A few days ago I heard the familiar beep-beep, beep-beep from my cell phone, indicating a text message had come in. This is not uncommon here in UB; it's the cheapest way to communicate. But what was uncommon was the message itself: "Do you want a free trip to Beijing?" I almost junked it as spam until I saw who it was from. A coupla clarifying clickety-clicks back and forth -- like "Seriously?" and "Why?" -- and I thought, "Hmm. Maybe I'm going to Beijing next month."
Can't reveal details just yet, but let's just say that ain't the only thing going -- February is going to be a busy and exciting month. But I can talk about my sense that I've been provided with a welcome opportunity.
As I've said a number of times, I harbor a deep antipathy about modern China, stemming mostly from its ongoing, brutal occupation of Tibet. But this has always sounded a clashing note for me, as my practice is supposed to be about cultivating a compassionate view towards others, free of prejudice. So where could I turn to reconcile these feelings?
Well, where I've always turned: literature.
The local FPMT center has a cafe, in which they offer a small lending library of books in English. For some time I'd been dancing around a substantial volume, and now I plucked it off the shelf: Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain. Man, am I glad I did.
The year 2000 was extremely turbulent for me, and as a result it didn't register that Mr. Xingjian was awarded that year's Nobel Prize for Literature. They chose wisely. I'm about 100 pages in and absorbed in a way that can only come from encountering consummate mastery. I've joined him on a gorgeous and profound linguistic excursion that can also be wickedly funny. He got me on the hook on page 18, when the narrator recalls this ditty from his childhood:
"In moonlight thick as soup
I ride out to burn incense
For Luo Dajie who burnt to death
For Dou Sanniang who died in a rage
Sanniang picked beans
But the pods were empty
She married Master Ji
But Master Ji was short
So she married a crab
The crab crossed a ditch
Trod on an eel
The eel complained
It complained to a monk
The monk said a prayer
A prayer to Guanyin
So Guanyin pissed
The piss hit my son
His belly hurt
So I got an exorcist to dance
The dance didn't work
But still cost heaps of money"
Now I want to learn Chinese just so I can sing this song. Why didn't I have such hilariously surreal things to sing as a child?
Anyway, my instinct was right. The best way to approach a new land is through its artists. I'm beginning to look forward to my first taste of China. Now excuse me while I make some tea, curl up with my critters, and read.