From my point of view, the rest of the evening passed without undue incident. Master Que did talk to Master Kung, but he didn’t share anything from the conversation with me. The manager of The Riverside Terrace dropped by our table and said some kind things about our actions the previous week, and I visited Gow Sien Tong at his new stable’s table to pay my respects. On the way back to our table for tea and a plate of sweets I paused to exchange niceties with Master Dang and again to exchange bows with Master and Madam Kung. When I got back to the table, Master Que introduced me to both another of the local Hoshun Masters, Master Yi who was a tall, thin, bald man who kept his hands tucked together in his robe sleeves across the front of his torso, and his associate, Zhu Shu Xu who was emaciated and neither looked nor smelt well. Zhu Shu Xu graciously accepted my offer of tea when the fresh pot arrived, and slowly drank half a cup while the two Masters finished their conversation. When he and Master Yi moved on, Zhu Shu Xu’s gait was almost painfully careful; Master Que and I exchanged glances but said nothing.
Master Que and I stepped out of the restaurant when we were done with our food and socialising, hailed a taxi almost immediately, and got home just as it started to rain.
I, for one, was grateful for the arrangement of verandahs around the courtyard that allowed us to get inside to our rooms without getting very wet. I’d been told that it doesn’t rain often in Xiamtian in late summer, but no-one had mentioned that it might try keep the monthly rainfall average up when it did. I resolved to check for leaks if the downpour kept up.
It was still raining when I woke up in the morning to the dulcet tones of Madam He blaming her son, He Ban, for a window being left open and the rain blowing in during the night. Happily, my morning routine meant that I didn’t hear their entire conversation. Master Que was already in the kitchen when I got downstairs for breakfast and he’d already brewed a pot of tea. I made the morning offering to the Lao family shrine and had breakfast. Master Que assured me that he would check the house for leaks, and I recounted the He household’s morning conversation as I had heard it.
“It will be a good thing when you can select another bedroom,” observed Master Que over a steaming cup of unadulterated tea. “Aside from your morning instalments of events in the He household, I cannot consider that your current room accords with your status as the householder of this establishment. It is a dignity you should embrace.” He gave me a grin and added, “Me, I like to be comfortable, so I never much bothered with my own dignity, but you do need a proper bed.”
“I know,” I acknowledged, “and the sooner the Lao family takes away the rest of the furniture they want to keep or sell for the mutual good, the sooner I can see exactly what I have to work with. In the meantime, I can cope.”
Master Que gave me a look but didn’t say anything and kept drinking his tea.
I walked to the university under my butterfly umbrella and arrived at my Geology tutorial drier than about half my classmates. I exchanged greetings with Gou Jian and his bench mate, Ang Shen, and asked after Ang’s hand injury before taking my seat with Kun An, Bao Xiang, and Wang Guai up the back of the room. Tay Yang arrived and gave us a new vocabulary list before answering questions about the week’s lecture material and handing out the week’s study task. The last portion of the class was spent going over what we were expected to produce in response to the study task, and then we were released.
I decided to follow up my replies from the Energy Faculty on my way to the Gi Club meeting and headed to the library to work on my notes, readings and assignments. Kun An went off with Kwan Ren to have tea, and Wang Guai said something about having to go to the bank. As Bao Xiang was going to buy his geography supplies, I expected to be unaccompanied in the library.
I worked quietly on my own for almost three quarters of an hour, going through the readings that had accumulated for the week and making notes. I was beginning to rough out my Geology study task response, because I’d just done the readings and I knew what I wanted to say, when there was a disturbance further down the long reading table where I was working. A group of five students were dropping their bags and books on the table around the student who was already working there on his own. I felt the table shake from the impacts. Then they started hailing him by name; not polite, everyday greetings but loud cries of “Ji Wei! Here you are! What are you doing?”
The student looked up and said something that was probably at a perfectly normal conversational tone because I couldn’t hear what he said.
One of the students standing next to him, a girl of medium height with her hair in dumpling buns, replied loudly, “Then we should be a study group and study together. We can all use those readings you’ve borrowed, and we can discuss them together.”
I did hear his very firm reply of, “No. I’m studying alone. Please sit further away from me.” He tried to return to his work, but the girl put her hand, palm down, on the page in front of him.
Without lowering her volume at all the girl went on, “Now, don’t be antisocial, Ji Wei. We’re all in the same tutorial group this year, so we should be working together!”
