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Disrupting Arrangements
Master Que
This follows on from Thank Heaven, Not Everything That Happens Is About Me and is 3,553 words long.

Some university activities may have been disrupted, but my classes weren’t.  The meeting between Professor Pu and the lady administrator ended rather abruptly after the explosion.  She made a phone call and then left to return to the Chancellor’s Offices.  Professor Pu returned to his office to try to find out what was happening to his home before his next work obligation.  Associate Professor Nei Li co-opted Fu Ji into helping him work out which of the graduate students were likely to need a place to stay.  The receptionist had contacted the central Physical Sciences administration to find out if she was needed to do anything for the greater school, and I quietly withdrew to find a pay phone.  When I did, I called Mr Han at Golden Mountain Real Estate in check whether there were any issues on their part if I offered anyone else a room.  The answer was that if it was for a limited period, I didn’t charge rent, and it didn’t result in damage to the property, there wouldn’t be a problem – as along as I obeyed the rules about furniture use.

That last one was probably going to be a problem.  Personally, I was hoping that the gi use I’d felt before I heard the explosion had managed to limit the damage from the explosion so that we were only looking at temporary inconvenience and not permanent relocations.

On my way back to the library to do some work before the Introductory Literature lecture, I dropped into Student Services to let them know that I could literally offer floor space if anyone was truly desperate for somewhere to stay.  The middle-aged man behind the counter when I said that asked about furniture and I answered truthfully that the house was full of furniture that I wasn’t allowed to use.  He looked at me over the top of his glasses, and I added that I was in the process of buying the house and that my amendments to the contract said that the furniture still in the house when the sale was completed became mine too.  I believe that the following twitch of his lips was a smile trying to happen.

The library had instructions at the lending desks for people whose due materials were still in the apartments they’d been evacuated from.  While I was reading them, because why not, the male librarian with the magnificent topknot came and pinned up two more notices, both beginning with the date in red.  The first was a formal provincial government health advisory for an area that I recognised as being east of the Boulevard and was due to smoke from the fire, with a notation that the affected area would change if the wind shifted.  The second was a formal evacuation and exclusion notice from the provincial emergency authority, and it had a map for the currently geographically challenged like me; nine blocks centred on the fire’s location were to remain empty until the fire had been extinguished and each building checked for structural soundness “following fire-triggered explosions of surprising force.”

I went and found a public phone that wasn’t in use and tried ringing Master Que at the house.  It rang out twice without answering, so I assumed that he wasn’t at home.  Then I rang the real estate agent again asked to speak with Mr Han.  I told him about the evacuation order and asked if I could offer accommodation using the furniture on behalf of myself and the Lao family before someone in authority thought to requisition my spare space.  Mr Han asked to be excused for a moment, I heard muffled voices while, presumably, he had a conversation with someone in the office, and then he came back to me.

“Miss Sung,” he sounded slightly apologetic, “the firm’s principal agent has just received a call from the provincial emergency authority activating our participation in the emergency housing plan.  That could lead to us being required to offer up the rest of your residence for emergency housing.  So, yes, please make the offer now while you may have some control over who will be sharing your home.  I will contact the Lao family representative now and point out that pre-emptive co-operation with the plan has distinct advantages.  If you could confine the extra use, as much as possible, to bedroom furniture, bed linens, and kitchenware it would be appreciated.”

“Thank you, Mr Han.”  I was apologetic in my turn.  “I am sorry to be taking up your time.”

“Not at all,” Mr Han was kind.  “You’ve allowed me to productively to put off making the awkward phone calls in this matter.  Now, if you will excuse me…”

“Of course,” I replied, and we ended the call.

I put aside my study plans and went back to Student Services to revise my offer of accommodation.  After consulting with them, I then went to theSchool of Earth Sciences’ administration offices to put my offer to my own study stream first.  There were three staff members manning the reception area when I arrived, and two of them were at desks going through thick manuals when I arrived.  The middle-aged man at the counter placed a pad of forms on the counter in front of him as I approached.

