Why is Everything so Fucking Green Part II

As I’ve mentioned, we’re back in Sichuan on a travel trip.  I was originally a little disappointed to hear we were going to Chengdu, as I came here on Spring Break back in 2014 and the vast majority of places we’re going are places I’ve been (city sights, Dujiangyan, the panda base etc.) and so I’m taking less pictures than I would otherwise.  If you’re curious and have me added on facebook see my album “Why is everything so fucking green” for more pictures from the same place.

I have mentioned before though, I absolutely fell in love with this city the first time I came here, and the feeling hasn’t changed.  The greenery, the strangely European feel of the city, the food, and the friendly people are irresistible.  The first time I came, I had just spent the winter in Harbin, nothing but grey Soviet architecture and snow (and smog) as far as the eye could see, not to mention the rigorous academic environment.   So when I came here to see green everywhere, feel the slower pace of life, and experience the tea culture (at least 60% of business deals are completed in tea houses here), it was absolutely magical.

We took an overnight train (one of my favorite things to do in China lack of sleep notwithstanding), and had the next morning free.  The train took us across the Qinling mountains, which are the watershed of the Yangtze River (literally long river in Chinese, 长江) and divide China into north and south.  Anything above them is considered the northern area, and anything below the south.  This distinction is usually made in accent (more r’s in northern dialects) and heating, namely if you’re in the south, you don’t have publicaly provided heating for the winter.  Never having wintered in the south, I can’t comment on how rough that is, but the saying goes that southerners don’t fear cold as much as people who live in the snow because they’re forced to deal with the cold.

So that morning I took some of my classmates to a couple of my favorite places from my last time here.  First up was Wenshu Monastery, a Buddhist temple with a massive garden attached to it.  One of the vocab works I picked up over the first three weeks of the program is 滋润肺腑 (zi run fei fu), to cleanse one’s heart and feel renewed.  Well that’s exactly the effect sitting in the garden had on me (as did the two weeks of homestay), something about it made me feel completely at home and made go back once I had the opportunity.  We followed that with full-body massages which revealed *a lot* of painful knots I didn’t know I had.  If you don’t know, blind masseuses are pretty common in China and will advertise themselves as such.  My theory for the reason behind it is because it’s a job that doesn’t require great eyesight, and Chinese people believe that the deprivation of one sense leads to the heightening of the others thing extends to touch.  This parlor is very good at what they do, and are right across the street from the hostel I stayed at in 2014.

Then we went with the whole group to visit Wu Hou Ci, a temple dedicated to Liu Bei, a main character in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (a book I should really read). Despite being bigger and more elegant than Wen Shu Monastery, it feels much more like a tourist attraction, partly because of the ticket and amount of statues.  I dunno, I just didn’t really enjoy it either time I went despite it having a bunch of things I like (greenery, Chinese architecture, and ancient war heroes).  As I’ve mentioned, Xi’an is really obsessed with its past as the capitol of the Tang Dynasty and uses it as a claim to fame.  Chengdu has a similar great ancient ancestor, the state of Shu during the Three Kingdom’s period, which was founded by Liu Bei.  After the Han Dynasty started to collapse, three main states arose to compete for succession, Shu, Wei, and Wu.  Shu’s capital was present day Chengdu, and so they’re still very taken with the historic romance of it all.  That said, Shu was the first of the states to fail, and all three were eventually taken over by the Jin Dynasty.

We finished the day off with one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen.  Sichuan has a wide array of traditional art forms, almost all of which were demonstrated for us in an hour and a half performance.  No pictures because the lighting did not suit my old camera, but I’ve tried to find some suitable images.  It started off with a Sichuanese opera scene featuring several generals.  I much prefer Sichuan Opera to Beijing opera, as although they resemble each other, Sichuan opera singers keep their voices in a range detectable by the human ear.  Look up a video, as Chinese opera is incredibly unique in terms of makeup, costumes, and body movements, but make sure you’re not wearing headphones or have your volume particularly high when you do.  Much like western opera, emphasis is placed on the above factors in addition to music, as not even natives understand the long. drawn-out sung sentences and have to rely on supra-titles.

