I liked Gai Qiu. I suspected that she might have a crush on Zhang Wong, but as that was his intention, with the way he presented himself I can’t say I blamed her. Zhang Wong’s long-term aim was probably a film or entertainment career so having female fans fall in love with him was probably part of his game plan. I hoped he would be kind to them.
Another first-year student turned up before the meeting started, a stout boy my age in thick lensed glasses named Heng Huo, but he was the only one. I saw Gai Qiu, Wu Ching, and Tong Nao exchange worried looks but the rest of the membership seemed quite happy about the situation. Dang Huai, the Club President went so far as to say, “Good, we won’t have to have trials to show the new members that they’re not good enough for the interuniversity team yet.”
“I hope to become good enough for the team,” said Heng Huo quietly.
“Yes,” Dang Huai nodded, “but you don’t think you’re ready for it yet, do you?”
Heng Huo seemed shocked, “No, of course not.” He made a fluttery gesture with his hands as if fending off the suggestion. “I haven’t been in a tournament before, so of course I’m not good enough for the team yet.”
Dang Huai turned to me and asked, “And you, Sung?”
I looked back at him calmly and said, “I’m not eligible for amateur competitions, so I came along to make friends.”
“We’re a sports team, not a social club.” Dang Huai looked at me severely, “We don’t have time to accommodate time wasters.”
“If you don’t have non-fighting members,” I asked, “who will deal with equipment and how will you afford the interuniversity competition entry fees? Come to that, how will you be able to host a tournament?”
“Sponsors and assistance from the university,” was Dang Huai’s prompt reply.
“You have sponsors?” I raised an eyebrow at him because I’d seen no signage to indicate that, “And doesn’t the university provide financial assistance based on the student membership of the club?” It was a stab in the dark on my part, but that was how secondary school clubs operated.
“She’s right,” said Gai Qiu from where she was sitting next to the Deputy President with his arm draped around her. “If we don’t pick up seven more members beyond Sung Nai and Heng Huo, then our funding from the university will drop.”
“Then we’ll step up the program to attract sponsors,” declared Dang Huai. “Jiang Dan and I will reapproach the firms on our list from last year and Wu Ching will research further possibilities. I don’t foresee us having a real cash problem.”
I didn’t blame Gai Qiu for looking dubious.
“I suggest that we review the list from last year,” said Wu Ching as he made notes for the Minutes of the meeting. “It’s come to my attention that one of the firms on the list is probably a front for the Black Serpents Friendly Association. Even if you don’t care about being associated with a criminal gang, the news this morning said they had some sort of altercation with a whole bunch of senior gi figures last night. Lots of Masters were interviewed.”
“Which one was that?” Jiang Dan had taken his arm from around Gai Qiu and produced both notebook and pen from his bag.
“The White Snake Laundry,” said Wu Ching.
“Pity, they’re a really good laundry,” sighed Jiang Dan. “I take my stuff there – the machines work properly and they can always make change.”
“And if you’re a regular customer then they probably would have been amenable to at least considering a sponsorship,” said Wu Ching. “It is a pity, but criminal connections and at odds with a whole bunch of gi masters. We really don’t want to go there.”
“So, Wu Ching will review our list of potential sponsors before Jiang Dan and I start canvasing,” said Dang Huai. “If Wu Ching could manage that quickly, because we need to start getting sponsors on board before the university cuts our funding. Now, the next agenda item is the intra-university tournament. Do we have anyone prepared to volunteer to run it?”
Wu Ching put in, “The university sports calendar has us down for the third week of the seventh month. We don’t have to run over the entire week, but we’ve got suitable gyms block-booked for us at this stage. The sports calendar also has us running an intra-university competition every week starting in three weeks’ time.”
Someone asked, “Can we run the competition this year?”
Someone else asked in reply, “Can we include a club membership in the competition sign up? The competition always attracts a few people that aren’t club members. If we signed them up, then we might get over the membership threshold for university funding.”
