From the Past to the Present
Posted on Sunday, 19 December 2021 - 7:44pm by Ensign Liánhuā Bai
Edited on on Monday, 3 January 2022 - 11:59pm
Operation: Mirror of Madness
Location: Bai Mansion, Historic District, Shanghai China
Bai family mansion, Shanghai, China.
Sometimes Liánhuā wondered how the ancient Bai mansion still stood. It had been in her family since the eighteenth century and although successive generations had put their stamp on it, it retained its old-world charm and character.
Liánhuā looked up at the portraits in the hall she looked at the one of her however many times great grandmother, the original Liánhuā, who had been born in 1903 and remembered fondly her own grandmother telling her how she had also been mixed race and taken to England and about how she had returned to China with her younger siblings and handled the family business when her younger brother was too young to do so. She also told the young Liánhuā about her Great grandmother’s beloved Lei Shan Yuan and how they had protected the family.
Liánhuā knew that Lei Shan Yuan had been full blood Chinese of a military family and that he had served in Burma alongside British and American troops in world war one and had led the Lei family army in the Chinese Civil War.
Liánhuā knew that the Bai family at that time had helped bankroll the army and that the two families had enjoyed close ties ever since. She recalled that he had sent her Great Grandmother and siblings to Singapore for a while during the civil war when the fighting was at its fiercest around Shanghai to protect them and had sent for them the moment it was safe to do so and when he left the army, he never liked her away from him. Indeed, according to family legends, they both died in 1999 within an hour of each other.
The house had remained with her ancestor Li Jie and each firstborn daughter inherited it in honour of the original Liánhuā who was credited as saving the family in the early 20th century, her indelible mark could still be seen in the house and in particular the bedroom the current Liánhuā occupied when on leave.
Liánhuā had it reinforced as a child that she must uphold the family honour and remember after whom she was named.
“Be like her, child.” Her grandmother had said. “Quiet, capable and polite. Don’t raise your voice to be heard it will get lost in the crowd. Always have the things you need at hand and make sure you deal with things calmly and methodically.” Her grandmother had been dead some ten years now but the words were burned into Liánhuā’s brain and she followed them like some unbreakable code.
“Lián huá jiějiě!! Yóujiàn!! Yóujiàn!!” came an excited voice that pulled her out of her memories. Her twelve-year-old brother Nanxian barrelled into the room causing her to chuckle. She had forgotten her Grandfather’s ban on technology in the old house and realised that her orders would be delivered in the ancient manner. Mail.
Nanxian was twelve and already taller than his eldest sister. “Do you run around at school like this?” she scolded gently.
“Wǒ bù gǎn!” the young boy objected, not realising the elder Bai had answered him in English.
“You wouldn’t dare hmm? Yet you dare here?” she teased as the boy shook his hand the envelope waving in the air.
“Méiyǒu jiějiě wǒ bù gǎn!” he grinned ruefully shoving the letter to his sister. “Yóujiàn!” he added causing her to chuckle and ruffle his short black hair. “You are back at school tomorrow. Go find Tian You and Liangsheng and start packing your things.” She smiled. “Tell them we are having dinner at Jade Dragon when Luci, Suzi and Mai get back okay?” she called to him as he vanished into the courtyard. Liánhuā sat in her ancestor’s chair and reaching for the ornate letter opener she opened the mail and read quietly.
It was the standard seventy-two-hour orders letter, telling her where she was stationed when to be there and the transport data that she would need. Calmly folding it she slipped it into her packet as her sister Suzi walked in. There were only two years between them and they had grown up extremely close to one another. Suzi was a doctor who had chosen to stay in their hometown. Partially because it was where she was comfortable and partially because she knew that when her brother took over the family business having loved ones nearby would help him.
“Was that Xiǎo láng I saw running to the boy’s courtyard?” Suzi asked as she sat in Lei Shan Yuan chair.
“It was. They need to get packed for their transport tomorrow then I leave the day after tomorrow for my new posting.” Liánhuā confided in her sister. “It’s the only way to get there on time.” She smiled. Suzi nodded. She knew that her sister would be leaving soon she still felt sad. Bai Suzi always loved the time’s everyone was home together like they had been as children. But she understood her sister’s work was elsewhere. “Look amongst the ancient artisans and get someone to repair the wall before winter, will you?” Liánhuā asked. Suzi nodded.
“How much longer will you be serving for?” Suzi asked. Liánhuā shrugged.
“Minimum of another six years. You know the rules. If the firstborn is granted the house, they have to maintain the family’s education until the youngest leaves college. It’s always been this way.” Liánhuā reminded her calmly. Suzi nodded. “After that, we will see.” Liánhuā smiled. “Don’t let Liangsheng enlist though. Tian You is not cut out to lead the family business.” Liánhuā reminded her as the sisters rose in unison. Suzi nodded again. As the Matriarch of the family Liánhuā was to be listened to and not ignored. She was always observant of her siblings even if her words appeared harsh.
“Mai’s almost out of teacher training I heard over coffee this morning,” Liánhuā remarked as they walked to the kitchen. “She’s looking at opening a school for children in Shanghai. She’s not wanting to leave plus there’s a Korean lad opened up his own restaurant and Mai suddenly has a taste for Bibimbap.” Suzi chuckled. Liánhuā smiled. Mai was the youngest of the four elder sisters and had always been into boys, dating one boy or another but never really settling on one. Liánhuā never scolded her for it and found her antics mildly amusing.
