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Last School Day of the First Week (Part 1)
Master Que
rix_scaedu
This follows on from Mostly An Evening Out, and surprised me by coming in at 4,724 words.  This is too large for Livejournal, so this has turned into a two part post. :)
It was a very pleasant morning, and warm enough to make me glad both that the warmest part of the year was past and that I usually started earlier in the morning than this. On the other hand, the shops were open, and more people were about. I dropped coins in the bowls of a shaven-haired monk, a beggar who looked like he had a wasting disease, and an education charity for foreign refugees. Those donations meant I had no qualms about turning down the opposing political parties touting for business at the University gates – I even managed to escape without copies of their handouts. Ying Li from my tutorial group wasn’t being so fortunate, the young man with a clipboard and pen who had her cornered against the gate wanted her to sign up for something and her body language screamed with discomfort.
I used a shadow ball to lightly tap him on his left shoulder, while I stepped in from his right and said, “Ying Li isn’t it? We’re in the same tutorial group at eleven? I’m Sung Nai. You asked about petition letter and the stolen wife in our last tutorial. We need to hurry, or we’ll be late.”
Ying Li looked at me with relief. “Oh, yes.” She stepped towards me and out of the space she’d been trapped in. “Let’s hurry or all the best seats will be taken.” We didn’t quite flee through the gate, but we were both out of clip-board man’s grasp by the time he turned back to where Ying Li had been.
When we were well clear of the gate, Ying Li said, “Thank you. That man just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I think he had some sort of quota to make, but I don’t see why I should have to give him my details when I don’t want to.”
“I know that where I come from both the Restoration Party and the Progressives are considered extremists, so I can see why you wouldn’t want either of them to have your details.” To try and smooth over any awkwardness my statement might cause, because politics can be difficult, I added, “Mind you, my home town usually elects our representatives from the Scholars’ Collective, Workforce Unity or the Democratic Front, so we’re very middle of the road.”
“I didn’t see any of them out there pinning me to a wall, so they could sign me up for a newsletter I don’t want,” replied Ying Li. “Where is this citadel of moderateness that you come from?”
“Jingshi in Zhongxiaoshan. I came here for the Earth Sciences course.” I decided not to go into the other details.
“I come from Cha Shihe, it’s considered to be one of the outer southern suburbs of Xiamtian.  My parents would have liked me to have stayed at home while I studied here, but it’s just too far – the railway doesn’t go in our direction, and our part of the suburb is still on a rural bus timetable.” I must have looked confused because she added, “Once an hour in each direction, from six in the morning until six at night. It would take me an hour by bus to get to the nearest railway station, so I just wouldn’t be able to make it here in time for eight o’clock classes or home after late finishes. I’m in Classical Studies, but I want to take a lot of electives from Modern Studies, so I can get into provincial administration. I think things at the civil service level could be done better, particularly outside the designated urban areas.”
I was impressed. “You’ve really thought about it, haven’t you? I’m afraid that I haven’t thought that far ahead. I mean, It’s Earth Sciences, it ties into my gi studies, and helps me understand my gi better, plus if I have to stop being a professional fighter, it gives me something else to go into. Do you know where Classical Studies Building 2 is?”
We were on the edge of the Classical and Modern Studies buildings, and l didn’t know their layout when you approached them from the east.
“It’s over this way,” Ying Li indicated a blue roofed courtyard house. “You’re a professional gi fighter? Are you any good? Should I have heard of you?”
“I’ve had some success, but I don’t have my professional name yet. I want to keep going on the professional circuit, but common sense tells me that the end of my career could be one fight away. Preparing for life out of the ring while I have the resources to do so seems prudent.” I gave a self-deprecating smile.
“Very.” She gave me a small smile back. “What are you planning to do with your gi fighting?”
