Light from the East by Nataliya Boyadzhiyeva
She graduated from Shoumen University «Konstantin Preslavski» with two specialities, Bulgarian and Russian philology. She works as a teacher of Bulgarian language and as a self-employed journalist. Member of the Union of Bulgarian Journalists. Translates from Russian, Polish, English and Italian.
To contact her you may write to email@example.com or visit her personal blog: nataliaboiadzhieva.wordpress.com
«Light from the East»
Here is what the author shares on her imaginative impetus: 「The challenge for me was to translate a foreign culture like the Chinese into the language and metaphor of my own way of living. The things concealed beneath the surface are universal and make all of us a human family. But how to reveal them?…
With the exception of about a hundred words, I did not learn Chinese. The time and effort required to learn such a difficult language I invested in friendships, which made me happy. As a compensation for the missing language, my other senses became sharpened. Surprises and unexpected things came out on every step. Sometimes I asked all my acquaintances about things which were a mystery to me. Their help throughout my three years’ stay was irreplaceable.
I did not have any prejudice or expectations, which I needed to overcome. I went to the foreign country with an open mind and heart and a thirst for exploration.」
In the impressive volume of 352 pages, the author collected some 48 journalistic travelogues from China. It is hard to describe the genre of the work, for it contains elements of a tale, report, diary and travel-notes. The author defines it as 「nravopis」 (a neologism invented by her, meaning 「writing on mores」). 「We see the World from two different angles – The Bulgarian and the Chinese. We live with the joy of finding a way to the other and the particular feeling, that in our heart a third eye is opened – the eye of friendship. A book about a foreign exotic country and also about friendship – pure as a child」 – writes in his review of the book the Bulgarian writer Zachari Karabashliev. The 64 colored and many black&white pictures of sites, visited by Nataliya Boyadzhieva add immensely to the value of the book. The book comes with a CD, which contains audio recordings of the reportages for the internet radio 「Tatkovina」 (Fatherland) and almost 400 pictures of the described places, events and customs of China.
The author was lucky to live in a small provincial town, where the spirit of the ordinary Chinese people is preserved. She had enough time to get familiar with the manners, customs and the world-view of the local people. Her Chinese friends invited her in their homes and hearts. She learned a lot from them, with their help she amplified her sense of happiness.
Readers will feel the ancient majesty of the old capitals Xian and Nanjing, as well as the contemporary one – Beijing. They will climb the holy mountains of Taishan and Luoshan – the way all Chinese emperors did. They will be enchanted by the Water cities on the Yangtze river – Udzhan, Sitan, Hangzhou. They will also visit the hometown of Confucius – Qufu and go fishing near the island of Chandao. The readers are also expected by the masters of traditional crafts in the mansion of Mou, four weddings, the Beijing opera on the stage in the park, the Chinese New Year and all kinds of holydays.
The learning and aesthetic value of the 「writing on mores」 consist in the composition of a realistic and at the same time artistic summary of typical phenomena in Chinese life.
Translated from the Bulgarian by Simeon Boyadzhiev
Chapters from «Light from the East»
Tai-an (Part III)
It’s nice there, where we are not. We are not in the past anymore and it seems wonderful.
Our family trip in Shandong province started from Penglai towards Qu Fu- the birthplace of Confucius. Our driver is called Zhang and our translator – Anita. In a country where few speak English, it’s hard without a translator. Two years later, already friends, we were invited to Anita’s wedding and Zhang’s sons Hundred days after birth holyday.
With the enthusiasm of explorers we entered the bus with Stanislav and our children – Emilia and Simeon. Stani had prepared the trip as a surprise gift and it really made us happy.
It’s August, the air is hot and moist, heavy for breathing. We depart from the hot Qu Fu to the north and gradually the road starts turning and climbing in the mountain (eighty percent of the country are mountains and highlands).
From above the vastness feels differently – through a birds eyes. The grassy landscape outside flies around us like a fog. It’s already refreshing and our gaze rests in the green. Suddenly it is caught amazed on large rocks with a weird shape. We stop, get out and go through the unusual shards, to find out who made them – man or nature. Soon we find out it’s a partnership. The rocks are obtained from a quarry and people help them become more impressive and attractive, according to Chinese taste. It is good if veins, cracks and wholes like a lace are visible.
We have already noticed in the Penglai park and around apartment buildings strange pieces of rocks – with a shine or matt, in different colors. Now we know that in Chinese gardens stones are specially selected and put on pedestal on a specific spot, so that man can enjoy it from many sides. Rocks, along with water and pavilions are required elements of the classical garden, called 「Chinese garden of the educated」, created by wealthy families. More humble people enjoy wells and clay ponds with fish in their yards.