“That would be within the university’s rules,” said Gai Qiu.
“Jumping around then,” said Dang Huai, “would you be willing to run the competition, Mei Ping? You seem to have some ideas about how it could be run.”
The second person who’d spoken stood and bowed, “I will do my best.”
“Right,” said Wu Ching, “Mei Ping is organising the weekly competition. Now, about the tournament?”
After much discussion, someone volunteered to run the tournament. I didn’t volunteer for anything because I wasn’t sure of my availability, but I was pleased when the formal meeting closed – I was getting tired.
I was saying good bye to Tong Nao when Mei Ping came up to us and politely insinuated himself into the conversation. After the niceties, he turned to me and asked politely, “Miss Sung, I’ve been told you said that you were ineligible for amateur tournaments. May I ask why that is?”
Tong Nao looked at me with interest, so I answered, “I’ve taken part in professional bouts, so I’m no longer an amateur.”
Mei Ping looked me up and down, then said, “To be frank, Miss Sung, you’re very young. If you were entered into a professional bout or two by your parents, or entered one without realising the ramifications, you would have a sound case for applying to have your amateur status reinstated. If that happened, you could be in our competition and the tournament.” He smiled encouragingly at me.
I bowed politely in return. “Thank you for your concern and consideration, Mr Mei, but I am a professional gi fighter. I have my Mask, and I will be eligible for my professional name at this year’s Moon Festival.”
Mei Ping looked hard at me and asked baldly, “Then why are you here?”
“Because I want to make friends,” I replied gently. “My esteemed professional colleagues are, generally speaking, a fine body of men and women but, you understand, tend to be older than I am. The University Gi Club seemed somewhere I would be likely to meet people my own age, with similar interests, who would understand the whole starting university thing as well.”
“And that’s why you’re not sure of your availability,” nodded Tong Nao. “Have you fought in Wugao before?”
I considered our travels since I’d finished school the previous year, and answered, “I haven’t. Master Que, my teacher, and I have mainly been travelling by train with a few bus trips. What’s the provincial train service actually like? The rail network seems quite extensive.”
Mei Ping gave me a wry smile. “It depends on where you want to go and when. The outer suburban network for Xiamtian caters for day trips in both directions for some places that are 200 li away, and you can get a ferry across the gulf to the peninsula, but that’s half a day or night on its own. Beyond that, there are a lot of places that only have one or two services a day in both directions, and some little stops further out might only get a train every few days.”
Tong Nao added, “Xinan Ji has its own suburban network, but doesn’t really help you, and there are some major tournaments in places that aren’t on the train line. Honestly, if you’re going to fight professionally and keep up with your studies, you’re probably going to need to drive to tournaments and back.”
Obviously, I was going to have to talk to Master Que about this.
I finished making my farewells, and then made my way home.
Master Que had dinner waiting – mutton sausages with vegetables and rice. “I noticed,” he said conversationally as I sat down at the table, “that we seem to have only sausages this week.”
“The butcher I found specialises in them,” I replied apologetically. “Because we were going out I didn’t have time to look for other options. I did get multiple kinds.”
“Which I appreciate,” answered Master Que cheerily. “I can do a lot of things with a sausage, and after today I, at least, can do with something solid.”
I looked at him suspiciously, “Should I be concerned about the events of your day, sir?”
Master Que looked at me innocently. “I don’t think so. The Lao family’s authorised representatives, supported by Mr Han, removed two vans of furniture this morning. We have a schedule for the rest of the week. I followed that with a light lunch and an informative excursion with several other gi masters. Then we received the biographies of your potential agents, together with a copy of their proposed contract, from the agency. Oh, and the television station contacted me – they do want you in their competition, even if you don’t have an agent yet. Apparently some of their executives were present last night, saw what you did, and then did some research.”
“I had a visit from the authorities this morning, asking me not to undertake mind control or unlicensed medical treatment.” I told him about my conversation with Sgt Ren and Professor Doctor Xin.