I thought that Ji Wei sighed before he said, “I’m not working on any of our core subjects this morning – I’m doing work for my elective, and I don’t believe any of you take it.”
She pouted and said, “But you could swap, for us? Couldn’t you?”
“As you can’t change my assignment and presentation schedule, no.” He laid down his pen and asked, “Why don’t you go and bother someone else?”
A second girl, this one with long bangs over her face and a television ghost show themed backpack, said, “It would be a pity if anything unfortunate happened to those readings you’re using, wouldn’t it?”
“And that would get you banned from the library, wouldn’t it Huan Dou?” I thought Ji Wei’s smile looked tired.
Her smile was disconcertingly sunny. “No, the readings are logged out to you, so you’d get banned – and maybe stuck in here until things were sorted out. That might mean that you might miss the tutorial at noon, mightn’t it?”
Ji Wei looked around at the four girls and said, “None of you have done the reading task for the class, have you? And let me guess, all the reserved readings are out. Sorry, but I don’t have any of them - this stuff is all tea trade in the Fu period.”
“We’ll copy and then paraphrase your response,” pointed out the short haired girl with the angry expression. “Not a problem.”
“Only if you all got wood beads from the draw to see which question you have write to,” replied Ji Wei.
The tall girl with the long braid swore, loudly.
The girl with the dumpling buns, still pouting, said, “Well it’s your job to find out all the questions and write answers for us, isn’t it?”
“No,” said Ji Wei, “and this isn’t getting your responses written, plus Ju Sang has probably just called a librarian.”
“Like they’re going to care,” scoffed Ju Sang.
Apparently they did care because at that point a severe looking librarian with one of the most magnificent male topknots I’d ever seen outside of a classical illustration bustled over and said firmly, “Ladies, this is a study area. Please speak quietly among yourselves and treat both the furniture and other users with respect.”
Pouty dumpling buns smiled sweetly at him and said, “But it wasn’t our fault, sir. Ji Wei was supposed to help us with our work for today’s tutorial and he hasn’t, so we were naturally cross.”
Wang Guai sat down on the other side of me from the scene at the other end of the table and said quietly as he bowed in his seat, “Sung Nai, I hope you don’t mind me sitting here. What’s going on down there?”
“Bad behaviour,” I offered quietly. “I think they were bullying him and now they’re trying to blame him for the disturbance?”
“Are you paying attention in case a witness is needed?” Wang Guai was pulling out his Literature text book. “I know that girl with the dumpling buns – the entire family has delusions of importance and just enough money to supply themselves with evidence to support their world view.”
“Supposed to help you?” The librarian sounded sceptical. “Perhaps you young ladies have never heard that sound travels? It seems that I and other staff members have heard more of your conversation than you imagine. You will come with me now to see the senior duty librarian or submit to exclusion from the library for a week – we do not take threats to library materials lightly.” He turned to Ji Wei and added, “Young man, please avoid the study tables at the southwest corner of the main library desk – they are reserved for problematic students with restrictions, as I believe your classmates are about to discover.”
“Wow!” Wang Guai sounded either impressed or surprised. “I was sure she’d trot out how much money her family donated to the university. Speaking of money, have you been hearing anything odd about the university branch of the Vault of Industrious Diligence?”
I turned to him and said quietly, “Do you bank there too? I had trouble getting money out of my account – they called the police.”
“In my case they asked to examine my chop, and I told them I wasn’t handing them my legal identity.” He smiled. “The senior teller processed my transaction for me after I told them that I would be delighted for them to call the police, and so would my family’s legal representatives. How did you get around them?” He considered for a moment and asked, “Did you get around them?”
“I’d met the police detectives who responded to their call before, in connection with another matter. They spoke privately to the manager and I was processed by another teller.” I asked, “Do you think we got the same first teller?”
“Sour expression, fertile face proportions, hair pulled back into braids?” Wang Guai was laying out his pens and working paper.
“Fertile face proportions?” It wasn’t a phrasing you heard often.
“My surviving grandmother’s hobby is matchmaking, so I’ve learnt the lingo in self-defence,” explained Wang Guai, “and you knew what I meant.”
“I did,” I conceded. “Aside from the expression, it does sound like the same person. When I was there the supervisor on duty and the manager seemed to think the same way the teller did. The supervisor was a woman in tailored blacks with a corporate pin, and the manager was a Mr Shu.”