Rocks with different size and shapes symbolize landforms like islands, hills and mountains, but also human emotions and qualities like strength and endurance. For the Chinese the garden is like a microcosm of the world. Your own place responding to your nature, a place with spirit and harmony. So each garden has a different layout, because it represents the soul of the owner. The unchanging form of the rock goes through the idea of transiency of life. Choosing the rocks for the garden takes a lot of care and feeling. They render the place a stately feeling. Most preferred are old blocks grown with moss and lichen. The choice must also be conformed with the theme and composition of the garden. The layout of the rocks has a symbolical meaning and different layouts have a different effect on the visitor. The garden is a beloved place for thought, joy, relaxation and reaching harmony of the soul with the world around.
We’ve been in the country for a short while and everything new is interesting for us. Later we have become witness of large trucks transporting these amazing pieces of nature, each unique, to decorate parks and hotels with. We already knew where they were coming from. We left the holy place, where human imagination gives life to dead nature and went on the road to Tayan, the city in the foot of Taishan Mountain. Blessed with beautiful nature, Shandong province smiles welcoming, in a Chinese way. Here, more than a hundred million people life on 156 700 square kilometers.
We stop by the road to buy some nice grown peaches (well, not as fragrant as Bulgarian peaches, but still, refreshing). The peach and the plum are the trees of happiness here in China. The peach garden near Tayan covers 66 700 hectares and is the largest in the world according to Guiness. The city itself is considered small by local views – five and a half million people live in it. More importantly – it is one of the cradles of Chinese civilization and a religious center for Buddhism and Daoism. Traces of people living 500 000 years ago have been found here. West of it flows the Yellow River ( 5 500 km long; around it the first Chinese states were founded).
We checked in the hotel and immediately went out to visit the Daoist temple. Our companions are not professional guides and so that the mysteries of the observed would not be left in the twilight zone, Anita called her fellow student, who lives in Tayan. Isabella came quickly – slim, exquisite and calm. She introduced herself while applying sunscreen on her shoulders. Chinese don’t handshake when meeting, so their arms are left unoccupied. And this August sun is so dangerous for the ladies… She then took us to the temple, which happened to be a cultural relic, a true treasure, existing for 2 230 years! It is the place where ancient emperors came to pray and pay respect to the god of the Taishan Mountain. Its building started under the Qin (221 – 206 BC) and Han (206 BC – 23 AD) dynasties and continued through the Tan (618 – 907 AD) and Song (960 – 1127 AD) dynasties. It was renovated under the Jin (1115 -1234 AD), Yuan (1279 -1368 AD) and Min (1368 – 1644 AD) dynasties. Earthquakes, wars and disasters – nothing is capable of completely destroying Chinese antiquity. People guard every stone, arc and stela (a stone slab with writings) and are silently proud of them. A strange force inhabits those energy centers and keeps them from enemies. This is the unique in Chinese love for the homeland, which respected foreigners, it is expressed in keeping traditions through the five thousand years of history.
We enter through the thick as a fortress wall and end up in the Yard of tranquility, not very wide, but rich with symbols and signs of Chinese majesty through the millenniums. The architecture is court styled. The temple complex is truly majestic with its eight gates, square towers and many praying halls. With its double pointed eaves, the Tiankuan hall is of highest class and is recognized as one of the three key ancient halls in China. Isabella led us with unobtrusive confidence and soft presence.
In one of the small yards we sat near a pond with lotuses and big colorful fishes, covered with an airy net, perhaps to avoid the throwing of inappropriate food. On its banks we again saw the impressive rocks, which we were already familiar with from the mountain quarry, seemingly spread randomly, but actually artfully and with taste. We also enjoyed bonsai, beautifully bloomed. Many pots with different flowers, maintained gardens, alleys with round notches on them. Traditional candlesticks on the open with lit scented candles on them. Peace and silence, inciting thought.
The trees in the yard are also century-old. They rise to the skies over three hundred stelas, the stela of Li from the Qin dynasty being the first risen in Tayan. The next day we climbed the mountain, where we saw other ancient stelas.
The Daoist temple is included in the World cultural heritage list in 1987.
