Oddments 2 – Pig’s blood

My hosts are desperate to entertain me during this inter-regnum between workshops, and I am just as desperate to have some time to write, prepare, and rest – I am overcome by a kind of lassitude I cannot seem to shake- yawning all the time. I hate getting older, if that’s what it is – though it could be half a world of time zones as yet untraveled by my aura. Without the adrenalin of a workshop, I am really fatigued.

Anyway, Dr Ben once again showed up this morning to take me out – this time with his petite wife, as she is in the furniture business, and we are going to a wood-carving museum. We are all familiar with the little balls within balls and intricate scenes in boats that characterize Chinese wood and ivory carvings – but oh, what a spread was on display here! Huge roots of camphor trees were the preferred medium – and out of these odd and windswept shapes come cranes, dragons, Qi Gong masters. The museum has everything from primitive through temple carvings to ancestor mantles to the very latest abstractions. The modernist pieces – hard to describe – are like tone poems of their own; one simple bench for two that flowed like water, lacquered a deep red, just made me want to cry.

My favorites were the at the two extremes – two elephants at the entrance, taller than I and with the trunk and legs and eyes built into the inner structure of the wood. At the refined end, there was a shoot growing out of a sweet potato – intricate leaves and stem, all out of one piece, with various stages of a dragonfly on various parts of the plant. The final dragonfly itself had wings of gossamer – all part of the same piece of wood – nothing assembled, just patiently removed from a block.

They had a series of 5 pieces there showing how Da-Ma (the fierce monk who brought Buddhism from India to China – you’ve seen this common image, whether you know it or not) appears from a chunk of wood – the few cuts, the general shape, the details of the face, the wind in his robes determined by the grain.

Speaking of grain, one more deserves special mention, a scene of a bridge over a river, and people trying to cross the torrent using a rope.  Even the rope was from the same piece of wood, but the use of the grain conveyed the wind and the raging water, and the skill of the carver the desperation of the people.

Thank God I wasn’t required to buy something at the shop – the pieces were fabulous, but the shops were full of heavy kitsch I did not want to carry back in my suitcase.

Outside the museum, we mounted a trail up the hill.  The museum was already in the mountain, so we wound up wooden steps (too close for even my short Western legs) through the bamboo groves wraithed in mist and small maple-like trees to a tea plantation on the upper slope.  This was the haiku-like scene I had expected to find in the Orient – harmonious, respectful, evanescent.  The oolong tea bushes were smaller than I expected – thickly planted, only thigh-high, and arrayed across the grade like grape vines to catch, but not hold, the water.

At the top was a small tea house, where we paused for the house tea amid trees of that frothy green I love so much that we get in early spring.  We found some puppies there, and I realized how much I miss touching animals, being away from home.  I put out my hand and titched them over, but they were very wary – is it my imagination that this is some sense they have that they are food, a sense that western dogs lack?  Dr Ben’s wife was patting them too, calling out a Taiwanese word, and I asked Dr Ben what she was saying to them.  “Tasty, tasty”, he said.

And so we found ourselves a bit later in a restaurant, with Dr Ben ordering the long-promised ‘pig intestines’.  I eyed each dish warily, while telling myself it was just my mind.  Uni, after all, which I love, treads a fine line between vomit and sperm, but is absolutely delicious.
One dish, called ‘fly’s head’, could have been it – it looked like haggis with lots of scallions, turned out to be beef.  The next arrived surrounded in peppers, and I thought that was it, and prided myself that I could stomach it easily – it tasted just like chicken.  But this turned out to be chicken.

What with seafood soup and vegetables, I was fully full by the time the dreaded dish arrived – chili red and (sorry, Dr Ben) not looking like food.  I tried the intestines part, but the congealed pig’s blood, looking like old liver, was just too much.  “It’s against my religion,” I said.  “Oh, you have religion?”, he asked, interested.  “Not usually, but I just signed up,” I said, and declined as politely as I could.

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