Monday, June 17, 2013

A life long mystery - vacation in France - VII

June 8, 2013, Sat.  

At 8:30 am, we all got up and greeted Adalie and her mother Josee in the kitchen.  They were getting the table ready for breakfast.  Josee looks amazingly elegant in a burgundy cashmere dressing gown covering her toes.  Soon after that, the father of Adalie Joseph showed up.  He looks like someone has lived a comfortable life.  Both of them recently retired from a successful career as physicists: Joseph was a high-ranked director of a nuclear research institute and Josee was a professor at University of Marseille.  They joined us only for a cup of coffee since they had their breakfast earlier.

Soon the rest of the Rousset gang got up and our breakfast table expanded from 7 to 11 people.  Before we adults could come up a workable plan for the day, the kids already jumped in the heated pool at the backyard.  Well, they made our decision easy and had a blast climbing and falling off that big inflatable whale or Daddy's back.

After the pool, it's playing in the forest at deeper back yard.  Our host's property occupies half of a hill.  Taking advantage of the trees within, Rousset has built a full set of forts with 3 swing bridges with ropes and woods.  Kids need to first jump on suspended plank, crawl under the ropes to reach Burma rope bridge, then a suspension bridge, and finally to arrive their favorite zip line.  Need I say more about how much fun the kids has?

Following the adventures in the backyard rope funs, we hiked on the remaining part of the property, which extends to a wild area behind.  I was feeling like hiking in a state park, except there was no trial to follow, so we created our own paths.  Adalie's parents have many pine trees and bushes cut to reduce the risk of fires around the house.  Our little hiker were not too happy about the needles on those bushes because they gave them scratches all over their little legs, but they would not care so much if they saw beautiful flowers, even Niuniu picked many wild colorful ones for his Mommy.  The scents of wild lavender, thyme, and many other unknown named bushes really made it all worth our while!

A fun day did not end here, of course.  The locals took us to a Chinese restaurant in Aix-En-Provence.  I usually don't like Chinese food served at buffet tables, because I am from South of China where majority of the dishes are lightly cooked by hot steams or boiling water in order to keep the original taste of the raw material.  This type of food must be served as soon as it gets cooked and any delay would lead to a "leftover" taste that makes me to wish to go home for instant noodles.  This is exactly why at Chinese buffet tables you can only find mostly heavily sauced, overly cooked, and worst of all, deeply fried Northern Chinese food of the worst kind!  However, this one, my friends, is worth your life to check it out, because it's not pure Chinese, nor Vietnamese as claimed by their website.  It's truly a great fusion of Asian and French cuisine.  I personally enjoyed French appetizers and the dessert.  Take a look at my plate, do you even recognize those round dark red balls on the right side of the plate?  No?  They are called Yángméi (杨梅) meaning Yang berries.  They, are delicious and I had not even seen them for over 20 years!

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Le Thoronet Abbey, which is an hour drive away.  Based on the idea that castles are where Princesses live, Zhuzhu was quite excited.  Zhuzhu has been looking forward to meet princesses in real life. "In England, we can find real princesses, you know, Ma Ma."  She said.  "But this is France, dumbo, you won't find them here."  Finally after thousand rounds of running circles on the top of the castle, she forgot about the purpose of her visit.  We left the castle and had our picnic snack at the exit and drove back to Adalie's parents.

It's hard to get ourselves organized when it's indeed a weekend evening during our vacation time.  BTW, do you know it never gets dark here in France in summer evenings?  We really have a hard time to track times so that the kids can get in bed on time for their schools the next day when it is always bright outside.  Anyway, by the time we arrived home, it must have been 9 pm or even later.  The dinner was ready to serve.  We had two blended healthy soups, cream of zucchini and mint radish, as appetizers, duck breast steak as entree, which went perfectly with the Alexe Corton Cru 2009 that we brought, then cheeses of the local and the Burgundy (our gifts, one of them was Époisses), and finally Joses's signature chocolate mousse and fresh garden fruits for dessert.

Something about French food in France: the taste is much more impressive then the name of the dish that the "French" restaurants in the U.S. just cannot replicate to give a authentic taste - it's the food industry in the U.S. has messed up the taste buds of those who cannot afford locally grown food.     

Even though it must have been 11 pm or later and we should really put the kids to bed in order to enjoy the next day, we could not call it a day so fast.  Because right before we were done with stuffing ourselves with the deliciously sweet and juicy locally grown strawberries, Joseph brought his family heirloom to the table to show us.  It was an ancient cane that was given to him by his father who was given the cane by a Chinese officer, I was told.  The cane has a head made of ivory and a body made of bamboo.  There is a soldier carved on the ivory head and 6 Chinese characters and 3 carp fish carved on the body.  Joseph has been trying to understand what's the story behind the cane and why the Chinese officer gave the cane to his father.  He would like to see whether I, a well-educated researcher, could solve his life long puzzle.

Having been pre-conditioned that those letters were Chinese, I imagined that it would only take a minute to decode the ancient Chinese characters on the cane.  So happily I accepted the challenge.

Boy, a mistake was made.

I spent next 30 min. to examine the "Chinese" ancient cane.  "We Chinese love carp, not because they are delicious, because they symbolize strength and courage.  According to our Chinese legend, when 鲤鱼跳龙门 (Carp leaping over Dragon Gate), they can become powerful dragons.  The dragon gate is located at the narrowest spot of the yellow river and the dream there is the fastest and strongest."  I explained to Joseph confidently.  "What's led to the legend is that carps love swim against the stream."  Ignoring the science behind the fact that some fish migrate to reproduce, I continued, "In addition, carps represent family happiness as they like to jump out of the water to show their happiness.  Based on the carving art on the cane, I believe the cane wishes its owner a happy family." I did not stop my guesses.

My version of the story would have been intriguing although conventional if I could just based on what's been carved on the cane.  However, when I was asked to decode the characters, nothing I saw matched what I said: firstly, the 6 words were not exactly Chinese as some of them lack of few strokes; and secondly, even they were the Chinese that I could make out, the meaning of them would not match the story of the carving art.  I failed to see any links between the arts and the words.

A samurai
6 characters of Kanji, 1 signature seal stamp
3 carps or Koi
In the end, I made up multiple possibilities for each of the 6 characters.  I wrote them down on a paper.  In the mean time, I kept saying, "This does not make any sense, sorry, I really don't understand what these letters mean."  When it became clear that I could not come up with any satisfactory answers, Joseph showed me an email from a Japanese professor who has given another version of the story to him earlier.  Although I disagreed to the Japanese professor's explanations, he helped me to realize the cane is not from a Chinese officer, it must have been a Japanese one since the cane looks a lot like this one and those letters are Kanji.  Damn Japanese, when they adopted our Chinese characters, they did not even try to be faithful!  Do you know Kanji?  I call it Japanese-Chinese, but wikipedia calls it adopted logographic Chinese Characters.

Do you want to give it a try, my friends?

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