“It will be interesting to see how long he stays sane for,” remarked Master Que. “But the Professor Doctor is right – it is, at the very least, rude to go around controlling other people’s minds by gi, or the more common methods used by petty tyrants everywhere. The other interesting thing about what you did is that I have no idea how you did it. None of us at lunch did, and we weren’t all from the same school.”
I admitted, “I don’t know what I did. I’d come to the end, and that was all there was left I could do.” I ate a piece of sausage and added, “It was one of those odd things that happen when I’m really tired or a bit woozy, wasn’t it?”
“It certainly appears to be,” agreed Master Que, sipping the contents of his tea cup. “I wasn’t sure whether you’d noticed, and I wanted a few more concrete examples before raising the issue with you. You’re still young, and your brain is still forming, so this type of thing is well within the range of normal.” He smiled and added, “The Shimba could be right, and you might be a newly incarnated spirit.”
“Still adjusting to the bounds of flesh?” I snorted impatiently. “I’m really not that interesting, truly.”
Master Que regarded me over his tea cup, which he was holding level with the bottom of his eyes, and smiled. “It would be interesting to see you as the spirits see you. Perhaps I should make the acquaintance of a spirit talker? Or I could just work out which of your family made it their purpose to make you feel inconsequential – I sometimes feel that I should have words with them.”
I looked at him, not quite sure of the best way to frame a question or protest.
“I sometimes feel,” said Master Que calmly, “that your family should have done better by you. I have never met either of your esteemed parents, although your father has always been admirably prompt in paying my accounts, but I would have thought one of them might have endeavoured to meet the man their growing daughter was spending so much time with. You note,” his tone turned austere, “that I speak as someone whose family sold them to pay otherwise insurmountable expenses.” He added gently, “You should have had at least a thirteenth share of your parents’ attention, and I’m not sure that you ever did.”
“I was never sick, or in competitions, or in trouble,” I said. “Or particularly good at the subjects that counted as important in our house. I didn’t argue or shout, and I did what I was told.”
“If one is ‘good’ then there should be rewards for ‘good’ behaviour,” replied Master Que, “and it seems to me that has been missing for you. I honour your respect and affection for your parents and grandparents, but if you were to choose to organise your life so that you had nothing to do with them again, I would support you.”
I poked at the rest of my food with my chopsticks, and said, “My father is probably going to be annoyed that I’m not doing a Classics degree, and he was scathing about courses you can get into on the final pass of offers.”
“Even if the course was your first choice?” Master Que smiled wryly when I nodded in response. “How do you intend to handle that?”
I flashed him a wry grin of my own. “By not telling him exactly where I am, and which course I’m doing until after I’ve finished at least my undergraduate degree.”
“Avoidance can be a useful strategy,” agreed Master Que gravely and continued eating.
Changing the subject, I asked, “Did we get a card telling us when the technician is supposed to come by and connect the phone for us?”
“We did. I shall lunch at home in two days’ time,” replied Master Que grandly. “Once that’s done I will update my business cards.”
“Could you take the contract to Mr Su for his advice for me, please?” I smiled apologetically. “My classes start at eight tomorrow morning and I don’t finish until six. I might have time to get to his office and back from the university between classes, but I’m not confident enough to negotiate myself around the city on a tight schedule yet.”
“Consider it taken care of.” Master Que made a grand gesture with his chop sticks. “The television station is couriering over their contract in the morning, so I can submit them both for legal scrutiny at the same time.”
“The other thing I think I should mention,” I said diffidently, “is that at Gi Club this afternoon, several people suggested that I might need to drive to tournaments if I’m fighting professionally while studying here.”
“That is possible,” agreed Master Que gravely. “Your first tournament will be the students’ one at the end of the month, and after that I’ve been able to put together a four week long schedule of tournaments that we can reach by train, but beyond that it becomes…interesting and potentially fraught. The first problem, the one of not owning a car, is easily solved relatively speaking, by buying one. The second problem is that neither of us drive.”
This is now followed by An Ordinary Morning.