Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Token from our Trip

We didn't see much in China to purchase as a souvenir, a keepsake from our trip. We walked through markets in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and Bangkok, but saw mostly knock-off Louis Vuitton purses or Hello Kitty luggage tags or cell phone cases. Plus, one must "bargin" to settle on a price and I had a hard time figuring out just how to do that in a language I could not speak. (Although with some fancy sign language, I did manage to talk a seller down from 50 to 10 yuan for a Buddist prayer bead bracelet. That was fun.)

When we were with Jack in Shenzhen, he took us to an artists village and introduced us to the parents of one of his Chinese friends, who goes by the American name: Slim. Both Slim's mom and dad are calligraphers and carvers, working out of a small studio in the middle of the village. Slim's mom carves beautiful seals out of stone. In China, a seal is used in lieu of signatures on personal documents, contracts, art, or any item requiring acknowledgment or authorship. A zhuwen seal imprints the Chinese characters in red ink, and is sometimes referred to as yang seal. After much back-and-forth between Jack, Slim and his mother, we settled on purchasing three seals: one for Maggie, one for Mary, and one for me.

Since there are no Chinese characters for our actual names, we decided that Mary's seal should feature the character for Merry. And for Maggie's, we settled on Bee Keeper. For mine, I wanted the symbol for Farmer, which caused all sorts of hullaballu, as a farmer evidently is a derogatory term in China. I didn't quite understand it all, but to call someone a farmer is to call them a peasant. So it was decided that it just would not do to carve me a seal that labeled me as a peasant. Go figure. Anyway, I ended up with a seal of the traditional Chinese character for Gardener.

The seals were carved while we were off traveling and Jack brought them to us when he joined us in Yunnan. The stones are beautiful just to look at. But I broke out the red cinnabar ink and tested mine out.

I need to practice a bit to get the pressure just right, but I love the way it looks and what it symbolizes. More than that, it is a token of our trip. One that reminds me of the places we traveled and the people we met along the way. Thank you Jack, Slim and Slim's mom for this special keepsake.

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