The pagoda has been sitting in the same spot since 1905. It’s maintenance, survival through world war two, and remoteness despite being in the middle of a city that is transitioning from being an industrial center to a financial center is a testament to the Chinese people. Their filial loyalty, first prescribed by Confucius, extends not only through devotion to their family, but devotion to their history as well. The man with the large hands, to me they seemed to be lion tamer hands, exemplified this devotion.
The trees shaded the small pagoda on the even smaller hill. It kept the summer’s sun brutal heat off while the crickets protected us from the obstreperous sounds of the young city. The jackhammers and hammering of progress, the teeny-bop music being played for friends, and everyone else really , to hear and the constant urgings of shop owners to come in their stores were seemed much more distant than their actual location .
Around the pagoda sat six elderly men and one elderly woman. While their gray hair and wrinkles betrayed their age their laughter and movement spoke otherwise. They had seen their world change from small, one room houses with slanted roof and black tiles with no indoor plumbing to sky scrapers and from the sheer volume western luxury brands fighting for retail space in the nearby malls . Yet this was not the subject at hand.
The man furthest from me was impeccably dressed in a well ironed polo shirt, off white pants and sandals. Had he not had gray hair he could easily path as someone maybe half his age. He held the Chinese instrument delicately in hands that must had been given to him for construction, or, possibly lion taming. I am quite sure it was lion taming because such big hands could really serve no other purpose, except maybe some other sort of taming of wild, man eating beasts.
Yet the Chinese instrument was being held in his hands the way someone holds a snowflake. The all wood shaft was as long as a banjo but half as wide. At the base, hidden by his hands was a delicate wooden box. I was worried, upon seeing it that a harsh wind might that a sudden gust of wind might snap this instrument in half. It was certainly misplaced in this man’s hands.
He reached for the bow, longer, thicker than a violin’s bow. The horse hair strings show that the bow most likely had outlived the horse by at least a decade. They were strong but worn. If I had a chance to talk to the bow, I am sure that there would be stories from many decades, if not a century, to tell me.
I watched the man as he delicately slid the bow across the neck of the instrument. The sounds that came from the instrument were mesmerizing. They should not have come from such a tiny delicate piece of wood and string. The deeper sounds were reminded me of a tenor in an Italian opera, the higher sounds two school girls gossiping about the weekend. I tried to watch how he accomplished this.
His fingers would barely move, they only seemed to change when he paused to talk to his friends about something. Another man, who made up for the lack of quantity of his hair by having his original color hair still with him would make some comments and the lion tamer would pause, smile and let out a little life, and start out on a wholly new song.