Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mount Wutai / 五台山

攝於五台山‧菩薩頂 / photo taken at Pusa Ding, Wutai Mount


During the past two weeks, I took a trip to Shanxi, China. After coming home, I've been trying to recuperate. I wonder if it's because I haven't had traveled for long. I still feel dizzy, unable to find my way back into the daily routines. 


   It was a very exhausting yet enriching trip. Among the places we visited, my favorite tourist spot is Wutai Mount, one of the four Buddhist meccas in China. Though my students were bored by the temples in the end, the longer I stayed, the calmer I felt. I guess I won't forget that day in the mountains even as my memory of the trip fades in a few years. 

攝於顯通寺‧五台山 / photos taken at Xiantong Temple, Wutai Mount 

攝於塔院寺‧五台山 / photo taken at Tayuan Temple, Mount Wutai 


   We came across a very peaceful-looking monk in Ta-yuan Temple, who hails from Lhasa in Tibet to worship the gods. We literally fought to take photos with him and asked for his autographs. I couldn't help recalling a quote from my Thai teacher, Helen: There is nothing admirable about stars since they inherit their beautiful appearance from their parents. I'd choose to be a groupie of a highly spiritual monk because it takes a lot of personal effort to achieve the goal. I have to admit at that moment we were really crazy for him! 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Stories in TAI / 植標館裡的故事


Some of the Yellow Palm seeds planted two weeks ago keep growing, while the Ivorywood seed cultivated at the same time died. Life comes and goes in a quiet manner in TAI Herbarium. 


   I seem to be rooted to the seat facing the entrance. Last week I decided to keep a sketchbook somewhere in the herbarium. This week I bring with me a set of watercolors and brushes, secretly believing I can keep them in the same locker as well. One of the senior colleagues notice my attempt. She teases me, "You have more and more stuff with you!" Some people take me as the receptionist, and if they happen to be curious about my drawings, we will have a small chat. 


   I don't really know everyone well, but there are some people who warm up to me pretty soon, one of whom is a very nice elderly lady Jane. When she first met me a few weeks ago, she said, "I envy you for still having a lot of time to learn here. I don't know how much time I still have." This week before she leaves, we have such a good time chatting that I decide to share with her what I learned earlier the same day. We even walk out to the garden to take a look at the Rose Wood in the outdoor garden. I can deeply feel her joy of learning and the simple and sincere personalities. 


   Even if I don't raise my head, I can judge who's in my sight based on my limited vision. Also, my hearing becomes keener. At one point, a professor runs out of the herbarium, and then he comes in with a visitor. Next he introduces her to a senior volunteer in a tone full of joy: This is my elder sister. Though I have seen the professor's face, it is hard to imagine him introducing a family member in such a sunny way. 


   Before leaving, I get to hear the second half of the story. The elder sister suffered from a serious illness, but fortunately she made a miraculous recovery. Now she is interested in being a voluntary worker in the herbarium too. 


   On my way home, I can't help thinking back on these stories, whether silent or loud. I realize that my life, though trivial, is a very huge blessing. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

You are so hardworking! / 你好認真!


I promised to draw a story for Von this past summer, so I am spending every free minute I have on it. The four-year-old Kai still hasn't gone to school, so while Von is buried in homework, he often seeks for my company. One evening when I am working on the story, he makes a heartfelt remark: You are so hardworking! I feel like that there is finally someone who really understands how I feel. I turn to him and reply, "YES, I AM!"


   It takes imagination to brainstorm in the beginning of writing a picture book, but when I get down to drawing a series of images, it requires willpower, rationality, and perfectionism. I read about the famous Taiwanese picture book artist Chen Chih-yuan yesterday. Accomplished as he is now, he produces a picture book a year on average. This is a process that is constantly testing me for if I do not feel balanced, I can't draw well. 


   Despite all odds, I think I can. 

