rix_scaedu (rix_scaedu) wrote,

A More Normal Afternoon

This follows on from Matters Do not Become Less Complex and runs to 3,733 words.

As it happened, we all had tutorials at eleven but while theirs were for Introductory Geology, albeit in different groups, mine was for Introductory Literature and would be across the campus in a building near The Tower.  Thi Mung and Tsing Ying wanted to visit the bathroom, find their tutorial rooms, get something to drink and go through their lecture notes before the tutorial, which is exactly what I would want to do too.  So we separated and while they went in search of the facilities, I set off briskly across the campus towards The Tower.  I chose a path that took me past the northern edge of the Water Sciences precinct and then split in two with the northern route heading towards the main entrance and the southern one leading to the cluster of buildings that housed both Classical and Modern Studies.

I found the right building, Classical Studies Building Four which was a courtyard house that I imagine originally housed librarians, and the right room, which turned out to be on the top floor of the backside house and rejoiced in the designation 526.  I suspect it was a converted maidservants’ dormitory.  There was still enough time for me to find a convenient bathroom and a water bubbler before the class began, and I took a seat ten minutes before the tutorial was due to start.  I was not the first student there.

Cheng Mu who’d been in the orientation lectures with me and was doing Physical Sciences was there.  There was also a girl with a Tang-jian face and complexion who had long hair and eyebrows in that pale hay colour I’d seen in foreigners; she definitely wasn’t an albino and it didn’t look like bleached hair.  The room started filling up after I arrived and there were twenty-five of us in the room before the tutor entered.  When he came in we all stood and bowed, partly because he looked exactly like a scholar from a pre-Occupation painting with his long greying beard and classical scholar’s robes.  He even carried a fan in his left hand and he had a satchel slung over one shoulder – possibly because in this day and age academics can’t afford a servant to carry their books around for them.

He bowed to us in return and said, “Good morning and thank you for the courtesy ladies and gentlemen.  I am Scholar Tao Zhung and I am your Introductory Literature Tutor for this year.  This is my first year here in Xiamtian – formerly I was at the University of Kwansu where I taught the history of fiction.”  He took his seat, pulled a pad and pen out of his satchel, then said, “Now, before I explain assessments and assignments, we’ll go around the room so each of you can introduce yourself and I can start putting faces to your names.  Each of you please tell me your name, your course and which of the major literature electives you studied in secondary school last year.  We’ll start with the gentleman in this front door-side desk and go backwards from him, then at the back across to the next row.”  He focussed his attention on the boy in the designated desk, “So, who are you?”

The blocky boy with a square haircut stood and bowed.  “Chen Mu Zu, double Modern and Classical Studies, and we studied the Piety School.”

Scholar Tao said, “Thank you, Mr Chen.  May I ask in which field of endeavour you have a professional name?”

Chen Mu Zu took a deep breath and replied, “Acting, Scholar Tao.  The name was acquired when I was a toddler and became my name of use.”

“I see, thank you.  Now, the gentleman behind you?”  The fan did the pointing.

And so we went around the room.  Seven of us were doing double courses, fifteen of us had studied the Piety School last year and ten of us the Night Court, I was one of four Earth Sciences students in the group and the fair-haired girl was Liang Ai from Water Sciences.  All the time we spoke Scholar Tao was making notes in his pad and asking the occasional question – I apparently didn’t require clarification because he didn’t ask me anything.

When the last of us had spoken and sat down again Scholar Tao said, “In order to pass this course you will need to pass both the examination and assignment portions of the assessments, and the pass mark for both sections is sixty percent.  There will be examinations at the end of both semesters, with the first worth forty-five percent of the examination marks.  There will be two major essays in each semester, each worth twelve percent of the mark.  The rest of your assignment mark will come from your weekly work for this tutorial group and will consist of two pieces of written work each week – one will be a review of a set reading piece due in our meetings on the fourth day of the week and the second will be a set writing piece, defined by style, length and subject due in this session each week.  We will spend the rest of this session going over the elements of a review in the classical style but first I’ll give you this week’s reading assignments, one of which you will have written a review of by our next meeting.  I will normally give you your writing assignments in this session and your reading assignments in the next session but this week is, by definition, somewhat different.”

