Better an Empty Purse Than an Empty Head
In my childhood, I was fortunate enough to witness many joyous and graceful moments that had nothing to do with money. When I was about 12 or 13, the Cultural Revolution had just came to an end, and my dad went to work in Hefei. On one summer vacation, Mom took me to visit him.
At the dormitory where we stayed, there was a boxy concrete balcony on the outside, with just a square table in the middle, some big rattan chairs around it and nothing else. My dad and his friends, wearing loose T- shirts and waving palm fans, were lying on the chairs. Although their behaviors were exactly the same as other ordinary people, these men of letters had a unique way of enjoying a refined life.
When my dad and his friends attended their usual gathering, they always brought a white paper handheld fan. And then, one man began to recite a poem impromptu, and another person just wrote down the verses on the fan, and the third man drew a picture on the back of the fan, and there was the fourth man who just sat aside silently and focused on engraving a seal. When the calligraphy work was done, they would stamp the fan with the seal. Interestingly, they always took turns to change their role. The man who was capable of writing good poems would often draw, the man who drew the best would carve the seal, and the expert of seal carving would recite a poem. Gradually, they made lots of paper fans together. Later, when their group disbanded and went their separate ways, each of them got one of the fans.
Today, I still remember Uncle Lin, who taught me to recite in Shanghai dialect the verse “It breaks my heart to see blooming trees near the tower. The country torn apart, how could I admire the flower?” He told me, “Dan, you should never forget about the checked tone. Otherwise, you will find it difficult to sing Kun Opera, and neither can you compose classical Chinese poems. Although your dad is better educated than me, I do better recitation than him, because he is a northerner. So you should learn how to recite from your Uncle Lin.”
Even to this day, I still miss that balcony. The charm of that place and the atmosphere of the Chinese scholars are always on my mind. Although my dad and his friends have passed away, I still keep some of their poems in my home.
Uncle Zhang from Shanghai had three sons and no daughters, and he was very fond of me. Uncle Zhang had perfect handwriting, and he once wrote a five- character poem as a gift for
my father, and the last two verses translated roughly like this, “You are perfectly enviable for having a lovely daughter in your home.” In Uncle Zhang’s opinion, having a daughter is just like owning the most valuable treasure of the world.
How time flies! Thirty years have gone by. All along the way,
I have been brought up under the care, trust , guidance, and enlightenment of many people. In this sense, I am rich. Although I was once hard up for money,
I never felt poor. As the saying goes, better an empty purse than an empty head. As long as you are passionate about life and dreams, you can always live a tasteful life. ( From ABright Heart Nurtures Everything , Changjiang Literature & Art Press)