Friday, May 27, 2005

Dont' Read While You Eat, Part III

In his seventh year, Huang Jing Liao, called “Little Fish” by his sisters after the legend “The Carp Jumps the Dragon Gate”, commenced study for the test which had to be passed to become a government official. Every other day Jing Liao walked to the river, took a ferry to the other side, then walked a mile to Bing Lai Village. Here along with a dozen hopeful scholars he was taught to read, write and memorize long historical documents. Often he would be accompanied by Second Sister. Second Sister, who since the death of First Sister during a Fever Time, was really First Sister, chose to retain the title of Second Sister in honor of the true First Sister’s memory. Second Sister attended the Martial Arts School of the village. Mother and Father Huang hoped that a fierce fighting girl would be less attractive as a wife, thereby insuring someone would be left to work the farm in their old age.

Initially, Second Sister and Jing Liao paid for they education with small surpluses from the farm. Later Second Sister paid for her schooling with money won in fights with boys in the marketplace. Jing Liao wished he could attend the Iron Rabbit School of Martial Arts, but alas he future was set, besides as a boy he could not attend. Iron Rabbit taught a style called Wing Tsun, which at that time was predominantly a woman’s form. All the same it was what he wanted to do most and took every opportunity, real and fabricated, to watch through the hole in the fence. He loved watching the girls practice. A casual observer might think Wing Tsun one of the ugliest Kung Fu styles, with toes turned inward in goat riding stance and constricted movements. Jing Liao found that if he looked into the empty space of the movements and softened he eyes he could see dragons. This, he felt, was important and indicted a thing to pursue.

Walking back from the ferry in the evening he always badgered Second Sister to show him some Wing Tsun, and she would, in return for some knowledge he had gleaned from his school. In this way Jing Liao learned Buddha Hand, Monkey Palm, Three Prayers to Buddha, Beggar’s Palm, Sticky Hands and Skirt Kicking, and Second Sister learned to read and write. On the days he did not go to school Jing Liao did not work on the farm, he had special dispensation; he had to study. The family’s Little Fish got the best of the food, was praised to the Heavens and received daily foot rubs. But still his sparkle began to recede. He even lost interest in watching the girls practice at the Iron Rabbit School; he no longer took pleasure in chasing the fat black chickens. His wrists looked like sticks, dark shadows pooled beneath his eyes and one day he could not get out of bed. Frantic, Mother Huang made him congee* cooked with special roots and berries. Youngest Sister tried to amuse him with her implausible stories. Still after three days he did not seem better. Little Fish was ten years old.

Outside in the purpling dusk a stranger to the family was walking along the road that led by the farm. His feet did not stir the dust and he burbled to himself, under his long beard, like a spring tree frog.

*Rice Soup, 1 part rice to 6 parts water, simmered for a minimum of 3 hours.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part II

Meanwhile a new world was being settled and an old Taoist hermit was making his way to Wu Dang Mountain. As the hermit walked along the dry and dusty road an observant person would have noticed his footfalls made no puffs of dust and he sang a little song, quiet as a tree frog.
“Tu Si Zi mends expiry and damage, supplements insufficiency and makes one fat and strong. Long time taking brightens the eyes, makes the body light and prolongs life. Shi Chang Pu, bitter and warm, treats cough and counter flow and damaged center, disinhibiting the nine orifices, it sharpens the wits, strengthens the will and doubles strength. Take a long time to make the body light and prevent senility. It grows in the rivers and valleys…”

In his later years Huang Jing Liao maintained he had lead a carefree existence the first seven years of his life. In fact the little farm with the view of the mountains was subject to flood, fever and taxes on a regular basis. When the flood came the family fled to the foothills accompanied by most of their animals and valuables. When the family returned to the farm if a south-west wind blew before the flood waters had sunk beneath the surface, the fever came bringing hot heads, sore throats, body aches and swollen glands. Those afflicted, and it was usually the children, drank a tea made mostly from herb roots which the family gathered while they waited in the foothills for the floodwaters to recede. A special and essential ingredient of the Fever Tea were honeysuckle flowers (Jin Yin Hua), which grew in abundance on the farm. Mother and Father Huang collected and dried the tiny gold and silver trumpets, carefully storing them in covered porcelain bowls for the Fever Times.

Every year just after harvest time the tax collector of the province came driving a wagon pulled by six oxen. This wagon was to be piled high with the bounty of the farm: rice, chickens, a pig or two, dried beans, lotus roots, cucumbers, carrots, tea, garlic and White Cloud Ear Mushrooms (Bai Mu Er). Every year in the days before the tax collector arrived the family felt as if they were rolling in riches and at one with the world.
“Oh, so much, so much” Mother Huang would sigh; happily sniffing the fresh dried lotus roots and watching her children chase the fat black chickens.
“Yes, so much” Father Huang would agree, hugging a bag of beans to his chest and tousling the head of the nearest child.
Every year Mother and Father Huang would try to persuade the tax collector not to take so much. They served him green tea and steamed dumplings while quoting their favorite sage, Lao Tzu.
“The Way is the Pivot of all things, but to have too many things, a warehouse of food for instance, is not good, for this is not calmly advancing along the Way.” Said Mother Huang as she refreshed the tax collectors teacup.
“Recall that over taxation causes illness in the people.” Father Huang offered as he proffered a tray of dumplings. Sometimes the tax collector would laugh and counter with “The Way of developed people if to cultivate the body by calmness and nurture life by frugality. You see? I am helping you!” And sometimes, after the tea and dumplings, he would turn his head away from the loading of the wagon and pretend not to see the bags of straw, which diluted the yield.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Don't Read While You Eat: Part I

Layered between the examination of my morning oatmeal is this story, Don't Read While You Eat, in many parts. Originally exposed to the eyes of others as part of the Santa Cruz Waldorf School newsletter, The Glimpse, under the heading of School Store Notes, it was at that time called the Peccary Chronicles. The reason for that is another story. The reason for the current title is the following;The Chinese recommend that one does not read and eat at the same time because it is the same Qi, the Spleen Qi, that helps with both reading and digestion. One just shouldn't spread the Spleen too thin...........

Huang Jing Liao was the first boy and the last child to be born to the branch of the Huang family who lived on the farm by the mountains. With five sisters the boy was never wanting for care. Even the youngest sister, who was only two years his senior, was always happy to give up her toys for his amusement. His nappies were always clean, stomach always full and each cry attended to almost before it came out of his mouth. His sisters promised to be more beautiful than lotuses, cleverer than rabbits and as good natured as a bowl of fresh steamed rice at the end of a long day; but they were girls and girls meant trouble and expense.

Father and Mother Huang were sure that if their girls did not run off to marry bandit princes, the parents would have to sell their small farm to provide dowries.
"Don't worry, honorable and fretful parents, we promise we will never leave you and the farm when you are too old to plant the rice and tend the chickens"
Although these words were spoken from the heart, Mother and Father Huang knew that one day each of their daughters in turn would betray the girlhood promise. A scent, a look, a certain light, a tone of voice, the silhouette of a shoulder against a stonewall; any of these things could turn a girl's heart into a woman's.

At the moment of his birth little Jing Liao changed the fate of his family. A boy who would grown up to be a man could also grow up to be a government official. The job of government official in those days was probably the most stable and lucrative career a person of ordinary heritage could expect. As the yelling infant was laid on her breast to suck Mother Huang thanked the gods for now her daughters could have decent dowries and she and her husband could stay on their farm with it's mountain views, fat black chickens and honeysuckle scented breezes until their deaths in venerable old age.