magical moments

Loud music from a wedding down the street kept me up way past midnight.

Woke up to another bright sunny day. The taxi mini-van I got on must have violated some rules, the traffic police beeped and horned at the poor driver, eventually got ahold of his license. He was let go evenutally, but without his license.

Ah-che wasn’t home. He said yesterday he was to do some work in the field before coming home to finish the rest of the lute. The wife and three kids were in though, finishing up their morning meal by the fire. They too left for the field, leaving me home to wait.

While I waited, Ah-che’s son rose from his sleep. He greeted me lightly, speaking perfect Mandarin. In a way, he represented the generation that rejected their own tradition. He talked on his cell phone by the door, which gave me a nice shot to make the point. Soon he left for the city. He said he drove a taxi. Driving here is considered a modern, advanced skill.

I waited some more before Ah-Che came back with his crossbows. Field work was too much, leaving no time for bird hunting. We chatted while he cooked lunch. The wife and the kids soon came back with baskets of bean stalks for the pigs, one big female and two cute little new-borns.

We returned to the workshop right above the pig pen after lunch. Some more chipping, fillings, polishing and it was time to add a cover soundboard. A piece was already handy, he just needed to cut it to fit the rest of the body.

What a process that is. The main body was shaved off to fit the thin cover board. The binding was done with a make-shift clamp made out of two random pieces of timber on the floor with a hemp string, and the application of only a little bit of glue, the only thing “modern” in the process. When the splint was disassembled, the remaining of the cover piece cut off, the lute polished, carefully marked at the neck and the body, then Ah-che took it down by the fire. With little hesitation, he inserted a thin piece of red-hot steel rod into a marked dot on the neck, followed by a thicker rod. Once the neck was done, the process moved to the cover. Everytime a fresh rod was inserted, Ah-che’s face disappeared behind the smoke. Knife and fire, the transformers in these mountain people’s life.

The newly formed lute was taken upstair again for more polishing. And out of my total surprise, Ah-che looked around and landed his sight on a piece of bamboo and cut a big piece off. The big piece was sliced into smaller ones, and he began shaping them into little pegs. Gosh that’s just amazing. Bamboo is the strongest material people have available in these mountains. And just like that, four bamboo pegs were done and fitted into the pegbox. Adding another little bamboo piece for the bridge, untwisted a steel cable of multiple strands, and Ah-Che was ready to thread the lute.

I watched amazed. Threading, peg twisting, and first pitch of sound came from the used-to-be a piece of hardwood. More tension, more tuning, and the music started. That’s just awesome, freaking awesome.

While Ah-Che played to the mountain sunset in apparant delight, the little girl climbed up the workshop and sat by his side, listened quietly. I couldn’t ask for more.

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