In the Temple of Earth
In several of my stories I described an ancient deserted garden which is, in fact, the Temple of Earth in northeast Beijing. Many years ago before tourism had really started, the Temple of Earth was as desolate and bleak as a piece of wasteland. Few people ever mentioned it.
My family has the good fortune to live near the Temple of Earth. More than four hundred years before my birth it was already there. Ever since my grandmother first came to Beijing with my father more than fifty years ago, we have lived near here — we moved a couple of times in all those years, each time getting closer and closer to it. I often feel it must be fate that planned my long liaison with the temple and that the temple has been waiting there specially for me through four hundred years of vicissitude.
It waited for my birth and then, when I was in the prime of youth, my legs suddenly became paralyzed. It was at that time that I began to haunt the temple. One afternoon, fifteen years ago, I rolled my wheel-chair into the temple for the first time. It seemed well prepared for the arrival of this heartbroken young man: Glaze and paint were peeling from the eaves of the once resplendent halls and doorways; sections of the high walls and carved marble balustrades had crumbled; the old cypress trees around the sacrificial altar were time-worn but hardy and weeds thrived and vines sprawled everywhere. The sun moved along its eternal track, becoming larger and redder. In the quietude I saw my own shadow.
Since then I have never left the Temple of Earth for too long. In one of my short stories I wrote, "God seems to have carefully prepared a place of peace in this crowded city."
In the first years of my disability I had neither job nor future. I suddenly felt that there was nothing left in me. So I frequented the Temple of Earth to escape the world around me. I wrote in the same story, "Finding no other place to go, I spent all day in the garden as if it were my place of work. When others left for work in the morning I would roll my wheel-chair into the park." "Nobody took care of the park. People would take short cuts through on their way to work and on their way home. For a while the park would become lively, but soon quietude reigned once again." "I would stop my wheel-chair in the long shadow of the walls. Sometimes I would fold down the back of the chair and lie there, reading or thinking. I would use a twig to shoo away the midges — they must have felt as confused as I as to why we had been brought into this world." "Bees hovered in the air; ants probed and scurried this way and that; ladybirds crawled and, when tired, opened their wings and flew into the sky; a cicada slough perched on the trunk of a tree, like a deserted house; dew drops gathered and accumulated on the grass and then suddenly shattered to the ground from the blade bent under their weight." The Temple of Earth might have been desolate but it was not dead.
Apart from a few halls and the sacrificial altar I cannot reach in my wheel-chair, I have rolled over every square metre of the temple's grassy areas and have stopped beneath every tree. I have been there in every season, in every kind of weather and at every hour of the day. Sometimes I stay just a while, sometimes until the light of the moon has illuminated everything.
I have spent hours in a corner of the temple musing on my birth as well as on death. It has taken me several years to understand that, from the moment one is born, it is meaningless to argue about the question of birth since one's existence has been determined by God; thus death needs not be pursued in haste for it is a day of release that will inevitably arrive. I felt soothed at this thought, as if I were a student who, working late into the night for the next day's final exams, suddenly realizes that a long holiday is awaiting him.
But how can I keep going? This is something that cannot be solved easily. I may have to ponder this question as long as I live, like a life long monster or lover.
For fifteen years I have been rolling my wheel-chair into the old temple to peacefully meditate on my life and soul. For fifteen years unfettered human beings have been reshaping the temple's appearance; but fortunately there is still something that man can never change — the setting sun casting its golden sheen over the stone gate to the altar and illuminating this patch of earth drenched with history; twittering swallows winging swiftly through the air at the most lonely moment of the day; children's footprints on the snow in winter; the ancient cypress trees that stand forever oblivious of the vicissitudes of the human world; the aroma of the soil in different seasons, an aroma that cannot be described but only smelt. Smell brings back one's old memories.
Only recently did I realize that my frequenting the old temple must have been a big worry for my mother.
She was not one of those Chinese mothers who spoil their children without understanding them. She knew what I was going through, so she never stopped me from going. She knew it wasn't good for me to stay at home all day. Yet she was anxious to know what was on my mind.
