With lunch still settling in our bellies I came back to the nail city with my friend. We headed into the biggest market where the orders for eviction pasted on walls, were as bold as the noon sun, but completely invisible as people passed them by, headed to work, headed to eat, or headed to spend time with their friends in the open spaces created in the ruins of the old world. They walked through this post-apocalyptic landscape where fruit vendors sold from cleaved buildings, and rusted rebar ran into the sky, casting soft bars of shade over the women as they fan themselves in the sunlight.
I sat down beside Nai Nai, decades of precision showed as she sculpted a perfect work of art, an origami bowl of gold. She tossed it into a trash bag half full of them “What are you doing Nai Nai?”
She looked at me, her pupils dilating. She nodded recognition but kept staring. A minute went by before she realized that I knew little of her culture. She nodded “these are for my parents, and their parents, I’m sending these to them.”
In much of East Asia people fold paper, to create symbols, symbols of silver and gold, houses and phones, cloth and cars, then they ignite these effulges and the fire and smoke carry them up to their ancestors. It’s fun to do, its tradition, and while I don’t think my ancestors receive the paper gifts, I enjoy sharing culture and community.
Women sat beside Nai Nai, folding golden papers with perfect timing, organic machines evolved from practice. Their gray hair swinging rhythmically.
“Nai Nai, when can we speak?”
“Where are my photos, you said you would bring a copy”.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot.”
She handed me a piece of paper “fold”.
I took the paper. I watched, her fingers sliding over it, folding the corners, folding in halves, in thirds. I copied, my fingers racing to keep up, rushing through the motions. She took her flat folded paper and blew into it. It ballooned up, a three dimensional symbol of prosperity. I blew into mine. Like a snake, my paper hissed back. I blew again, stronger than before, the paper growled back in resistance. She snatched it from me, dissected it, and with surgical precision healed the grievous wounds I had created. She handed it back to me.
I blew into it. It popped up and expanded into the beautiful figure it should be. I tossed it into the growing pile. Nai Nai handed me another one. I folded it into a simple work of art that would trill any child. She accepted it and threw in into the pile.
I folded and folded, one after another, learning without speaking her tradition, her life her culture. The trash bag grew, and when it could fit no more they tied it up, put it aside and opened a new one.
My hands tired, but I folded more. I ignoring Nai Nai’s pattern’s, her history, her culture, and drew from my own. Halves, edges, deep creases, years of experience flowing from my hands. I handed it to Nai Nai.
She took it, and held it into the sunlight, the sunlight skipping off the golden wings “What is it?”
“An airplane”. I said as I took it. I jetted it vertically into the air. It sliced up and floated back down.
“Why would your ancestors need an airplane?”
Left without words, but much to ask I sat silently as she devoured my plane transforming the wings and body into the standard golden bowl and tossed it into the bag. “If you want to speak with me about life here, we can do it in my home tomorrow.”
I nodded. “See you tomorrow”
“Don’t forget my photos.”
Tags:Health & Environment Travel Expat Tales
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