The next morning being the first day of the week Lin Wu, Han Er and I set off in plenty of time for our Introductory Geology lecture. Han Er had given me back my textbook the night before and we were all prepared. The other two didn’t walk as fast as I did but they didn’t dawdle either and we were at the Yu Tan Kee Lecture Theatres in plenty of time. We split up then to go to our favoured lecturers and our own friends. I sat with Thi Mung, Tsing Ying, Tang Jung, and Wu Ai while Professor Tian Pan continued to reveal the depths that secondary school geology had skimmed over.
I used the break before my literature tutorial to buy the next lot of supplies I needed for the Physical Geography lab and to lament all the beautiful colours I wasn’t going to need for map making and so had no reason to buy. In our Introductory Literature tutorial Scholar Tao’s fan of the day was black with a poem, four lines of four characters each, written on both sides in silver. When we were done in the tutorial, Liang Ai and I ate our lunches together in the garden alcove next to the Nientsien Pagoda, then she went to her Arts tutorial and I considered checking for messages in Physical Sciences Building 4 but decided to leave it until after the Physical Geography lecture.
I sat with Mu Gen and Shai Ben again, but not between them this time, and once more had to refrain from competitive note taking. Two girls who knew Mu Gen from his Introductory Geology tutorial sat on the other side of me and introduced themselves as Reng Yao and Jing Xing – mainly because they’d wanted to talk across me to Mu Gen before the lecture started. I would have offered to swap places with them but once I’d realised that this would be a good idea, there wasn’t time before the lecture started.
At the end of the lecture Mu Gen and the two girls went off to their Introductory Geology tutorial, Shai Ben went to the library, and I went to check if there were any messages for me in Physical Sciences. The lady with the heavily powdered face was at her post when I arrived and gave me her aunty smile when I politely reminded her who I was and why I was there.
“All three of them have left messages,” she was still smiling at me as she spoke. “I may have reminded them this morning when they came in for a department staff meeting.” She went and fetched three envelopes for me.
“Thank you for your help.” I bowed politely, then asked, “May I use one of your seats while I see what the professors have to say?”
“Of course,” she replied and went back to whatever task she had been doing when I arrived.
Apparently, the professors had talked to each other and reviewed the information I had given them about my availability because they’d asked if I could meet with them at eight on the fifth day of the current week. I wrote my three acceptances and went back to the receptionist.
“Would you like envelopes for those, Miss Sung?” She was offering them to me as she spoke.
“Yes, please.” I took the three pale cream coloured envelopes, addressed them, inserted my replies, sealed them and then handed them back to the receptionist for delivery. “Thank you very much, ma’am.”
“So far, Miss Sung, you have not been a trouble to me.” She smiled again. “I’ll see you again about five minutes before your meeting with the professors, will I?”
I took the hint. Well, two hints. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.” I bowed and left.
It was hot walking home and I was in the kitchen grabbing a glass of water while Madam Dong, Madam Dee, and Xiang An prepared dinner for those who weren’t going out to eat when Master Que found me. “Excellent, you’re home. You and I have been invited to eat with Dang Shui and the representative of one of our old mutual sponsors tonight. I don’t know whether Master Dang is bringing anyone with him or exactly why our old sponsor wants to talk to us, but they will pay for dinner tonight.”
I asked, “Should I wear a brocade jacket with trousers and boots or my green robe and slippers?”
He looked at me for a moment and countered with, “What impression do I wish to make? A good question.” He thought for a minute, then said, “Yes, I want to know why the sponsor is reaching out again, but let’s make it quite clear that I don’t need them. A well dressed, earnest student who is herself looking for sponsorship or….? Let’s keep this representative guessing. Wear the green robe and everything that goes with it.”
I showered, dried myself thoroughly, and then dressed in the green silk casual robe, making sure to put my hair up with the clip, slip on my bracelets and slippers, and to take the toning fan with me. When I came downstairs, I received several compliments on my appearance from our house guests. Xiang An and Smallest Dee bowed very politely and called me Miss Sung in a very formal manner. Smallest Dee then told me that I looked like a princess from a fairy tale. I thanked him and his brother pointed out that I didn’t have a flowered crown. I noticed that Yang Gai elbowed his friend in the ribs as soon as he said that, and I wondered, briefly, about the manners of social subset that the Yangs and their associates inhabited.
Cousin Tang looked flabbergasted and said bluntly, “I was told that you’re not the pretty one in your family. Either your sisters are stunners, or you’ve been dressing down all this time.” He added, “Including in the last few days.”
“She does pay for dressing, doesn’t she?” Master Que gave him a wry smile. “Every so often I suddenly find myself in the presence and company of a great lady, and it’s very disconcerting.”