Whenever I felt depressed I would rush out to the temple and when I returned I would be as silent as the grave. My mother knew she mustn't ask questions, so she always fought them back and she never knew the answers to them. She also knew I wouldn't want her to go with me, so she never asked. Each time before I left home she would help me into the wheel-chair, then, without a word watch me roll out of the courtyard. I never bothered to think what she was going through.
On one occasion I suddenly remembered something and came home again. I found my mother still standing there blankly, as if she hadn't moved after I left. When she realized that I was back, she murmured, "It'll do you good to have some exercise or read a book in the temple." Only many years later, after she had left me, did I come to realize that she had actually been praying for me and, at the same time, consoling herself. She must have kept telling herself, "I cannot stop him. He has his own future. If something happens to him there in the temple, I'll bear it."
All those years my mother must have been prepared for the worst. But she never said "think of me" and, in fact, I hardly ever did think about her. I was too young then. Fate had made an emotional wreck of me and I considered myself the most unfortunate person in the world. I never considered that she might feel even more bitter than I, as all mothers suffer more when the son suffers. Illness had deprived her only son of the use of his legs when he was only twenty. She knew that he had to seek happiness, not just simply survive. But who could guarantee her son's future?
Once when chatting with a friend, also a writer, I asked him what had made him take up writing. He pondered the question for a moment and said, "For my mother. I want her to feel proud of me." I was speechless with surprise. Though many things have spurred me on to become a writer, one of my most important motives was just that.
"It's not a very lofty reason, is it?" my friend said.
I shook my head and thinking that although it was certainly not to be held in contempt, it was surely a little naive.
"I really did use to dream of becoming famous quickly so that other people would be envious of my mother," my friend continued.
He was more honest than I, I thought, and luckier too, for his mother was still alive. His mother was luckier than my mother too, for my friend was healthy.
When my first story was published and the first time I received an award, the only thing I wished for was that my mother was still alive. All day long I wandered around the Temple of Earth. I couldn't understand why my mother hadn't lived two years longer. Why did she have to leave so suddenly before I had achieved some success? Had she come to the world only to worry for her son and not share his happiness? Later I was to write this in an article entitled The Silk Tree: "I sat in the quiet woods of the little park and closed my eyes. 'Why has God taken my mother so early?' I thought. After a long time I seemed to hear a reply, 'Her heart was too full of sorrow. God knew she could bear it no longer, so He called her back.' The thought consoled me a little. When I opened my eyes, I saw the wind blowing through the trees." The "little park" was the Temple of Earth.
Only at such moments do past events appear before my eyes clear and intact and I understand more completely what a wonderful mother I once had. Maybe God was right.
As I roll my wheel-chair slowly through the Temple of Earth on a misty morning or at noontime under a scorching sun, I have only one thought in my mind: Mother is gone. I stop beside the old cypress tree, on the grass, beneath the crumbling walls in the afternoon when small insects hum all around or in the evening as birds return to their nests. In my heart I still murmur: But Mother is gone. I put the back of my chair down and lie there in a trance until sunset. Then I sit up and remain sitting in a daze until darkness shrouds the ancient altar and it begins to dawn on me that Mother can come to the temple to look for me no more.
There were several times I stayed in the temple too long and my mother came to fetch me. But when she found me she would change her mind and wouldn't want to interrupt. She would turn around quietly and go home. Several times I saw her receding back; other times I would see her anxiously looking for me. Her eyesight was failing, so I would often see her first. When I knew she was looking in my direction, I would look away. After a while when I turned to look at her again I would see her receding back. Once I sat in a dense grove and saw her looking for me. I didn't know how long she had been looking for me but still I didn't call her. Instead I let her pass by without seeing me. She was walking in hasty paces. Only today do I realize how foolish I was to have been so stubborn and reserved with my mother. But it's all too late now.
It is understandable that a son will try to make his mother proud of him; as the idea of becoming a celebrity is not such an ignoble one.
After the excitement of my award had faded, I began to realize that a successful career in writing might not have been the one Mother would have planned for me. Month after month, year after year I still come to the temple, and I still wonder what she had felt about my future.
One October as I was reading in the temple I heard an old couple chatting as they strolled. "I never thought the temple was so big," the old man said to his wife. I put down my book. It must be difficult for Mother to find me in such a large place, I thought to myself. For the first time in many years I suddenly realized that it was not only the tracks of my wheel-chair that covered the Temple of Earth, but also my mother's footprints.