When the day was fading, little before the night was born, we went out of the Daoist temple, completely devoured by the Chinese spirit and atmosphere. Isabella invited the whole party to a dinner, spontaneously and naturally. Felling like a host, she wanted to represent us the cuisine of her birthplace, of which she spoke with admiration and confidence that it is superb and we will definitely like it. We have already been through our first encounter with Chinese cuisine, so popular around the world. In a snack bar by the road we stared for long at the chicken heads with peckers and legs with claws, which were offered for lunch. For the first time it came to our minds that Chinese food around the world was adapted to the tastes of different nations, otherwise no one would order it. Authentic meals are found only here, in the country itself, for the joy of the Chinese.
We all got on the bus and went on the dark roads. The moon – still untacked, sneaking on top of the darkness came into the landscape not as a detail, but as a magical center.
We traveled long, I thought we were out of town already. Finally we arrived at a shrouded in greenery restaurant.
– Isabella, do you like larvae? – I ask faintheartedly. The girl gets excited: – Yes, sure, when fried they are so crispy! But I don’t know if they have them today, we will ask…
We didn’t ask for this delicacy, from which we would definitely lose appetite. The strangest meal that came was paned pumpkin blooms, which we found acceptable.
The Chinese part of our company was enjoying the caramelized carp, we approached cautiously the unusually cooked fish. We learned that the carp was Confucius favorite meal and I remembered his words: 「Everything is beautiful, but not everyone could see it like that」…
No one paid attention to how we were holding the chopsticks, there are no rules; there are different ways, so – it’s how it fits you. After some practice you get used to it as well. The hot and moist climate showed its bad side by releasing a downpour on our stunned heads. We reached the car quickly and went down the muddy road…
We never saw Isabella again, but the warm feeling of Chinese hospitality and kindness was felt again many times afterwards… On the next day the holy Taishan Mountain was awaiting us.
The Water Cities of the Yangtze River and the Tender Penglai Flower (Part 1)
I learned a valuable lesson on friendship.
It was just a girl, like thousands of others. But now she is my friend and is only one in the world.
We have been planning this trip for months, and the dream to see the Water cities on the Yangtze river was born two years ago, when Wang Wey (Vivy is her western name, which I will use for short) showed me her photos of Udzhan and Sitan. Their beauty caught me forever and I wanted to see them in person.
We met with Vivy in the dance school. One day, during rehearsal, I was irritated that I couldn’t understand what the girls were telling me, so I desperately shouted: 「Is there no one who can speak English?」 Silence and incomprehension. From the lines a beautiful girl in a crimson dancing dress, with a long hair and big eyes stepped forward and silently, so that the others couldn’t hear her said 「I can…」 From this moment we are inseparable friends.
The same zodiacal sign and blood type, similar food taste – things that impressed Vivy in the beginning. To meet for the first time, but to feel like you’ve known each other forever. To have so much in common, interests and ideas, we understand each other without words. Closeness, understanding and acceptance. Soulmates – beautiful and enchanting. Now I know – our friendship will be the same, even if we don’t see each other for years.
Friendship is friendship all over the world. And yet there are certain differences in the concept of spiritual connection here and in the West, by my observations.
Although I avoid generalizations, now I can’t really do without them. And so, the conception for time is quite relative in China. Things happen when they are supposed to happen – not earlier or later. For friendship there is also no time concept – meaning that it’s forever. In Chinese culture it is one of the most important things – like God in Christian culture.
Chinese are surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The main circle is the family, the next one is the friends. They do not trust people outside the circles. This is why they try to make connections. Friendship is also part of family life here. A friend could have a good relation with your family and spend time with it happily. A helpful person from the friends of your friend could help you or your parents and children.
It’s more complicated than we could imagine. Help and information are main factors for success in an oriental community, while in the West it’s personal efforts, ambition and realization of each person. So in Western communities the key to friendship is in the respect for independence and dignity of people, their free choice, while in an oriental spiritual bond the stress is put on honesty, sharing and dependence.
A person in China, who does not have a friend, can’t accomplish anything. He can’t even find a job. Vivy works in a company of two thousand people. In her words not one of them was hired by an interview or competition, everyone were introduced by someone, a relative. Here, a friend is not just an attendant or a companion, with whom you share common goals, but is the one who reaches your hand and touches your heart.
If a Chinese calls you a friend, that means that you are special to him, this is an emotion deep in the heart. The Peoples wisdom says: 「Friends are like stars – you don’t always see them, but you know they are there.」 And another Chinese saying: 「The friend is like a body, the wife is like a garment – you can change your garment, whenever you want, but you can’t cut your body off」.
After all, the joy of the deep spiritual connection for life can be the most wonderful thing in the world, when the one child policy has shrunk the family so much.
