The signs led me to a desk at the western end of the floor where it looked like a room had been demolished and remodelled into an open support area. There were several empty desks, storage cupboards labelled with the names of stationery items, and a board of names with statuses such as ‘teaching’ or ‘out of office’ beside them. A thin, middle-aged woman with a heavily powdered face sat at the desk labelled ‘Reception’. I bowed politely, and said, “Good afternoon, I’m here to deliver some letters of introduction. I realise that the addressees probably aren’t available now, so how should I proceed?”
“If you leave the letters with me, I’ll see that they go to the right people,” replied the lady. “You’ll have to come back for the responses, I’m assuming you want meetings of some kind, and I’m not sure when you’ll get an answer.”
“So, if I just come back every afternoon next week until I have my replies?” I smiled cautiously at her.
“That would be best.” She looked at me appraisingly, “It would help if I had your name, so I know which replies are for you?”
“I’m Sung Nai, ma’am.” I handed her the letters of introduction. “Thank you for your help.”
She looked at the writing. “Professor Hu Kun?” She looked at me again. “You don’t look like an astrophysicist, yet.”
I made a self-disparaging gesture. “I’m not, ma’am. I’m in Earth Sciences, and I’m a gi student. Energy relationships interest me.”
She smiled, and suddenly looked like a family’s favourite aunt. “That’s the most coherent explanation of why anyone wants to see a faculty member I’ve heard in the last two days. I’ll see that your letters are delivered, and, between you and me, you’re most likely to get answers on second day next week. Now, I have other things I need to be doing, and I’m sure you do too. Good bye, and I’ll see you next week.” She went back to doing something on her desk, and I took myself back down the stairs, then outside, and off in the direction of Physical Sciences.
I found a seat under an exotic tree near the Earth Sciences faculty building to eat my lunch on. It was conveniently placed, with a water bubbler also under the tree’s shade, and although I had to eat in a hurry, I did get to my Physical Geography tutorial on time. Scholar Wu Gin was already there when I arrived, putting printed handouts at each assigned seating place. The other students who were already in place were reading their copies.
When he had finished handing out the document, Scholar Wu took his place at the front of the room, beckoned in a pair of people hovering uncertainly in the door way, and said, “Don’t worry, you are not late, I started early. The document in front of you is a copy of the marking criteria for the written assignments that you will be given in this class. I, for one, see no point in holding students to standards that have not been explained to them. Please become familiar with the contents because following them will both help you present your work in a professional manner, and maximise your marks for this section of your coursework. If any of you submit an article to one of the scholarly and/or professional geographical journals for publication, you will find that they have the same requirements for layout, references, and bibliography.” Then he led us into a discussion of the lecture and the readings that had been assigned. The last five minutes of the class were spent on the questions we had to address for the next tutorial, and then we were dismissed.
I was packing up my bag and considering what I was going to do with myself in the hour before my Statistics tutorial when Scholar Wu walked over to my desk. Most of the class was already out the door, although Mu Gen was still at the next desk and Shai Ben was packing up across the room. Scholar Wu said politely, “Excuse me, Miss Sung,” I looked up, “but had we met before the Alumni Association lunch in Orientation Week? I’ve been getting the persistent feeling that I’d met you before that, but I can’t remember where.” He looked at me expectantly.
I considered lying. Briefly, but then decided that would lead to more potential awkwardness in the future, so I replied, “We met, very briefly, on the train here from the capital. I was distributing New Year’s dumplings.” I added, “I had no idea who you were until the lunch.”
“New Year on the train?” He looked apologetic and said, “I’m afraid I was very…inebriated that night. I remember a lot of incense, and there were dumplings, I remember that….” He froze for a moment and asked carefully, “Miss Sung, do I owe you an apology?”
I took a deep breath and said, “Sir, you made a detailed suggestion, I gave my excuses for not taking you up on it, and that was it. If you don’t remember the details, then perhaps we should leave it at that?”
“So, you don’t plan on complaining to the university authorities about me?” Scholar Wu seemed genuinely worried.
“Sir, we weren’t in the university at the time. Neither of us knew who the other was, and you made an admittedly detailed suggestion, but there was no threat over my compliance or not. I don’t see that the incident has anything to do with the university.” I smiled. “Now, if someone in your position here did the same thing now, and threatened my marks to obtain compliance and/or silence, then that would be a matter for the university. Agreed?”
Scholar Wu nodded vigorously and looked relieved. “Thank you, Miss Sung, for your…honesty and clarity. I should, perhaps, endeavour to avoid that quantity of alcohol in the future. Possibly also that amount of incense. I trust my future behaviour will not disappoint you.”
“It’s just as much to the point, sir, that you do not disappoint yourself.” I wasn’t quite sure why I was suddenly feeling like the senior person in this conversation.
“I apologise if my actions upset you in anyway, Miss Sung.” Scholar Wu bowed slightly, “I should let you get on with you day. Thank you.” He turned and quickly left the room, nodding to the two other students on his way out.
Once he was gone, Mu Gen finished pretending to be still putting his things away, and came over to me saying, “Are you alright, Sung? That looked intense and awkward.” There was concern in the eyes under the shaggy fringe.
“Yeah,” that was from Shai Ben who’d crossed the room just as quickly. “Is there anything we should be worried about for you?”