If the time in a day corresponds to the four seasons, then undoubtedly spring is morning, summer is noon, autumn is dawn, and winter is night. If musical instruments are matched with the four seasons, I surmise that spring should be the trumpet; summer the kettledrum; autumn the violoncello; and winter the horn or flute. What if the sounds in the park are associated with four seasons? Then spring should be the cooing of pigeons hovering above the sacrificial altar; summer should be the persistently tedious and shrill singing of cicadas and the rustling of poplar leaves poking fun at the cicadas' singing; autumn should be the chiming of wind-bells that hang under the eaves of the ancient temple; and winter should be the random sound of wood-peckers echoing in the open air. If the scenes and sights in this park are comparable to the four seasons, then spring is a path that now pales and now darkens and moistens, or poplar catkins dancing in clusters in a sky that shines at one moment and clouds at another; summer puts me in mind of so many stone benches glistening and scorching under the sun, or a shady or mossy stone stairway with fruit peels below it and half a newspaper page, crumpled from being seated on; autumn is a large bronze bell which, deserted in the northwest corner of the park, is as old as the park, with its inscriptions fading under thick layers of patina; and winter brings to mind the few old fluffy-feathered sparrows roaming a clearing in the woods. What are man's emotional responses to the four seasons? Spring is a season for man to be bedridden with disease, otherwise he is unlikely to discover the cruelty and desire of spring. Summer is a time for lovers to be jilted, otherwise they would let love down. With Autumn comes the time to buy potted flowers and bring them to one's long-separated home while opening the windows to let in the sunlight, strolling down the memory lane, and unhurriedly sorting out the mildewed odds and ends. Winter sees man reading by a heating stove and repeatedly making up his mind to write letters that never make it to the mailbox.
Forms of arts can also be employed to match the four seasons, so that spring is a landscape painting, summer a long novel, autumn a short song or poem, and winter a group of sculptures. What about using dreams as reflections of the four seasons? Spring is a cry from atop a tree. Summer is a drizzle falling amidst that cry. Autumn is a land moistened by the drizzle. Winter is a desolate tobacco-pipe lying on that cleansed land.
Because of this park, I often feel thankful to my fate.
Even now I can see clearly how I will miss it when someday I cannot but let go of it forever, how I will hanker after it because I miss it so, and how I will not be able to dream of it because I do not dare to miss it.
Who else has frequented the Temple of Earth over the past fifteen years? I remember the old couple.
Fifteen years ago, they were middle-aged and I still a young man. They would always come to the temple in the evening and I never knew from which direction they would appear. They would usually stroll round in an anti-clockwise direction. The man was tall, with long legs and broad shoulders and, looking straight ahead, would walk very erect. His wife would hold his arm, but she couldn't affect his upright posture. She was short and rather nondescript; somehow I had a feeling that she must have been born into a well-to-do family that had later declined. She looked like a feeble child holding her husband's arm and her eyes would look around fearfully. She would talk to him in a gentle voice and whenever someone walked close to them she would immediately stop. They reminded me of Jean Valjean and Cosette in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. But of course you could tell at once that they were husband and wife. Their clothes were impeccable though old-fashioned.
Like me, they came to the temple whatever the weather and, unlike me, they always arrived at the same time each day. I would come into the temple at almost any time but they would only appear at dusk. If it was windy they would wear cream-coloured windbreakers and if it rained they would hold a black umbrella. In summer they wore white shirts and black or cream trousers; in winter they wore heavy black woollen coats. They must like those three colours, I thought. They would walk anticlockwise around the temple, then leave. When they passed me by it was only the man's footsteps I could hear. The woman seemed stuck to her husband and float forward. I'm sure they still remember me though we never tried to approach each other. Over fifteen years they witnessed how a crippled young man joined the ranks of the middle-aged just as I had seen how they, an enviable middle-aged couple, had become old and grey.
