Okinawa’s winter was easy. On a day in early December, it was just about 68 Fahrenheit. Kinjo-san was feeling much better. Ever since the castle fire, she wore a visible layer of sadness. Nevertheless, she carried on with life. Unexpectedly, or perhaps expectedly, after exploring the Chinese world as deeply as I could, my initial spontaneous sprint out of it has me exploring a world, a culture at the peripheral of it, so deeply intertwined and influenced by the Chinese, yet so uniquely independent of it.
I was impelled to travel to seek something. As a Singaporean Chinese, I was brought up to speak communicable Chinese and held customs and beliefs from the Chinese system. Yet, I knew very little of the Chinese, or should I say, I did not know deeply and consciously the shape and texture of the bones beneath my yellowish skin and deep black hair. It never really did bother me, though I was acutely aware of it as I grew older until I finished school.
Yet, there was this restlessness, this gaping hole that appeared one day, and I felt it more and more as time passed. I could not point my finger to it until my grandmother passed on one day, and I dreamt of her younger self waving goodbye to me. She wore a white cotton qipao, and uncannily, like how I used to wear my hair at her age, she had her fringe pinned up to the side. She looked at me. I looked like her. That semblance of our youths was striking, even in a blurry dream state. When I woke up, I was crying. I knew then I was a descendent of those who have left their ancestral birth grounds to form floating diasporas that dot our world. I knew then that I had two umbilical cords. I knew one well, but I barely knew the other, and I had to seek it out, my subconscious umbilical cord, the in my blood past.
And so, I packed a bag and left home. I started in Beijing and went through all the major cities and sites in the Chinese world until I could tell apart from one Chinese to another. Along the way, I met many interesting people traveling through China. Some traveled to seek regardless of nationality or ethnicity, while others traveled to flee from something back home. Many traveled to both seek and flee.
I was physically and emotionally exhausted when I reached Xiamen, Fujian. I got on a ferry to Gulangyu, a quaint island off the coast of Xiamen, and stayed quiet there for a couple of weeks.It was time to leave China and explore somewhere new. Yet, after almost half a year in Okinawa, I finally learned that I have not really left the Chinese world after all.
One day, Kinjo-san chanced upon me, cleaning the tiny photo frame with a painting of a woman in a faded pink hanfu, and said, almost carelessly, “That’s the Moon Princess from China.”
I beckoned her to tell me more. Kinjo-san sat next to me and took the tiny photo frame in her hand; she tugged a small latch and opened the bi-fold frame to reveal a hidden painting of the Moon Princess in a hibiscus red and orange flowery patterned ryusou. She had her hair bunned up like the shape of a spiral shell, fastened from the back to the front with a long gold hairpin. She looked dignified and solemn with her half-smiling expression.
Kinjo-san continued, “There was a war, and her dynasty fell. With the help of magical creatures and the flaming pearl, she fled China and came here. My grandmother used to tell me because we are her children, we will forever be blessed by her and the flaming pearl to live long and winkled.”