Journeys: China Part 2 by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Journeys Series are the creation of the author.
My deepest thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan, my beta readers, who do the really hard work.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
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and the Murder Mystery Series will be soon. These books
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Despite the fact that Petra was up early, she came out to find a continental breakfast waiting for her and Quin sitting at a table working at her laptop. To her surprise the screen was in Chinese characters.
She sipped at her coffee as she watched over Quin's shoulder. "Do you see yourself as Chinese or European in your heritage?" Petra asked.
Quin leaned back and frowned. "I am neither. In terms of business, it is a great advantage to be fluent in other languages and knowledgeable about other cultures. On a personal level, it is very isolating. Although I was raised in a Chinese household, I will never be accepted by the Chinese community. You know, in the traditional Chinese culture there is no word for foreigner. The word they used literally translates as barbarian. Nor do I fit into the European elements of Canadian society. I might be of European stock but my cultural reality is Chinese."
"I can understand that a little. I am a German Canadian. Within our community, my father and I still practise some of the traditions of his homeland but in the larger community I set that aside and live as a typical Canadian. Sometimes you run into old prejudice from the war years but generally people just accept the various ethnic backgrounds in Canadian society as being a unique and rich part of our culture. It has never been a problem for me," Petra concluded as she munched on a croissant.
"That's because you are of German heritage and accepted into your ethnic community. I can never be Chinese no matter how well I speak the language or understand the culture. I am welcomed and allowed to be part of the community but I will never be one of them." Quin sighed in frustration as she shut down her lap top.
"Does that bother you?" Petra probed.
"No,"came the short reply, as Quin snapped the laptop shut and stood in a sudden movement. Petra had a way of interrogating a person before they had any idea it was really happening. She needed to be more careful. Still, she could not help her bitter question from slipping out. "Is my heritage a concern to Vossler Engineering? What, do you think that I am working for the communists?!
Petra laughed, defusing Quin's rising temper. "No, silly. I was just interested. I can't help myself, I'm a born sociologist." She smiled, trying to ease Quin's suspicion.
Quin attempted to make light of her question, trying to cover up the nerve that Petra had hit. "Well, I'm certainly an unusual study. Your field of research is international communication. Isn't it?"
"International business relations. Businessmen take my courses to be better prepared to deal with international trade and expansion into other countries," Petra explained.
Quin nodded but did not pursue the subject. Instead, she took a new track. "I am going to take you to Badaling today to see the Great Wall of China. It is some drive outside of the city so I will break the trip up with a number of small stops," she explained, as she tidied up her notes and locked material in the room safe.
Quin came back to where Petra stood finishing her breakfast. "Ahh, I'm going to take you to some government run factories. It is politically wise to do so. They are good places to buy souvenirs if you want but mostly it is so I can sign the guest book that Vossler Engineering brought people through. We want to be seen as promoting Chinese trade, otherwise it will be made harder for us to do business here."
"Okay,"Petra stated. She knew that business was all about trade-offs and image. Fairly young in her life, she had decided that engineering and the business world were not where her talents could be best used. However, she was well informed enough to understand that to stay in business you had to play the game by the long established rules. She sat on the Board of Directors of Vossler Engineering because the company was her father and some day the company would be hers.
She wondered how comfortable Quin was with backroom deals and how ethical she was. She had landed some very big deals for Vossler and it would be naive to think that there had not been some heavy duty dealing going on.
Today, Quin had rented a car to drive them about. Their first stop was a pearl factory where cultured pearls were being raised. A small speck of white marble was placed inside each shell and the oyster would cover the irritant with layers of mucus. Over the years a pearl was created.
After signing the guest book, Quin declined the offer of a guided tour and took Petra around herself. She showed her how even after five years the pearl was still a small bead and it was only after twenty or thirty years that the really rare and large pearls were formed.
"It is the mineral content of the water that creates the varying colour in the pearl," Quin explained. "Black pearls are found in water that has a high copper content, pink from iron and so on."
Petra listened intently. Quin was an informative guide and she clearly expected Petra to learn from her experience. Petra did so. After the tour of the sorting rooms, they entered a huge show room and Quin discretely left Petra to shop.
She stood at the side drinking tea with the manager but she kept her eye on Petra as she moved around the amazing display of pearl jewellery. When Petra stopped to look at a piece, Quin was at her side immediately. "If you rub two of the pearls together, they should feel rough. If you don't feel that roughness then the pearl is an imitation,"the engineer explained.
Petra took the pearls from Quin's hands and started when Quin's finger's brushed her own. She was surprised at the sexual sensation caused by such a simple touch. No matter what her heart said, Petra's body was prepared to send some pretty strong signals about its own physical needs. If Quin felt anything, she didn't react. Having helped Petra to evaluate what was a good price, she returned to lean against the wall.
Petra bought a necklace for herself and a brooch for her father to give to Olive, his administrative assistant. Then a single black pearl on a gold chain caught her eye. It was a good sized pearl and the black seemed to flash with luminescent colour. The smiling sales girl showed Petra the price on her calculator. Petra swallowed her misgivings and bought the pendant anyway. Meeting up with Quin once more, they headed on.
The road ahead was a super highway and the countryside at this point not very interesting. Petra decided to ask Quin some pointed questions. "You have landed some pretty large contracts for
Vossler. What do you feel is the significant factor in your success?"
An eyebrow raising was the only physical sign of Quin's reaction to the question. She shrugged.
"I get what I want. A little bribery, some extortion if necessary, a murder or two, although I do try to keep the number down..."
"What?!" exploded Petra, sitting up straight and looking at the beautiful profile of the woman beside her.
"That's what you were expecting to hear, wasn't it?" Quin responded, her eyes now flashing with anger.
"Of course not!" Petra protested, feeling betrayed by her own biases. "I was just trying to get a better handle on your business methods."