Then there was the chap who haunted the temple everyday to practise his singing. He practised for years, and then he was gone. About my age, he usually came in the morning and sang for half an hour, sometimes even a whole morning. I guess he had a job to attend to, too. We would often meet on a narrow path in the eastern part of the temple. I knew he practised singing under a high wall in the southeast. He probably thought that I was going to the woods in the northeast.
After I had stopped and lit a cigarette, I would hear him tentatively begin to train his voice. During the "cultural revolution"he would sing "White clouds floating in the blue, blue sky, under the white clouds horses saunter". After the "cultural revolution" he would sing the popular aria in The Cloth Seller. "Selling cloth, oh! Selling cloth, oh!" the young man would sing lustily. "I am lucky, I am lucky, I sing out of happiness…” Then he would repeat the whole piece again, with equal vigour. He had an excellent voice but the problem was his technique, for he often lost control over some of the key notes.
Sometimes I would encounter him again at noon in the eastern part of the temple. We would glance at each other and go our separate ways, he to the north and I to the south.
I felt we both wanted to get to know each other but somehow didn't know how to strike up a conversation. One day after we had nodded to each other, he finally said to me, "How do you do?" and I replied, "How do you do? Going home?" he said and I answered, "Yes. How about you?" "I'll be going home too," he said.
So we slowed our pace (I, my wheels) in order to talk a little more. But we still found nothing to say until we had passed each other. "Well, then, see you again," he said. "See you," I answered. Then we smiled at each other and parted.
We never saw each other again. His songs disappeared from the temple. I realized later that he had probably been saying good-bye to me. Maybe he had joined some arts troupe or song and dance ensemble. I wished him luck.
Then there was also the old drinker who always had a flask of wine dangling from his waist. He would often come to spend his afternoons in the temple. He would wander all over the park and always drink alone. He dressed casually and staggered as he walked. He would walk fifty or sixty metres, then stop and, placing one foot on a stone stool or mound of earth or a tree stump, he would have a good look around while undoing his flask from his waist. Then he would quickly take a great gulp and return the flask to his waist. He would think for a while and walk another fifty or sixty metres.
There was also a bird-catcher. At that time there were few visitors to the temple but many birds. This man would set up a net in the northwest corner of the temple. When the birds hit it, their feathers became entangled in the net and they would be unable to extract themselves. But the man was only interested in one rare kind of bird which he said he had often seen in the past. when he caught other birds he would always set them free. He said he hadn't seen this rare bird for quite a few years and he would wait a little longer and see whether he could catch one or not. So he waited for a few more years.
Then there was the woman engineer who passed south through the temple on her way to her work in the morning and walked home north in the evening. In fact I didn't know anything about her, but I liked to think that she was an engineer — an intellectual. Hardly anyone else could possess the same kind of simplistic grace. When she walked through the park, the woods seemed to become more tranquil and there seemed to be the sound of distant music, something like For Elise.
I never saw her lucky husband. I tried to form my own picture of him but couldn't. Later I realized that it was better if the man never appeared. Whenever I saw her walking homeward out of the north gate I would worry that she would end up in a kitchen. Or perhaps she possessed another kind of charm as she cooked, though For Elise certainly wouldn't come to mind again. Yet what would be an appropriate piece?
And my friend, a competent long-distance runner. Because of a "political slip of the tongue" during the "cultural revolution", he was imprisoned for several years and thus had his future ruined. After he was out he eventually found a job pulling a cart but still couldn't be treated equally. Disappointment made him take up running.
When he ran in the temple I would calculate the time for him. Everytime he finished a circuit he would wave to me and I would check my watch and mark the result in a notebook. He would run round the temple twenty times each time, which was about twenty thousand metres. He wished that one day he might gain his political liberation through his running achievements. He believed that newspaper reporters with their cameras and reports could help him achieve his goal.
The first time he took part in the annual Spring Festival Beijing race around the city, he came fifteenth. It gave him a huge boost to see the photos of the first ten athletes displayed in the glass cases in central Beijing's Chang'an Boulevard. The second year he won fourth place, but this time only the pictures of the first three athletes were exhibited. The third year he came seventh and the first six were shown. The fourth year he jumped to third place, but this time only the champion's photo was put in the case. He finally became champion in the fifth year, but the glass cases only displayed a "mass photo" of the annual race. He lost all hope.
