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Manoa 17.1 (2005) 138-171

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Blood Ties

Grandpa's long legs once again appeared before my eyes.

His long legs swaying, his arms—as thin and long as his legs—swinging, Grandpa strode into the wheat fields of my native homeland. It was a desolate and lonely image, and I can remember only what he looked like when he had become an old man: a gaunt figure striding between fields of broad beans and wheat. I see him passing time after time through the scenery, the houses, and the clan graveyards of the native place, carrying with him the scent of broad-bean flowers that were just opening. He seemed to be searching in vain for something he had lost long ago. All of this held within it a complete and profound feeling of beauty.

But Grandpa walked tirelessly, as if his only goal was to remain obstinately independent, outside this sense of beauty, and to separate himself from the world.

The impression of this tall old man with a stern expression and fastidiously neat beard was, without the slightest doubt, that of a guest: a lonely and unreasonable guest who didn't know where to go to return home.

The area I'm describing is administratively part of Sichuan Province, but in its customs and in its heart, it belongs to Tibet. In other words, it is a mountain hamlet inhabited by Tibetans. This hamlet is my home, but it isn't Grandpa's native place.

Grandpa is Chinese.

I am this Chinese grandpa's Tibetan grandson.

The Tibetan name Father gave me is Dorje. Before I was named, it is said that Grandpa had not yet become eccentric. People in the family knew nothing of his past. They all thought he was just naturally meek—and that he liked silence. He was so silent that at first he didn't even express an opinion on the important matter of naming his grandson. It was only when I began to learn to talk—ah, oh—and talked more every day that Grandpa also began to talk more often.

"It seemed," Grandma said to Grandpa many years later, "that you were born all over again with Dorje. You talked more, and your disposition also changed." When she said this to him, I was already grown up and they were very old—not merely old but extremely old. Grandpa's eyes were so [End Page 138] clouded that they no longer seemed like eyes. For her part, Grandma became more and more childlike; even her voice sounded like a child's.

It was the height of summer. Wherever I went, no matter how densely crowded it was, now I could suddenly see the light. The landscape of my native place opened up abruptly: the forests and mountains, the river valley, the hamlet shaded by a huge walnut tree. At the entrance to the village was a solid stone table. Carved on a rough stone wall was an enormous cow's head and the omnipotent three Buddhist treasures. Our family sat in the middle of the courtyard at high noon, and enjoyed the sunshine and tea. Gadflies and wild bees sang their buzzing songs amid the luxuriant flowers and grasses. One hybrid family gathered in an unusually purebred manner. I wasn't among them. The four generations were missing only me. But I saw the entire scene more clearly than the people who were placed in it. Grandma had been beautiful in her prime, but now in her old age, the skin of her face simply wrapped around the bones. Her forehead glistened like ebony. And Grandpa's lanky body seemed to be shrinking with each passing day. His head rose above the crinkled wool piled around his neck. For everyone gathered there, life was quiet, and the sour taste of barley alcohol and the sweet taste of yogurt brought a feeling of well-being to these people. In the courtyard, golden-yellow flowers were in full bloom. But I, the one far away, was making this family unhappy. This is why Grandma thought...