China: Time Upon Itself


HakkaThe sun-gold, silk dragon careens across the low, gray sky and like the circular Hakka home, time loops upon itself. Old drummers sit on stools no higher than our shins and bang their canvass drum heads while ash dangles from their cigarettes. The dance isn’t spectacular – in our high-tech world we’ve seen explosions and colors and sound bombard our senses – yes, we are a desensitized group. Even here in an ancient village, the iPhones light up palms and children ignore the songs while their fingers shoot another digital animal through another virtual reality. No – the dance isn’t spectacular, but for a moment the cadence of the drums and the whirling of the dragon take control, and as if in a trance, the world me around disappears.

The Hakka Homes are timeless; the soot-colored roofs and moss-lined rock pathways open up the body and announce their antiquity. It’s hard to walk on slick rock roads and the damp, dark tiles. Everything is backlit against the sky leaving an impression of light when your eyes move to focus. The hundreds of rooms are dizzying and I imagine ancient children playing hide-and-seek in the thousands of alcoves. Empty coffins line the highest storage spaces on the highest level of the village home and the musk from the abandoned rooms fills me with fear for a moment. A mother draws water from the well, the well reflects the sky – an endless beam of light. I watch her lower the wooden bucket into the stone cylinder and am surprised when I hear before I see the bucket hit the glass-sky-water.

Time stops and time loops in the Hakka village home. The well breaks my concentration and I’m brought back into this space, I circle the building. All of the history: the beauty of the things that have existed before me and the things that will continue after me whirr and bleed into sounds of text messages and television sets muffled behind closed rooms. I’m haunted in this cold, hollow edifice – the etched characters on the wall indicate a time when the well water may have been the only thing entering the body. The slogans are long-since painted over, but a careful eye can spot a hint at things unmentionable. And as that moment begins to bleed into this moment a little girl in a reflective, puffy, pink coat screeches in excitement as her father lights a stream of firecrackers.

After the Dragon Dance we pile into one of the freezing sections of the village home. The mothers and daughters steady themselves along the rock countertops and I watch the dark-haired women dance among their timeless duty. Someone lights the fire beneath the bathtub-sized wok, someone else slams a cleaver into the freshly killed, goldenrod-skinned chicken; someone else heats the water for tea (from an improvised electric tea kettle) and I stand in the boundary between kitchen and parlor where the men smoke, pour tea, and spit seeds. My position as guest renders me helpless and although I’m agile in the kitchen I’m shooed into the room with the men. The men find my presence uncomfortable and lower their voices in respect. My presence is a break in the rhythm, in the dance, in the endless loop of culture. Every room in the Hakka house is filled with an identical scene – the same smells of range smoke and cigarettes waft between the water-rot wooden corridors. The same hands smooth the skin of the chicken checking for feathers or blemishes. The same jokes are told by the same shy men. And here I stand on the threshold between their infinity, and my own.

About the Author: Rachelle Linda Escamilla is a poet/writer from California. Her work has been published internationally and she is a finalist for the Willow Books Literature Award. She currently writes for In The Red Magazine in Guangzhou, China where she also teaches and co-manages The Center for Creative Writing at Sun Yat-sen University.

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3 responses to “China: Time Upon Itself

  1. What a great world are presenting to me….The arts of words and the arts of the world. I am deeply impressed by Rachelle’s work and the person, as my professor and friend.

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