’re telling us that they should have stayed home and tended to the house?”
He started to change colour in the face, his fists clenched, and for a moment I thought he was going to hit one of us. Then he abruptly bowed without clasping his hands in front of him first, and when he straightened he said loudly and quickly, “I believe the social structures of our independent past are still a better fit for our psycho-cultural dynamic than our current professed arrangements. I also acknowledge the will of Heaven that there be individuals who step outside that structure to achieve great things for the betterment of all. However, that does not negate the validity of my stated belief.” He bowed abruptly again.
As Thi Mung and I looked at each other again Tsing Ying said, “That’s fine, unless that structure means you’re going to be a poor peasant your entire life without time off for good behaviour, and there were a lot more of them than there were of any other class.”
“Being a peasant is no disgrace,” the man said defensively.
“No,” agreed Tsing Ying. “Just a lot of hard work and generally not much pay. There were wealthy peasants, but not many of them and the clothes weren’t as much fun as the ones your friends are wearing. Looking at my family’s collection of pictures, I have to say that blacks are an improvement.”
Thi Mung intervened and said, “It’s good that you have a strong reason for believing as you do, but I think it’s fair to say that your group isn’t for us. Now, if you’ll excuse us, I think we should go and get some tea.” She took Tsing Ying by the arm and gently tugged him in the direction of the next booth.
I bowed politely good bye, because I thought the moment of honesty deserved that, and followed the other two. By common consent we headed straight for a tea stall where we shared a pot of tea and a plate of red bean paste cakes. We discussed meeting up again on the first day of classes and I explained that I intended to go to Professor Tian’s lecture in Introductory Geology rather than Professor Anh’s or Professor Loo’s.
“That’s probably a really good idea,” commented Tsing Ying. “The guide on my faculty tour said that first years always all try to get into the first listed lecture for a subject at the beginning of the year. Professor Tian’s is third in the list, so if we all go straight there, then we should get good seats instead of having to go to what’s left.”
“Actually, I’m going to his lecture because I had a bit of a run in with him when I was looking around a few days ago,” I admitted. “I don’t think he’s very impressed with me and I want to show that I’m a good student.”
“Does that matter?” Thi Mung asked the question with the last bean cake in her hand.
“I’d prefer not to be marked down because the marker doesn’t like me,” I replied tartly. “It hasn’t happened to me, but I’ve seen it happen.”
“Messy,” commented Tsing Ying, and I could only agree.
It was almost dark when I reached home that night, laden with things designed to make me remember various on-campus groups, and Master Que had dinner ready to throw in a wok and cook up. I thanked him profusely, and as we sat down to eat he told me, “You have to admit, I probably have a better idea of how much to cook for two people and not a multitude.”
“I’ll concede that,” I agreed. “My final quantity tends to be ‘lots.’ How was your day?”
Master Que looked at me quizzically for a moment and then said, “I rather expected you to want to tell me about your day first but, as you ask, I’ve had a response to my query about the television station’s tournament.”
This is now followed by Domesticity and Business.