After the rain, gentle breezes with lotus fragrance
Promptly expel early summer heat, bringing freshness.
Black clouds curling away, the blue sky great,
A view of sunset in the radiance of the lake.
* From Cao Xun 曹勛 (1096-1174), Songyin ji 松隱集, Yingyin Wenyuange Siku Quanshu 景印文淵閣四庫全書 edition (Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, 1987, vol. 1129), 17.3b.
 Red characters rhyme.
 The poet Cao Xun lived through one of the darkest periods of the Song dynasty. Together with the ruling house of the Northern Song, he was relocated to the Jurchen territory as a captive after the fall of Kaifeng (1127), the Northern Song capital, but escaped with Emperor Huizong’s 宋徽宗 (1082-1135, ruling 1100-1126) message on their journey to the north. After the establishment of the Southern Song, he was a dedicated advocate for rescuing the two former Song emperors held in the north. He led delegations on several diplomatic missions to the Jurchens, notably to request the body of Emperor Huizong in 1141. The poem here is part of a set of nine. Although they are not dated, they are too carefree and joyful to be considered as works possibly written after the fall of the Northern Song. For last year’s post on a “Festive Verse for the Double Fifth Day” by Su Shi with reference to zongzi 粽子, see https://www.rachelleslab.com/post/festive-verse-for-the-double-fifth-day-by-su-shi.
Last Monday was the second Double Fifth Day (i.e. the Dragon Boat Festival) after I started this blog, and I can’t believe that I’m having another tiezici 帖子詞 (festive verse) this year, again by a Song poet. I don’t normally have a taste for these festive verses composed for the imperial court as a routine task, but I feel they are gradually eliminating my prejudice. At least I’m now ready to approach them with the hope of seeing shared experience and emotion on these festive occasions, not with the expectation of seeing an obviously great poem. So, this time I took a special joy in reading a poem from almost a thousand years ago that depicts the same scene as that in which I found myself on the same day in 2021.
This year I spent the Double Fifth Day in my grandmother’s village. My aunt prepared some ten kilos of zongzi 粽子 (sticky rice dumplings) to distribute to her poor relatives living in the city. And the very wok that had been used for cooking soybean milk in my heavenly tofu tutorial was occupied with batches of sticky rice nicely wrapped in bamboo leaves. The maize in the front garden was taller than a person, so we had many fresh corncobs to enjoy. The young pumpkin vines were also very inviting, although my mother blamed me for my poor trimming techniques that often fail to reveal the tenderest heart of the vine.
As always, there were many delicacies to be discovered in the countryside, but I must say the biggest delight of this trip was definitely the return of water.
Earlier this year, the small brook that runs through the village was completely dry, so were the fields. The water in the fishpond was barely enough for the fish to survive (I didn’t even notice it was a “pond”). I walked on the dry land that had been used for snail farming while watching my nephew trying to find traces of snail shells.
Everything looked so very different when I went there for the Double Fifth Day. The abundance of rain earlier had brought the brook back to life. We had a good afternoon shower on Sunday, which was a great treat in early summer days here. Strolling around after an early dinner, I was constantly amazed by how the return of water had changed the whole landscape of the village. There was no lotus planted here, but it was no less delightful to hear the clear twittering of birds while watching ducks enjoying themselves in the brook.
And the water in the fields and the pond worked magic, mirroring the rolling hills and the subtle interplay of colours in the sky. An evening view that is absolutely mesmerising, with rosy clouds transforming the hues of the sky in a nearly surreal way, all staged in an endless vastness created by reflection.
Interestingly, all this had given me some inspiration to resolve a puzzle. I’ve wondered before why my grandmother, uncle, aunt, and cousins in the countryside have never been particularly passionate about moving over to the new house that was completed this spring. On their carefully chosen removal day, they only “moved the fire” (i.e. the charcoal heating pot and the kitchen) to the new house. Every day after cooking and eating, they just go back to the old house (which sits next to the new one), get their tools, and continue their day.
But now I’m starting to understand, or I should perhaps say I’m starting to realise how narrow I’ve been: their “space” is never limited to the house. With all the land, plants, and chickens to look after and the changing scenery outside to enjoy, moving their bed is perhaps the last thing to care about.
So, the new house is now reserved for those who are taking a break from the city, like myself. I definitely enjoy staying in the spacious, brand-new room, but for my next trip, I think I should learn to forget the nice-looking house and share their wealth outside it.
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