We were gathered round the tour guide by Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace. Besides the 30 odd of us in the tour, the popular tourist spot was filled with many tourists rubbing shoulders . As my eyes roved the place under some willow trees, my attention caught someone looking down the stone walkway. My first fleeting thought - that person was looking for something lost. Then, I caught a glimpse of something in his hand. Ok, he's a sweeper like the thousands that keep Beijing clean. Somehow, his stance said something more. My curiosity got the better of me . I moved away from the group to find out. Still stooped, he was taking slow steps backwards, writing Chinese characters on the pavement .
Picture this. Here was a calligrapher with a big brush made of sponge with a tip much like a Chinese paint brush in his right hand. The other hand held a recycled plastic container containing WATER and some newspaper in a small bag. As he dabbed his brush in water, he wrote some Chinese characters , one by one on the pavement. He hardly looked up as he expertly put the flourishes in the characters. Some people noticed him and like us, we avoided stepping on his calligraphy. Others never saw him nor his writings and walked over them. As he slowly moved away from his writings one by one, they slowly dried up in the late morning sun. Did he mind? He was unperturbed.
Yu Zun Cheng
Before time ran out to the call of our tour guide for the next 'pit stop', I had to find out more about our man with the brush. Mr Yu was very pleasant. He wrote his name in English and Chinese. Quickly I found out he hails from Dalian but now resides in Beijing. Thank goodness, he 's fluent in English. We knew he has the command of the English language at his fingertips too. As he heard us reading aloud, ' Madam I'm Adam', he said,' That's a palindrome' . Heard that word before but couldn't put the finger on it. Readily he pointed out that the words could be read backwards as forwards. Thanks, Mr Yu!
More questions for our calligrapher: How long have you been doing this? Do you not get backache doing this? What do you write? Mr Yu sportingly told us he's been writing verses on paper ever since he was about 9 years old. I think he said he's been doing pavement writing for about 5 years or so as a recreational outlet. Verses just flow out of his mind and make their watery imprints with much spontaneity. He used to work as a journalist but now he's retired. 'And the water is from Kunming Lake ,' he said with a smile. I couldn't help remarking,' You'll not run out of it!'
That chanced meeting with Mr Yu was a good start to our visit of the Summer Palace. He has already left an imprint on me. And he wasn't even selling anything . If anything, it was his charming ways of interacting with strangers - with an air of friendliness amidst the touristy bustle. Mr Yu, if you happen (unlikely!) to read this this, please excuse me if any bits of info is not quite right. It's not my memory that's not serving me . I put it to the noise around that distracted!! I'm just happy to tell the world about you and your unique pastime. I can see why seniors should not retire. Find something you're passionate about and do it!
Mr Yu, me, my friend, Maggie ( remember her? check out Maggie's Chinese Ink Art)