After this extensive comparison (too common, but yet true) between the two cultures, I’m back to our plans on the trip with Vivy. She had already visited those places once and she was saving for a trip to Tibet – her old dream. But instead, she happily agreed to share with me the excitement of my encounter with the water cities.
Meanwhile, from Wales came Veronica – also a wonderful person – intelligent and kind. Certainly not truly old, because her young spontaneity in perceptions of the world had not left her. She works for a second year for three months as a volunteer in the local teacher collage. She teaches English without payment – the only thing she wants is to see and learn more of this part of the world. I decided to invite her with us to the Yangtze River. I asked Vivy if she was fine with it – no problem.
And there it is – one Friday evening on the 18-th of May the three of us went by taxi to Yantai. From there is the bus to the South. We will sleep in it and in 13 hours we will be in Udzhan – more than 1300 km road. Me and Veronica were the only Europeans. Vivy had managed to get us the front seats, behind the driver and the guide. In the group there were three young children, their voices were unheard the whole trip, they bore heroically the hardships of bus sleeping. I have not seen such disciplined and quiet children like the Chinese, when out of home. Some movie was on, the people started watching in silence. Two or three times during the night the bus stopped on special places for rest by the highway, to stretch our legs.
It’s getting lighter, I’m awaiting the dawn, but it’s still murky. It’s raining – silently and soothing the whole time. Sometimes it stops, just to take a breath, then it starts again…
It’s the spring rain – April and May, then comes the plum rain in June and July. In the end it’s the autumn rain – until October – and the rain season is over. The climate is subtropical, like in most of the country. Long, hot and moist summer, short transitional seasons. We are in the beginning of summer, we can feel its hot breath, but the clouds and rain bring us some coolness.
We get off the bus, armed with umbrellas, some with raincoats, and go for the waiting line for the entry of the Old City. It’s early, not yet open. I take some photos in the cloudy light and await the beginning.
Most travelers are girls and young women. Seems like they like traveling more than men do– I thought, but the actual reason came clear a lot later… Finally they are opening. We get by with the tickets and the control machine plays a tune for every checked ticket; I’m used to that. We get on the wooden pier awaiting a big boat to take us to the other shore. For 1400 years Udzhan has not changed its name and way of life. The skies blessed it. One can accept that immortality is possible – if not for people, than at least for a city… In that we find comfort…
Silently we enter the boat – something between a caique and a covered raft, driven by two men with long poles. I have seen those even monotone moves of raftsmen only in movies – the pole is stuck to the bottom and the boat is driven forward.
They call it A live fossil of ancient Chinese civilization, 「land of plenty」 and 「home of silk」. It is amongst the most popular settlements on the lower stream of Yangtze River and is in the northern part of Zhejiang province, in the triangle between Handzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai. The town existed from 770 BC under different names and got its current name under the Tan dynasty (618-907 AD).
The town becomes famous with the residents passion for education and gave many imperial scribes. Today its population numbers 60 000 residents, of which only 12 000 are permanent. In 1991 it was declared a cultural monument of national importance and cultural preservation projects took place in it.
Ancient history and culture, lovely nature, kind people and colorful customs and traditions, which take place to this day. The soul of oriental life, Udzhan is also a mediator between China and the world.
Our boat quietly slides on the dark still water, with only raindrops making dimples on the surface. The main waterway Don Jha, 400 meters long, proceeds between streets and houses, built under the Qing dynasty (1644- 1911) and still inhabited today.
Waterways cross streets with pavements and alleys. The water in the canals is supplemented by the Grand channel, which is still used to supply the dry North with water and goods from the South.
The Grand channel with a length of 1800 km is the longest artificial waterway in the world, surpassing by far the next two – Suez (193 km) and Panama (83 km). It begins from Handzhou, Zhejiang province in the south and goes to Beijing in the north, connecting different river systems, contributing a lot for the economic development during the late dynasties. Even now, some parts of it are used. It was built on parts in different times, finally connected under the Sui dynasty (581 -618). Emperor Yang Te ordered this massive construction. About half of the villager builders (3 million people) died under the hard conditions and hunger before the construction was finished, similar to the deaths of thousands during the construction of the other two aforementioned channels. It is thought that the construction had cost the fall of the Sui dynasty.
In past times it served for transport of food and other goods, it improved the defense of the country and improved economic and cultural interaction between the south and the north.
Similar to the Great Wall, the Grand channel is pointed as one of the greatest constructions of Ancient China. Later, in 2014 UNESCO included it in its list of World cultural heritage.
Author: Natalia Boiadzhieva / Translator: Simeon Boiadzhiev