Friday, September 30, 2011

Chapter Five: Weekend Away

Rachel was excited about her promotion to Traffic Cop. Not that she was particularly looking forward to standing on street corners and herding vehicles - she had far higher ambitions than that - but the job came with a considerable bonus that was just what she had been waiting for.

She rushed straight home from work and booked the weekend getaway she had been longing for: three days and two nights in Shang Simla, China.

Rachel spent the evening preparing and packing for the trip.

Thoughts of her departure and worries about whether or not she had remembered to pack everything made it difficult for her to fall asleep that night, but eventually she did and woke up the next morning ready for adventure.

As the cab that would take her to the airport pulled away from the house, Rachel could hardly believe she was getting this chance.

It still seemed unbelievable when she finally arrived at the base camp where she would be staying. Rachel Keatts, in China at last!

Dumping her suitcase unceremoniously in her room, she set out at once for the true purpose of her visit to this country: The Phoenix Martial Arts Academy.

More than anything, Rachel had wanted to try her hand at board breaking, which she had previously only read about. Extreme Fitness had chosen not to add any board breaker equipment to their studio after deciding that it was too likely to result in injuries and subsequent litigation.

Rachel couldn't understand why, as she had snapped a foam board in two quite painlessly.

Her confidence bolstered by her success, she decided to try the more difficult balsa board next. She was preparing to strike when she was interrupted by a shout behind her.

Rachel turned to see a man observing her from the deck, "Please, do not do that!" he called out.

She was slightly annoyed, but noticed that the man was wearing a belt several levels higher than her own, and figured she might as well go and see what he was hollering about.

"I was watching you practice. It is a very common mistake for beginners to try and progress through the boards faster than the student is ready, I did not want you to get hurt," he explained as she approached, "My apologies, I am Zhan Su. I have not seen you before, you are not from around here, are you?"

"No, my name is Rachel Keatts, I'm visiting from Anne Arbor," she soon found herself explaining to Zhan about her interest in martial arts, how she had taught herself from books, then persuaded the gym to add equipment for her to practice with, and finally ended up here to learn more.

"I am impressed, it takes much dedication to teach yourself without someone to train you. Perhaps you would honor me with a sparring match. You can show me what you have learned and I can give you some advice on your techinique."

Rachel eagerly agreed; this was just the sort of thing she had travelled so far to do.

Zhan won of course, but Rachel was glad he had not gone easy on her. "You fight well for your level," he complemented her, "I was on my way home for dinner before I saw you, perhaps you would like to join me? I can offer you some traditional Chinese home cooking to experience on your visit."

Rachel was grateful for his kind offer, and gladly accompanied him.

When they arrived, Zhan stopped her outside the door, "It looks like my brother, Shen, is here. He has... not been well lately. If he has been drinking he might be rude, you can simply ignore him."

Indeed, as soon as they walked through the door, Shen approached Rachel and began interrogating her about where she was from and what kind of work she did. This branched out into a rant on the local economy and how the two brothers had been put out of work by a government that he had no kind words for. Zhan became frustrated as his attempts to distract his brother away from his guest failed repeatedly and Rachel could tell that he wished they had turned around at the door.

"On second thought, maybe we should go out to eat," Zhan smiled apologetically.

"Here we are," he announced as they arrived at their new destination, "You will find no finer food in all of China."

"A farm?" Rachel asked, confused.

"This was my grandfather Han's orchard," he looked sad for a moment, "It should be ours now, but Shen and I had to sell it for the money. It is technically still going through the paperwork, though, so for now, please, help yourself!" he laughed and gestured to the fruit-laden trees around them.

Rachel grinned as she reached up to pick some bright red cherries. This definitely hadn't been on her itinerary, but she found that she was enjoying herself more than she would have expected. Behind her she could hear Zhan began to sing with a lilting, melodious voice.

"So, what do you think of our fine Chinese cuisine?" he asked, his eyes glistening with amusement.

"Sweet... and juicy," she smiled and wiped her chin as she bit into the fruit, "What was that song you were singing?"

"It is an old harvesting song passed down through my family."

"It's lovely, will you teach it to me?"

"I will teach you a better song, it is called The Love of Xing Lo."

Zhan was very patient as she attempted to learn, although Rachel was sure she must have been butchering both the language and the beautiful melody. Before she knew it, the shadows had grown long and it was time to go home, but Zhan made her promise to meet with him tomorrow, as he had something he wanted to show her.

The next morning Rachel arose before the sun to head back down to the Academy for some more practice before her meeting with Zhan later in the afternoon. With what she had learned from their sparring match the day before, she was pleased to find that she was now qualified for the next belt level.

After lunch, she set out to the hot springs, where she had arranged to meet Zhan.

She found him on a platform overlooking the small valley.

"What do you think?" he asked, sweeping his arms out toward the view below.

