nature · Politics · romance

Sui Palace on the Night of Shou Sui


ui Palace on the Night of Shou Sui [1]

It was a sultry afternoon in Shenzhen, too early to eat and too late to sleep – about that time one doesn’t know what to do with oneself.  Li Shangyin and I were at a teahouse in the Zhuzilin area, otherwise known as Bamboo Forest.

“Why did you leave?”  I asked Shangyin, after I learned he had lived for a time in Florida.

“It was too hot,” he said, “and there were too many crocodiles.”

In Shangyin’s mind there was no difference between crocodiles and alligators. These days crocodiles also live in the southern marshes.

I urged him to continue.

“You see,” he explained, “In Florida, animals and pests are everywhere. One day, I came home, and what I thought was a dirty wet rag was a crocodile sunning itself by my pool! It wasn’t the first time. At that point, I realized I decided I had to do something.”


“I wrote to the President, asking him to pen an executive order banning crocodiles from Florida.”

I looked at him in astonishment. He went on.

“We do that sort of thing in China, too[2]… call on the Emperor once in a while. I was sure I would get a positive response.”

“What did you write?”

“I told him the crocodiles were traveling to areas they were not permitted to enter. They didn’t file any paperwork, or give any notification of which pools or golf courses they would enter. Furthermore, they were eating cats and dogs. This is absolutely against the law!”

I nodded my head in sympathy.

“I was furious at these creatures. They also are incredibly ugly, have bad breath, and tend to bite the wrong people. I felt I had a really good chance to convince the President to pass this ban.”

“Who knows?”

“Furthermore,”, he went on, “There are crocodiles that cross the borders of different states, say Georgia and Texas. Some may even come from Mexico. Strictly speaking, he could write an order to prosecute them as illegal immigrants, and eventually a ban can be extended to all other beasts in the country. He could even build a wall!”

I nodded my head again.

“They come from the frigging Gulf of Mexico!” he thundered.

Shangyin was uncharacteristically angry. His gentle white hairs waved in the light breeze.

“But, aren’t they fresh-water animals?”

“It doesn’t matter, It’s the principle. And they go on golf courses, and the President loves golf…he’ll understand. I suggested he order them to leave for the sea within 3 days after issuing the order. If they don’t leave, give them 5 days.”

“I see.”

“If they don’t leave in 5 days, give them 7 days. If they still disobey, declare war!”

“So what finally happened?”

“I got a reply from the White House a few weeks later. “

Just as he was about to tell me the details, I woke up and realized it was all a dream.

消息东郊木帝回,xiāo xī dōng jiāo mù dì huí,

宫中行乐有新梅。gōng zhōng  xíng lè yǒu xīn méi。

沈香甲煎为庭燎,shěn;chén xiāng jiǎ jiān wèi;wéi tíng liáo,

玉液琼苏作寿杯。yù yè qióng sū zuò shòu bēi。

遥望露盘疑是月,yáo wàng lù;lòu pán yí shì yuè,

远闻鼍鼓欲惊雷。yuǎn wén tuó gǔ yù  jīng léi。

昭阳第一倾城客,zhāo yáng  dì yī  qīng chéng kè,

不踏金莲不肯来。bù tà  jīn lián  bù kěn lái。


The Wood God of the Eastern Suburbs is about to return[3]

The Palace rejoices, fresh peaches already fill the urns

The aloe wood is heated before the ritual flames[4]

Toasts to long life are made with wine of Thyme and Jade

From afar the temple dew receivers glow like the moon

Like thunder, far away crocodile skin drums boom

Zhaoying Temple’s first maiden prepares to welcome her guest

Unless there’s a gold lotus dance, there will be no consent! [5]


Musical Interlude: Fireworks by Mark Obama Ndesandjo

This piece is inspired by Chopin and Schumann, and celebrates the easiest to learn and most difficult to master of all instruments. Whether one hears fireworks or not is incidental to understanding this work. At its core, music is about passion, in some cases supplemented by images. It is in a simple ABA form, and is a nocturne of sorts.

Musical Interlude: Transcendental Etude No. 9 (Liszt) played by Mark Obama Ndesandjo


The Ricordanza (Memories) of Liszt almost consumes itself with ornamented notes. Perhaps because of the constant return of the theme, it also evokes a Nietzschean circularity, oscillating between life and death. Above all, it seems to constantly question itself, and perhaps that fragility is what makes it such great music. The pianist Busoni likened it to a bunch of fading letters. This is no simple batch of effeminate love letters. To me, it is a bunch of romantic youtube or facebook vignettes: bright, vivid and bittersweet.

[1]  I also call the accompanying blurb Ode to a Crocodile

[2] The Tang dynasty scholar and essayist Han Yu also wrote a famous essay about banning crocodiles in the district where he himself had been banished. Also see the poem Memorial Tablet to Master Han (韩碑)

[3]  The Shou Sui Festival was a Jin Holiday marked by burning and cooking of scented aloeswood, often burning small carts, drinking, making merry etc. The Wood God of spring helps plants and trees grow. Thyme and Jade wine were said to promote longevity and were very expensive.

[4] Emperor Sui Yang of Jin (563-618AD) was a spendthrift who murdered his father and brother.

[5] Favorite concubines through Chinese history are often associated with the lotus. Some are said to dance on the tips of their toes, resembling lotus leaves. Others would bind their feet into the shape of a lotus. Others were said to dance on tiles marked with golden lotuses, and so forth.

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