“I started because my father was talking about organising my engagement to someone he hadn’t picked out yet, and my gi teacher had said he thought I’d do well on the professional circuit, so it seemed like the time to try it while I could.” I gave another self-deprecating smile. “What I do with it is support myself, then my household, and my family. I pay my taxes, of course, to run public services for everyone. After that, investment to support me and my household in my old age, and find some charity or investment that will help improve the future for everyone.”
“That’s more thought out than I expected,” admitted Ying Li. “Most jocks at school were ‘Hey, prestige! Money!’ Most of them didn’t seem to think about what they were going to do with it.”
We entered the courtyard of Classical Studies Building 2 to be confronted by a double row of naturalistic statues, apparently of famous philosophers.  “Money is only worth what you do with it,” I commented.
“So, are these conspicuous consumption, or learning tools, do you think?” Ying Li indicated the statues with one hand.
I considered the matter and replied, “Status objects. Have you seen the outside of the Yu Tan Kee Lecture Theatres over in Earth Sciences? They’ve got a statue of the Celestial Land Dragon on the roof, and a frieze with fox maidens entertaining our esteemed founders.”
“Do you think the senior faculty stand around at parties comparing statuary?” Ying Li looked at me quizzically.
“There are more embarrassing things they could be comparing,” I pointed out. “I have lots of siblings, and they have lots of friends. It could be much worse. At least Elder Brother Hu and his university friends only competed to see who could build the tallest tower in the shortest time.” I added, “They’re engineering students.”
“Ah.” Ying Li nodded. “I think that explains it then. Our room should be in the west building, there’s the entrance over there.” As we passed the statue of a northern philosopher, she asked, “Do northerners really have noses like that? It’s so big, and the end is sort of round and lumpy.”
I answered, “I haven’t seen one like that, but their noses do seem to be bigger than ours. Why does he have bunches of grapes carved into his pedestal?”
There was an influx of students into the courtyard from the eastern building, and we realised that we were probably in the class changeover period, so Ying Li and I hurried into the west building and found our tutorial room on the second floor. About two thirds of the class was already there, and we slipped into the two seats in the second row of twelve that were furthest from the door. The seat next to me, on the opposite side to Ying Li, was taken by a young man with a tattooed dragon’s claw on his hand nearest me, with the dragon’s limb disappearing up the sleeve of his blacks, and the tattooed dragon’s head emerging from behind his collar to sit on his neck below his jaw. I hadn’t seen the tattoo in our Arts tutorial, and it sat incongruously with his neat grooming.
The rest of the class arrived. Time for the tutorial to begin came, passed, and we had no tutor. We were beginning to pull out our timetables to doublecheck the details, and to contemplate finding a faculty office to ask what we should do, when someone arrived. An elderly gentleman with a long thin white beard, matching moustache, and a bald head walked in and stood behind the tutor’s desk. He was dressed in an extremely formal version of scholar’s robes, much nicer than anything my father owned, and our group response was to stand and bow.
“Thank you, children. Please, be seated.” He made some genial ‘get on with it’ hand gestures, and we all sat down again. “I’m afraid that you are all owed an apology. Your tutor should be Zang Xin, but he suffered an unfortunate incident on his way in this morning, and consequently will be in hospital for some time. We have spent the morning trying to organise appropriate coverage of his classes, but unfortunately everyone besides me has a prior engagement or obligation for this time. It’s been a number of years since I took tutorials, but I’m sure we can rub along together in a productive fashion. I’m Professor Bai Qing, Tang Chair of Epistemology, and I expect that we’ll be together at least until Zang Xin is able to return to work.” He smiled. “You may all address me as Professor Bai, or sir. My office is on the ground floor of the front building of this structure, my office hours for students are posted next to my name in the foyer, and I will warn my secretary to expect you.”
Professor Bai paused and then went on, “Now, assessments and examinations. You will be given readings each week in your lecture. Don’t ignore them, because each week you will be given five questions in this tutorial to which you will have to write one-page answers for three of them. Those answers will be handed in during the following Philosophy tutorial, marked, and then discussed in the Philosophy tutorial after that. A third of your potential marks are based on those answers, and you require seventy percent across the year to pass the course. Your Art tasks and your exams will evenly split the remainder of your potential marks. Any questions?”