I bowed politely.  “Good afternoon.  I am Sung Nai, a first year Earth Sciences student.  I’ve come about the evacuation order due to the fire in Bai Cun Road.”

“Of course.”  He sounded kind but detached.  “We have this form to fill in for you to request emergency help.”  He pushed the pad and a pen towards me.

“Thank you, but I don’t need somewhere to stay.”  I shook my head.  “I’m here to offer rooms to people who need them until they can return them, on behalf of myself and my landlords, the Lao family.  I believe that the late Professor Lao, whose house it was, was a member of the Classical Studies staff.”

“That’s an entirely different form,” said the staff member with the merest hint of a smile.  “How many rooms, Miss Sung?”

I’d already worked that out in my head.  “Six that I’m sure of, and possibly more.  I believe that I can supply bed linen, but not personal toiletries or changes of clothing.”  I smiled apologetically.

“Six bedrooms?”  He paused in mid action.

“It’s an old-style courtyard house,” I explained, “and some of the bedrooms are overly full of Lao family furniture.  Hence there are only six not already in use that I am certain can be accessed without some major rearrangement.  Also, I know the bed linens are still there from Professor Lao’s residence but I’m not sure about the quantity or quality of them.”

“Six bedrooms is helpful,” he replied as he pulled another pad of forms from below the counter.  “I expect that we will have more people looking for help once news of the exclusion order spreads.  According to the radio news, the fire is almost out but there are concerns about heated volatile chemicals and structural integrity.  And the smoke, of course.”  Apparently this was a form that he had to fill out, because he took my details and entered the information himself.  When we got to the section about who else already live in the house, I had to provide a character reference for Master Que and when I gave the Hoshun Affiliation Association the gentleman helping me asked, “And you are confident that they will speak well of this Que Tzu?”

“I am confident that they will,” I replied.  “I, myself, have been his gi student since I was six and his behaviour towards me has been exemplary.  Do you require other references for him?”

“I believe not.”  He surveyed the form.  “If you can sign here, please Miss Sung?”  He turned the pad around so that I could read it and indicated the line with one finger.

I skimmed through the entries, then took the offered pen and signed.  “My last class, Statistics, finishes at six today.  Do you want me to come back here to collect anyone who might be coming home with me by half past six?”

“That would be most satisfactory, Miss Sung.”  He surveyed the completed form.  “We will see you then.”

I gave up on the library and went straight to my Introductory Literature lecture.  I was early and had to wait outside while the lecture before ours finished.  Liang Ai joined me just as the last of the previous class left the room, and Wan Dou arrived a few minutes later.  The room still filled slowly compared to my other lectures this week, but Professor Wu Shan may not have been to everyone’s taste.  There was a final rush of students, and then Professor Wu arrived, just as wrapped in anger as last week.

He began by saying, “Before we start on today’s lecture material, I am going to write up on the board three phrases used in various documents of the period in question that we are not studying.”  He turned and wrote them up, and we dutifully copied them down.  The first two were in completely unfamiliar and thus probably obscure or even archaic characters.  The third one however, I could read enough of to get the jist of it.  I was very surprised that even someone who purported to be unpleasant would use such language in a teaching setting.  Professor Wu waited a moment after he’d turned back to the class and went on, “These are period insults found in various personal documents that are not considered literature, and are, in my opinion, completely appropriate for the persons who are responsible for the goods storage involved in today’s fire on Bai Cun Road.  If you are affected by the exclusion zone around the fire and you have no access to easily available alternate accommodation for the next few weeks, please see your School administration office or Student Services as soon as this lecture is finished.  There is no need for any of you to go without shelter because of this incident.  Now, on to today’s subject matter.”

With that he launched into the lecture proper, which was the same format as last time, including the snark and the glares.  At one point he paused, pointed at the second phrase he had written on the board and said of the noble genealogy he was discussing, “This particular phrase was written by the author to a cousin of his about the brother of the noble client who commissioned the genealogy.  Normally that would have been…unwise.  However, the brother was in rebellion against royal authority at the time, and the dynasty was winning.  You may wish to consider that when reading the genealogy.”  He went back to the main subject matter and finished with five minutes for questions.