“The senior teller today was a man,” said Wang Guai as he opened his text book. “He seemed…annoyed when he found out that she’d demanded to examine my chop.”
“I’m sure the manager got a talking to from the detectives,” I commented. “Or maybe this supervisor doesn’t agree with the others about students with more than the usual available funds being suspicious?”
“Is that the excuse they gave you?” Wang Guai looked sceptical. “I suspect it was an excuse – but it’s not our problem for now. What is my problem is this literature background, if you’ll excuse me?”
We settled down into our studies until I had to leave to get to my Physical Geography lab. Ji Wei got up from the table at the same time I did, and we returned our materials to the reservations desk at the same time, although we did not speak to each other. I did notice that he headed off in a direction that suggested he was probably going to a Classical Studies class, but I had no reason to be particularly interested except to be pleased that there was no sign of the five girls from earlier.
I spent a productive hour laying out my map and listening to the whistled Marshal’s Serenade. By the time I was done, my settlements were placed, my water courses past and present were in place, and my land use boundaries were sketched in. I’d also considered whether I needed to have more than one legend item for settlements, and it seemed to me that I’d had a productive session. Scholar Wu had spent the session wandering around the room and talking to everyone about their map at least once, and finished the class be reminding us of our tasks for the tutorial and bidding everyone to spend the next week thinking about their legends. His final words were, “And don’t forget to check your requirements list for the next lab!”
I found a quiet, dry place to eat my lunch on the way to the Statistics lecture, and then spent five minutes listening to Ong Tien vent about the other students in her Modern History tutorial while we took our seats. Professor Cao gestured vigorously again, and a portion of my notes wound up looking like dance moves with lyric notations. After the lecture we had Quimong tea and bean paste cakes in Views of the Kwaizhu under the Third Moon to fortify us for what we were doing next before we separated.
I stopped in at the Energy Faculty reception area in Physical Sciences Building 4 on my way to Gi Club to check with the heavily powdered receptionist whether there were any messages for me. There I found myself in a queue behind three senior students who were asking to change their dissertation supervisor; not all together, but each of them individually. The second and third of them must each have heard which form they needed to fill in, but each of them insisted on telling the entire room their problems with their assigned supervisor and asking to talk to the dissertation co-ordinator. By the time the third of them had finished listing his issues in a deliberately penetrating voice, I suspected that Associate Professor Nei Li may have been hiding in his or her office to avoid people like this.
When I was able to approach the counter, I bowed slightly to the heavily powdered lady and said, “You may remember me, ma’am. I am Sung Nai and we discussed when I should come back to see if there were any messages for me.”
She looked at me for a moment as if checking her memory, then smiled and replied, “Ah, yes. The polite one.” She said it like that was a good but rare thing and gave me her favourite aunty smile. “I think there’s at least one reply for you.” She got up and went to check a set of pigeon holes acting as a divider between her work area and some powered office machinery. There was a handful of envelopes in there and she pulled them all out, so she could flip through them to extract two. Those she brought over to me after putting the rest of the stack back in their slot. “Two replies.” She smiled at me again and added, “Professor Wu Han can keep strange hours because of his studies, which is why I didn’t see him put his message in.” She handed the letters to me.
I looked at them and asked, “Ma’am, would it be all right if I sat in your reception area to read these and check whether I need to reply straight away?”
“Of course,” she smiled at me. “Just sit anywhere,” she gestured at the seating. “I can take any return notes for you. I’ll be here.” She sat down and resumed her work.
I sat down on a wooden waiting chair and opened my letters. Both Professor Wu Han and Associate Professor Pu Guang would like to meet me, based on Professor Hu’s recommendations, and enquired as to my availability fourth day and fifth day. I pulled out a pad of paper and wrote out two almost identical letters advising each of them of the other’s request, to allow them to co-ordinate with each other if they wished, setting out my current availability on the days in question. I went back to the counter and waited in line behind a student who was trying to track down some lost property. When it was my turn, I asked the receptionist if I could buy two envelopes from her office stock for my replies.
“For asking,” she smiled at me, “you may have two envelopes.” She handed them over, and I stepped to one side to address them and make sure that I was putting the right letter in the right envelope.
I handed them back to her, thanked her for her help, and while her back was turned to put my letters in the right slots, I dropped five standard taels into the medical charity collection tin on the desk. Then I hurried off to the Gi Club meeting.
This is now followed by I Manage To Cause Contention.