Introductory Literature didn’t do what the secondary school literature course did and cover all the classics of Tang-jian literature, it started with the first extant texts that weren’t purely government documents or scientific records and intended to move forward from there.  Thus our first three readings were from The Genealogy of the Wu Clan of Dengxu, The Chants of Xiu Fang, and Exhortations to the Young by Cao Xing.  Personally I was very glad that Scholar Tao spent the rest of the lesson explaining the ins and outs of a proper review because my first reaction was to wonder how you wrote a review of a religious text or a genealogy.  I think the most important point I took away with me was that a review is not necessarily criticism.  Thank Heaven.

The tutorial finished at noon and I went looking for somewhere to eat my lunch.  The spot I found was a bench in the shadow of the extension to the Nientsien Pagoda.  There was a water bubbler that was working nearby and it was a very pleasant little nook surrounded by camellias and with damp leaf mulch and moss on the ground underneath them.  It wasn’t actually isolated, just set back from the path, but it gave the feeling of being apart from the world for a little.  I liked it.

I wasn’t alone with my lunch box for long.  Maybe ten minutes after I’d sat down the fair haired girl from my tutorial group came by, a brown paper bag that looked like it had purchased food in it in her hand.  She looked at me sitting on one end of the bench and asked, “Would you mind if I sit here?”

“Please,” I indicated the rest of the bench with the hand holding my lunch box, “be my guest.  You’re Liang Ai, aren’t you?”

“Just Liang, please.”  She smiled when she said it so there was no sting or rebuke in the request.  “Should I call you Sung or Sung Nai?”

“Sung Nai, please.”  I smiled back at her and added, “I have lots of siblings so differentiation has always been an issue.”

“Oh, how many?”  She pulled the plastic container out of the bag and opened it to get at the rice rolls inside.

“I’m number eight of thirteen,” I replied prosaically.  “I’d not be without any of my siblings, but I admit that my parents may have gone a little overboard.”

“I’m the only one,” Liang had taken a bite out of the first of her two rolls and was now examining it critically.  “We’re from Xiji down on the south coast.”  When I looked blank she added, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

I admitted it freely.  “No, I’m from Jingshi over in Zhongxiaoshan and I don’t have much of a sense for Wugao yet.”

Liang whistled, and a boy passing us on the path stopped to look.  She apologized and dismissed him with, “Sorry, I wasn’t whistling at you.”  She turned back to me and asked, “So why come all this way for tertiary school?”

“It’s the best Earth Sciences program in the country.”

“That’s a good reason if Earth Sciences is what you want to do.”

“It is.  Is Water Sciences what you want to do?”

Liang got a distant look on her face.  “I got a scholarship and a Water Sciences place came with it.  If I can hang in and graduate, then I can get a decent job and perhaps help my mother and grandmother….”  She stopped talking and left me with the sense that we were straying into delicate territory so I asked, “When’s your next class?”

She replied with a grateful smile, “I’ve got my first Arts tutorial at two.  You?”

I sighed.  “My Physical Geography lecture is at two, back over in Earth Sciences.  I thought I might spend an hour in the library here going over my lecture notes and reading the pieces we have to review before walking back – at least I’m not one of the people who has to go to the one o’clock Literature lecture and the Physical Geography lecture too.”

Liang looked around and said in a dropped voice, “When we were in our Introductory Hydrography tutorial this morning there was a very heated discussion outside the door about some sort of impossible scheduling – something to do with research ethics and water properties, I think.”  In a more normal voice she said, “I don’t know that I’ll get these rice rolls again.  I mean they taste good, but this is not what I expect of pickled fish and if they’re not actually pickling their fish, then maybe I should be worried.”

I finished my lunch and closed everything up.  “Do you want to come and study in the library for an hour?  We’ve got those readings in common.”

“That’s a very good idea,” agreed Liang, “and while you go over your lecture notes, I can look at my stuff from Hydrography because I’ve got my first Hydrology tutorial at four, and who knows what I’ll get from that.”

So we spent an hour at a study desk in the extension of the Nientsien Pagoda and achieved things together, not the least being that I felt like I’d made another friend.