"It's beautiful," she replied, gazing upon the sparkling, shade-speckled pools filled with leaping red and gold koi.

"This is my favorite place to come and relax," Zhan told her, "It is so peaceful, and also, I know the secret here," he winked.

"What is it?" Rachel's mind raced with thoughts of ancient Chinese mysteries as he beckoned her into the building behind them.

"I know where they keep the liquor," he grinned as he pulled out a blender and began mixing them some drinks.

The two were soon laughing and chatting like old friends. They didn't really need the alcohol for this, as their personalities seemed to just click. Rachel, the perpetual loner and arrogant snob, had finally found someone she actually liked.

Realizing this herself, she suddenly felt compelled to throw her arms around Zhan, giving him a quick squeeze. The drinks probably did have something to do with that.

As she was pulling away, Zhan caught her hands in his, "I wanted to bring you here because when I see you I am reminded of this place. You are beautiful like the sun dancing on the shining waters, and strong like the fish, who jumps into the air, not content to stay below the surface."

Rachel blushed and inivted him back to the base camp for dinner.

"Now you can try some of my fine local cuisine," Rachel joked; she hadn't wanted to risk working the stove.

"It is the most delicious sandwich I have ever eaten," Zhan assured her, "What other wonderful talents must you have?"

"I sometimes play chess back home. I'm better at that than martial arts, at any rate," she laughed.

"Ah, that is something I have been meaning to learn, but I always get distracted by my more athletic activities."

"Well, maybe it's my turn to teach you something, then," Rachel offered.

Zhan thought that was a splendid idea, and the two were soon caught up in a game. Zhan knew the basic movement rules well enough, so Rachel taught him some simple opening strategies and a few basic development techniques.

Rachel admired how dedicated he was to learning all of the new information she was giving him. She caught herself glancing across the board at him frequently; it was kind of cute the way he held his chin and furrowed his brow as he contemplated his next move. It seemed far too soon when the sun began to set and Zhan stood up to take his leave.

"Tonight's my last night here, I'm going home in the morning," Rachel could see in his eyes that he must have felt as disappointed as she was.

"Perhaps I can come see you off tomorrow," he offered as he gave her a hug to say goodbye.

As he began to let her go, Rachel realized that she didn't want him to leave.

"Stay with me," she whispered it so softly that even she wasn't sure she had said it out loud. Zhan must have heard anyway, because instead of leaving he followed her up to her room.

"I want you to know that I do not usually do this with women I have known for so short a time," Zhan told her once they were there.

"Honestly, I haven't ever done... 'this' at all," Rachel admitted, looking away and suddenly embarrassed.

Zhan lifted up her head in his hands, "I am honored that you have chosen me to be your first."

Zhan took things slowly and gently for her, and afterward Rachel was glad when he fell asleep beside her for the night.

When it was time for Rachel to leave in the morning, Zhan helped carry her luggage down the stairs of the base camp.

"I am glad I was able to meet you, Rachel Keatts."

"And I'm glad I met you, Zhan Su," she replied as they embraced.

"You know, I'm hoping this won't be my last trip to China, maybe we'll meet again."

Zhan smiled sadly, "After the orchard is sold, there will not be much reason for Shen and I to stay here in Shang Simla. If we can find jobs here, maybe, but we might have to look for work elsewhere. If you return, though, I hope I am here."

Rachel knew there was a good chance that she would never see Zhan again. Even if she did, she didn't expect him to put his life on hold and wait for her. Still, she had no regrets; this trip had turned out to be everything she had dreamed of and so much more.

She made one final stop at the local market on her way to the airport. She bought a souvenier vase, something that she could display as a permanent reminder of this wonderful weekend.


Phew, that was a long chapter. It was a pain in the butt trying to get all the screenshots I needed, too. Usually I just play and take pictures of whatever happens, but since this trip was so important to the story and I was limited to just three days I had to put a little more work into making sure certain things happened. A lot of the scenes are actually shown in a mixed up order because I had to do things multiple times since everything would keep going wrong. For example, this is what happened the first two times I tried to get Rachel and Zhan to play chess:

The orchard scene took place over two evenings, as the first time Zhan left early in a huff when Rachel dared to try and give him a gift. The scene with the drinks at the hot springs happened only because if I left Zhan alone for a second he would go traipsing off up there to the bar, so I finally just gave in and made it part of the story. Once they were in there, they just kept constantly making drinks if I didn't have them currently interacting, and then another sim came along and started getting in the way, too.

To top it all off, when I finally got them in bed together, Zhan refused to do anything more involved than making out, and by that time I was so frustrated with the game that I just selected him with MC and directed him to initiate woohoo, which thankfully worked.

I was worried about how the chapter would come together after all of this, but after getting everything in order, I'm happy with how it turned out and not so upset with the game anymore. ^^;