"Bullshit. The west thinks the east is corrupt and cruel. Well, that is bunk. Business is just conducted differently here. Salaries are low. In many cases, it is expected that you will supplement your income through tips. In North America, we called that bribery, here it is a goods and services tax by the individual."
"Come on, Quin, that is a semantic game. And you know it!" Petra responded with a sigh.
"On whose part?"Quin asked. "Are business incentives not bribery? Call shit anything you want, it is still going to smell."
"Then you admit to getting deals using questionable practices," concluded Petra.
"No, I admit to nothing but common sense and good business techniques. I have never broken a law of a country I have done business in. Never. But the laws here are different from the laws in North America. I am not so arrogant as to assume that the rest of the world should play by my rules. If I want to get equipment through Shanghai or Hong Kong undamaged and on time, then I pay the right people to see that happens."
"I understand that," responded Petra. "But, we have a responsibility to promote an international business climate that is fair and regulated."
Quin snorted. "It is easy to be noble when the so called developed nations, European nations, control eighty per cent of the world's wealth even though they are only twenty per cent of the world's population. The twenty-first century will be all about economic wars. We either stay on top or we don't. International business is complex and varied. I am not advocating corruption, just an awareness that in developing nations the rules are different."
They rode in silence for a few minutes, then Quin pulled into another factory parking lot and turned to face Petra. "I just snapped at the fly and got reeled in, didn't I?"
Petra looked uncomfortable. "It is my job to find out what makes Quin Venizelos successful."
"And of course, being an expert on the international business community, you know all this,"Quin added dryly.
"Pretty much,"Petra replied, and then added with spunk as she got out of the car. "But what I need to know about is you."
Quin followed, partly as angry as hell, partly embarrassed that she'd be trapped, and partly deeply impressed by Petra's ability to make her talk openly. Be more careful! she warned herself for the hundredth time.
A factory in China, Petra observed, was usually a labour intensive, hands on activity performed mostly by women. This factory was a mixture of both men and women cutting sheets of jade, then carving and polishing them. Quin explained that jade, when held to the light, will be translucent and appear watery.
"Here, Petra," Quin said, getting involved again in the subject, "is an example of jade and marble. Feel. The jade is much heavier. There is hard and soft jade but generally the hardness factor of jade is between six and eight, while diamond is ten and glass is only five. Glass can be marked by jade but good jade should not be marked by glass. You have to be careful because there are a lot of imitations on the market. Jade comes in all sorts of colours. Generally though, the darker and truer the colour the better the quality. Do you see this jade?"Quin asked, leading Petra over to another table. "It is called Blood Jade."
Petra picked up a piece of cream-coloured jade with smears of red through it while Quin talked rapidly to the woman behind the counter. Money changed hands and a smiling Quin handed Petra a thin, round bracelet of Blood Jade. "We believe that if you wear a band of Blood Jade it will help to keep your yin-yang forces balanced. This is for your father, to keep him healthy."
Petra looked up sharply to see if Quin had some inkling of her father's condition but the face revealed nothing but good will. "Thank you, Quin. My father, having been raised in Europe, is more receptive to homeopathic medicine than most North Americans. I'm sure he will wear this faithfully. That was really nice of you."
Quin shrugged, the red rising up her neck in embarrassment. "As the founder, so goes the company"she joked, and they both smiled, pretending everything was all right.
Petra looked around the inevitable show room with interest, trying to find a piece of jade that would appeal to her father. There were amazing pieces; carved balls inside carved balls sometimes three or four deep, huge traditional landscapes weighing hundreds of pounds and delicate pieces of intricately carved jewellery. It was finally Quin who found the perfect piece.
"Petra, do you see this sheet of grey marble mounted on a carved jade stand? Look at the grain in the marble; can you see they form a miniature landscape? It is like a window into another world. This, I think, is a particularly fine piece. The base is a very dark green and cut into lotus flower patterns, nine in all, very lucky. The Chinese believe that evil spirits will be drawn to the stone landscape and be trapped inside. Most traditional homes have such a piece."
"Quin, it is just the thing! He will love it. He likes things that have cultural meaning." Petra beamed and bought the piece on the spot. It was quite heavy and Quin carried the base in one bag while Petra carried the marble sheet. Quin promised to ship it safely back for her in Canada so she wouldn't have any problems carrying it.
On the drive up into the mountains, Petra played with the Blood Jade bracelet with interest. "I don't think I can accept that a particular colour of jade can bring health but I am very interested in the traditional medicines of the East. Would it be possible to learn more in the short time I am here?"
Quin's eyes lit up with mischievous delight but her answer was serious enough. "This will be no problem. I can easily arrange this." For the rest of the trip, Petra sat quietly, looking out the window and soaking in the beauty of the mountainous terrain and small picturesque villages. Then, suddenly silhouetted against the sky, was the spiny ridge of the Great Wall of China, like a monstrous backbone of a dragon that lay across the frontier protecting China from invasion.
"Oh look!"Petra found herself exclaiming.
Quin smiled at Petra's excitement, pleased that the day was going fairly well and surprised to find that she was enjoying the sociologist's excitement and delight at seeing China for the first time.
They arrived at Badaling in the early afternoon and ate on a terrace below the Great Wall. High above them and running in both directions the wall spread out, undulating up and down like a roller coaster. Brightly coloured triangular flags bearing the symbol of the dragon cracked in the wind and mist floated in and around the mountains like ancient spirits. The hills were green and lush, the view panoramic, and the sky clear blue. "Quin, this place is truly beautiful!"gasped Petra as she drank her tea.
Quin looked at the structure critically. " The masonry in this area is excellent. Good granite blocks and the cement is a mix of limestone and rice which is remarkably durable. Other areas are simple rubble now because they were not constructed as well. A wider base would have made the walls more stable but the intermitted trapezoid guard towers compensate for that by providing what is essentially buttresses for the structure. By leveling the peaks and using the fill in the valleys, they could have reduced some of the steeper angles on the wall but considering that it was essentially built by hand I guess that would have been unreasonable. It is filled with rubble, but a wall that ten soldiers can walk abreast for thousands of miles is an interesting engineering feat for the time."