I decided to move the conversation on. “Thank you, everyone, for your kind words,” I bowed to the room in general, “but we are meeting people for dinner and should get moving.” I looked significantly at Master Que and started making my way out of the main house towards the street.
Master Que caught up to me by the time I was halfway along the verandah of the east side house and said apologetically, “I’m sorry if you thought I went too far, but your cousin is right. When you wear the right clothes…you look completely different.” Then he grinned at me and added, “So let’s go see your effect on Dang Shui. He’s met you before, but he’s not expecting this version of you.”
We had no trouble getting a taxi at the corner of Heng Mien and Kung Tao Streets and we missed most of the remaining rush hour traffic snarls on our way to The Riverside Terrace. Master Dang was waiting in the foyer when we arrived. He didn’t do a double take when he saw me, something I suspect disappointed Master Que, but I did get an appreciative up and done look before we bowed to each other. All he said was, “Miss Sung, you do look well this evening. My son should be disappointed that he had commitments elsewhere.”
My agent, Mr Yuan, arrived before our hosts so after we exchanged greetings, I explained to him that I was accompanying Master Que to his meeting with a former sponsor’s representative. He responded gravely, “Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate being saved from suspecting that negotiations involving you might be going on without my knowledge. Speaking of negotiations,” he grinned at me, “is three in the afternoon on the fourth day of this week a convenient time for you to meet with this potential sponsor I’ve been talking with on your behalf?”
“I have a meeting at the university at eight the next morning,” I told him, “but that shouldn’t be a problem, unless the meeting goes through to the small hours of the next day.”
“It won’t,” Mr Yuan assured me. “Also, could you wear this outfit to the meeting, please? The negotiator on the other side is trying to talk down the payment rate on the basis of ‘image’. Let’s kill that, shall we?” Then he grinned at me again.
“Have they suggested that I’m not glamorous enough?” I tried raising a haughty eyebrow at him. Well, I hoped it looked haughty.
“More that you don’t have a recognisable image,” he clarified. “Or a high profile.”
“I could wear my Mask,” I offered. “That what most people know of me. It’s also why they are considering sponsoring me.”
“It’s a negotiation ploy,” Mr Yuan told me. “Naturally they want their money’s worth from any deal.”
“As do I,” I assured him. “Is three the time we’re meeting with the sponsor or the time we’re getting together to discuss the sponsor before we meet him?”
“It’s the time of our pre-meeting meeting,” agreed Mr Yuan. “In my office. Then we go to their office for the meeting.”
“So, Master Que and I will see you in your office at three, and then we go onto the sponsor’s office.” I nodded.
“I look forward to seeing you then.” We exchanged bows, Mr Yuan went on his way, and I turned around to find Master Que and Master Dang deep in a conversation that involved what I saw as graphic hand gestures.
I was saved from an evening of interpretive conversation by the arrival of their former sponsor’s representatives. Mr Dou Qiao and Miss Xing Xue represented the Golden Palace Recreation and Entertainment Corporation which was the corporate successor of the company that had bought out their old sponsor, Senshou Cinemas. Mr Dou did most of the talking but Miss Xing was paying attention to everything. She had sharp eyes and although she held herself still and poised, those eyes didn’t stop moving. I also noticed that it was her that the hostess looked to for approval of our table and its seating arrangements.
After the introductions Mr Dou ignored me until we ordered, and then he tried to order for me and Miss Xing without consulting us first. To be fair, Miss Xing may have told him what she wanted beforehand, but he didn’t bother asking me and I had just spent fifteen minutes at the same table with him looking at the menu. When I told the waitress that I’d prefer the steamed dumplings with special dipping sauce and the seafood special instead of his order, he called me ‘sweetie’.
At that point Master Que just looked at him and asked, “Really?”
When the waitress asked her to confirm her order, Miss Xing merely requested extra chilli on the side with her main meal. As she handed back her menu with a hand that was tipped with perfectly manicured glossy red nails she asked for a bottle of Fei Hu Dui white spirits for the table to go with the food, then she turned to me and asked, “Do you drink, Miss Sung?”
“It’s a habit I haven’t acquired,” I replied politely. “I’ll be happy with a pot of tea, thank you.”
She gave me a smile and turned back to the waitress, “We’ll have four cups for the white spirits, and a pot of tea with one cup, please. Will the Quimong suit you, Miss Sung?”
“Yes, thank you. That would be more than acceptable,” I smiled back.
Mr Dou looked annoyed that he had lost the focus of the table’s attention and began speaking louder to the two Masters. He was talking about the success and benefits of their old sponsorship with Senshou Cinemas without, I noticed, going into specifics. I wondered if he knew any of the specifics. He seemed very practiced at talking in generalities and to think that a conversation was him talking to people. In that respect he reminded me of my father.
