The Art of Music

Musical instruments, in the right hands, can gift our ears with heavenly sounds and elicit in us strong emotional responses. Musical instruments, especially the ancient ones, can delight the eyes as well, because they are exquisite works of art. The Hulusi, Guzheng, Sheng, and Erhu are four such ancient Chinese instruments that both look and sound beautiful.

I heard extraordinary music from two young people at my Feicheng friends’ home. Their son, who is a gifted musician, brought tears with his brief piano concert (Lang Lang will have serious competition in a few years.) and for his finale played the ancient Hulusi. Their young neighbor played the Guzheng with breath-taking skill and artistry.

The Hulusi, or Cucurbit Flute, has three bamboo pipes passing through a gourd wind chest.

The Guzheng or Gu Zheng is something like a zither. It is a beautiful instrument and would be a showpiece in any living room. Under skilled hands, it becomes the language of angels.

When walking along a river park in Feicheng, I discovered a group of musicians performing for a small assembly of citizens. It’s a shame because they were so good and should have been in a large venue.

This instrument, the Sheng, is one of the oldest Chinese instruments, with images in artwork dating back to 1100 BC. It is one of the primary instruments used in the Chinese opera.

The Erhu is a two-stringed bowed instrument, sometimes called a “southern fiddle.” It is now used in both traditional and contemporary music.

This is the pagoda (taken a few days before) where the musicians shared their music with a few people in the park. The shot shows the juxtaposition of the old architecture (although I’m sure that the pagoda is new) with the sleek new high rise.

Lotus Flower

We have been served different parts of the lotus at some of our more formal dinners here in Feicheng. It is not only delicious, but it is rich in vitamins and minerals.

So much for the nutritional value. The lotus is, quite simply, beautiful, and I was delighted to finally photograph it today. The plant grows in insanely murky water; yet it produces one of the most spectacular blooms on earth. I understand why it carries so much symbolism in the Buddhist faith.

The lotus grows in murky water and mud which reminds us that we are born in a world where there is suffering, which is a vital part of the human experience and makes us stronger and teaches us to resist temptation.

The lotus symbolizes the purifying of the spirit which is born into murkiness.

A closed lotus represents the time before a person finds Buddha or enlightenment.

The lotus in full bloom symbolizes full enlightenment and self-awareness.

The pink lotus flower represents the history of Buddha and the historical legends of the Buddha. The white lotus blossom, which I did not find today, symbolizes purity in the mind and spirit.

The lotus flower in Buddhism represents rebirth as a reincarnation, when a soul leaves this world in its present form to be reborn in another.

The lotus is used in traditional Chinese medicine and is rich in vitamins and minerals.

SOURCE:  “The Meaning of the Lotus Flower in Buddhism” 

A Story in a Picture

Sometimes a picture might tell a story. Perhaps this one tells a little about life in Shanghai. Perhaps it tells a larger story.

The two men in the foreground: I wonder what they are thinking.  One appears to be anxiously looking for something. A taxi maybe? The other, casually crouching on the curb. Is he waiting for a ride? Just passing the time?

Look closely inside the gate.  A young couple (perhaps students because they are both wearing backpacks) pass by rows of doors that lead into the lives inside the apartments.  Laundry hangs from the windows and across the narrow street. Most of the apartments have window air-conditioning units. It looks as if this was once a modern and upscale apartment complex.

More people are deeper inside, heading toward us. There must be another entrance into the complex because there are a few cars, and of course, the ubiquitous bike, both motorized and foot-powered, and it doesn’t look as if a car would fit through this iron gate.

I frequently go about my life, concerned about only that which directly affects me. I don’t consider that there are countless numbers of people all over the world who have their daily problems, concerns, joys, and loves. I believe that it is important to stop and think for a moment that we all share the same desires, not just for food, shelter, and clothing, but for companionship, safety, and peace. Sometimes, if we are lucky, we find a way to fulfill these desires, and, if we are very fortunate, we might find a little love along the way.


Evenings in Feicheng

One of the best aspects of life in Feicheng, Shandong Province, China is the sense of community. Although Feicheng has a population of nearly 1 million people, it has a small-town feel.

After the evening meal, the people come outside. They walk, sit and chat, gather together for a type of exercise that appears to be is a slow moving line-dance, they buy and sell on the sides of the streets, they watch their children play or perform.

They are doing a line dance.

The dance is coordinated, fluid, and beautiful. I’ve seen such dancing all over the city.

Here, it looks as if they are marching. No, they are dancing.

I watched this man for a long time before I was able to capture his image. I like the concentration on his face and admire his willingness to get out there and dance.

This little girl is working with her mother to sell on the street which is lined with vendors selling everything from shoes to batteries.

These little ones are learning how to roller blade while their parents look on.

The young people put on a taekwondo demonstration.

I frequently see the old people sitting quietly on their small folding stools.

Special Dinner in China

I’ve been in China for nearly a month and on the job in Feicheng, Shandong Province, for two weeks. Truly the highlight of my trip is our dinner at a Feicheng  colleague’s home, which I understand is a rare privilege. Before sitting down to the indescribably delicious meal that his wife and sister prepared, we had fun making dumplings (the kind that are boiled, not fried).

Here I am (the white American in the middle) with our colleague’s sister (on left) and his wife. They gave me the embroidered cloth that is on my shoulder. They said it’s to protect my clothing, but I think it’s too pretty for that purpose and I’ll wear it on a special occasion. You can see some of the son’s awards on the wall above the homework desk.

The dough is twisted into a thin rope while the filling (made of chives, mushrooms, tofu and other ingredients) is prepared.

The rope of dough is chopped into small pieces.

The small chunks get coated with flour.

Then the chunks are shaped into thin circles.

Teaching the Americans how to stuff the dumplings

My American colleague stuffing the dumpling

My American colleague in the background with finished dumplings waiting to be boiled. Several of these round trays of dumplings were prepared.

My American friend’s dumplings…. I can’t show you mine because I put the camera down when my hands were covered in dough. Mine were slightly (only slightly) better.

This is what the dumplings should look like.

You can see the plates of finished dumplings with the other delicious dishes. The women waited until we were finished before sitting down to eat.