Quin looked over to see Petra staring at her in disbelief. "What?"
Petra shook her head and laughed. "Engineers! You are all the same. Hearts of granite and souls of cement. It's beautiful, Quin."
Quin blushed at the tease. "Yeah, well, I never said it wasn't." They both laughed.
Together they climbed the stone steps to the wall and Petra looked both ways. The wall extended on to the horizon in both directions. They walked slowly up the first steep section of the wall to the first guard house. It was a welcome relief to get inside the shade of the tower, for the temperature was again well over a hundred. The narrow windows funnelled the air through, creating a wonderfully cool breeze. They climbed to the open second floor and stood at the ramparts looking out over the back of China. Here, above the noise and crowds of tourists with the only sound the snap of the flags and the wind blowing down the valley, Petra could imagine the power and splendour that was Imperial China.
Quin stood looking up the mountain side to the guard tower a mile away. "Race you!"Petra yelled giving Quin a playful push and darting down the stairs, out of the guard house, and up the steep wall.
Quin recovered from her surprise and was soon darting around tourists on her way up after Petra. The sociologist was in good shape. The wall at this point was very steep and the air hot and thin. After her initial sprint from the guard house, Petra set a steady jogging pace up to the next tower, remembering how the heat and jet lag had bothered her the first day. Even so, the steep climb left her winded and with a stitch in her side by the time she made it to the cool shadows of the next tower.
To her delight, Quin was right behind her and pulled her into a window alcove to catch the breeze. They sat panting, leaning on either side of the stone window, their legs entangled on the ledge. Petra slipped her camera from her pocket and took a picture of Quin, her dark hair blowing and the sweat dripping down her strong neck. She looked like some heroic Amazon warrior from long ago.
Quin caught her breath and snatched the camera from Petra's hand and took a picture of her. Her golden hair shimmering in the sunlight and the swelling of her moist chest as she caught each breath sent Quin's more basic needs into over-drive. She gave the camera back, letting her fingers linger on Petra's. Petra pulled her hand and camera away. "Ready to go?" Petra asked.
Quin looked around, saw no one, and leaned forward to kiss Petra softly. Then she got up and left before she did anything more. She waited for Petra in the shade of the tower. "You shouldn't have done that," the sociologist said when she came out, looking slightly shaky and very annoyed.
"You let me," Quin responded, refusing to feel guilty about the physical attraction she felt for this woman.
"Don't do it again,"Petra stated firmly. "You know how I feel."
"You might be wrong,"Quin suggested, feeling angry and frustrated. She wasn't used to being rejected.
"I'm not," Petra said.
Quin looked annoyed, then shrugged. "I'm not sorry I kissed you. For a moment there, as we raced up to the guard house and sat in the window alcove, you let go of your sorrow. But I will respect your wishes, as stupid as they are, and not touch you again."
"Good,"responded Petra, feeling both angry and off balance. Quin was right. She had let her kiss her. Quin was unbelievably sexy and she had been carried away with the excitement of their race. "And I'm not wrong. You just have no idea what real love is." Petra turned and headed up the next level at a more subdued pace. A moody and quiet Quin followed.
The ride back to Beijing was made mostly in silence, Petra angry both at Quin and herself for the kiss and Quin still nursing her bruised ego. Petra was surprised then that they pulled into a herbal medical clinic. "You said you wanted to learn more about Chinese medicines. This place does research on traditional Chinese medicines. In China, you may have a choice of either western or eastern medicine when you got to a hospital."
"Which do you use?" Petra asked.
"I'm rarely ill. I tend to use western medicine. It is much quicker than Chinese medicine but you run the risk of side effects that can be very harmful. There are no side effects to Chinese medicine and often they are very good for strengthening your immune system and body. I use a few things that Huang Qui used when I was a child, like Tiger Balm to ease sore muscles."
They got out of the car and headed into the clinic. To Petra's surprise Quin did not come with her. She was taken to a room where there were a dozen or so other tourists and after a few minutes a doctor arrived to talk to them. "I am Doctor Wong, welcome. I am a trained doctor in both western and Chinese medicine. Today, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the healing powers of Chinese medicine."
Doctor Wong went on for some time about the types and uses of various medicines showing them examples. Petra enjoyed reading some of the mistranslations on the samples:
Yi Ye Tea: The mixture of this tea, boiling the ulcer of oral cavity. With 6g chrysanthemum, it can clear away the heat and toxic substances, balance the Yin and Yang of the liver, With 3g tassels of maize, it can lower the content of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood fat.
Having finished his talk, the doctor then called in two men wearing lab coats. He explained that one man was an expert in a form of meditation that channelled the energy in the body. The man held a light bulb in one hand and took hold of live wires with the other. The light bulb lit up. Yet the man was unhurt from the electrical charge running through him. The doctor explained it was because he had the ability, after years of training, to channel the force in any direction he wanted.
To demonstrate this skill, he had all the tourists hold hands to form a chain and the two demonstrators joined in, closing the link. The master concentrated and to Petra's surprise, she could feel a current of energy running through her! The demonstration over and the group suitably impressed, each tourist was given an opportunity to have a free diagnosis from one of the doctors on staff.
Petra's doctor took her pulse, checked her eyes, and looked at her tongue. He asked her a few questions about whether she got pain in her lower back or did she get a lot of headaches. Then she, like all the others, was given a prescription for herbal medicines that would cure her problems. Hers was for increasing the calcium in her system. Back in Canada, her own doctor had suggested she take calcium supplement too. Petra was impressed.
Many of the tourist around her were buying the medicines that had been prescribed for them for 420 YRN or about $50 American. Petra was sorely tempted to buy some of the ingredients that were prescribed for her, but learning that she would not be able to get the medicine in North America, she did not see the point. She did, with a smirk, buy the Yi Ye tea for Quin's hot liver though.