Twenty-four-year-old Luci walked into the kitchen and chuckled as she heard her elder sisters talking about her younger sister. “Did you two ever talk about me like that?” She asked laughing. Luci was the Managing Director of the family business. “No Bookworm, we just wondered if you had read all of the encyclopaedias in Grandfather Bai’s library.” Suzi grinned to receive a chuckle from her sisters. “I saw Xiǎo láng run into the mansion,” Luci remarked. “I was walking slowly. I like walking through the historic district.” She explained. “I assume that you have orders?” Luci asked. Liánhuā nodded her head. “I leave day after tomorrow.” Liánhuā admitted. “For how long?” Luci questioned
“Well I signed a new contract so six years this time. Then we will see.” Liánhuā admitted as Nanxian wandered back in with his elder brothers’ Liangsheng and Tian You. “Xiǎo láng, Xiǎoxióng,” Liánhuā ruffled the sixteen year old Tain You’s hair.
“You’re leaving when we go back to school?” he asked. Liánhuā nodded.
“You know she has no choice.” Eighteen-year-old Liangsheng reminded his brothers. “I have three years till I reach my majority and six till she can choose to leave Starfleet.” He reminded them. It was not uncommon for Liangsheng to steadfastly take his sisters side when he felt the younger boys were misunderstanding their sister. He had seen the sacrifices she had made for them. That all his sisters had due to an old law within their family that the business was only handed down to the eldest Bai male of the main line. “Xiǎo huángdì, they mean no harm.” Liánhuā soothed her brothers temper. “You all have exams soon. You are doing a business degree Xiǎo huángdì?” Liánhuā double checked as her brother nodded.
“Can you come back for my graduation?” He asked.
“I will try my best, but you know what they say the best laid plans…” Liánhuā started for Liangsheng to finish.
“Of mice and men often go astray.” This was finished with his customary grin as he slung his arm around his sisters’ shoulders. “Are you going to change for dinner?” a new voice broke into the camaraderie in the kitchen. It was Mai.
Mai the youngest girl of Bai family was the only sister to have a short, bobbed hairstyle, young and bubbly she often drove her sisters mad with her endless energy. “She is right boys you need to change for dinner, and we do have reservations so thirty minutes, shower change and meet in the living room.” Liánhuā instructed.
It would be about twenty-eight minutes later when Liangsheng led the boys into the living with them all struggling with their neckties. Liánhuā lined them up as she had since they were little and sorted their ties for them. “At this point boys, you may as well get the clip on’s.” She chuckled as they were joined by their sisters.
The seven siblings always had a last night meal before the younger ones returned to school to mark another milestone in their lives. As always their meal was filled with chatter and laughter that only ended when Liánhuā reminded her brothers they had shuttles to catch the following morning. So the siblings returned home and went to bed.
The next day the family rose early to eat breakfast and to go to the temple and light incense for their mother and grandparents. It was a ritual they had always done before leaving on a new endeavour. After paying their respects to their mother and grandparents the seven siblings headed to the spaceport where they would separate. As with previous years they had about thirty minutes between each flight as with previous years each brother had a separate flight for a separate school.
Nanxian would be the first to leave. His flight took him to Hilsea College in England for his secondary education. He hugged each sister in turn and kissed her cheek before shaking hands with his brothers and solemnly promising his brother not to bring shame to the family while overseas. Liánhuā remembered vividly promising their grandfather the same thing at her brother’s age.
Next would-be Tian You who was headed to Lord Waddington’s College in England to start his first year of law school, having been a gifted student and skipping two years.
Liangsheng would be the last to leave. His trip was simply to Beijing and he knew that he would be home before his brothers as he was in his final year and he had been promised by his sister he could join the company and work his way up whilst getting his degree at a local Shanghai university, as had been the way in their family for generations. “Be safe Lian’er.” He told her as he hugged her goodbye.
The four sisters watched him leave waving when he turned around and slowly meandered back to the Bund, Shanghai’s historic docks where Liánhuā’s ancestor Liánhuā had returned home all those years before. “Do you ever think about her? About the original Liánhuā?” Mai asked her eldest sister.
“I do. I wonder what she would make of the starships and other races.” Liánhuā admitted as they walked. “She was an adventurer,” Luci added to her sister’s chuckle.
The sisters walked and talked as they always did about their family history and what they would have made of things. “Well, the fact we came full circle and had seven children in the same birth order, four girls and three boys let us hope it is lucrative for our family now as it was then, preferably minus another civil war?” Liánhuā chuckled as they drew close to the house.
Twenty-four hours later
Liánhuā closed the mansion’s gate. She was the last to leave the house this morning and rested her hand on the ancient wood. “I will return home soon Bai Liánhuā.” She promised the spirit of the woman she was named after. It was the same promise she made every time she left. The promise that like her namesake from long ago she too would return. The old road was still maintained with the old cobbles and as she walked to the spaceport near the Bund, she found herself dodging the local children who ran pell-mell down the street. “Xiǎoxīn bùyào shuāi dǎo háizi.” She called to the children in Chinese. The children slowed at least for a moment before they ran again. The walk from the old district of Shanghai to the modern center always felt to Liánhuā like walking back to modern times after spending time in the past. Part of her loved it and part of her hated it. She loved the slower pace in the district, the street stalls with snacks that dated back to the Song dynasty and the fruit stalls and meat stands. The things that modern society had computerised but she understood the need for change and so the walk to the spaceport allowed her to recenter her mind.
Lián huá jiějiě!! Yóujiàn!! Yóujiàn!! - older sister Liánhuā!! Mail!! Mail!!
Wǒ bù gǎn! – I wouldn’t dare!
Méiyǒu jiějiě wǒ bù gǎn – No older sister I don’t dare.
Xiǎo láng – Little Wolf
Xiǎoxióng- Little Bear
Xiǎo huángdì - Little Emperor
Xiǎoxīn bùyào shuāi dǎo háizi.- Be careful not to fall kids.