One year ago today on Round and Square (14 April 2011)—Beginnings: Mansfield Park
|[a] Temple Life RF|
|[b] Temple text RF|
Once in a while there is a detail (or set of them) that really gets a person thinking. It is not so much the way it is written as the things it calls to mind that is important. As the introduction to this series shows, there is plenty of time left for getting the wording right. The more important thing is to get the image onto "paper" so that further thinking (and analysis) can swim forward from there. That is what happened in this post, and it is not exactly what I thought it might "mean" at the time. Without specifically mentioning it here, I tapped into an interpretation that is "out there" in a way that I didn't really intend. That would be the preference for male children (it's hinted here) that predominates in the way that Westerners think about modern China. As I have written elsewhere, this has become a far more nuanced issue today than it was even twenty-five years ago. Still, one of the things I find interesting about this fieldnote is the (what I would regard as unintended) subtext plays upon preference for male children.
|[c] Temple round/square RF|
Today, that is not the issue. What matters is the detail, and the frustration of a certain male at the 送子殿 speaks details, if not volumes. That is the purpose of fieldnotes, from my perspective, and the reason I have posted a good deal of "drivel" in this series. The point is that we never know what is going to trigger work that could "take off." The other day, I posted a note that was particularly inept (in my view). It also triggered one of the most productive themes in my writing. This note seems to have the kind of detail that makes this "better" than the other note. My point is that we never know. This worked for me, but the "inept" one had much more scholarly power over the last two decades. You never know, so keep writing—anywhere (e-mail, Facebook, handwritten fieldnotes...anywhere).
Tudi cups (土地杯) are common at Chinese temples, and have a wide variety of applications. The various interpretations of "convex" and "concave" are legion, and Chinese almanacs usually only show one or two possibilities. This makes interpretation about a father and daughter at the (送子殿) "Sending Children" shrine much more fluid than the fieldnote itself reflects. I have spent the last twenty-five years studying the subtleties; I had no idea at the time.
2 February 1986
|[d] Request RF|
The most interesting shrine was the "sending children" one—送子殿. I watched for half an hour as parents came, dropped reddish, wooden ovals on the ground, picked them up, and left. If you want to request something from the gods, the method to follow is this (it’s different from buying a snake bladder): First, you need a pair of yin and yang-like ovals. One is concave, the other convex. Standing before the shrine, you silently make your request, then, from chest height, drop the ovals. With a loud, wooden click, they strike the ground and come to a rest. The idea is to get three consecutive fitted shapes in a row, one concave, the other convex (there are other configurations used in other divinations).
I saw two particularly interesting scenes at the shrine. The first was a young man and woman, about twenty-five or so, each with a set of red ovals. They stood on opposite sides of the shrine, dropping the ovals, picking them up, and dropping them again. Depending on whom you ask, you can drop the shapes as many times as you want until you get three in a row. Some people can’t quit. This couple continued for ten minutes, picked up their ovals, and left. Maybe they canceled each other out. Another man, holding his little girl by the hand, dropped two consecutive fitted pairs. On the third, he gripped his ovals, mumbled a few words in anticipation, and dropped them to the ground. One landed convex. The other bounced astray, also landing convex. His jugular pumping and nostrils flaring, he grasped his daughter’s hand and stomped away.
|[e] (Con)vexing RF|