I left Liang where the path from Modern and Classical Studies split to in two and headed back to Earth Sciences on my own.  I’d timed matters well and bypassed the ground floor lecture theatre again.  There were more people in the second floor lecture theatre than had been in this morning’s room when I’d arrived but there were obvious reasons for that, namely effectively two rooms and a more experienced student sample – if having one lecture under our belts counted for experience of any sort.  The lecturer for our theatre was Professor Luk Chou and after a few minutes’ grace he led off with the readings we should do for this lecture and the readings we should do before the next lecture.  Most of them were from our textbook but one was held in the library.

Professor Luk warned, “There are a limited number of copies of this piece being held in the library strictly on reserve for First Year Earth Sciences students.  To access a copy you will need to go to the Reservations Desk.  The copies cannot be removed from the library and are limited to a two hour borrowing period – late return will result in library fines and if your fines become excessive then your library privileges will be revoked.  There is just one reading on this occasion but as the year goes on you will get more and more of these – just remember that there are a thousand of you who will want to access these documents and plan accordingly.”  He looked around the room, seemed satisfied with what he saw, and then plunged into a review of the assumed knowledge for the course and an overview of the curriculum and assessment program.  The last fifteen minutes were an introduction to geomorphology which was our first topic in a string of modules across the year.  As I listened and made notes I began to suspect that our next few weeks were going to be very dense indeed.

When the lecture finished I gathered up my things and looked around.  My fellow students were beginning to look generally vaguely familiar after two orientation day lunches and two lectures but there was no-one in this room I knew well enough yet to catch up with at the end of the day so I quietly left the room and went down the stairs to the ground floor.  I did see someone I recognised in the foyer, Thi Mung’s twin brother.  As we had met before and I was beginning to consider Thi Mung a friend, I bowed politely.

“Oh, that’s right,” he was surprised, “you’re that girl from the train.  My sister said she’d been spending time with you.  Sung Nai, isn’t it?  I’m Thi Wei,” and he bowed.

I bowed again.  “I am honoured with the knowledge of your personal name.”

He looked at me and said, “Wow, do people really talk like that outside of novels?”

“As your family didn’t seem to care for me when we met before, a display of good manners seemed desirable,” I replied piously.

He laughed, and it was a pleasant sound.  “I can see that you studied Portents on Black Mountain last year too.  I’m afraid you met us on a bad day.  Do you have any idea how much longer my sister might be?”

I offered, “Maybe half an hour?  There’s some sort of scheduling stuff up with this lecture and the one she had to go to right before it so they delayed the third lecture theatre’s start so her group could get to it.”

“Oh good,” he gave a relieved smile.  “She was so worried about that.  I’ll just sit down and wait, please don’t think you have to stay with me if you have things to do.”

I bowed.  “As it happens, I do have things to do, so I’ll take my leave.  Good bye for now and perhaps I’ll see you later in the week.”  With that I left and headed for the main gate via student services.

Specifically via the sports notice boards in students services.  I found the Gi Club schedule posted on a tall corner of the board and did manage to work out when the first meeting was going to be.  Fortunately for me four o’clock on the afternoon of the second day of the week didn’t clash with anything already in my schedule.  I made a note of the time and location and then headed off to arrange for the phone to be connected to the house.

The office of the Telegraphic Division of the Postmaster General was housed in a building that almost certainly predated the Invasion.  Signs moulded into the plaster used a character style that hadn’t been used in almost a century and although the interior walls were painted in a creamy white instead of what would have been considered a felicitous red, the moulded signage was picked out in gold, black or, in the case of the exits and the conveniences, blue.  The queues looked long and I settled in to wait.  Most of my fellow customers were there to pay their bills and when I realised that there were actually multiple lines, I found myself in a much shorter line to request a new connection.  I double checked that there wasn’t a form I was supposed to fill in first, because one misunderstanding of the process was enough, and then amused myself while I waited by shifting gi energy from one side of my body to the other.  It was mainly a matter of shifting my weight and some small movements of my hands, and I could say that it was a useful control exercise but, really, I was fidgeting.

