Chapter Two - Student Vignettes

Part One - Historical Place by SSh

In the following literary narrative, SSh recalls a key figure who defined Si Heyuan. The photographs that correspond to the narrative also suggest that the carving not only was used to mark time and place, could also could serve as important point of departure into memories into the past and the promise of great tales to tell from journeys undertaken in the future.

It was May 19th, three months left before my departure to Vancouver for University. The sun was shining, helping to cast contrasts across a brilliant sky. Together with a friend and a book I had brought along, I walked to the Hu-Tong in Beijing, hoping to visit Si Heyuan. I used to live there years ago. It’s still there, solemn as an old man, observing the good and the bad without passing judgment. My attention was drawn to coffee house in the area named ‘Come Back’. We walked inside, sat down by the window and I opened my book, but soon was distracted by the magnificent view of the Forbidden City and the long, deep Hu-Tong, which helped recall my childhood.

It is said that the style of the architecture reflects the designers’ personal characteristics and has an influence upon local people’s personalities at the same time. If that is so, then Beijingers must inherit the cosmopolitanism of their city, the unhurried orderliness of the royal buildings’ and the purity of Si Heyuan.

‘Ah……’ -- my thoughts were interrupted by a solitary refrain from the Beijing Opera (that I still could not understand). I saw an old man pulling a handcart filled with food, singing while walking at ease. ’Grandpa Lee!’ I thought. The same familiar part of the Beijing Opera with even the same handcart! I hoped that he was the beloved neighbor I hadn’t seen for years. As the man’s figure faded away as he made his way down the Hu-Tong I wondered if Grandpa Lee was well, if all my old neighbors were well.

Grandpa Lee was a retired music teacher. Just like the other old people I know and remember, he was always smiling, always loving towards kids, especially to the children and our parents who he said were his kids’ age. He was the oldest person in our Si Heyuan. To be honest, I was never really sure if Grandpa Lee had any kids. At least he didn’t when I recall my earliest memories, because I hardly saw anyone visiting him.

“Do you have kids, Grandpa Lee?” I queried. “Of course my child, you are my kid,” he laughed, as if amused by a silly question.

“Real kids I mean,” I said, pouting, knowing the meaning of ‘kid’ for him was different from than it was for me.

“They are working abroad.” He had stopped laughing, but the smile was still there.

"Why don’t they come back?”

“Because ‘abroad’ is far away from our Si Heyuan.” He paused, looking at the gate, “But they will come back one day, I’m sure of that.”

He would go to the morning market quietly with his handcart before dawn and sing the Beijing Opera (which I couldn’t understand), and then come back--cheerful and loud--waking up those of us who needed to get up early for school and work, the handcart filled with vegetables and fruit he bought for us and himself, cheap but fresh.

“You are too busy, too tired, save the time to sleep longer,” he would say, in a refrain meant just for us. I regarded his handcart as magic, because Grandpa Lee could take delicious food out of it all the time. Meanwhile, he cherished the candies I gave him like treasure, which were my own rewards from school, but never accepted any gifts my parents bought him from abroad.

“If you really care about Grandpa,” he once said to me, “just tell me something about going abroad.”

With his eyes always looking at the gate of Si Heyuan, he would continue, “I’ve been teaching in Beijing for over 40 years, but never got a chance to go out.”

Later, I moved abroad, that strange place far away from Si Heyuan. I lost contact with him and other neighbors. I wonder if they are well and if they moved into higher buildings. Since we are Beijingers, every good quality that our Si Heyuan gave us, will always remain no matter how far we are from the place. I’m sure of that. “Your coffee.” With the sound of the coffee cup being placed on the table, I was drawn back from the world outside the window, to finish reading the last passage from the book: They will not know I have gone away to come back. For the ones I left behind. For the ones who cannot get out.

historical place1.jpg

Part II: Anonymous Memory Garden

For their vignettes, one group of students chose to mark the journey of the carving Fractured Bookworm according to a fictive sense of seasonal regeneration. The two vignettes from an anonymous rose garden in Beijing is the third instance in which the carving was considered as female (the first occurred during a presentation at the Amiskwaciy Academy in Edmonton, while the second happened with a group of students who used Fractured Bookworm for their carving vignettes for an introductory Cultural Studies class at the University of Alberta earlier in 2015). Here, in Beijing, the students chose to mark and remember their experiences according to a “romantic sense of poetic renewal.”

Vignette One: 25 May. 2015. 27° Celsius. Faded Rose Garden

She is flawless. Even though the years she passed are countless, every scar marked her body is silver and gold to her. Today, she lied on the ground as usual. Under the great sunshine, she watched a rose fading while she also witnessed the promise of a rose bud breaking.

Her mind went back to when she was a glamorous lady, standing in the sunshine with a bunch of roses, waiting for her man coming back from frontline. Flowers bloomed and faded. Birds breezed through the place and were as quickly gone as the changing seasons. Time changed her formality but not her soul. Every dream she dreamt, he showed up and held her close.

Vignette Two: 25 May 2015. 27° Celsius. Blooming Rose Garden

Solitary Rose: “What is the matter with the stone?”
Bouquet Chorus: “Nothing. It just cannot be loved!”
Solitary Rose: “I will try to give it some.”

Epilogue: I do not know your past. I see you refreshed, embraced by the fresh roses or grounded in mud and dried out petals. I do not care if you lack laughter outside the lens that captures the light of lifestyles or life itself either on a bright stage or a shadowy venue.

Part III: From the Carcross Desert, Yukon, to a Beijing Park, China

The two following vignettes were developed by a group of students in the class during a visit to an unnamed Beijing Park with the carving entitled Scorched Bolivarian Wave Reader. In the first vignette, the students engendered the carving and further marked their visit to a bridge by imagining a vexing problem, one involving flight for the piece. Meanwhile, in the second vignette the carving retains a “gender neutral” character, although one that still presented an animate rock within a humorous dilemma. Taken together, the vignettes suggest the importance of imaginative literary form and perceived movement for marking and remembering specific times and places.

Date:14th May. 10:49 AM. Temperature: 30° Celsius

The little stone lay on the bank and stared at the bridge. What he thought was why the components of the bridge looked so similar to him. After figuring it out, he worried about another problem: when would he be picked up and used for bridge repairs or construction?


Date: 18th May 10:28AM Temperature: 29° Celsius

It was a windy day, the dandelion was blew to fly away. The stone wanted to fly to have a new experience because it had a wing on its body. However, it failed since it was too heavy and its time to lose weight.