During those years we often stayed in the temple till very late and vented our anger about the times. When we parted, we would tell each other not to commit suicide just yet, just live another year and see what might happen.
He is now too old to run. He participated in the race for the last time when he was thirty-eight. It was also the second time he won the championship. This time he broke the record. A coach said to him, "Oh, if only I had seen you ten years ago."He smiled a bitter smile but said nothing. That evening he found me in the temple and told me the story peacefully.
It's been a few years since I last saw him. Now he and his wife and children live in a faraway place.
These people have long been replaced by a stream of new visitors. After fifteen years, only the old couple and I still frequent the old temple. For some time I saw only the old man strolling into the temple in the evening, his pace slower. I was concerned, fearing that something might have happened to the old lady. Fortunately, after a whole winter, she appeared again, and the old couple still walk anti-clockwise round the temple. Her hair is greyer than before but she still clings to her husband's arm like a young girl.
Neither have I forgotten the pretty but unlucky little girl.
I saw her one afternoon fifteen years ago when I first came into the temple. She was probably only three then and was kneeling on the west side of the Hall of Abstinence collecting the little "lanterns" that had dropped from the goldenrain trees nearby. When spring comes countless small yellow flowers blossom on these trees and when the petals fall little three-leafed lanterns will appear. They turn from green to yellow, and then fall to the ground. Even adults can't help picking up the lovely, delicate little fruit.
She kept babbling to herself in a sweet voice. I wonder how such a small child could come to the temple by herself and asked her where she lived. She pointed randomly and called for her brother. A boy of seven or eight came out from amongst the weeds under the old wall and looked at me. Finding nothing suspicious he said to his sister, "I'm here," before bending down again to continue to look for insects. He caught mantises, grasshoppers, cicadas and dragonflies to please her.
Over two to three years I often saw them playing together under the big goldenrain trees. Then they stopped coming to the temple and I didn't see them again. I thought they must have gone to school. Even the little girl was old enough to go. It was natural that they wouldn't have as much time to play in the temple as before. I had forgotten them almost completely when one day, years later, I saw them again in the temple. It was then that I realized the little girl was retarded.
It was a cloudless Sunday morning. I rolled my wheel-chair to the goldenrain trees. It was the season when their little lanterns were covering the ground. I had been having great difficulties in ending a story, so I had come here wondering whether I should drop the story altogether. Just as I stopped my wheel-chair, I saw, not far off, several youngsters teasing a young girl. They were trying to frighten her by making horrible faces and, when she tried to escape from them, chased her and stopped her from getting away. The girl hid herself behind the trees holding up the hem of her skirt, not realizing that her legs were thus exposed.
I could tell from her reactions that she was retarded and hurried over to help. A young man rushed over from the distance on his bike. The bullies ran away. The young man stopped his bike beside the girl and panting, angrily looked at the vanishing brutes. It was then that I recognized them. I let out a sad, silent cry.
The young girl loosened her hands and countless little lanterns dropped to her feet. She was still a pretty young girl, but there was no light in her eyes. She stared in a daze in the direction the bullies had run. With her limited intelligence, there was no way she could understand the world around her. The young man helped her onto the back seat of his bike and quietly rode home.
Since God had bestowed on her both beauty and retardation, all she could do was to return home quietly.
However, who can truly understand the world?
One may blame God for bringing so much suffering to the human world; one may also gain a sense of pride and nobility by devoting oneself to eliminating the cause of these sufferings. But if one thinks twice, one falls into a maze: For if there is no suffering in the world, is it possible for the world to exist? If stupidity is extinguished, where is the virtue of intelligence? Without ugliness can there be beauty? Good without evil? Health without illness and disability?
I often dream of the day when all forms of disability disappear from the earth. But will disease replace disability and its victims suffer similar misfortunes? And if it were possible to eradicate disease from the face of the earth as well, would, for example, ugliness take its place? What will happen if we rid the world of ugliness, stupidity and evil, or unpleasant people and deeds, and everyone is equally healthy, good-looking, intelligent and honest? I fear, then, the curtains will have to fall on all human dramas. A world without disparities would be like a pool of stagnant water — a barren desert devoid of all meaning.
