Chinese Calligraphy – The Thoughts of a Teenage Chinese Immigrant (Pt 2)

Shu Fa, the art of writing, is a mandatory course in Chinese school. The Shu Fa teacher would stroll between rolls of students, watching them write. It was always quiet when we copied the characters. Stroke by stroke, word by word. There was a saying that the Shu Fa teacher liked to remind us, “ know what the character looks like in your mind before you write”. I imagine the character for home; the dot that connects to the cap, creating a roof. The small “elephant” underneath it, safe against the winds of the outside world.

 

The ink that we use for the fountain pen always smelled sour and old, like the smell when you open the door to an old church: full of dust and private reminiscences that makes one lost in thinking. My younger self was always lost in thoughts about the structures of those characters that we tirelessly copy over and over. I thought about the deep wisdom of FuXi who invented them all. How can one communicate through with such complex and elegant postures? I thought about how the basic four type of strokes that compose the entire Chinese language: 横  (horizontal stroke),竖 (vertical stroke),撇 (left-falling stroke),捺(right-falling stroke) was put into different combinations to create the hundreds of thousands of words that our chinese ancestors used for generations and generations.

 

There was another type of Shu Fa that required one’s mind and soul. When I went back to China, I saw my cousin practicing it. Her slightly bent head and her standing posture created a mysterious atmosphere. The afternoon sun outlined her body as her arms moved steadily up and down the page. There was a rhythm to her writing. A special kind of sound. The sound of her concentrating on the brush tip, of imagining the character inside her head. The characters that lie in every Chinese person, if they are willing to look for it. The characters, created by FuXi, changed and modified by the emperors and calligraphy masters of the generations, and finally delivered to my cousin, who wrote it out with delicacy and centuries-worth of weight. The occasional movement of dipping ink would not stop this sound. I sat beside her, listening to every stroke that she wrote out.

 

Now years later, I see the same kind of concentration solidified in my mom’s calligraphy, in the Chinese painting my grandmother sends to Canada, in the framed works of anonymous Chinese painters in the museums, in the Shu Fa practice of my math tutor. I cannot help but think back to the feeling of how my grandmother held my little hands in hers, how we held onto the brush and dipped it in the ink. The sweet and sour aroma suspended in the air. The first stroke, a dot. Followed by a cap. Underneath it was the little elephant that was blocked from the outside chaos.

smacap_Bright
(apologize for the bad hand-writing!)

 

 

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Going Home – The Thoughts of a Teenage Chinese Immigrant

Identity

 

I transform from a city girl to a immigrant with a lost tongue. After eight years, I still think of how they say that America is a culture melting pot and Canada is a culture mosaic. But often I wonder about what it’s called when you’re torn between two identities. Black and white. Dominant and recessive. Oil and water.

 

Foreign

 

When I go back to China, my relatives asks me to speak English. My Chinese elementary school English teacher asks me to participate in a spelling test at the school. But being in Canada for three years doesn’t get rid of the terror of being foreign, the dependency on lukewarm memories that float from objects originating from my motherland, the noticeable awkwardness from the root of the tongue when the words “hi”, “ my name is”, “ how are you” come out.

 

Going Back

 

The route from Canada to ChangSha is fairly simple: a plane flight to Hong Kong, followed a short boat trip to ShenZhen, then an express train to Changsha south station. The whole ride takes about three full days. The moment the plane starts to descend, I see the millions of buildings surrounding the plain airport field. The single space that is clear, the goal of the destination. The airport that appears in vivid dreams and unrealistic imaginations: turning, spinning, closer and closer. Sounds from distance childhood, the particular flavor of grandparent’s words, the scent on my Nanny’s homemade dress, the morning light that shines through my parents’ bedroom.

 

The Chinese Summer

 

The first breath of the August Hong Kong international Airport is a cough, a sneeze, a side of clogged nose. The Chinese summer is always full of moisture, hot and sticky. Something is constantly expanding, omnipresent. Always, there will be the umbrellas, women young and old will always carry one to block out the sun. There was the turquoise umbrella that my aunt bought for me for 50 RMB, the black umbrella of the rainy seasons in Canada, and the red dotted umbrella of my grandma–the one that she carries with her when she goes to the market. The one that I looked up to when I was a child, imagining that my grandma’s umbrella propped up the entire sky, held on to my little, unstable world.  

 

Destination

 

Whenever I look down from my uncle’s apartment in the morning, I see the quiet streets slowly fill up with workers, each with a destination in mind, each with something to do, something to worry about. I wonder when I can be like them, certain about what I want to do, determined to get what I want. Instead, I lock myself inside the only room with air conditioning, numbing myself with video games and snacks from my grandma’s pocket.