Beside me, Liang Ai put up her hand and was called upon to put her question.  She stood, bowed, and the ends of her fair hair touched the top of her seat’s desk.  “Liang Ai, Scholar Wu.  If I may go back to your list of useful phrases from the beginning of the lecture,” a number of people laughed and the professor glared at them, “can you recommend a dictionary for the more obscure characters?  I recognise that the third character in the first phrase contains an older form of the water radical, and I suspect it has a sound indicator too, but if the character represents the word I think it does, then the form has changed considerably.”

“I would recommend Deng Jue’s Archaic Forms,” replied Professor Wu shortly.  “If you are in a position to read any document that’s more than three hundred years old in the original and come across an unfamiliar character, his book is always my recommended starting point.”  He moved on to two other students with questions, and then dismissed us.

Liang Ai and I went straight to Views of the Kwaizhu under the Third Moon and where I ordered a pot of tea with extra cups.  I checked my preparation for the Statistics tutorial, Liang Ai read through her notes from the Literature lecture, and we both waited for Ong Tien.  She arrived harried and with barely time to have a cup of tea before went to our Statistics tutorial.  Her clothes were also wet.

“My Introductory Hydrology lab partner had an accident,” she said by way of explanation, “and water went every where.  I’m fine, my books are fine, but he’s having hysterics about his lecture notes, and it took five of us, including the lab assistants, to mop up all the water while the tutor was calming Bu Heng down.”  She sighed.  “I hope that this doesn’t become a pattern.  Thank you for the tea.”  It had cooled enough for her to drink the entire cup straight down.  “Shall we go and deal with Statistics now?”

Sou Pan arrived at the last minute in his work apron again, Ao Xian was towing along Soong Kuang who looked unhappy in a too big festival robe over Heaven only knew what.  Soong Kuang was another person who’d had to leave home at four in the morning and the robe was what he’d been able to afford from a second-hand clothes shop that, as he put it, covered everything.  Ao Xian was taking him home because, according to Ao Xian, the family home had at least two spare bedrooms.  Our tutor, Scholar Ai Kwan, took us through some examples of questions and problems related to our current study module and then handed out data sheets and problem lists.

“Each of you has three data sheets,” he told us, holding up a stapled together set by way of example.  “None of them are related.  There are five different data sheets, so each of you is likely to have a different set of sheets – although you may wish to double check that you don’t have duplicates because accidents happen.  You have one problem list.  The first four questions need to be answered for each data set.  The last three questions require comparison of your data sets and your answers to the earlier questions.  Also, make sure that you keep the data set sheets and the problem list because we weill be coming back to them over the course of the semester.”

I checked my sheets and evefrything seemed in order.  Shan Bei, one of the Life Sciences block of four, found that he had four sheets with one being a duplicate, but he was the only one that had any issues.  We discussed the readings, asked questions to clarify points from the lecture, and finished the class in good time.

Scholar Ai’s parting words were, “Do you all know that if you are affected by the evacuation order for the Bai Cun Road fire that your School administration or Student Services will help you find accommodation?  Do you all know where your School’s administration is?”

We separated after class to go in our different directions, Ong Tien muttering imprecations about wet clothes, lab partners, and her grandmother’s mah jong night dinners.  I headed for a public phone so that I could warn Master Que that I was likely bringing extra people home with me for the night.

This time the phone answered almost immediately when I called.  “Que Tzu of the Sung residence here.  How may I help you?” was Master Que’s chosen greeting.

I replied, “Sung Nai here, Master Que.  I’m ringing to let you know that I’m probably bringing people from my School who’ve been turned out of their places near the fire home with me.  I’m just off to the School administration office to collect them, whoever they are.”

Master Que gave a funny laugh.  “I’ve brought a few people home myself.  How people did you tell them that we could take?”

