Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bamboo Park (Wangjiang Lou) and Poetess Xue Tao

Bamboo Park (Wangjiang Lou), Chengdu, Sichuan 090316 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The Bamboo Park (in Chinese known as River Viewing Pavilion) is one of my favourite spots in Chengdu when the weather is lovely. It is located in eastern Chengdu very close to Sichuan University and just across the street from the entrance to Sichuan University Museum (which in itself is well worth a visit). Their are two sections to this park which skirts the Jinjiang River: the northern section is dedicated to the memory of Tang poetess Xue Tao 薛涛 (770-832) and costs 20 yuan to enter. The entrance fee guarantees better upkeep and also less people than the southern section of the park which is free to all and sundry and thus more noisy but at the same time full of life, tea houses, carnival rides, snacks and fun nooks and crannies. You will find a romantic statue of Xue Tao in the park, as well as the well where it is said that she drew water to dye the special handmade paper that she wrote her poems on. For a time Xue Tao even took up residence in Du Fu cottage after that other most famous of Chinese poets had both left the city and passed away (Xue Tao was born around the time that Du Fu died). The Bamboo Park gets its English name from the over 150 species of bamboo that are growing on its grounds. Xue Tao is said to have especially loved bamboo which she felt represented humility, modesty and graciousness as bamboo is hollow inside and very pliable but also persistent and hardy and almost impossible to destroy. She is said to be buried near the park.

Xue Tao is one of China's most respected female poets. Her father (a minor government official) passed away when she was young and it was understandably difficult for her and her mother to support themselves alone in Chengdu. Xue Tao was subsequently registered in Chengdu's guild of courtesans and entertainers and eventually became the favourite concubine of Wei Gao, the military governor of Sichuan who made her his official hostess. She was known for her biting wit and seems to even have been banished for a time to Songpan as punishment for some insult, inconvenience or slight to the wrong person or high official in Chengdu. Perhaps the poem below alludes to this incident.  [It is number three of "Ten Partings," a sequence of poems.]:

"Dog parted from her master":

Yes, she's a good dog,
lived four or five years
within his crimson gates,

fur sweet-smelling,
feet quite clean,
master, affectionate.

Then by chance she
took a nip
and bit a well-loved guest.

Now she no longer sleeps
upon his red silk rugs.

[Taken from Brocade River poems: selected works of the Tang dynasty courtesan Xue Tao / translated and introduced by Jeanne Larsen (The Lockert Library of poetry in translation). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1987. (xxvii, 110 p.)
LC#: PL2677.H76 A24 1987; ISBN: 0691066868, 0691014345]

# 54 Today's picture 090324

Wuhou Temple (Wuhou Ci), Chengdu, Sichuan 090317 ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The Bookworm Literary Festival and literary groupies

Natalie Handal and Tina Chang, editors (together with Ravi Shankar) of "Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia and Beyond". ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

The Chengdu Bookworm Literary Festival has concluded and I'm in mourning because the fun is over but glad in a way too as my bank account can't afford any more event tickets and book purchases. C.P. and I had such a good time that we are already looking forward to the next one. This year we both got to moderate one of the events and also show some of the authors around Chengdu. We enjoy doing this immensely as it gives us an opportunity to spend time with interesting, creative people who are passionate about books, writing and life. The authors seem to find it pleasant too. You could say that we are "literary groupies". We've discussed this and have decided that next year we are going to open up our own "escort service" and offer our "services" showing the authors a "good time" while they are here in Chengdu.  Strictly in the "literary" sense of course ;-) 

Ian Buruma, author of The China Lover; Inventing Japan; The Missionary and the Libertine: Love and War in East and West; Bad Elements: Chinese rebels from LA to Beijing and many more. ©Ingrid Booz Morejohn

Who is saying what Part 2

This is a typical conversation between me and a rickshaw driver here in Chengdu. I'm standing on the side of the road trying to flag down a taxi and a rickshaw driver comes cruising by looking for a customer. I put my hand down before he drives past me, so he knows that I don't want a rickshaw:

Screech of rickshaw brakes, rickshaw swings into the curb in front of me:

"Where you going?"

"It's too far for you."

"Where you going!?"

"It's way too far for you!"

"Come on, tell me, where do you want to go!"

[I tell him, he answers:]

"Are you nuts?! That's way too far for a rickshaw!!"

Who is saying what Part 1

A couple of days ago two lady friends (B and H) and I were standing on the street here in Chengdu. We were talking animatedly and laughing and suddenly a middle-aged Chinese woman pulled up close beside us on her motorscooter and began barraging us with questions. Here's how the conversation went (I'm sure you can figure out who is saying what):

[After closely scrutinizing us out for about 30 seconds]

"Where are you from?"

"Sweden, England and Spain."

"All three of you look so old! How old are you?!"

"45, 48, over 50..."

"You're that young??! I'm over 50 too. Your hair is all grey, why don't you color it?

"We like it natural!"

"Look at mine.  It's cheap and easy, no problem!"
[Pointing chin towards beauty parlour down the street. Her hair has no trace of grey but is also clearly not her natural color. Coppery brown is the "in thing" amongst middle-aged Chengdu ladies.]

Then B thought she said that B was fat and B said "I know I'm fat!" and I said that she didn't say that you were fat, she said something else and we all cracked up laughing. But not the Chinese lady who didn't catch this extra interchange. She put up a good smile anyway and drove off on her motorscooter shaking her head at the crazy foreign ladies who have the money to color their hair but still choose to look old and frumpy.