I fidgeted to myself for all of fifteen minutes before it was my turn to be seen.  The clerk who served me was a tall, thin man in standard blacks who really did have to look down his nose to see my face.  I explained what I wanted to do and produced evidence that I was renting the house.  My rent receipt was greeted by a surprisingly warm smile and he then pulled a folder of documents down from a shelf to, as he explained, check whether the property already had a phone connection.

“There’s a black handset in the main house,” I offered, “but there was no dial tone when I picked it up.”

“I still need to check the type of line,” he said apologetically.  “Some of our older connections are party lines and we’re converting them over as requested or when the biller changes.  Ah, here you are.  Yes, there is a line, it never was a party line, and it’s currently not connected.  Now, can you describe the handset for me?  We may need to update it.”

I described the handset to him and although he asked whether I knew the make and model he didn’t seem to think it unusual that I hadn’t thought to pick it up and look underneath to find those details.

“You should get a new handset,” he told me.  “The series you seem to have gets a little temperamental as it gets older.  A technician will come to the house later this week to do the work; can someone be there to let them in?”

“Yes,” I agreed, “I or the other member of the household can be there.  Speaking of which, can I get a second listing in the phone book for the number under his name?  We have different family names and people who wish to contact him probably have no idea to look for my name.”

“There is an extra charge, but it can be done.”  The clerk entered something on the form in front of him.  “What is the second name?”

“Que Tzu.  If you need an honorific then it should be Master, but I’m the one responsible for the account.”  I smiled at him a little nervously.

“Certainly, Miss Sung.  Now, the connection fee is one hundred and twenty standard taels which includes the technician’s visit to install the new handset and make sure everything is still connected at the house.  The extra listing is five standard taels and the monthly line rental, payable in advance, is thirty standard taels.  Calls are paid in retrospect in accordance with the fees in this booklet.”  He placed a booklet on the counter in front of me.  “That will be one hundred and fifty five standard taels please.”

I pulled out my wallet, paid him, and got my receipt.

“Thank you, Miss Sung,” he bowed slightly.  “Your order will be passed to the service department before close of business today and you will get a card in your letter box before close of business tomorrow telling you when the technician will be calling.  The technician will be able to advise you of the number after the house has been reconnected to the exchange.  Will there be anything else today?”

I answered, “I don’t think so, but I haven’t done this before.  Should there be?  Did I miss something?”

He smiled at me again, down his nose but he couldn’t help that, and replied, “Not if all you want to do is get the phone connected to your property, Miss Sung.”

“It is,” I replied, “so thank you for your help and I look forward to hearing from the technician.”  With that I bowed and got out of the next customer’s way.

I finished my walk home and found the house almost oddly empty of everyone except Master Que.  “They’ve finished,” he announced grandly.  “The police have declared us free of anything illegal or likely to destroy us and the rest of the neighbourhood.  The evaluation team have retired to make their report, plus you have a letter from your solicitor that was couriered over this afternoon that I hope relates to you being able to use the house as was envisaged in the lease.”  He looked at me severely and added, “I cannot really approve of your current sleeping arrangements, you know that, don’t you?”

“Well, I either need to be able to use a bed that’s already here or clear space to put one in,” I pointed out.  “The room I’m using is nice enough but I know more about the He household than I think they’d want me to.”  I opened the letter and quickly scanned through it.  “Apparently it has been agreed that we can use all the contents of the main house kitchen without let or hindrance, although we may not dispose of anything.  The estate’s possessions will be removed once the sale contract has been signed as that will contain a detailed list of the fixtures.”  I looked at Master Que and remarked, “Well, that’s an improvement, and Mr Su goes on to say that they’ve confirmed that there are no encumbrances on the title, which I assume is a good thing.  Also that they’ve received the proposed agency contract and are reviewing it.”

“Unencumbered is a very good thing,” agreed Master Que.  “I’ve made reservations for dinner at The Riverside Terrace and we may see Mr Shu there – if we do then a friendly greeting is most appropriate.”

I went and got both cleaned up and properly dressed for dinner at The Riverside Terrace.  After that I still had time to get ready for the next day and review my geography motes and the readings.  If every day of tertiary school was going to be like today then I thought I could handle it.

This is now followed by An Ordinary Evening Out.
Tags: master que, nai, tang-ji
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