Disparity is an eternal necessity. Suffering must be endured, for it is an essential part of all human drama. We exist, therefore we suffer. God's plan is, after all, right.
Then there is the most disheartening question of all: Who is to play the roles of the sufferer and who the receivers of happiness and self-respect? Only chance decides.
Fate does not speak justice.
Then where is Noah's Ark for the unfortunate sufferers?
If knowledge and wisdom lead some to the Ark, can the rest discover the way there too?
I believe it is ugliness that sets off beauty, just as stupidity serves as a contrast to intelligence, cowardice to heroism and the unenlightened masses to Buddha.
If the temple has a guardian spirit, it must have seen me sitting here all these years. Three questions, basically, have kept haunting me: Shall I take my own life? Why should I remain alive? And why do I write?
I've said earlier that death is something that doesn't need to be pursued in haste, for sooner or later one will meet it. Just try to live on. It is this crucial point that has kept me going. Why not give it another try? Possibly because I didn't want to give up just like that. Life is too precious. Seeing as I'd lost the use of my legs, there was nothing more I could lose. It can't hurt to try. I might even discover something during the process. So I became more relaxed, more free.
But why do I bother to write? Writing is still a profession that wins people's respect, everybody knows that. As a disabled man sitting all day long in a wheel-chair in an old temple, I wish some day I may attract the attention of others and gain an entry to their hearts. If I die then it will not be so worthless. That is what I thought in the beginning.
I took a pad and a pen, hid myself in a secluded corner of the temple and secretly began to write. Not far away the young singer kept singing. If someone passed by, I would close my pad and stick the pen between my teeth — I was afraid of being made fun of if my writing didn't get me anywhere. I spared no efforts to save my vanity.
I finally finished my first story and got it published. People said it wasn't bad, some even said they never thought I had it in me to write so well. To this, I would say to myself: There are many more things about me that wouldn't occur to you. I was so excited that I didn't sleep a wink that night.
I wanted to tell the young singer my good news, but in the end I only told my friend, the runner. He felt excited too, and said: Good, I'll devote myself to running and you to writing.
From then on I felt like one possessed and spent all day thinking about what and whom I could write about in my next story. In fact, I would think about writing wherever I went. I looked for inspiration among the people. If only there could have been some sort of fiction potion which I could try on every person I met to see if there was a story behind him. At that time I just lived for writing.
Then I had several other stories published and fame began to tap on my door. But again I became frustrated, for I suddenly felt I was living like a hostage in a conspiracy who might be shot any time. I was worried that some day I might use up all my themes and creativity, then I was again finished — why would a cripple, confined mostly to a chair in an old temple, always have something to write about? Even a healthy writer who travels all over may run out of inspiration.
Again I thought of dying. I thought, maybe I should stop there — it would not be too bad an ending. It was just too exhausting living like your own hostage when there was no guarantee that tomorrow you would still find things to write about. I lived because I was thinking about writing, but if I was not cut out to be a writer after all, wasn't I foolish to keep on struggling?
Despite this, I still searched my brain for fragments of inspiration and managed to squeeze out the last drops of water from a drying towel. The feeling of mentally depleting oneself was far more agonizing than complete self-destruction. It would be better if I had died or had never been born, I thought. If only this world had never existed.
I didn't take my own life, however. Instead I decided to carry on living. I wanted to live.
Man's real name is desire. Sometimes I am honestly not afraid of death. I say "sometimes". But "not afraid of death" is different from "wanting to die". There are people who, on occasions, have no fear of death, but nobody is born that way. Sometimes I'm afraid of living, but that doesn't mean I don't want to live. I live because I want to gain something — love and a sense of worth. Shouldn't I be entitled to these? Nobody said no. But why do I constantly live in fear and feel like a hostage?
Later I came to understand that I was wrong. You don't live to write, you write to live. That day I said to a friend again that maybe it was better to die after all. My friend said: Don't die, you've still got something to write; there're still many things that only you could write about. Then I suddenly realized that I had to keep writing for as long as I wanted to live.
The best revenge a hostage can take against his captors is to kill himself. I'll need to kill myself so that I need not enter the writing market and join in the rush for subjects to write about.
