(note: This is another one of those “If you can’t read Chinese, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the nuances of the language” pieces. There are footnotes at the end to help with some of that.)
As they say: May the sons become dragons, may the daughters become phoenixes. But when they are ready to spread their wings to take flight, and that their journeys will inevitably disappoint those who heaped hopes on them, what then?
After a lifetime of antagonism, with a heart full of burning anger/passion, it is time to leave.
“I have to leave this place,” the son says.
“Why?” asked the elder, “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks vulnerability, instability, discontent, and misfortune. How about you don’t go?”1
“That’s impossible. And I can’t.”2
“Then where can you go?”
“To the West for sutras: experience, feasts.3 Any place is better than this.”
“Sutras? More like shock.4 Fawner of all things foreign, you will return eventually.”
Unheeding of advice, leaving behind a lifetime of friends, a lifetime of convenience, with the barest of necessities he departed. Silently, he said, “Hark, no matter your lack of confidence, even if I were to triumph or die, with my feet I carve this journey of my own choice.” And like that, without even taking an umbrella, he stepped out, believing that the fire that burns inside him will light him through the darkness of his journey.
The son who is yet to be a dragon is unable to fly on his own, thus he takes an aeroplane on his journey to the West. But what he did not envision was how wet the rain on his journey would be.
At first, the rain was imperceptible — the occasional raindrops, what does it matter? With a heart free of lead and each step on a Somersault Cloud, the wetness of the fine drizzle was stayed by the True Samadhi Fire5 carried within, keeping him warm and dry.
Before long, the drizzle turned into a downpour. The water flowers that drifted down from the heavens earlier turned into piercing arrows, pouring down in torrents. Halfway into the journey, the sight of the beginning is lost, the sight of the goal is lost; is the way lost? The clothing sticks to the skin, becoming armour no longer, and has let the rain pierce the skin, the heart. Slowly, pieces of sharp arrowheads erode the confidence to ash6, leaving behind conceit and pride.
“Is this all worth it?” the son begins to wonder, and the seeds of doubt planted by the elder, watered by the rain, begin to germinate. “Can I still carry on?”
The imps, spirits, demons and monsters encountered along the journey are from within, not without. The battle is in the mind, and the slain demons are scattered everywhere.
The Spirit of Self Doubt hefted its blade, “The optimism you held in the beginning was folly.”
The Demon King of Self-Blame joins the fray. “Were you not so obstinate, you would not have landed yourself in this quarry.”
The Monster of Despair sang softly, softly, “All ambition borne of fantasy is but emptiness.”
And as the battle rages on, I stand on the outside, being drenched in the rain.
1: “危在外多，个个角落藏着不安，不定，不满，不幸。不如不走如何。” “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks vulnerability, instability, discontent, and misfortune. How about you don’t go?” — There is stylistic repetition using the ‘not’ character in the Chinese text, 不, which is lost in translation. A stylistic translation would go: “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks not-safety, not-stability, not-contentment, not-fortune. Not-about not-go?” 不如不走 in the last part also uses the ‘not’ character, but translates as “How about you don’t go?”
2: “不行。我不能。” “That’s impossible. And I can’t.” — Similarly, it continues the usage of the ‘not’ character in response. A stylistic translation would go: “Not-possible. I am not-able.”
3: “去西取经：经验，精宴。” “To the West for sutras: experience, feasts.” — This is a play on and repetition of sounds. The romanisation would be “Qù xī qǔ jīng: jīng yàn, jīng yàn.” The sound for sutra shares the same sound as the first character of experience, and the first character of the compound word, exquisite (jīng). The purpose for highlighting this repetition become apparent in the next point.
4: “取经？取惊还差不多吧。” “Sutras? More like shock.” — A pun on the sound for sutra 经 (jīng), which is the same sound as shock 惊 (jīng).
5: Somersault Cloud and True Samadhi Fire is an artefact and a weapon in the Chinese classic, Journey to the West.
6: 渐渐，尖尖的箭尖把自信化成灰 Slowly, sharp arrowheads turn confidence to ash — This phrase is a brutal repetition of the sound “jian,” varying only its tones. The romanisation goes: “jiàn jiàn jiān jiān de jiàn jiān bǎ zì xìn huà chéng huī.” This utilises the sharp sounds of “j” to evoke the imagery of piercing.