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A Letter from China
April 10, 2001

Letter from China

Fifteenth in a series from Ernest Pinson

He Nu Er Yi Qi Xue Gu Shi (Learning Poetry with My Daughter)

by Yu-kuo Wang (William)

Nowadays, young pupils should learn many things; my daughter, about 10 years old now, is in her fourth grade. She will go to school from Monday through Friday. There is a school bus to take children to school and her school is a 10-minute bus ride and 20-minute bike ride. She has to leave the family at 6:40 a.m. and because my wife and I are also busy at noon, we find a Grandma outside my daughter's school, and she eats and has a nap in the grandma's home and then is brought back either by me or by my wife about 5:30. On Wednesday afternoon she is dismissed from school earlier, about 3:30. On Saturday mornings she attends another class -- a supplementary class from 8:00 to10:00 a.m., and on Saturday afternoons she attends an Olympic competition mathematics class from 1:30 until 3:30. On Sunday she has half a day free, therefore she usually gets up quite late, and at 12:30, she has to go to Children's Palace and learn dancing and play the GuZhen (a traditional Chinese musical instrument). She is so busy and my wife and I are also busy, for we (especially my wife) have to be up earlier to make something for her to eat, either milk, some cakes, bread, or rice in the morning, and my wife has to check whether she has finished the assigned homework in the evening. My daughter usually goes to bed at 9:00 p.m. Because she is so "well-learned," she sometimes wants to challenge me to make sure whether I can get what she has already done and achieved.

"Daddy, do you read poetry? Do you like poetry of war? And do you think there will be a war someday?" she asks me one afternoon as soon as we enter the house. I've just fetched her back.

"I don't know. Are you scared?" I take off my helmet, put it under the TV cabinet, and hang the bunch of keys on the hook.

"Of course not, I'm very curious. If there's a war, you don't need to fight." She is very serious and wants to be very daring.

"Who is going to fight then? Will my lovely daughter go for me?" I'm teasing her.

"Sure I will. Have you ever read the 'Song of Mu-Lan?' Please read with me, and you can get the answer."

"Is this your homework? Don't do this to me again; it's your assignment, why should I read with you?" I want to see her reaction. If I'm not very busy, I'd like to do something with her together, like reading, singing, or running. I've known that parents are also assigned to do something; they are required to sign their names to make sure that their children have either read something or recited something. You see, that's children's homework; however, it's also the parent's duty.

"I just offer you an opportunity to be as clever as I am. My mother tells me that you were not a good student when you were a kid, and you need to make it up and learn the poem." If you were the father of this girl, would you be glad to be as clever as she was? Therefore, I begin to read with her the following poem and found I really enjoy it.

Song of Mu-Lan

Alack, alas! Alack, alas!
She weaves and sees the shuttle pass.
You cannot hear the shuttle, why?
Its whir is drowned in her deep sigh.
"Oh, what are you thinking about?
Will you tell us? Will you speak out?"
"I have no worry on my mind,
Nor have I grief of any kind.
I read the battleroll last night;
The Khan has ordered men to fight.
The roll was written in twelve books;
My father has no grown-up son,
For elder brother I have none.
I'll get a horse of hardy race
And serve in my old father's place.

She buys a steed at an eastern fair,
A whip and saddle here and there,
She buys a bridle at the south
And metal bit for the horse's mouth.
At dawn she leaves her parents by the city wall;
      At dusk she reaches Yellow River's shore.
All night she listens for old folk's familiar call,
      But only hears the Yellow River's roar.
At dawn she leaves the Yellow River shore;
      To Mountains Black she goes her way.
At night she hears old folk's familiar voice no more,
      But only on north mountains Tartar horses neigh.
For miles and miles the army march along
      And cross the mountain barriers as in flight.
The northern wind has chilled the watchman's gong,
      Their coat of mail glistens in wintry light.
In ten years they've lost many captains strong,
      But battle-hardened warriors come back in delight.

Back, they have their audience with the Khan in the hall,
Honors and gifts are lavished on warriors all.
The Khan asks her what she wants as a grace.
"A camel fleet to carry me to my native place."

Hearing that she has come,
      Her parents hurry to meet her at city gate,
Her sister rouges her face at home,
      Her younger brother kills pig and sheep to celebrate.
She opens the doors east and west
And sits on her bed for a rest.
She doffs her garb worn under fire
And wears again female attire.
Before the window she arranges her hair
And in the mirror sees her image fair.
Then she comes out to see her former mate,
Who stares at her in amazement great:
"We have marched together for twelve years,
We did not know there was a lass 'mid our compeers!"
"Both buck and doe have lilting gait
And both their eyelids palpitate.
When side by side two rabbits go,
Who can tell the buck from the doe?"

After reading the long poem, I have to cook something for dinner, for I have a two-hour night class this evening. When I wash the dishes of the lunch and cook some rice for dinner, my daughter reads and reads and seems to remember everything. Then she relaxes herself in the tiny kitchen and tortures me with questions.

"Do you think Americans have read this poem?" she shows her doubt undoubtedly.

"I think so." I wash some vegetables and try to slice the potatoes.

"They may have read it, but they cannot understand it, otherwise, why did Mu-Lan in the cartoon film use a cannon-like weapon? Ridiculous, isn't it? By the way, will your old granny hope to join the army because her granddaughter attracts some man back home? Those Americans? Oh, strange, strange."

Are Americans strange? Let an American Professor tell you, "You! Hypocrite lecteur! 'mon semblable ' mon frere!"

           

Sadly for me, this beautiful story about a Chinese daughter and her father ends this series of "A Letter From China." We can only hope that some insight has been gained into this vastly populated nation of 1.3 billion. China is growing by leaps and bounds and her sometime bristling posture shows she is a country to be concerned with in the next decade. The Panda Bear is now awake!

Ernest Pinson

(Cheng Pin Sun)


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