Garden Update

I’ve spent the last two weeks translating in a tiny recording studio tucked into a heavily subdivided hutong (alley) here in the Beijing lake district called Hou Hai. The neighbours are curious about me and the tattooed collection of dreadlocked boys swarming about the mysterious blue door that regularly leaks grooves — new music — that has never before been made here in China.

The band that I’m working with is being lauded as the first official Chinese reggae band. A mixture of East and West, traditional instruments mixed with drum and bass, groove for days — a really fresh combination of sounds. [Coming from the intention behind LENTIC, I’m having a great time relating to the merging, in mirror image.]

One of the neighbours here is an old woman who stands about four and a half feet tall, her face lined with deep and complex stories, her legs thin like sticks poking out of pants that are too short. She stands outside her door every day eyeing us suspiciously and occasionally petting her tomato plants that sit in pots against the alley wall.

I decided to start smiling at her and when she finally noticed me noticing her, she broke into a ray of sunshine that I truly felt hit my skin, making the hairs on my arms dance. Now, every day regardless of weather, she greets me with a wave of her hand and a brilliant ray of light from her eyes and broken teeth.

Yesterday, I remarked on her tomato plants, which, like mine, don’t have any tomatoes yet despite their girth. She answered me, but in a dialect I couldn’t understand. There was an awkward moment that fluttered between us. Then the sunshine smile again. I nodded farewell and stepped back inside the blue door.

I wanted to tell her that my tomatoes are going crazy in my garden at home, but that I only see two little green ones despite the plants reaching wildly like dozens of skinny kid arms wanting to be picked up. I’m wondering if I’m too high up to attract the bees for pollination? Sixth floor rooftop balcony? Hhm… But then again, it may be because of the rainy weather we’ve had in Beijing this summer? Might be a combination of both issues…

In the end it doesn’t matter whether or not we can talk about tomatoes. She and I have the intention in common: growing food, greening the city, planting life. And as an elder in this community, to me, she embodies survival.

And how do we survive? We plant seeds.

And this summer, especially in a career sense, has been all about the planting of seeds for me. Growth on all sides (see “New Representation” above). No yield as of yet, but lots of potential.

That’s what LENTIC is for me: I’m investing in a new harvest, if you will.

But probably the most interesting seed that I’ve planted lately has been my connection with this current Chinese reggae project. The band is called “Long Shen Dao” (which means: Dragon.Spirit.Tao) and I helped them organize a producer to come from Canada who is doing an amazing job here recording their first project in true reggae form. I feel excited about the prospect of helping Chinese music emerge from China into Western ears, as does the producer: Dave Sturton , of Montreal. If you think China can’t redefine reggae, well, you’ll change your mind when this is done! What a colourful experience it has been… well symbolized by the blue door.

And when I emerge from that blue door and see the woman with the smile that makes my heart rattle my chest, I am reminded of why I’m here doing this:

Here she is, already a witness to so much growth for Chinese society in the last century, and she’s seeing (and hearing) yet another layer of this culture’s emergence onto the world stage. I feel honoured to be contributing energy to that reality. To be giving of my time, experience, language skills and, most importantly, my belief.

Just because.

Did I plant the tomatoes just so that there would be fruit? No. Did she? I doubt it. It’s about the investment. The planting. The hope.

Invest a little care and then anything we believe in will come to be, right? Eventually.

I’m believing in that. Seems like a solid plan.

Gardens are everywhere. Good luck with yours, in all their many forms.

– es

Styrofoam Ducks

©2024 Ember Swift. All Rights Reserved.
Design by Janine Stoll Media.