A Traveler's Dream
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.
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
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
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
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
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,