Quin was waiting in the lobby when Petra came out in a flood of excited tourists. She smiled broadly when she saw the wrapped package in Petra's hand. "So did you find it very informative?"Quin asked innocently.
"Oh very. Let me guess, while we were all focussed on the master concentrating on forcing his energy through us, the other guy took hold of the live wires and that was what we were feeling! It was a ruse to get us to buy products! It's just one more Chinese factory! You tried to set me up!" Petra snorted, as they walked out the car.
Quin looked crest-fallen that Petra had not fallen into the trap. "The medicines you learned about are real enough, but okay they do use a small parlour trick to get the tourists to buy. They need money, everyone in China does. Besides, you did buy something,"Quin observed, smiling at the package with mischievous delight.
"Sure did," Petra smirked and slapped the package into Quin's hands. "I bought you some Yi Ye tea to cool that hot liver of yours!"
Quin looked startled, then annoyed at being caught in her own trap, and then burst out laughing. Petra followed suit. "You are good. You are very, very good!" Quin laughed, shaking her head as she put the car in gear and backed out of their parking space. Petra braced herself for the drive. With millions of bikes on the roads and crowded, narrow streets, driving could almost be considered a martial art.
In the late afternoon, Petra had a nap. Had she been in China only two days? Already, she was on sensory overload. China was simply amazing. Then there was Quin. What was going on here? There was no doubt in her mind that she had loved Val deeply and that after Val there could never be another. Inside her there was a large part missing. The part that was her other half. The part that was Val. Yet, she had to admit that Quin was very sexy and that she felt, even after a very short time, that she was comfortable around the woman. They had established almost instantly a relaxed easy going teasing relationship. And the kiss? No, she wasn't even going to go there. Still she had to admit that Quin had been right. For a little time today, she had moved beyond her grief.
Quin tried to work and gave up in disgust to go stand by the window. She had never been rejected before. She played the game well and had the body and looks to use those talents to the maximum. There had been relationships with both men and women on the way up. Affairs that ended well enough as mutual interests and contacts changed. She had enjoyed the game but emotionally had felt nothing.
But Petra had hit some chord in her that she could not quite fathom. She wanted this woman with an intensity that was scary. She couldn't get anywhere near Petra without wanting her. What was with this? Perhaps it was as simple as the temptation of forbidden territory? That rubbed salt into the wound on Quin's ego. According to her plan, she should be taking Petra to bed tonight. That it wasn't going to happen really pissed her off.
Right from the beginning she had not handled this visit well. Normally, she was completely in control, carrying out a carefully planned program flawlessly. But no matter how many times she warned herself to be careful and shrewd in dealing with Petra, her brain and body just seemed to take things into their own hands. She found herself saying and doing things that scared the hell out of her. One thing was for sure, that kiss today was kissing her job good bye. She'd better put some feelers out to some contacts that she might be on the job market soon.
Quin had planned a very special meal for that night. It was to have set the mood for her winning Petra's body. Well that wasn't going to happen but she saw no reason not to carry through with the evening. She and Petra left the hotel at eight and walked down Silver Street to Gold. Quin led them to an excellent restaurant in a beautiful old Victorian building. They were taken to a private room and were served plum wine. Appetizers of fresh vegetables and paper thin slices of meat and fish with hot, spicy dips followed.
They talked of the various contracts that Vossler was handling in the Pacific Rim Division. Quin using the opportunity to impress Petra with all she had accomplished. Later, they were served Peking Duck. Quin explained that the ducks were force fed to make them extra tender and fat. The skin and meat was cut from the carcass and placed on a small, thin crepe, a rich, sweet sauce was added and some fresh chives and then the mix was rolled up and eaten with the fingers. Despite the fact the Petra was not sure that she approved of the poor ducks being force fed, she had to admit that the meal was simply wonderful.
Being a good hostess, Quin made each crepe for Petra and placed tantalizing pieces of vegetables from various other dishes on Petra's plate. White rice, of course, finished the meal. They sat listening to the oriental ballads that drifted from the exterior room into theirs and laughed and talked of various thing over a dessert plate of fresh slices of mango, papaya, and pineapple.
Then Quin made tea. This time the taste was rich and smooth, smelling like summer grain. Petra found that it instantly settled her tummy and promoted her digestion. The Yin and the Yang, balanced as always.
It was clear to Petra that the setting, meal, and mood were building to Quin getting her into her bed. So she was very surprised when the engineer suggested they take a walk around the stores before heading back to their hotel. Quin, it seemed, would be true to her word. Petra was not sure if she was relieved or disappointed by that. That realization shocked Petra. Surely, there wasn't a part of her that was actually considering a relationship with Quin?
The next day, their last in Beijing, the engineer took Petra to see the Summer Palace. It was the summer retreat of the Imperial family and was four times bigger than the Forbidden City. Built around a lake with a high, pinnacle shaped hill to one end, the grounds of the Summer Palace looked like a miniature of the beautiful oriental landscape pictures in inks. One shore of the long lake had been left wild except for the single tower of a Buddhist temple. The other side had a wide marble promenade running along the shore. It bent and flowed with the lie of the land and small, arched bridges formed short cuts across shallow bays filled with pink and yellow water lilies. Now and again Petra would catch sight of the large, gold carp that were in the lake. A causeway of stone led to an island landscaped in the Buddhist tradition. A summer house built in multiple layers was the centre piece of the island and seemed to grow out of the very rock like a fairy castle.
Quin led Petra along the covered walkway that the last Empress of China had ordered built so that she could enjoy a walk along the shoreline even in the rain. Quin had asked formally if she might take Petra's arm so that she didn't lose her in the weekend crowds enjoying the parklands. "This roofed breezeway is nearly a mile long and is broken up by a series of domed gazebos. If you look up on the cross beams, you will see beautiful oil paintings. They were done by some of the most famous painters of the time and show scenes from classic myths, novels, and religious stories. This walkway is an open air art gallery," Quin explained.