 

Nan Gua Ba Ba

 

My grandpa loves to make pumpkin pancakes: he first cut off all the outside skin of the pumpkin, washes it under cold water, and then steams it until fully cooked. I always hide at the entrance to the kitchen, watching him silently do all the work. Afterwards, he mashes the pumpkin into a mush, and mixes it with rice flour. The dough has to be steaming hot when he mixes the two together. I see him backing his hands away from the dough for a second, before continuing as if he cannot feel the temperature: pressing, stretching, rolling and then all over again. The smell of my grandpa’s pumpkin pancakes has a quiet, sweet aroma that fills up the whole house, the whole city, the whole world.

 

The Piano

 

My Chinese school has hallways full of books: books stacked on the sides of classroom walls, put into the bookshelves of every classroom, inside student’s desks, and in the minds of the teachers. I love the piano room the most: it is the first room to the right, on the first floor. It has a big, black, smooth piano that I never saw before. I played on it once when I sneaked into the room without the teacher noticing, it made sounds that I heard only in my dreams. I recall the electrical piano that my kindergarten teacher play on to gently wake the children during lunch time nap. Where the familiar melody of Mo Li Hua surrounds the room, flows from my memory up into the sky, disappearing in the atmosphere. Hints of Jasmine suspended in the air. I still try to recreate the chilling sound of the piano, and the evaporating phrases of Mo Li Hua after all these years.  

 

The Spice of Hunan

 

One simply cannot overlook the spice in a Hunan dish, the strong aroma that fills the room. Steam blurs the lenses of my glasses, the welcoming and recognizable taste of home. I often go out with my cousin to eat. By the end of every meal, there will always be some kind of dizziness, sore throat, and a protesting stomach. Sometimes hints of tears are quietly wiped away in the midst of the chaotic flavours.  The particular taste of Hunan is hidden into the hot pepper oil in black stinky tofus, in the morning rice noodles that my aunt takes me to eat every day, and the packs of spicy beef jerky that my grandma sends to Canada every year.

 

The Train Station

 

The train station in ShenZhen is always full of people. There is always the old lady or the old man, their back curved, their steps soft and light, carrying a red checkered plastic bag while weaving in and out of the crowd. Always the little rip-off island stores that sell Ramen packs for insanely high prices. Always the shady ticket sellers, sweet-talking people to avoid the hour-long ticket line. Always the smell of suspicious sickness in the air, the germs of the thousands of people floating around, giving birth to yet another thousand in the heated wetness of summer. I still recall the moment when my dad finally told me about the reason of this trip. It is always in the back of my head: the scenes of my grandma on the hospital bed during video calls, my mom’s texts to my grandpa. The second afterwards I covered my face in my backpack and screamed. I hate that train station. It rips open all the lies and dreams that I imposed on myself, it reminds me of how much I want to go back and see the concrete hill my grandpa climbs down to go to the market, the smell of my grandpa’s kitchen, the arms that were put around me on the day of my departure to Canada.

 

Facing Death

 

My grandpa sits alone in a room that was meant for two people. Two chairs, two pillows, two toothbrush, one person. He didn’t turn on the light. I wander off into deep thought. What makes a person dead? I step into my grandma’s funeral hall with tears running down, knees bent, shaking. I step into my grandma’s funeral hall, with an exhausted soul that had been travelling for three days non-stop. I step into my grandma’s funeral hall, seeing my dad bawling his eyes out for the first time. My grandma’s picture on the wall straight across from the entrance, the softened eyes, slightly frowning lips, hair that is already white as snow. I thought about how she felt when she took that photo. I thought about how I still remember my grandma’s hug: I put my arms around her and I can feel the curve of her backbone, soft and cold.

 

One Last Look

 

I see my grandpa lying in the casket. Asleep in the cold, alive in the dreams. I simultaneously see two images: the eyes that inundated with warmth when I eat his pumpkin pancake, and the motionless body in front of my eyes. The hands that use to carry me around, and the hands that enclose my little body when I fall asleep, the hands that wipe away food residue from my mouth. The meaning of actions gone, the muscles without nerves, the body without life. Never coming back. I smile. Something overflows from the heart, onto the ground.

 

It’s time to say goodbye.

 

At the Airports

 

My family used to travel a lot. We had climbed numerous mountains, seen hundreds of temples, been on countless air planes, trains, and subways. I see pictures of the two-year-old me posing in front of the famous Autumn-Admiring Pavilion, and photos of my dad piggy-backing me up a mountain. Nothing remains from the early memories, but I can’t seem to get rid of the excitement whenever I enter either airport. A journey waiting to start and a story coming to an end, a familiar scene that had always been there, that has been stitched into my soul since the beginning of my life.

 

At both airports, a voice calls from the bottom of the ground, getting louder as I reach the boarding gates, “home, finally home”.

 

My first ever blog post?

I am from China but currently living in Canada. I am in Grade 10 right now and I thought it would be a good choice to set up a blog to keep my life organized! I play the piano and love writing Fanfics! Sometimes I draw but most of them are pretty bad XDD Currently in English class with my tutor setting up this blog 🙂