Time: late 1970s or early 1980s.
Place: Japan, somewhere rather rural and off the beaten track. (The person telling this story is deliberately cagey about where it happened.)
Question 1: For a very old-fashioned Japanese house, what would be some signs that might suggest to a viewer that it is being neglected?
Question 2: A traveler meets a person whose gender he's unsure of. This person is wearing traditional dress--what are the details that keep our traveler guessing whether he's talking to a man or a woman?
Question 3: How would our traveler address such a person? (Zhie is very pleasant and obliging--perhaps too much so.)
Question 4 (related to Japan, but in about the 12th century rather than modern times): A young courtier is given a position in the provincial administration, ostensibly one of responsibility and consequence, but in fact exile to the back of beyond. Where could that be?
The scenario: Character X is telling the story of an encounter with a person of ambiguous attributes. X has got lost on a country road, because the landmarks don't correspond to the map. He decides to put in a call to his destination to let the folks there know that he will be late, and maybe to get directions. It's a good ten years before mobile phones were available, so he goes in search of a phone. He finds a house set well back from the road, with someone, apparently the occupant, sitting on the veranda taking the air. There is no phone in the house, and the traveler is anxious about getting to a place where he can make a call, but instead finds himself continuing to converse with the person of the house who is very charming. X is served tea, in an antique, exquisite bowl; it tastes bad in some way, but he forces himself to drink it. Several times he's on the point of deciding, for sure, that his companion is a man (or woman) but he cannot be sure.