Petra walked close at Quin's side, marvelling at the bright patterns, predominately red and green, but highlighted in a rainbow of colours and patterns. The walkway itself was such a jewel that Petra almost overlooked the beautiful cedar trees that the pathway wandered through and the water gardens, sculptures and bright tropical flowers they passed.
Out on the lake, flat bottomed boats with elaborate pagoda roofs taxied visitors back and forth. Their hulls were shaped and painted like colourful dragons, the bow the rearing head of the mythical beast and the stern a spiked tail. Quin saw Petra's eyes light up with delight. "Would you like to take one of the dragon boats back?" she asked.
"Please, can we?"Petra laughed, having had her thoughts read.
In the dragon boat, Petra was able to see the large, marble boathouse carved in the shape of a two story high steamboat. Although massive, it was delicately beautiful and so cleverly constructed that it did indeed look like it was floating. Behind it rose the high hill on which the Imperial family's summer retreats were actually built.
"The last Empress used to have her afternoon tea on the marble boat,"Quin stated as Petra took pictures.
"Quin, there are just not words to describe how wonderful this place is!" Petra sighed.
"Some of the engineering, is quite amazing," Quin agreed, and Petra gave her a playful swat. Quin laughed but said nothing, content to see the grief lift from Petra's eyes if only briefly.
The long morning had been enchanting. The awkwardness over the kiss the day before had quickly disappeared with the excitement of exploring this postcard world. Quin had brought along a picnic lunch for them and they sat in a quiet garden of tropical flowers away from the crowds.
"It's funny, there are people everywhere and yet I rarely feel hemmed in," Petra observed.
Quin shrugged and swallowed the piece of pear she was eating. "Strangers avoid looking you in the eye or talking to you unless there is a reason. There is little physical space so society allows you mental space. It is a different way of looking at freedom. Sometimes oriental people find the in-your-face friendliness of westerners rather rude."
Petra nodded, understanding what Quin meant. Quin smiled. "I once read this booklet of advice for Japanese tourists travelling to North America. It explained that North Americans could be dangerous because their cultural patterns were unpredictable and that it was best to stay in large groups for safety."
Petra laughed and for a second their eyes met. Clear ice blue and forest green blended into one, then Petra looked away. "So where are we headed next?"
Keeping her promise, Quin did not outwardly show the sexual tension that she felt whenever she was near this woman. "The next stop on the marvellous, magical tour is the Temple of Heaven. It is time for you to learn that everything in China has symbolic meaning, particularly numbers."
They returned to their rented car and headed off. Again the day was very hot and they shared a bag of fresh grapes as they went along, Petra dropping the grapes into Quin's hand as she drove. They acted like an old married couple, Petra mused and then shook the thought from her head. The same thought had passed through Quin's thoughts too and had startled her. Never before had she ever seen herself in the role of a life long partner. The thought was very disturbing, especially so because she knew that Petra was not the least bit interested in her.
The Temple of Heaven was a sacred place where only the Emperor and the priests would come to pray to the gods for a good year and a bountiful harvest. It consisted of two huge courtyards dominated by three circular levels of marble terraces each edged with carved marble railings. The first courtyard was where the ritualized prayers were done. This marble ring had a pagoda on top where the Emperor would pray. On each side of the huge marble ring were elaborate building where the priests' religious scrolls and musical instruments where kept.
Once this service was over, the Emperor and his priests would move to the second court yard. Quin showed Petra a massive jade altar flanked by eight huge bronze braziers. "This altar is called Hair and Blood. It is where the priests would make sacrifices to the seven previous Emperors. Then the meat would be divided and burnt in the eight braziers, one for each of the seven dead Emperors and one for the present Emperor."
"Not human sacrifices, I hope!"exclaimed Petra.
Quin scowled. "Of course not! Nor do the Chinese eat dogs and cats like westerners are fond of saying. It was mostly bulls that were sacrificed for food for the gods here.
"There are three levels because it is sacred number and a factor of nine, which is a very special number. The first level represents hell, the second earth, and the third heaven," Quin explained, as they walked up the marble stairs to the first terrace. "Look at the marble tiles that make up the flooring. On each level, there are nine and a half rows. 9.5. Nine and five are both sacred numbers and together they symbolize eternity."
"That's really interesting," Petra said as she counted the rows of tiles.
"In China everything has meaning. A square is a symbol for the earth. That is why the courtyards here are square. The blue tile on the top of the courtyard wall represents the sky. The terraces are round because that is the symbol of heaven."
Quin fished into a pocket of her blue jeans and pulled out a Chinese coin. It was round and the centre was punched out in the shape of a square. "Earth and heaven," Perta exclaimed with delight. They walked up the remaining levels to see where the Emperor would pray for the success of the coming harvest in the very centre of the circle.
On their return to the hotel, Petra busied herself with re-packing because Quin had said that they would be flying out to Xian early the next morning. Quin found herself restless and moody. Her past experiences had not prepared her for how she was reacting to the boss's daughter. Damn! This was the worst of luck!
Or was it? She never wanted to tie herself down, and so it was a good thing that Petra was not interested. Besides, the only reason Quin was so obsessed about the sociologist was because Petra was playing hard to get. Quin could never resist a challenge. Forget her, Quin's logical mind advised. Just give her a good tour of China, prove that you are an exceptionally competent manager and send her home to daddy.
This, their last night in Beijing, Quin took Petra to an exclusive restaurant on the very top of a five star hotel. They sat by a huge picture window overlooking the Forbidden City far below and beyond it the city of Beijing. Over wine, they watched the sunset turning the city gold and as lights came on and the night crept across, the city lights became a bed of diamonds.
They ate a European meal of roast beef and lingered for a long time over their coffees. It was two very mellow and contented women that headed back to the Palace Hotel for their last night in the capital of China.
"What do you mean, you are the pilot?"exclaimed a surprised sociologist as she followed Quin into the cockpit of the company plane the next morning. "What happened to the pilot we had?"
