Archive for April 13th, 2011
Now, for a change, I am presenting a photo I didn’t take though the photo was taken with my camera. On the Saturday before the QingMing Festival, I was in HongMei Park with my partner and a friend. After wandering for a few hours, it was decided that a rest on a park bench was in order. Of course, being laowai (foreigner) in China means that one gets stared at a lot. My normal response is to smile when this happens. Of course, many take the smile as an invitation to connect in some way.
Most of the time this is followed up by a request to have my photo (or my partner’s photo) taken with the person. Sometimes the smile has a well-meaning parent trying to coax a young person to practice their meagre supply of English phrases. And at other times, there is a deliberate attempt to communicate. Since I have a darker complexion and somewhat sleepy eyes, many think I speak Mandarin. The truth is, I only know some basic Mandarin, not enough for ANY conversation, just enough for some basic communication.
On this Saturday, an older man eventually decided to sit beside me and begin talking. Once I got past the fact that I was Canadian and a teacher at a university, it was evident that I couldn’t hold a conversation. But being Canadian was enough. I was rewarded with an offer of a cigarette. Now, I don’t smoke – period. However, knowing the culture and how important certain traditions are for older people, I accepted the cigarette and puffed along with him, something I don’t do for the president of the university and other important bigwigs in city government. A few more attempts at conversation and the man decided that singing would be a better thing to do.
Of course, he sang in Mandarin, a song about HongMei, red plum blossoms. The song was slow enough that I was able to join him in a fair number of points. I can make the sounds, I just don’t know what the words mean. By the time we finished the song, an audience of local people erupted in applause. As my way of saying thanks to this man for his song, I sang a French-Canadian song, “Un Canadien Errant.”
It was a magical moment and it was enough.
At the last minute I decided to make this a black and white image. In the process, with the green of the background leaves now lost to deep grays, I found what had been hidden by the noise of colour. This was a scene I found in HongMei Park in ChangZhou, China just a week ago. Well, it is a version of the scene, one that perhaps is less factual with the colour removed. However, what remains is deeper, more attuned to an inner universe. For me, it has taken on a numinous quality as if I am dreaming with my eyes-wide-open.
It’s strange how noisy the world is for me though I need to wear hearing aids. And the noise isn’t necessarily measured in decibels. The noise is as much internal as it is external. It makes it hard for me to focus and to sit still with myself, within myself. Now, as I write these words, I do notice that I am writing them in silence. No television, radio or mp3 player is turned on – silence reigns as I sit alone for a few hours in the apartment at the keyboard. However, that silence is a fiction in terms of what I am sensing, a loud and constant chatter from the depths, personal depths and collective depths. I sit here alone at the keyboard yet feel the crowds jostling leaving little space for me. The crowd doesn’t go in one direction, rather it is busy going nowhere, busy just being there and moving.
Yes, like a dream. These are the opening sensations of the dream images that flood out of the photo. There is more.
I feel myself as the only anchor in a fuzzy, indistinct world, clutching a child, a new life. I know that the child is the essence of who I am, my own promise. I don’t back down from the challenge, the dare to be present and take the new version, the transformed nascent self into my arms with a promise to go forward rather than disappear into the shadows with so many others.
Where does this come from? Feeling the darkness, the shadows of a larger world as though a threat? I have sat with this question and have wondered. I know that I am resonating with events outside of my self, events that beyond the scope of an individual. I see democracy threatened, security threatened, human sanctity threatened all over the planet as the power of darkness takes so many human lives in Mexico, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, China and Japan; a darkness that threatens places where one should least expect threats such as Canada, America, and Europe. It seems that humans are caught in an agitation of unconsciousness, the collective unconscious. This is what the photo signifies for me.