Thursday, 30 January 2014

One Lute, One Crane

A Chinese girl, newly left on the streets, was rescued by a Red-crowned Crane. He scooped the mewing bundle up in his olive green bill and took her to his foster home for abandoned girls.
Baiyun Shan, the White Cloud Mountain, was home to lots of unwanted girls. All of whom had been disowned and saved. Saved from being thrown away, drowned, or peddled as virtual slaves; saved from being subjected to beatings or sold into brothels. The girl babies arrived wrapped in old newspaper like cold-blooded, lifeless fish, while the older ones came in with uncoiled raven hair, pale skin, and unbound feet. The babies relentlessly cried and the bigger girls ate and sighed. What was their fate?
Freed, they didn't know how to behave or what was expected. The babies were soon contented, but the girls didn't know how to let go of their earlier lives or soothe their longings.
And so they were encouraged to use poetry, music, and painting. Those who did not have these artistic skills found release in filial piety: pouring tea, preparing  rice congee, and showing the younger girls how to spit out shells of melon seeds. They preferred domesticity to the arts.
But there was one girl that excelled in everything and that was Lingling. A delicate girl who had no idea where she was from or where she was going, yet she sang, she danced, she laundered clothes whilst cracking sunflower seeds with her teeth. She didn't remember her life before Baiyun Shan.
By seventeen, the mountain was the only home she'd ever known and she would often wander its peaks, or she'd sit on its star-scraping ridge and play the lute. Her exquisite music carried to Guangzhou, where its slow tempo pulled people into the streets. City life stopped while these pieces spoke of her love and sorrow. Love for the Red-crowned Crane and her mountain home and sorrow that she may have to leave it. The music described her indecision. How could she decide when the cranes were so far away?
Lingling was unaware of the effect these lyrical tunes had on the people below for her view of Guangzhou was obscured by white clouds. Indeed, she could not imagine life beyond the Baiyun Shan, although she knew it was there and this grieved her. At seventeen, all the girls were given their freedom; allowed to decide whether to stay or go. They no longer had to claim the mountain as their home or the cranes as their protectors. They could return to their birth home, make a new life in the capital, or stay under the Southern Sky. This is what she thought of when she plucked the four silk strings of the pear-shaped pipa, as her fingers picked the notes and strummed the chords her left hand made on its neck.
Lingling wanted both: the comfort of the known and the thrill of the unknown. She wanted to leave the nest, be an explorer, but she also wanted the safety that the mountain gave her. But when she played, her spirit became like a Red-crowned Crane: it circled the air like a bird and tugged at the thin thread that attached it to her, but like silk, the link was so strong it never snapped. While Lingling's spirit wanted to soar, her body refused to let her. Each time she played, her spirit yanked hard to fly higher and her music increased its poignancy, while her mind remained torn between sky and mountain.
However, the call of her one lute had been heard by one crane who was flying over open seas and across vast skies to reach her. A Red-crowned Crane who too had once struggled to decide – to follow his kin and nature or to reside by a peaceful lake – before he learnt from those older and wiser that he could have both: a simple life and adventure.