"He's working, flying machinery out of Shanghai on our cargo plane," Quin muttered, as she went through her pre-flight check.
"Do you know how to fly this thing? I mean, I've seen you drive." Petra asked.
"I drive really well!"protested Quin, stopping her fuel check to glare at Petra.
"You drive like a maniac!" Petra stated firmly.
The engineer smiled and shrugged. "Everyone does, otherwise you'd never get anywhere."
Petra looked at the confusing array of dials, levers and switches in front of her in the co-pilot's seat. "What if you have a heart attack or something? What should I do?"
"Oh, wiggle that little red switch over there," Quin suggested, as she continued her check.
"What does that do?"Petra asked, looking at the switch with interest. The tag below read landing lights.
"Nothing, but it will keep you occupied as we do a spiral nose dive to the ground." Quin smiled, as she tested the yoke.
Petra looked at Quin with one raised eyebrow. "Great, just great," she commented, and then sat with her arms folded and said no more until they were airborne.
Despite Petra's concerns, the flight to Xian was smooth and uneventful. Again, Quin rented a car and they travelled through miles of fertile but very flat farm county. Quin pointed out the huge mounds that dotted the plains here and there. "In ancient times, Xian was the capital of China. These are the graves of the first true Emperors of China."
Xian was more what Petra thought a Chinese city would look like. Although there was a more westernized section of the city and a green belt of parklands along the river, there were only a few modern buildings, such as the huge sports centre and the underground shopping mall in the main square outside the towering walls of ancient Xian.
The streets beyond were crowded with rows of small stores with narrow, deep alleyways here and there leading to scruffy old homes. The stores varied from clean and basic to filthy and piled with junk. Like Beijing, bikes were everywhere, but older and well used. With the exception of the government-built complexes, this was a shabby town on the edge of the frontier. The fine brown dust blown off the Gobi desert miles away covered everything.
The hotel they were staying at was on the edge of the city. "Be more careful here,"Quin warned. "Don't go out alone. There are many poor people here and this is a city of many different peoples. Xian was the beginning of the great silk route that wound its way across the Gobi, the southern steppes of Russia and on through Persia to Europe, a distance of some five thousand miles."
"So the explorer Marco Polo probably came here," Petra said, looking around with interest.
Quin laughed. "Well, he said he did, but I understand many scholars believe that was not the case."
"What? Hey, I learned that in grade five!" protested the sociologist. "I always wanted to be like Marco Polo and spend twenty years travelling through distant lands."
"Sorry, but he probably lied. Oh, he and his family certainly travelled, but it is doubtful they made it to the east. Most likely, he heard stories from the caravan camel drivers he met along the silk route. His diaries just don't add up."
"How so?" demanded Petra.
"Think about it. According to Marco Polo, he makes his way to China and the Emperor is so impressed with him that he makes him a governor of one of his districts, even though there is no indication that Marco Polo could read or speak a word of Chinese. Would you hand over the management of a huge tract of your empire to a strange foreigner whom you couldn't even communicate with? It just doesn't ring true. Besides, his diaries are very inconsistent in what he talks about. According to Marco Polo, he lived here for almost twenty years and yet nowhere in his diaries does he mention foot binding, even though it was a common practice. Nor does he mention tea. How could you have been to the Far East and not have mentioned tea?"
"I hope you realize that you have really shattered my faith in my childhood teacher and mentor," grumbled Petra.
Quin laughed. "It is possible he did travel some distance along the silk route and recorded the stories he heard. I imagine the jewels he brought back, however, were more than likely got in less than honourable ways rather than as a reward for his services in China."
They had lunch at the hotel and settled in, then Quin drove Petra back to the walled fortification that was the old Xian. Huge stone walls towered over a moat. At one end, a three story archer's tower protected the walls from attack. They walked around the ramparts and Quin explained in her matter of fact way how the archers with cross bows would lie on the ramparts and shoot through narrow slits near the base of the walkway so as not to be exposed to the enemy.
They were in luck, for below in the fort's courtyard a red carpet had been laid and bright flags flapped. Actors in traditional costumes of bright silks played the roles of the ruling Emperor, his family and court and gave a traditional welcome to some arriving dignitaries to the city. Petra
used the opportunity to snap some of the beautiful traditional costumes while Quin watched protectively from a distance.
They then went to the main square outside the ramparts and Quin pointed out the two large buildings left from that ancient time. One was a drum tower to signal that the city gate was being opened for the day and the other was the bell tower to signal that the gate was being closed for the night. After, they walked around the modern underground concourse of stores, Quin looking bored and disinterested.
That evening, they went to a restaurant that specialized in the food of the Mongolian people. To Petra's shock, their smiling waitress arrived at their table with a towering stack of round wicker baskets used for steaming. Inside each were one or two different types of bite-sized dumplings.
Their meal was eaten slowly, Petra marvelling at the thirty-two different varieties of dumplings that Quin had ordered. Each beautifully formed dumpling was coloured and molded to reflect the stuffing inside. For example, the yellow dumpling shaped like a bird was filled with spicy chicken and the brown one shaped exactly like a walnut contained a mix of walnut meat and herbs. Petra tried pigeon, mango, bean paste, shrimp, pork, chicken, white fungi, vegetables, almonds, mushrooms, and sharks' fin. Each, she found was very tasty.
The meal was finished off with the waitress lighting a big brass brazier in the centre of their table. Flames shot up and soon heated a clear stock in to which pea-sized dry dumplings and a few dried vegetables were added. They softened and swelled as the soup cooked. Quin explained that the soup was the traditional meal of the cavalry of the Mongolian armies led by the famous military leaders Genghis Khan and Kobla Khan that swept across Asia and Europe.
Stuffed, they made their way back to the hotel and worked quietly in their connected rooms. Petra wrote out postcards to friends and Quin phoned her field managers to see how things were going at the construction site. Much later, Quin still sat moodily in her room long after Petra had turned off her light and gone to bed.