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Next came an erhu performance that kind of reminded me of the Devil Went Down to  Georgia followed by a puppet show.  The puppeteer had one hand up the puppet’s back, controlling her head and waist, while the other operated both hands and fingers via two sticks.  An amazing display of manual dexterity.  The puppet twirled hankerchiefs, picked flowers, danced etc, all controlled by only one of the puppeteer’s hands.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, the shadow puppet performance after it blew it out of the water.  We’ve all made bird puppets with our hands, but this woman took it to a whole other level.  Super lifelike birds nesting, flying, and eating, a dog, a swan, a cat grooming itself, a running bunny, a snake eating said bunny, death throws and all, an owl with moving pupils, a galloping horse, and two people talking.  Way more detail and motion than I would have ever thought possible.

Third to last was a horn solo.  The guy was a great player, great sustain (I think he might have been circular breathing)  And then for his second piece he deconstructed the horn and used the different parts to imitate people talking.  Imagine Charlie Brown’s teacher inhaling helium and speaking Chinese.

Next came the scene change which consisted of a man in clown makeup carrying a plank with the next performance written on it and taking a slow, funny walk across the stage.  Said performance was called 滚灯 (gun deng, goon dung, rolling light).  In the skit a man gets pulled in by his wife for staying out late playing ma jiang.  She decides to punish him by filling a bowl with oil, lighting it on fire, and making him keep it on his head as he dances, slithers under benches and walks around.  All this is accompanied witty banter in Sichuanese.  Also amazing needless to say.

The finale was Sichuan’s specialty, mask and clothing changing.  These performances have spread around the country, and are a closely guarded secret.  To learn how to perform it, you have to apply to the guild, take a vow of secrecy, and be very lucky.  What it consists of is basically a performer in a stylish costume wearing a silk mask resembling traditional opera makeup.  As they dance to the music, they’ll periodically wave a hand or fan in from of their face and instantly be wearing a new mask.  Even when they’re right in front of you you can’t figure out how it works.  My personal theory is that the masks are on spools layered over the face and snap down when released to reveal the next one.  The clothes changing performance is the same concept, just with the entire outfit.  It’s also a lot simpler though, each change is preceded by the performer standing in front of a backdrop and having flags waved in front of him.  I’m 95% certain there’s someone behind the backdrop to pull off layers of clothing one by one when the flags are flashed.  If you only look up one thing from this post, look up that.

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Day two, no time to post day one.

Today we went to see pandas, which I had seen.  They’re cute, fuzzy, and would have been extinct long ago if it weren’t for human help.  Not much else to say there.

Following that was a visit to 三星堆 (sanxingdui, saan shing dway), an ancient archaeological site.  It dates from about 4,500 to 3,200 years ago, and all signs point to it being a huge prosperous community with trade connections to India.  We know it was a stable and rich enough economy to ferment alcohol and cast brass.  What makes it special is that no one ever talks about them, they don’t appear in any historical record we’ve found, and furthermore, besides them there were no other contemporary civilizations in the region who managed to develop bronze technology.  And then they suddenly disappeared.  Were they aliens?  Wiped out by werewolves?  Not a clue, totally mysterious.  Apart from the above though,  we do know a few other things about them. They worshipped the sun and birds as evidenced by their artwork and the fact that three of their great kings took the names of birds as their own. There is also a popular theory that China’s Yi minority (pronounced like the letter e) is descended from them based on the geographical region and tribal designs.

Finish that off with a great meal of local food and I’m back here writing the blog.

Overall the trip’s been 旧地重游 (jiudi chongyou), coming back to where you’ve been before.  It’s been wonderful, so many memories in this place, and making more at the moment.  Also I took a buttload of pictures anyway, see below

 

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