We were all quiet. Professor Bai looked around the room, slightly surprised if his expression was to be believed, then started asking us questions about the content of our first lecture. He wrote things on the board, and asked more questions. Some people pulled out their lecture notes. The young man beside me put up his hand and, when called upon, stood and bowed, then asked politely, “Loong Lung, sir. Would it be incorrect to assume that because of the short notice you had before taking on this class, you haven’t had a chance to review the lecturer’s notes?”
Professor Bai chuckled and tossed a piece of chalk in the air, catching it expertly as it fell. “You’ve caught me,” he admitted. “I will be better prepared next week, but I don’t think I’m doing too badly for someone who had very little notice they were teaching this subject this morning. Now, a return question for you, young Loong. Name two ways you personally violate the precepts we’ve been discussing.”
Loong Lung bowed. “I cut my hair, and I have a tattoo. Both violate the principle of personal physical integrity as it was proposed, and allegedly practiced.”
“Allegedly practiced?” Professor Bai raised an eyebrow.
“Surviving writings say that people didn’t cut their hair, get tattoos, etc,” replied Loong Lung politely, “but that’s according to people who could afford to write on durable materials. We don’t know if they exaggerated their own virtue, or how people outside their level of society or beyond their control acted. There are dangers in basing one’s conclusions on one, unverified, set of data.” He sat down.
Professor Bai smiled. “Yes, the issue of how we know what we know. So-and-so said so. Why do we believe so and so? What other views could there be? Let’s have a quick look at today’s list of questions, shall we?”
We went over the list of questions, with Professor Bai making helpful remarks like, “Remember, you only have to answer three of the five,” and “Notice that there are different types of question in this list; some want your opinion, some want a review of other opinions, and some want a comparison,” plus “You may find yourself most comfortable or skilled with a particular type of question, and concentrating on them will help your tutorial marks, but all these types of questions may appear as non-optional elements of your exams – you should practice them all.”
The class went quickly, and as we finished up, Professor Bai said, “And just one more thing.” He held up a piece of paper, “When we say ‘one page’ we mean one standard Tang-jian leaf written in fourteen to sixteen point script. More than that is too verbose or too detailed for this assignment. Less may be acceptable, depending on your answer. Colour doesn’t matter as long it is legible, and try not to be too adventurous with your ink and paper colour combinations because you may get a marker at some point who doesn’t have standard eyesight.” He smiled, “I think that covers most of the usual issues. Now, I look forward to seeing your answers next week. You may leave now.”
I packed up my things, said good bye to Ying Li, and decided to drop my letters of introduction off in Physical Sciences before I had lunch. As Physical Sciences was at the northern end of the campus and I was down in the southeast corner, with only an hour before I needed to be over in Earth Sciences for my Physical Geography tutorial, I set off at a brisk walk. It wasn’t long before I was feeling the heat again, and I began to consider whether I should get a parasol. By the time I passed the Chancellor’s Office building, a parasol was definitely on my list of things to buy, and the coolness of Physical Sciences Building 4 was a great relief when I entered the foyer of the front building. The name plates in the foyer put the three scholars to whom I had introductions on the second floor, so I went up the stairs and followed the signs that read ‘Energy Faculty Reception’.
Last School Day of the First Week (Part 2) can be found here.

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Ahh. I don't entirely know why I enjoy Nai so much, but these entries are always quite satisfying. Maybe it's because she seems so sensible, and comes up with usually quite good solutions to every day problems, and does well socially most of the time. The world and its magic are also fascinating, and then there's the occasional sprinkle of action and mystery.

Thank you for the kind words.

I originally thought that it would run for about four episodes to get through the story in my head....

Now, if I could just get things to post in a readable font everywhere.

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