Unable to stand the confinement of the room a minute longer, Quin took the elevator down to the lobby and headed out down the road in long strides. She hadn't gone a quarter of a mile when the attack came. Two men jumped her. One, still a boy, was easily handled by a kick to the face that sent him to his knees, blood gushing out of his nose and mouth.
The other attacker, a weedy man, was fast and mean. He got a few good blows in before Quin took him down with a brutal kick to the kidneys. With a snarl, the man whipped out a knife and slashed at her. Just in time, Quin twisted away and kicked again, leaving her attacker unconscious on the ground. Winded and shaking with shock, she made her way back to the hotel. It was only when the night manager came rushing over that she realized that she had been leaving a trail of blood across the lobby.
A doctor was called and Quin received a number of stitches and a shot against infection. The cut was not very deep except where the knife initially dug in, but it was a good six inches long. Her hip and stomach too were turning a nasty shade of blue from the few blows that she had taken. A police report was filled in, and it was only in the early hours of the morning that Quin staggered into bed, feeling exhausted and hurting badly. How could she have been so stupid?
The next morning, Petra was surprised to find Quin's door still closed and her room in darkness. Trying to be as quiet as she could, she made her way down stairs and ate her breakfast in the hotels morning room. She had finished her breakfast and was on her second cup of coffee when she saw Quin, limping slightly as she walked to the main desk and talked to the hotel's manager.
A few minutes later, she joined a worried Petra. "What happened to you?"
Quin smiled and sat down slowly. "Ahh, I slipped and pulled a muscle. Nothing to be concerned about. A few days walking and it will loosen up. You've had your breakfast? I'll be as quick as I can..."
Petra put her hand on Quin's as the woman braced herself to get up to go the buffet table. "I'll get it,"she insisted, and trotted off before Quin could protest. Petra made up a plate of a croissant and fruit which she knew was Quin's usual breakfast and brought it back to the table with a coffee. She was worried. Quin looked pale and in pain and the manager whom she had stopped to talk to looked upset and worried.
There was more to the story, she suspected, than Quin had told her. Quin was saving face. She knew there was no point in trying to sway Quin from any plans that she had made for them today, but she meant to keep a close eye on the engineer. If Quin started to look worse, she was going to insist that they come back to the hotel and call a doctor.
Petra had offered to drive but Quin insisted she was fine. They headed out towards Qin, first stopping at the Banpo Archaeological Site. Here, inside a large building, was a six thousand year old village that had once existed along the Yellow River. A genetic comparison of the skeletons found there suggested the people had been matriarchal in their clan structure.
Next, they stopped at the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin. Despite her pain, Quin talked enthusiastically about the warrior king and his achievements. "It was Emperor Qin who first conquered all of China and made it a united country. But he wasn't just a military leader. In the twelve years he reigned before his death, he introduced a standardized currency, built roads across China, established irrigation channels, built the Great Wall of China and gave his name to the country. He was a leader in the Machiavellian tradition. Nothing stopped him from doing what he thought was best for China."
Petra sneered. "Let me guess, the individual does not matter, only the greater good."
Quin shrugged. "It is the way of China." She did not want to get into a heated discussion with Petra over the morals of leadership. Her leg was throbbing and she was developing a nasty headache.
"Is it your way?" Petra asked, turning to face Quin as they stood at the doors of the mausoleum.
Quin smiled. "Fortunately, I will never be in a position of leadership that puts me in a situation where I have to decide who lives and who dies, and thank God for that." Quin took the opportunity as she limped back to the car with Petra at her side to bring the subject back to Qin. "But probably his most amazing achievement is the site just five miles from his burial mound. Qin had buried with him his entire army reproduced in terra cotta statues. All six thousand of them! Ready to go see?"
Petra looked closely at Quin. The taller woman seemed to be limping more noticeably and there was a sheen of sweat on her upper lip that Petra had never noticed before no matter how hot it had been. "Are you all right?" she asked.
"Sure, I'm fine,"Quin reassured with a confident smile. "You know how a pulled muscle takes a few days to come around." Quin started the car and concentrated on backing up to ward off any further discussion.
There really are not words to describe the site that Quin took Petra to. They first went into an room with a circular screen to see a history of Emperor Qin. Then they stepped through into a room the size of a football field and there staring back at them was Qin's army. Row after row of military men, each body type and uniform individualized and each face different.
"My God, Quin! It's amazing! And don't you dare tell me that it is an interesting engineering feat! It is a work of power, and faith, and craftsmanship on a scale that is truly amazing."
Quin leaned on the railing pretending she was taking a closer look at the figures. It was a relief to get some of the weight off her leg. Her headache was worse and she now felt hot and clammy. "Actually, it was just a twist of fate that the figures survived. They were not fired and should have easily deteriorated over time. But as you saw in the movie, after Qin's death an invading army found the tomb and set it on fire. The dirt walls and the hardwood logs that had been used to reinforce the roof acted like an oven, curing the figures. Probably the army wiped out many of the local people too for there were no legends about the terra-cotta army at all, so they were never disturbed by grave robbers."
"Then how was it found?"Petra asked, as they slowly started to walked around the massive site.
"A local farmer was digging a well and came up with a terra-cotta helmet. At first, he kept it to worship at his family altar. Then he realized that he should notify the authorities. It has been a huge international effort to save these figures, because China at the time had neither the money nor the skills to save such a huge archaeological find."
They spent several hours looking around. Petra was particularly interested in a site off to the side of the army where a group of clay officers made sacrifices to the gods for victory in battle. Quin showed Petra how the shape of each soldier's hair bun indicated rank. Common soldiers' hair was knotted on the left. The officers had a solid central ridge of hair and the generals had the same ridge but it was indented in the middle.
Petra was fascinated as she noted the amazing detail in the hair braiding, armour, weapons and individualized facial expressions. She could see there were young soldiers looking arrogant and nervous, experienced soldiers who were tough, hard men, and the occasional confident generals.