The arrival of our food barely slowed the flow of his monologue. I did notice Master Que and Master Dang exchanging glances, but I was surprised when Master Que interrupted him to ask casually, “So, how is Tan Xiong these days?”
“Tan Xiong?” Mr Dou looked confused by either the question or the unexpected interruption. “I’m afraid I don’t -.”
“My maternal grandfather died two years ago,” inserted Miss Xing smoothly. “It was a great loss to both our extended family and the company’s corporate memory.” She added an aside to me that I thought was intended to dig at Mr Dou, “My grandfather was the owner of Senshou Cinemas when they were sponsoring Master Dang and your Master Que.”
“Ah,” said Master Dang, “Your mother must have been Tan Fang? I remember her as a very serious teenager who wanted to go to business college.”
“She did,” Miss Xing confirmed. “My father speaks appreciatively of her business negotiation skills. Generally just before he unleashes her on a new intended acquisition.”
Master Que leaned forward and asked, “So, if young Dou here is your subordinate, why are you letting him do all the talking?”
“Firstly, we’re in separate corporate streams,” said Miss Xing as she topped up all four cups of white spirit, “so he’s not actually my direct subordinate. Besides, he’s naturally difficult to get to stop talking.” Mr Dou looked offended, but Miss Xing paid him no attention. “Secondly, I’ve been listening. And watching. It’s easier to pick up information in this format if someone else does the talking for you.”
Master Que smiled. “So, Dou Qiao, you’re in Publicity, or whatever they call it these days, while you, Xing Xue, are either Management or Legal.”
Mr Dou quietly, “Public Relations. How did you know?”
“Precisely.” Miss Xing spoke at the same time.
Master Dang topped up Mr Dou’s drink and said, “Logic, plus you speak like an ad man. We’ve met a few. Miss Xing could be in publicity too, but she said you were in different parts of the company.”
I asked quietly, “So, Miss Xing, does that mean you’re Management and Legal? May I ask if you’re here because of that or because your grandfather knew the Masters?”
“There may be a perceived issue with the intersection of our current proposal and the original contracts,” said Miss Xing precisely. “My task is to assure Master Que and Master Dang that there is no moral or legal conflict.”
“Now you do interest me,” said Master Que as he sipped at his white spirit. “So, what is your proposal?”
It was Mr Dou who explained it, between mouthfuls of food and spirits. As I understood it, they hoped to run a campaign for their venues that carried on from the successful campaign that they’d been in for Senshou Cinemas some years before I was born. It would involve them handing over to a younger generation of ‘faces’. These had already been signed but their names weren’t being revealed at this time.
When he finished speaking, just after our first set of plates had been cleared, Master Dang remarked, “That sounds both reasonable and interesting. So, what’s the potential problem?”
Miss Xing put down her cup and said, “Your original contracts contained clauses about not working for Yu Gong Cinemas.”
“Yes,” acknowledged Master Dang. “There was some bad blood there.”
“We now own them,” replied Miss Xing. “The campaign would cover assets that previously belonged to both businesses. Depending on your views, this might be ethically in conflict with your original contracted terms. However, as our corporate evolution has meant that you cannot work for one without the other it is our legal opinion that you are now longer bound by this restriction. Morally, Senshou joined Golden Palace in an amicable merger not unconnected with my parents’ wedding while Yu Gong was subject to a hostile takeover.” She paused, possibly for effect, then added, “My maternal grandfather may have been disappointed that he could not display heads on pikes afterwards.”
Master Dang said thoughtfully, “I would have to receive my own legal advice, of course, but perhaps an appropriate clause could be inserted in the new contracts.”
“So, you are interested, Master Dang?” Mr Dou turned to Master Que, “And you, sir?”
“It seems a reasonable project, and if the legal niceties are ironed out, I would be very interested in taking part,” replied Master Que as he sipped from his cup. “I also appreciate that you raised the potential legal issue now rather than letting us discover it later, Miss Xing.” He inclined his head to her in acknowledgement then added roguishly, “May I suggest that we make sure that there is a sequence where Dang Shui here tells me that he can’t take me anywhere?”
Mr Dou pulled out a notebook and pen from a pocket and scribbled a note and Miss Xing said thoughtfully, “We have a gaming establishment we’re decommissioning that you could break….” Mr Dou scribbled some more notes.
I thought the rest of the meal went well. Mr Dou talked a lot, but it was mainly about ideas that he was bouncing off the two masters for their part of the campaign. Miss Xing spoke a little about her mother and grandfather, who Master Que and Master Dang remembered fondly. Then I asked a question about autumn in Wugao and we finished the evening with a discussion of festivals and appropriate clothes.
On our way home in the taxi, Master Que commented, “I think that went well. Once Dou got over his nervousness he went better. Xing Xue reminds me a lot of her mother – I wonder what her father is like?” He sighed happily. “I think I’m going to enjoy this project.”