“I told them that we had six bedrooms that we could offer.  I spoke to Mr Han at the real estate office and he asked the we try to limit their use of the Lao’s furniture to beds, bed linen and kitchenware.”  I wondered how many people Master Que had collected.
“So, all the rooms in the west building, the two rooms on my floor in the east building, and some of the bedrooms in the main house,” replied Master Que.  “Being allowed to use the beds makes things easier.  Did you say there’s spare bed linens?”

I described to him where I found the sheets stored and then we ended the call before my money ran out.  As I headed towards the Earth Sciences buildings, I could see the plume of smoke from Bai Cun Road trailing eastward like a cloud.

There were so many people in the Earth Sciences administration office when I got there that I hoped that they weren’t all supposed to come home with me.  Fortunately, just after I had that thought, I saw the signs on the counter that marked separate lines for people requiring accommodation and those offering it.  I lined up with those offering accommodation, a shorter queue, and found myself talking to the gentleman who’d looked after me that afternoon.  He looked tired.

I greeted him as he picked up his pen to fill in another copy of the form on his pad, “Good evening.  You probably don’t remember me, but you filled in a form offering accommodation for the emergency this afternoon.  My name is Sung Nai.”

He stopped, looked at me and blinked.  “Ah yes.  The young lady with six bedrooms who was coming back at half past six.”

“I’m a little early, I think,” I said apologetically.

He put down his pen.  “That’s fine, Miss Sung, and I’m glad you’re here.  It appears that there’s been damage to an additional building from a flying gas cylinder over and above the nine blocks in the initial evacuation order, and that building exclusively houses scholarship students.  Consequently we’ve had an unexpected rush of students needing help.  Your rooms have already been assigned.”  He leant over, picked up a stack of index cards, and began calling names.  “Lin Wu, Xiang An, Wei Ge, Li Zhen, Tang Tu, and Han Er!  You have a room with Miss Sung here.  Please come forward and make yourselves known.”

As my guests were making their way towards me from the other side of the reception area, I cast my eye across the room and estimated how many people were still waiting.  I turned back to the man at the counter and asked quietly, “Do you have enough rooms yet?”

He sighed.  “I don’t know.  It may depend on what the other Schools and Student Services have available.”

I decided if we were going to use a few bedrooms in the main house anyway, then we could use one more.  “Would it be too hard on your paperwork if I took one more?”

“If you are happy to do that, then I can make it happen.”  He gave me a tired smile, walked a few paces to pick up another index card, and walked back to scribble a few notations on something out of my sight.  Then he put the form I’d signed that afternoon on the counter in from of me and said while pointing, “If you can just sign here for the change?”

I did so.

He put the form back down out of sight and picked up the index card, “Hen Xiao, Miss Sung has offered another room.  Please come forward and make yourself known.”

I turned around and faced the six people looking at me, all except Lin Wu completely unknown to me.  I smiled nervously as we waited for Hen Xiao to join us.  When he did so, I bowed politely and said, “Good evening.  I am Sung Nai and I have the honour, on behalf of my household and the Lao family who are my landlords, to invite you to stay in my home for the duration of your evacuation.  May I suggest that we get home before we go into further introductions?  Some of you have been up since four this morning and must be tired.”

With that I ushered everyone out of the administration office and shepherded them to the university gate.  There I hailed two taxis.  I put half the group into the first, gave the driver my address and told him to wait for me so that I could pay him.  I got the rest of us, including Lin Wu and Han Er, the only two girls, into the second taxi and asked the driver to take us home.  I thought the traffic seemed heavier than usual, but I hadn’t been driven along the route before so it may simply have been a matter of perspective.

We arrived home to find the first taxi waiting for us and the others standing in an uncertain huddle on the pavement.  I paid my driver before I got out, then went and paid the driver of the first.  Both of them seemed happy with their tips.  Finally, I herded everyone inside, along the verandahs and into the kitchen where we found Master Que demonstrating his knife skills on a bunch of spring onions to an audience of small boys and middle-aged to elderly ladies.

This is now followed by An Evening of Conversations.

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That's one way to gather a household!

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