So caught up in observing each group of figures in the three huge pits was she, Petra did not immediately notice that Quin had gone and sat down on a bench. When she did, she went over to the engineer right away. "Quin, are you okay? Should we head back to the hotel?"
"I seem to have got a bit of a fever but I'm fine. I've just got a headache that's all. Are you ready to leave? We'll have a late lunch at the Xian Museum. It is an amazing place with examples of craftsmanship from the Neolithic period right through to the end of the last dynasty."
Petra bit her lip and considered. She was worried about Quin. She seemed pale and shaky. "I think we should call it a day."
"No way!" protested the engineer, getting up easily, although the effort hurt like hell.
"Okay, let's compromise. We'll eat here and I'll give you some pain killers. If you are feeling better then we'll do the museum."
They went outside and bought some water and fruit at a stall in a small open market near by. Sitting on a bench in the shade, they ate, quietly enjoying the summer breeze. When they finished, Quin declared that the pills that Petra had given her had done the trick and they went on to the museum.
It was everything that Quin had promised and more. There were examples of coins, pottery, copper ware and bronze. In one display, there was even Roman glass traded in from the west. Quin showed Petra how the first currency had actually been shaped in the form of knives and for a long time they stood and looked at the wagon and horse that had come from another dig not far from Qin. The bronze horse, harnessing and detail in the wagon were absolutely amazing.
Petra did not forget, however, to keep an eye on Quin. The pain that laced the woman's face when she thought Petra wasn't looking and the way she was favouring the one leg more and more told the sociologist that the pills she had given the engineer had done little to ease the woman's pain.
"Did you enjoy the museum?" Quin asked, forcing a cheerful smile onto her face. "If you have seen all you need to see, we have one more stop before we head back to the hotel..."
"Yes, I did enjoy the museum and no, we are not making one more stop," Petra stated firmly.
"No?"echoed Quin in surprise.
"I'm taking you back to the hotel. You are sick," Petra insisted, reaching up to feel Quin's feverish brow and looking worried.
Quin smiled smugly. "You can't take me anywhere. I'm the driver and tour guide."
"Watch me!"Petra warned. "I'm going to drive, and I'm taking you back to the hotel, putting you to bed, and taking care of you until you are well."
Quin thought about this scenario for all of half a second, then let her pain and fever show, allowing a worried Petra to wrap her arm around her and help her back to the car. Every bit of bad luck is balanced with good luck, Quin reasoned. It is the way of the Yin and Yang.
Quin was not too happy about Petra driving without a Chinese licence but as the driving was mostly on a straight highway and the hotel was on the outskirts of the city, she relented. To be truthful, she wasn't sure she was well enough to focus on driving.
Having given Petra some basic directions, she sat quietly and downed a bottle of water that Petra had bought for her at a stand. "Okay, Quin Venizelos, I want the truth," Petra stated. "And none of this I pulled a muscle stuff. A pulled muscle does not result in a high fever."
Quin grimaced. The truth was going to have to be told. They were scheduled to fly on to Chongging on the Yangtze River tomorrow and although Quin might have risked driving, she knew she couldn't fly in the condition she was in.
"I couldn't sleep last night so I went for a walk. I got jumped by two guys," Quin admitted. "I beat them off but the bigger one got in a few good kicks and knifed me in the leg."
"What!" Petra exclaimed.
"It's not bad. I saw a doctor and he put in five stitches in the deep part. The rest is just a nasty scratch. He gave me a shot against infection but I don't think it worked."
Petra nodded and drove on without comment. Quin wiggled uncomfortably until finally she had to ask, "Aren't you going to say anything?"
"Not without losing my temper and you don't need that at the moment. Try to sleep. I'll have us back at the hotel as soon as possible," Petra muttered, gripping the steering wheel tensely.
Quin closed her eyes and leaned her head back. This tour with the boss's daughter had been a disaster from the beginning. She might as well have met Petra at the airport with a sign around her neck that read: Fire me.
"What did he say? And tell me the truth," Petra said as she sat down in a chair beside Quin's bed after showing the doctor out. By the time Petra had pulled into the parking lot, Quin was obviously in deep pain and very feverish. She willingly leaned on Petra on the way into the hotel and when a worried manager came over, Petra insisted that he call the doctor.
She had got Quin back to the room and had helped her get out of her jeans and top. Petra got a damp face cloth and sponge- bathed the taller woman and eased her into her pyjamas top and shorts before tucking her into bed.
It had been no easy feat. First, Quin had protested greatly that she could take care of herself. That argument was quickly shot out of the water when Petra pointed to the blood that had seeped through the bandage and reminded Quin that she had not followed the advice that she had given to Petra about walking around at night alone.
Then there was the fact that even wounded and sick, Quin had a body that was absolutely breath-taking. Petra had to focus on the wash cloth to stop from hyperventilating. She might not be in the market, but she still could appreciate a beautiful body and Quin Venizelos' was spectacular.
The doctor had come and examined Quin's leg as Petra looked on. He didn't speak English, so she'd had to wait to find out what he had said. "Well?"
"He said I shouldn't have walked around so much today, I've popped a stitch. He said I have a fever but the wound looks good. He has prescribed some antibiotics for me to take and also he recommended some Chinese tea for flushing out my system. He is going to have the local pharmacy send the stuff over to the hotel," Quin translated.
"Is that all?" Petra asked suspiciously.
"Well, he did ask if you dyed your hair or if it was naturally the colour of corn silk," Quin smiled.
"It's natural and you made that up," snorted Petra, as she tucked the sheet around Quin. "Can I get you anything?"
"No, I'll be fine. Sorry to be so much trouble. I'll be fine as soon as the fever breaks," Quin said, starting to feel very tired after the shot the doctor had given her.
"I'll sit here with you," Petra said.
"Double bed. Lie down. I promised to be good. Need to sleep..."muttered Quin as she drifted off.
Continued - Part 3
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