But I keep on writing. One has to find a sound excuse for one's existence. To be or not to be is not a question that may be solved before death.
This thought liberates me, although I know the most effective way to get rid of fear is to first rid oneself of human desire.
I seem to hear the Temple God say: A good actor can't help feeling like a hostage; a good audience can always see through the conspiracy. Only a bad actor thinks he has no connection with the drama and an unlucky audience is the one that sits too close to the stage.
I sit in the temple all year round and listen to the Temple God. "My son, it is your fate and your fortune to be this way," I seem to hear.
If there's something I did not say, you, the Temple of Earth, don't say I have forgotten it. Nothing has ever slipped from my memory. It's only that some things are meant to be collected – I can neither talk about them nor miss them, yet I cannot forget them. They cannot be verbalized. They cannot be changed into language; if they can, they are no longer themselves. They are a foggy morsel of sweet warmth and solitude, or a morsel of mature hope and despair. There are merely two domains for them: heart or grave. Take stamps for an example. Some of them are for posting letters, while others are merely meant to be put aside.
Rolling my wheel-chair in the park, I had the lingering feeling that I had come out to the world to enjoy myself for too long. One day, when I was sorting out my old photo album, I saw a photo I had taken in this park more than a decade ago. On the wheel-chair sits a young man. Behind him is an old cypress tree, and further away, an ancient sacrificial altar. Thus I went to the park to look for that tree. With the clue provided by the photo, I found it quickly. And I was sure it was the same tree that appeared in the photo, judging from the shapes of its trunk and branches. Unfortunately, it was dead – it was tangled up by a bowl-thick wisteria. One day, I came across an old lady in the park. "Hey. You still live here, don't you?" she said, adding, "How's your mother?" "Who are you?", I asked, puzzling. "You don't know me, but I know who you are," she answered. "When your mother came here to look for you the other day, she asked me whether I had seen a boy on a wheel-chair...." Her remarks jolted me to my senses all of a sudden. Indeed, I had been to the world, alone, for fun for too long. I was reading by myself under a road lamp close by the sacrificial altar one night. Suddenly came the strains of a suona horn from inside the pitch-dark altar. All around under the sky were towering old trees and the vast, empty premises of the altar. I could not see the instrumentalist playing, but his lilting tunes were reverberating in the starry night, which were by turns mournful, joyful, sweet and touching, and desolate, but I surmise none of these adjectives were enough to do his melody justice. In my sober mind I could tell that the music, having been played for an eternity, was resonant then and now, and would remain so in the future.
It was inevitable that someday, I would hear someone yelling to ask me to return to where I used to be. When that day comes, you can imagine what a child will do. He has played to exhaustion, yet he hasn't enjoyed himself to his heart's content. He has a wealth of novel ideas and cannot wait until tomorrow to live them out. You may also conjure up the image of an old man, moving toward his eternal resting place willingly and without the slightest trace of hesitation. Or you may think of a couple in love, who say to each other time and again, "I will not leave you for even a single second", yet they know perfectly well that they are running out of time. "We have not much time left," they tell each other repeatedly. "I don't want to be separated from you for even a second, but, alas, it's too late."
I can't say whether I want to return or not. I can't say for certain whether I feel like it or whether I don't care. I can't say whether I am that child, that old man, or one of that love-struck couple. It is likely that I am the three of them all at once. I came to this world as a boy who, driven by too many of childish ideas, cried and shouted for permission. But once he came and saw the world, he fell head over heels in love, whereas in a lover's perspective, time fleets no matter how long it is. Thus he became aware that ever step was taking was leading him back to where he came from. The funeral horn is heard the moment the morning glories come out.
Yet the sun remains itself, setting and rising at any point of time. It starts climbing up the mountain ablaze in its morning glory the moment it puts out its fire and goes down. When the day comes, I will walk down the mountain on my crutch with a peaceful frame of mind. Someday in some dale, a boy will come up leaping and jiving in joy, with a toy in his arms.
Of course, that boy can't be me.
But can he not be me?
The universe, driven by an endless desire, hones and re-hones a song-and-dance number into an eternal one. Whatever earthly name that desire may have, it may as well not to be taken into account.
Translated by Shi Junbao, Fan Haixiang