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Why do we need illustration? / 插畫的必要性

腎蕨 / Tuberous Sword Fern


Drawing a plant isn't hard, even for someone like me who's not known for being precise when it comes to drawing. I might not get the hang of it right away, but practice makes perfect. However, Guei-mei gives me a tremendous challenge this time. She comes in with the Tuberous Sword Fern from the garden. After explaining to me every part, she leads me to a huge poster on which the whole development process is illustrated. Then she announces to me: I hope you can draw the same thing for the Tuberous Sword Fern. Because many images can be seen only with the help of the microscope, we struggle hard with the apparatus. Yet we can only see as much as spores.


   Meanwhile another colleague can't help joining our conversation. She asks: Why do you need drawings? Isn't it easier to take photos? I can't agree more since I look for images of plants online on a daily basis. Guei-mei responds: I love drawings. People used to do that too. "That's because cameras were not available!" Much as I love illustration, I can't come up with a decent reason either. Still, the task has been given, and I'll take it. 


   When I draw to such a point that I feel like evaporating, the designer for the new exhibition room walks out, asking me if the herbarium hired me to draw. Then he hits upon a brilliant idea of letting me draw the poster for the promotion. Before he leaves, he gives me the answer I was looking for: It feels idiosyncratic. It is then I realize why we need illustration. Photography can be used in scientific research, but illustration can be applied to design. Besides, for some people, illustration serves as a means to lead them into the world of plants, which I believe, is a rather wonderful beginning point. 


   In TAI Herbarium, there are surprises in store for me every day. 

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Autumn / 秋天裡做什麼?


   Kai has drawn three postcards for me in the morning; still, he hasn't had enough of it. So I come up with a new strategy by giving him a topic--draw your drawing at home on a rainy day. Since I triple the  number of brownie points, he is tempted to take the challenge. 


   I think Kai can do a better job, so I coax him into embellishing the image. 


   After the collage, we turn the picture into a poetic rainy day. 


   The topic for Von is: Taking a walk in the woods in autumn. He seems highly motivated. 


   As he goes away, I add an acrylic touch and some more collage. Meanwhile, Kai is all worked up, fighting to help his elder brother. 


   This is how an autumn day without any typhoon looks, full of light and breeze. 


   Or it's a good idea to go for a warm walk! 

I love TAI & THAI

象牙木種子/ the seed of Ivorywood


My colleagues in TAI Herbarium are extremely nice to me. I do not mean the superficial politeness. Rather, they let me be. One day while I am working on making a specimen, Guei-mei suggests that I draw the growth of certain seeds. She thus grabs a stool for me to sit facing the door of the herbarium. It reminds me of my childhood whiling time away in my mom's office. 


   I have only a box of colored ballpoint pens of MUJI. Guei-mei offers some crayon-like markers and blank A4 paper. Suddenly I feel like being in the first class in Camberwell when we learn the observed drawing. I have to capture the essence of the object with a limited choice of art supplies. For the moment I truly forget that I am in the herbarium. Instead, I think I am in the studio in Camberwell and in my dorm. 

 黃椰子種子/ the seed of Yellow Palm


   To me, the year in London is more than eons away. Sometimes I do feel a very tiny dose of envy for my ex-classmates, who can spend all their time drawing. However, I take the time machine that afternoon and relive the wonderful moments. Meanwhile, this tells me that my current life is equally meaningful. I beam with so much joy that even a new colleague makes the remark: You are such a blessed person! 

        另外一件令我同樣開心的事是泰文課,因為每天都要看泰劇,這週年輕帥氣的老師不禁問我是不是有泰國友人,我想說我的朋友都是明星來著,不過還是忍住了。我的當下不是英國,但我有TAI 和THAI。

   Something else that pleases me is my Thai lesson. Since I watch Thai lakorns every day, this week my young and cute Thai teacher can't help asking if I have Thai friends for me to practice the language with. I swallow the urge to say, "Yeah, my friends are all big stars." My present is not the UK, but I have my beloved TAI Herbarium and the Thai language.