Saturday, January 31, 2009

China: Rock's World

I had been traveling through South and Southeast Asia in 1996 and 1997 and reading a lot of Bruce Chatwin. In What Am I Doing Here is an essay called "Rock's World" about an herbalist doctor named Dr. Ho, who lived near the village of Lijiang at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain--I loved this essay and I decided that China would be my next stop and that I'd use the book to lead me to I flew from Chiang Mai Thailand to Kunming with a plan.
my old beat-up copy of What Am I Doing Here

I had an incredible day with Dr. Ho (here's his son as well). I rode my bike 10 miles to his little village and spent most of the morning there. He gathers all of the herbs he uses from the mountain. He asked me what ailed me but I just showed him the book and he said, "Ah..yes. I remember that man" and went inside and showed me his copy and a scrapbook of souvenir news clippings. His wife cooked us lunch and I helped him and his son work on a translation of a paper he was writing about the healing properties of garlic and onion. I remember a lot of mentions of "hot evil wind" and "cold evil wind" which I guessed was code for burping and farting. Before I left he prepared a special blend of medicine for me, ground by mortar and pestle and handed over in a paper pouch. For strength.

The essay that sparked my trip to China...
and notes from Dr. Ho on that page...

From Ho Village I took my bike a little further up the mountain to the Temple of the Tree of 1000 Camellias right at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The temple was famous for containing a very old and very sacred Camellia Tree. There was a lot of damage from the Cultural Revolution at the temple--Buddha statues with the eyes gouged out and stolen for the jewels they contained, but I met a monk who told me that during the revolution he hid and came often to water the sacred was one of the best day s of my life...

Thanks for revisiting China with me...And Happy Year of the Earth Ox...a time for good beginnings...

Memories of China, a Twelve Year Cycle and a Connection Made

Lunar New Year celebrations in Yangshuo spent with a few new friends
who had been working in China that year.

China, February 1997: It was also Chinese New Year and also the beginning of year of the Ox. Some celestial spirits are aligning or maybe it's a lunar blessing--sometimes with a collection I have an outright idea in mind, sometimes I let the materials and my inspirations lead me where they want to go--I think as this new collection evolved over the weeks, its feel and elements and colors remind me of that trip I took, like parts of a dream: of blossoming branches and saplings brought from the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain to market, of celestial patterns on the backs of Naxi women's coats, colors of rich green mountain teas and herbs, bright yellow mustard flowers, rosy winter camellia buds and crimson monk's robes, sparkly himalayan snow and the still deep black night skies with a million stars.

Three Pagodas on the way to Dali

The village of Dali.

two little ink paintings from that trip with my signature chop!

I spent an incredible month there, in the deep south in Yunnan Province with a foray into Guanzhou to see the beautiful village of Yangshuo. From Kunming I took a long overnight train ride (where I learned how to play Mao's favorite card game and the word for apple in Mandarin: ping-guo) to the lovely carst-y hills of Yangshuo for a week and then back to Kunming, then by "sleeper bus" to the pretty town of Dali with it's mustard fields and art center and finally the ancient village of Lijiang at the foot of the furthest eastern Himalayas, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, where I traipsed through the New Year's Plant Market, met Naxi elders, and finally met Dr. Ho and the monk who protected a very scared tree...Chinese New Year celebrations were subdued compared to the big events that happen outside of China. At the time all I saw was a lot of doorways dressed in red messages for the the new year and one lonely old dragon suit (with four legs) from a train window. Oh and the random firecracker show here and there...

Naxi women of Lijiang

The old village of Lijiang during the Lunar New Year, year of the Ox

The New Year Sapling Market in Lijiang
was going on just as I got off the bus.