In his book To Let Go Or Not To Let Go, Chiang Hsun touched on the painting Travelers Among The Mountains And Streams by North Sung dynasty painter Fan Kuan, on display at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan.
From what I understand, many foreign artists are amazed by this masterpiece that depicts the grandeur of Chinese landscapes. I had the opportunity to see this painting myself in Taipei although I didn’t quite understand it at that time.
And now, after reading the chapter Woods in Chiang’s book, I realise that Fan Kuan’s painting is actually describing the universe and life, teaching the world how to confront cruel realities.
I love the way Chiang looks at this painting. He says the world is huge and immense but human existence is so insignificant, and our personal feelings immaterial. Indeed, I do concur with him that we should take things in stride and fearlessly face all the challenges that come our way.
A paragraph reads: “Some in our modern day world are still constantly burdened with all sorts of worldly preoccupations, leading their busy lives day after day. Just like the travellers in the painting, even though the road ahead appears wide, there is no breakthrough in their journey. They don’t see the sky above them, as they don’t even have time to lift their heads...”
Such an interpretation seems to reflect the extremely stressful living environment of some people. As a result, people keep grumbling and are perpetually frustrated. Indeed, in the vast expanse of space, human existence is too miniscule to be of any worth and therefore all our grumbling has become redundant and futile.
When we feel lost, we can always choose to face the eventualities boldly. We must learn to take things easy.
Looks like Fan Kuan’s painting can be interpreted in more ways than one!
I recently stepped into the age-old rainforest with a bunch of like-minded traveller friends to Kinabalu National Park in Sabah, Mulu Caves in Sarawak, and the forests and hills along the mighty Kinabatangan river (also in Sabah). Walking across the shallow creeks inside the thick virgin forest, listening to the flow of the river, every turn promises the exciting discovery of life in its crudest forms.
Walking in the gyrating shadows of tropical foliage, beneath us is mud and decayed branches, but over our heads are budding new leaves! As the ancient saying goes, the fallen leaves are not heartless objects, as they’ll turn into spring soil to nourish the flowering shrubs.
Additionally, wherever we go, we hear the insects hum and see butterflies flutter their wings along, some having only this couple of days in their entire lifetimes! Despite their brief existences, they struggle so hard to live their lives.
What a wonderful teacher Mother Nature is.
As for me, now standing under the tremendous pressures of real life, I have opted to change my angle and look at things from a different perspective. Am I ready to let go of something in the prevailing coronavirus pandemic?
As such, I need to be constantly on the move. Because of the virus, I find myself in Perak’s rustic fishing village Kuala Kurau, visiting the time-honoured Joo Hong Chan salted egg factory, and having intimate talks with its third generation owner Tan Swee Lee in our first ever meeting.
Tan and his wife have devoted their time to the preservation of rich traditional flavours that appeal tremendously to foodies. They even took the trouble to personally show us how to make salted eggs. Indeed, we did feel sentimental as if we were instantly transported back to granny’s house. As a matter of fact, superior craftsmanship has been in existence mostly outside of people’s knowledge in our midst.
But that’s not all. The creative “hor ka sai” coffee (a mix of local coffee and Milo) by the Kor Lau coffee shop brothers, the traditional chai koay, fish noodle, prawn fritters and other local delicacies from the street hawkers nearby, all have been inherited for generations.
Kuala Kurau’s sunset is truly mesmerising. I was sitting in a boat, listening to the captain’s neighbour’s stories about the fishing village. The sad thing is that the fattened siakap raised in the fish farms here have hardly any buyers at all.
Like me, I believe many people go on local tours only because they can’t travel abroad due to the microscopic germs. While the pandemic has hit so many of us hard, at least it gives us a unique opportunity to explore home destinations that are so near yet so far away. Do you know that you will not only discover whole new meanings of life, but also bring cheers and blessings to people you come across?
Life is like a circle. Stepping out of it is way better than locking up yourself up inside a cocoon of misery and endless grumbling. Don’t you agree?
So let’s momentarily put aside all the stuff that is bothering you now, and lift your head to gaze at the clear blue sky or just go on a short trip.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
Leesan, the founder of Apple Vacations, has travelled to 133 countries, six continents and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored two books.
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