soul mountain


  gao xingjian

  translation by mabel lee

  chapter one

  the old bus is a city reject. after shaking in it for twelve hours on the potholed highway since early morning you arrive in this mountain county town in the south.

  in the bus station littered with ice-lollipop papers and sugar cane scraps, you stand with your backpack and a bag and look around for a while.

  people are getting off the bus or walking past, men humping sacks and women carrying babies. a crowd of youths, unhampered by sacks or baskets, have their hands free. they take sunflower seeds out of their pockets, toss them one at a time into their mouths and spit out the shells. with a loud crack the kernels are expertly eaten. to be leisurely and carefree is endemic to the place. they are locals and life has made them like this, they have been here for many generations and you wouldn’t need to go looking anywhere else for them. the earliest to leave the place, of course at the time this bus station didn’t exist and probably there weren’t any buses, travelled by river in the black canopy boats and overland in hired carts or by foot if they didn’t have the money. nowadays, as long as they are still able to travel they flock back home, even from the other side of the pacific, arriving in cars or big air-conditioned coaches. the rich, the famous, and the nothing in particular all hurry back because they are getting old. after all, who doesn’t love the home of their ancestors? of course they don’t intend to stay so they walk around looking relaxed, talking and laughing loudly, and effusing fondness and affection for the place. here, when friends meet they don’t just give a nod or a handshake in the meaningless ritual of city people, they shout the person’s name or thump him on the back. hugging is also common but not for women, who don’t do this. by the cement trough where the buses are washed, two young women hold hands as they chat. the women here have lovely voices and you can’t help taking a second look. the one with her back to you is wearing an indigo-print head scarf. this type of scarf, and how it’s tied, dates back many generations but is seldom seen nowadays. you find yourself walking towards them. the scarf is tied under her chin and the two ends point up. she has a beautiful face. her features are delicate, so is her slim body. you pass close by them. they have been holding hands all this time, both have red coarse hands and strong fingers. both are probably recent brides back seeing relatives and friends, or visiting parents. here, the word xifu means one’s own daughter-in-law and using it like rustic northerners to refer to any young married woman will immediately incur angry abuse. on the other hand, a married woman calls her own husband laogong yet your laogong, and my laogong are also used. people here speak with a unique intonation even though they are descendants of the same legendary emperors and are of the same culture and race.

  you yourself can’t explain why you’re here. it happened that you were on a train and this person mentioned a place called lingshan. he was sitting opposite and your cup was next to his. as the train moved, the lids on the cups clattered against one another. if the lids kept on clattering or clattered and then stopped, that would have been the end of it. however, whenever you and he were about to separate the cups, the clattering would stop, and as soon as you and he looked away the clattering would start again. he and you reached out, but again the clattering stopped. the two of you laughed at the same instant, put the cups well apart, and started a conversation. you ask him where he is going.



  "lingshan, ling meaning spirit or soul, and shan meaning mountain."

  you’ve been to lots of places, visited lots of famous mountains, but have never heard of this place.

  your friend opposite has closed his eyes and is dozing. like anyone else, you can’t help being curious and naturally want to know which famous places you’ve missed on your travels. also, you like doing things properly and it’s annoying that there’s a place you haven’t even heard about. you ask him about the location of lingshan.

  "at the source of the you river," he says opening his eyes.

  you don’t know this you river, either, but are embarrassed about asking and give an ambiguous nod which can mean either "i see, thanks" or "oh, i know the place." this satisfies your desire for superiority but not your curiosity. after a while you ask how to get there and the route up the mountain.

  "take the train to wu..(本章未完,请进入下一节继续阅读)..

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