Which is to say that, whatever happens, good or bad, cause for rejoicing or lament, “the world will still be round.”
– Gary Jennings in The Journeyer
It wasn’t too long ago that Vientiane laid down its silken fabrics along the Riverbank.
Later, folks would sell these and other wares under moon- and floodlight. Real and fake sandalwood prayer beads would be presented alongside the pa-biang/ຜ້າບ່ຽງ scarves, laid out from left to right, overlapping, like a textiled rainbow.
And on Tuesday I came to the realization that my biggest “R” is Remember.
Because the actions that our ancestors took directly led to our choices, and therefore, for better or worse, we’re invited to reconcile themselves with ourselves.
In order to do that, I think we’re supposed to remember to perceive people as they were and are, remember their singular goodness as well as their bad. We’re taught to remember that we are not them even though they are, by nature, part of us.
We could also remember that in the beginning there was only what was and that eventually we wilt, our words are written down but lost from time, and the gardens we tended for years on this Earth — both young and old — flourish in their season and then decompose until only mushrooms and iridescent varieties of fungus remain.
what will be depends on how we choose to manifest our Remembering through our thoughts, words, and deeds.
I want to honor our human capacity to Remember by just trying hard and giving my damnedest attempt to make the people who inexplicably love me proud. In memoriam, I’m going to keep hoping that my neighbors feel contented and well.
‘I had once been bidden, “Stand! Endure! Remember!” and that was what I determined to do.’
You tell me then that I must perish
like the flowers that I cherish.
Nothing remaining of my name,
nothing remembered of my fame?
But the gardens I planted still are young—
the songs I sang will still be sung!
HUEXOTZIN, Prince of Texcóco, ca. 1484
Late lunch was xiaolongbao from the original spot on Wudong Lu.
Later that day I would take a taxi to Pudong with several large bags and check in for a red-eye flight direct to LAX. First, I’d eat these eight dumplings — minced pork mixed with spring onion and aspic set inside circular unleavened dough wrappers then folded and pinched shut — directly from the bamboo steamer. These were the same ones I tried after arriving in Shanghai last year: the ones with vinegar poured in the same saucers, red chili sauce served with the same tiny spoons.
Exactly eight dumplings; no more, no less.
The colossal forces that formed the mountain range of granite peaks roughly 250 miles inland from what would later be known as the East China Sea succeeded in inspiring countless artists, poets, Buddhists, and travelers to imagine their world as crafted by powers greater than themselves.
An ancient titan drew up enormous mounds of earth from the Mesozoic sea floor¹ and took a hammer and chisel to the whole thing with reckless abandon. The mountains that remain are the work of that capricious giant.
The scale and intensity of geologic change is unfathomable.
Humans call this mountain range shaped by the demiurges of time, tectonism, and erosion Huangshan (lit. Yellow Mountains).
Located in the south of modern-day province of Anhui, the 72 peaks of the Yellow Mountains still stand with 6,000-foot-tall shoulders above an ocean of clouds.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site asks much of its visitors.
The mountains require traversing endless paths of steep stone steps to truly appreciate the scene. These 60,000 steps are said to have taken over 1,500 years to carve out of the mountain.¹
For the countless porters laden with loads of food and supplies weighing more than they do, climbing the mountain unburdened would be no problem. The muscles in their calves are evidence enough that they could reach the peak in half the time it takes the average tourist. As such, the Yellow Mountains demand payment for their incredible vistas (and all the amenities available at the top of the mountain), and those who aren’t short-of-breath receive nothing in exchange. Sacrifice must be made for the mountains to rewards photographers with beautiful photos.
The mountains also require that artists portray their curves and juxtapositions beautifully. Chinese shan shui (山水) painting is a type of ink wash painting that is particularly well-suited to the natural aesthetics of Huangshan. The style of traditional Chinese painting has been used since the 5th century;² countless images of the mountains have been produced in the shan shui style since then.
Photographers have also adapted some elements of good shan shui painting to the different medium.
The Yellow Mountains and their surrounding villages draw thousands of visitors every year. The villages of 宏村//hong2cun1 and 西递村//xi1di4cun1 at the base of the mountains are renowned for their 600-year-old buildings³ and status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Scenes from the famous Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon film were filmed in Hongcun.
Gnarled trees clinging to unorthodox (and precipitous) formations of megalith aren’t the only draw to Huangshan. The location also produces some of the China’s most famous teas: Maofeng, and Keemun (祁门//qi2men2).
China was born here, in Henan.
The place is both unique and ubiquitous at the same time. As one of the 中国四大古都 (China’s Four Great Ancient Capitals), the city of Luoyang still embodies a part of China’s soul and history. The city was prominent as far back as 510 BCE as the capital of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. This dynasty existed on the very edge of ancient Chinese history, directly following the quasi-mythic Xia Dynasty (2070-1600 BCE) and China’s first archaeologically proven dynasty, the Shang Dynasty of 1600-1046 BCE.
The Zhou Dynasty, which existed between 1046 and 256 BCE, is itself divided into the Western and Eastern eras, the latter of which encompassed the Spring and Autumn period and the subsequent Warring States period when monarchical authority crumbled and various minor kingdoms rose and fell.
As such, Luoyang represents an era that later marked a critical turning point in Chinese history. With the fall of the Zhou Dynasty came the rise of the first dynasty of Imperial China, the Qin Dynasty, whose initial emperor unified six of the warring states. His accomplishments are forever commemorated by his massive mausoleum (still being excavated today) and the famous Terracotta Army in Xi’an.
Remnants of the past still persist in Henan. Luoyang’s 白马寺//bai1ma3si4 (White Horse Temple) is traditionally thought to be the “cradle of Chinese Buddhism,” as the first Buddhist temple in China. The temple’s historical roots stretch all the way back to 68 CE, when it was constructed under Emperor Ming after having a vision of the Buddha in gold.¹
Astounding in their size and quality, the Longmen Grottoes on their own are worth the trip to Henan. The incredible grottoes feature Buddhist figures carved directly into the limestone hillside.
The site was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, with its 2,000+ caves, 100,000 statues, and over 60 pagodas.² Most of these are over 1,000 years old, dating back to the culturally and socially inspired Tang Dynasty before Emperor Wuzong’s xenophobic Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution that attempted (and, in some cases, succeeded) to purge nonnative religious influences.
However, Longmen’s enormous carvings survived until modern times for flocks of tourists to stand in awe and selfie.
I bought 8 pairs of chopsticks for like 3 bucks at the market kinda near the Temple and kinda far from the Mosque. Stored them loosely in my back pocket and thought for a second that, while I had my back turned when paying for my entrance ticket, the beggars would swipe them from me if I didn’t placate them with cash.
This thought was foolish, I admit. Here in the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, the rules had changed on me, and I was taken off-guard. People spoke dialects that I didn’t understand, and Mongolian was on signs and in the streets. People consumed dairy products here?
In a land of jade, Inner Mongolia was crystallized amber.