1636 The China Venture – Snippet 12
“So what will it be today?” asked Cora. Eric Garlow and Mike Song had met Mike’s sister-in-law Ashley and Mike’s brother Danny for lunch at Cora’s Cafe.
Eric looked at his companions.
“I’ll make it unanimous,” said Eric.
Cora put her pad away. “Four black coffees, coming up.” She then moved on to the next table.
Ashley coughed. “I think you’re going about the China venture the wrong way.”
“What do you mean?” asked Eric.
“You’re looking for things to buy cheap here and sell dear in China.”
‘What’s wrong with that? It’s certainly better than the reverse.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be buying stuff at all. You should be taking stuff on consignment, like we used to do at Tack Boutique. If it doesn’t sell, you return it to the supplier and it’s up to them to make the best of it. And if it does sell, then you take a cut–twenty percent, maybe–and the supplier gets the rest.”
“What happens if the goods are lost, or stolen, or deteriorate en route?” asked Martina.
“They belong to the supplier, the consignor, until they’re actually sold, so those are the consignor’s risks, not yours. Once you make the sale, though, if that money is stolen, it’s your risk. And if you want to be able to borrow that money to buy Chinese goods, you better make sure that the consignment contract permits you to do that.”
“Hey,” said Danny, “there are lots of start-ups here in Grantville, and for that matter, in Jena and Magdeburg. We could point out to them that China’s a huge market, and that they should pay us for the privilege of carrying samples of their widgets and making a sales pitch to the Chinese for them.”
Eric, by now, had whipped out his little notebook and was jotting down ideas. “I’ll talk to the money people.”
“I wish I could see China,” said Danny wistfully. “The mainland, that is. In school, they made it clear, our country was China, we were only in Taiwan as a matter of expediency. But going there from Taiwan was banned altogether up until 1987, and by the time I was old enough to go on my own, I was living in North Carolina. ”
“Well, I’d rather be here in Grantville,” said Ashley. “Or at least in Europe. And it’s not like there’s much demand for a computer scientist in China.”
“That’s true,” Danny admitted. “But Eric, I’m surprised you’re not keeping the China venture a secret.”
“Well,” said Eric. “It all comes down to money. The USE wants to send a mission to China, but it doesn’t want to pay for one. It wants to piggyback it on a commercial venture. And the big time financiers, people like Louis de Geer, they’re interested enough in China to put some money in, but let’s face it; with all the commercial ideas spewing out of Grantville, there are plenty of other places to put their money. So we found we needed to offer shares to the general public. Which meant that we needed to tell them enough so they’d invest, right?
“But we aren’t saying everything. We aren’t mentioning to the general public everything we’re looking for, exactly what we’re taking, when we’re leaving, or which port in China we’re sailing for. And we aren’t talking about exactly who’s going, or the diplomatic mission. I’m the only up-timer that’s been mentioned publicly as part of the venture, and that just because having an up-timer involved is good for raising money.”
“What about Heather?” asked Martina. “Isn’t she going?” Heather Cargill was Eric’s wife; they had gotten married in the summer.
“No. In fact, we’ve separated, and I doubt we’re going to stay married. You know that we aren’t from Grantville. We were both guests at Tom and Rita’s wedding, and after the Ring of Fire, we were both refugees. Orphans. Heather was one of the few people I knew, especially after Tom and Rita went off to London. So naturally, we hung out together when we could, and one thing led to another. But we honestly don’t have much in common.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said Mike. “I had assumed that Heather would be coming along to impress the Chinese, especially the ladies, with how cultured we were.” Heather had been about to graduate WVU with a degree in visual arts when the Ring of Fire happened. “Now it’ll be up to Martina, I guess.”
“Heaven help us,” said Martina. She took another sip of her coffee. “There are down-time artists in town, looking for work, now that Amsterdam’s under siege and all. I could ask the art teacher at Jim’s school whether she can recommend anyone.”
Jason Cheng looked over the class filling his living room. He was pleased to see that most of those who had started studying Chinese a month earlier were still coming. Of course, he knew that they weren’t like college students taking a language course to meet a distribution requirement, most if not all of them were going to China as part of the USE mission he had been briefed on, and their ability to do their job might depend on how much Chinese they learned.
He cleared his throat. “Several of you have badgered me to teach written Chinese, and since you now have studied Chinese pronunciation, I have decided to try giving a second class. Actually, my wife and daughter are going to teach it, while I continue with spoken ‘survival’ Chinese. So am going to sit down now, and let Jennie Lee, and our daughter Diane do the rest of the talking.”
“I didn’t think Jason should have all the fun,” Jennie Lee told the students. “There are something like forty thousand Chinese characters, but you need perhaps two thousand to be functionally literate. Up until the early twentieth century, Chinese children learned the language by memorizing the characters in the Three Character Classic, the Hundred Family Surnames, and the Thousand Character Classic. Despite their titles, that came to a total of about two thousand characters.
“It took about two years for children to learn those characters and of course they were spending a large part of every day doing so, and they saw the characters wherever they went. Even if you study Chinese from now until when the mission leaves, and continue your studies on shipboard with my nephew Michael, you still won’t have the same number of study hours.
“So we’re going to take a different approach, one that was used in Diane’s ‘Chinese school’ in North Carolina. We’ll teach you a group of radicals first, and then characters built from those radicals. There are two hundred and fourteen radicals in use in Chinese. Radicals can indicate what the character means or how it is pronounced. If you know the radicals and not the character, you at least have a chance of guessing the meaning of the character. Let me show you what I mean….”
On the blackboard, she drew a long vertical line, then, to its left, an “L” with a short vertical and a long horizontal that touched the bottom of the first stroke, and then another short vertical on the right that grazed the end of the horizontal and extended a little below it.
“This is shan; it means a mountain or a hill, or anything that resembles a mountain.” She made some more chalk marks. “This is kuang, and by itself it means an ore. Combine the two, as kuangshan, we have ‘ore-mountain,’ that is, a mine. I think you are interested in those, yes?”
“And kuang is composed of two radicals, shi which means a stone, rock or mineral, and ‘guang which means widespread, but is used to indicate the sound.” She wrote the shi and guang radicals alongside the kuang character.
“The word shi itself is found in baoshi, gem. The word bao means treasure or precious….”
Walking home afterward, Martina said to Jim, “What do you think?”
“I think this will be the hardest class I’ve ever taken. Give me tensor calculus and quantum mechanics any day. I am tempted to drop it and just let Mike and Eric translate anything that’s in writing for me.”
“I understand. I am lucky that I can study Chinese whenever I am not busy at the store. And that I don’t have to also study astronomy at the same time, as you do,” Maria added. “So… are you going to drop it?”
“No, just complain a lot. I’ve never dropped a class in my life, and I am not going to start now.”