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A Traveler's Dream

Trans. by Ronald Egan

[ "Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series," No. 1, August 1996, pp.54-57.] Santa Barbara : Forum for the Study of World Literature in Chinese, the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center.

Just give me a home to which I can never return. A travel is someone fated to attain identity in the midst of his drifting. Wind and snow, bright sun, hailstorms, and cold rain, not to mention the dirt on his hair or the tears at the corners of his eyes. A travel's dream--perhaps it is only a home. But it is a home he can never return to once he wakes up.

Every tree trunk contains the homes of insects, every leaf can be the nest of dew drops. Every road has the the shoe prints of travelers, or perhaps the prints of their feet. But
the trail of each shoe print or footprint is eventually covered and obliterated by the wind and dust.

To be called a "traveler" one can only go forward all alone.

Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu In the fifth month of the year 765 in the Western calendar, the Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu resigned his post and departed from his thatched hut in Ch'eng-tu. There was no rain or snow, but rain and snow were falling inside his frustrated and troubled heart. Travelers have always been the same, regardless of their historical time or where they come from:
the same frame of mind recurs in them. As Tu Fu boarded his boat and sailed eastward down the Yangtze, nightfall was soon upon him.

Night fell on that land of the Great T'ang dynasty in 765. The empire at the time was not known as "China," and Tu Fu at the time was a poet who had resigned his post and took no interest in politics.

Night fell on the two banks of the Yangtze, swept by light breezes, and fell as well on the mast of Tu Fu's small boat. Tu Fu was like a tiny stem of grass, his mind sharp and fragile. Power and fame-- the two biggest plums for humankind-- he had formerly possessed, but now he had abandoned them. Along the road a traveler plucks flowers and grasses, but finally the flowers wilt and the grasses wither, so that all that is left besides him is the natural scenery.

Stars hang distantly over the level plain,
The moon bobs jn the flow of the grand river.

Sea gulls are said to be the special favorites of travelers.

From a positive perspective, as he looks at a sea gull flapping its wings between the deep blue sky and the deep blue water, the traveler can appreciate its freedom from all
restraint and confinement, its freedom and self-attainment.

Viewed from a negative perspective, the sea gull has no eaves of its own and no inch of its own ground. Its flight carries it into empty air, and when it alights it is upon a lone sail. It searches for fish to eat and its drawn-out cry elicits no echoing answer. The traveler himself is like this. Behind his freedom lies loneliness; his self-attainment gives way in a moment to emptiness.

Fluttering about, what do I resemble?
A lone sand gull, drifting between heaven and earth.

Actually, all those people who do have a slab of tile or inch of land where they may take refuge are travelers themselves. Their slab of tile is borrowed, and their inch of land is leased. Their entire life is something acquired on credit.

At each stage of the seasonal cycle, flowers bloom and flowers wither. Sometimes it is a natural process of fading and regeneration. Sometimes the plants are snapped off by some irresistible external force.

In every month people are born, age, fall sick, and die. Sometimes the causes are clear and known long in advance, and other times what happens is completely unexpected.

Even if a traveler has his piece of land he must keep on the move. Even if he has a home he cannot remain peacefully there.

From this home to another home, from this plot of land to another plot of land, from this friend to another friend, from this livelihood to another livelihood, from this status to another status.

Every person is in the act of traveling every minute and every second. Every person is a traveler.

Some people love the strange and unfamiliar. Unfamiliar countries, unfamiliar landscapes, unfamiliar feelings, and unfamiliar peoples.

In fact, the unfamiliar is also a dream. Things that are well-known and familiar to us do not, because they are familiar, touch us and move our feelings. The unfamiliar, on the other hand, readily gives rise to dreams.

The streets of Tokyo, the streets of Paris, the shore of the Persian Gulf, or even the basin of Turfan. Some unfamiliar sights you will probably only experience once in a lifetime. Some unfamiliar faces you will also likely only get to see a single time. In the mind of a traveler, too much dust and sand accumulates. All those unfamiliar sights eventually become just like so much fine sand. In the end, these unfamiliar things, as different as they may be, take on a single hue.

It is at such a time, and only then, that the familiar reveals its special nature. Hometown, homeland, old friends, wife and children- these are things we never forget. No matter how we wander, their faces are always vivid in our minds. The truly unfamiliar, when clearly understood, is the familiar.

Traveling in history is another kind of traveler's dream.

History, however, is regularly a fictitious creation. Different dynasties construct different historical viewpoints, and different countries each write their own version of history. Clan genealogies are one kind of historical writing that is relatively free from fictionality. Yet in these massive compilations of ancestors' names, apart from the transmission of the bloodline, no other meaning exists. Fiction, sometimes, is the origin of meaning. So long as you believe that it is not a fiction, meaning will exist there for you.

Fiction is the essence of history. Fiction is also the reason the traveler himself has an ongoing existence. In fictional dreams, the traveler exerts the energy of his whole life pursuing and searching, all to prove that his fictional dream is a fictional reality.

Yet although the so-called reality exists in the reality that has already come into being, it does not exist in the human consciousness that is associated with that reality.

Consciousness and reality exist in ways that are fundamentally antithetical to each other. Consider separate travelers: although the scene they pass through and the season they do so may be the same, each traveler will have his own interpretation. The scenery does not talk, and yet different travelers will give it different narratives. The scenery drifts away in the different consciousnesses.

Obviously, scenery and reality both have an ongoing existence, but in one's consciousness it is just as obvious that they have no ongoing existence. The Bodhidarma originally had no tree, and the Bright Mirror is not a tower.

Reality, in the traveler's mind, is just lies and dreams transformed and rationalized into scenery.

This is even more the case with the realities perceived in political struggles and media news.

In the process of traveling, a traveler comes to understand that his existence is founded on his dreams, which have none. Everything he acquires is the start of a new loss, everything he comprehends is the start of a new disappointment; every footprint that he makes in his deliberate progress forward is an outward trace of his inner feelings of retreat and apprehension. The so-called "going against the traveler" (i.e., hostel) refers to this.

A traveler has a dream, but it is a dream that will never be fully formed. Because form itself has no ongoing existence. All forms are simply constructions made of various dots and lines, and dots and lines themselves are empty.

Emptiness, that is what the traveler truly possesses.

[First published in "Jen-chien fu-k'an" (Human World Supplement), Chung-kuo shih-pao (China Times), November 28, 1993.]









































First published: July 3,1998   Copyright 2009 Xiang Yang. All Rights Reserved