I looked at them both and answered, “Thank you, but everything’s fine. There might have been problems, but I think it’s all sorted out.” I sighed, and added, “I’m going to go and have a pot of tea before my Statistics tutorial. You two?”
“Done for the week,” said Shai Ben. “I’m off home to get some work done before I go out tonight. Mu Gen?”
“I have to go to work,” answered Mu Gen. “Things to get done, or I don’t get paid. I’ll see you guys next week.” He bowed and was gone, but Shai Ben walked downstairs with me before we separated to go off in different directions.
I took myself off to Views of the Kwaizhu and ordered a pot of tea with two extra cups, in case Liang Ai and Ong Tien were able to join me. Then I took out the philosophy and geography questions, and started making rough notes.
Both girls joined me about half an hour before our Statistics tutorial was due to start, and I offered them tea. “Thank you,” replied Ong Tien. “I don’t think I care how long it’s been steeping.” Both girls sat down, and I poured for them. “I know my schedule is crazy, but why do we have a lecture at lunchtime on the fifth day of the week?”
“Because the scheduler hates the Hydrography tutors and doesn’t care about us,” replied Liang Ai. She drank some tea, “This might have been steeping for ages, but it still tastes better than the stuff I buy. Did you both get all the revision problems done?”
I put down the questions I was working on, and pulled out my statistics problems, just to doublecheck. So did Ong Tien. The three of us then compared our answers, and were relieved that they weren’t identical, but they were the same. We finished the tea, packed our work away, and took ourselves off to the tutorial.
The room was still in use by another class when we arrived, so we waited quietly in the corridor for it to finish. By the time it did, most of us were there, standing over our book bags or leaning against the wall. The other class emerged, some of them looking very angry, and we filed in to find Ai Kwan already in the tutor’s seat. He looked up at us, and said, “Please don’t worry that I will consider you late for arriving after me – my last class was in this room and today ran slightly over due to some…fraughtness. I trust that it won’t occur again. Please take you seats, we still have a couple of minutes before the class begins.”
Our last few classmates slid into the room, were assured by Scholar Ai that they weren’t late, and took their places. Then we reviewed our out-of-class revision questions, and continued on to more revision. By the time the class was done, we had gone over all the statistics we’d covered in secondary school, and Scholar Kwan was satisfied that we were prepared for the rest of the course. There were no problems assigned this time, just three chapters of reading in preparation for the next week.
We left, relieved that our first week was over. Ong Tien, Liang Ai, and I walked downstairs together, and separated there. Ong Tien was going home, Liang Ai wanted to do some work in the library, and my route home took me in a different direction to Ong Tien. Unexpectedly, I found myself walking towards the university entrance with Loong Lung who’d just finished a Statistics for Modern and Classical Sciences tutorial. We compared notes and discovered that both subjects had spent their first week of tutorials doing revision. We talked a little more about our shared class, and how empty the campus seemed at this time of the week, then we reached the bus stops.
I expected him to wait for a bus, but he turned up the street with me and said apologetically, “I’m not following you, really. My grandfather’s waiting for me up at the corner with his car. I hope you don’t mind me walking with you.”
“You haven’t been objectionable,” I told him, “and I’m never going to make friends if I don’t talk to people.”
Loong Lung laughed. “You haven’t met my grandfather yet,” he warned me. “He can be a bit over the top. I think he has plans for me, not that he’s explained them to me.”
“Last time I saw my father, he’d come up with what he thought was a wonderful plan for my future,” I admitted. “He did explain it, and that was the problem. If your grandfather is prepared to encourage you to study something you want to study, perhaps his plans aren’t too far from what you want to do?”
“There’ll be strings,” said Loong Lung darkly. “There always are, and here’s his car.”
There was an expensive black sedan sitting by the curb at the beginning of the side street, and a bald man of Loong Lung’s height climbed out of the back seat to stand on the footpath. He was dressed in a lurid casual robe patterned with large theatrical masks and terrestrial dragons. The difference between his robe and his skin was that the details of his tattoos, which extended over his scalp, were finer.
“That’s Grandfather,” confirmed Loong Lung. “I’ll have to introduce him; his name is Loong Shi.”
“Should I call him Mr Loong or Master Loong?” I suspected that those tattoos signified something.
“Master Loong would make him very happy,” admitted Loong Lung. “It’s complicated, but correct.”
I accompanied him over to the car, and bowed politely while Loong Lung said, “Grandfather, I’m sorry if I kept you waiting. This,” he indicated me, “is my classmate, Sung Nai, who happened to be walking in the same direction. Miss Sung, this is my grandfather, Loong Shi.”
I bowed again, “Master Loong, it is an honour.”
He bowed in return. “Miss Sung, the pleasure is mine.” His voice had a rough note that I associated with Master Que. “I regret that my grandson and I cannot linger for further conversation.”
“I quite understand, Master Loong.” I smiled. “I have to be getting home myself. I hope that your evening goes well.”
“And yours, Miss Sung.” We all bowed again, the two men got into the car, and I crossed the road to continue home.
I arrived back at the house in Heng Mien Street wondering whether I should have gotten the bus after all in this weather. Master Que was pleased to advise me that we had a working phone line and number. There was also a note from my solicitors, asking me to come and see them the next day to finalise the contract with my proposed agents, and to discuss the television station contract.
I called them to confirm the appointment using my new phone, and so my next day was organised.
This is now followed by More Domesticity and Business.