To Market 趕墟


I went to Hong Kong to visit my 100-year-old aunt before my Guilin trip.  Knowing that I want to search for her mom’s ancestral village, she was as excited as a little kid.  Indeed, all her childhood memories came back.  She told me stories of her mom’s brothers, described the scenery, and even drew me a map, reminding me all the crucial landmarks going from my grandfather’s village to my grandmother’s village. Follow the river, go up hill.  There is a pavilion on the hill, that’s where one of the uncles did water engineering work. He piped mountain spring into the village, which is so useful.  Remember not to miss the pavilion.  You need to go downhill once you have reached the pavilion. Make a turn, and grandma’s village is right there.


I begged her to teach me to speak some Zhuang, but  she can’t remember anything anymore.


Late at night, my aunt had gone to bed for a long time, and I was also getting ready to turn in.  All of a sudden, my aunt rushed out of her room, grabbed my arm, and shouted “Beiher, Beiher, I remember it now. The word just popped into my mind.  That’s the Zhuang word for going to the fair!  Do you know “fair”? That’s like going to the market.  But your market is not the same as our market.  When I went with mom to  her home, my uncles would take us to the fair.  What they said then was Beiher!  Beiher!”


My aunt can speak Zhuang when she was little.  Ninty some years later, what is the one word that a hundred-year-old remembers from her childhood? That’s to go to the market.




Song of Reunion 相見歌



The book “Customs of Zhuang People” describes a remote village where people feel more comfortable singing to stranger than talking to them. So if you got lost in the mountains, you are better off singing your inquiries if you want to get directions from the locals.

I’ve just learned simple phrases to ask for directions in Zhuang . Now, I’ll actually have to sing it!?  Better start practicing right now.  So, I wrote this Song of Reunion, following very loosely the poetic template of The Joy of Reunion. The ultimate intention is to be able to sing it in Zhuang when my language skill is more advanced.

『壯族風情錄』裡說,在壯山裡問路,要用唱的人家才回答你。 這不是為難人嗎? 我好不容易背了簡單的句子問路。這麼看來,練說的不夠,要練唱! 所以,我寫了首相見歌,等我壯文再多學點,可以用壯文來唱。

Huan1, with a level tone, means “joy” in Mandarin Chinese.  A word with similar sound fwen in Zhuang means “song”.  Then, the poetic template named Xiang1-Jian4 Huan1, “The Joy of Reunion”, would be “Song of Reunion” in Zhuang.

歡, fwen, 壯文就是歌。那麼,『相見歡』就可以解做『相見歌』了.

Xiang1-Jian4 Huan1, “The Joy of Reunion“, was a very popular poetic template in Song Dynasty, which was passed down from the royal court of the Tang Dynasty. Translate it into a modern  scenario, it is a song template that Tang musician has to study and memorize, for they were likely to be tested on it in the standardized exams of music classes.


相見歌-問祖母    Song of Reunion — Question to Grandma


To the west of the Cassia Forest, the riddle of  life went back a thousand year.
Below  the drifting white clouds,  your home is hidden in miles of rice terrace .
With each step,
In each tune,
There are endless questions.
Layers of mountains,
Bending paths,
Where could you be?
Take the vista points in the song. That’s where I am.
Read the feelings in the song. That’s where people are.
Live the world in the song. That’s  where you are.

Anonymous 無名

My grandmother has no name.  I once was angry. How can anyone have no name? Then my brother explained that it was not an insult, not a neglect. Just was. There was a place for a culture where people were known as themselves, without a label called a name. That place was not far from Cassia Forest.

我的祖母沒有名字。我曾經很生氣。哪有人沒有名字? 我哥哥跟我解釋,沒有名字,不代表不重要,不在乎。沒有是另一種存在。從前,有一個地方,有一種文化,人就是人,不用藉一個叫做名字的標籤去了解。那個地方,離桂林不遠。

My grandmother is a Zhuang, a minority group in China. We know her last name is Ben. Tickets in hand, I am about to start a journey back to Cassia Forest.  I want to find my grandmother’s village. Without a name, how do I do a google search?   Maybe I can walk around villages with her last name, and see if I can see faces that look familiar, like my father, my aunt, brothers, sister and cousins.

我的祖母是壯人。我們知道她姓賁。機票在手,我馬上要去桂林了。我想去找祖母的村寨。沒有名字,網上怎麼搜尋? 也許我可以走訪跟她同姓的村寨,看看村人是不是看來眼熟,長得像爸爸,姑姑,哥哥,姐姐跟表哥表姐。

I travel often, but never travel without knowing the next destination. There are some level of anxiety, and come with it more excitement than usual.  Cassia Forest is a beautiful place. Zhuang culture is fascinating, and may be I can stay long enough to learn a few sentences, a few songs and the way of living. In a place where anonymous was the norm, I’ll travel without a known destination.


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