It was a clear crisp day in the Belgian capital as the morning rays entered an Art Nouveau apartment where special preparations were being made for a celebratory ceremony.
In this particular flat lived a small family of three; a Chinese father, a Belgian mother and their little son, who on this particular day was about to celebrate his first birthday.
A tang of excitement was in the air as the proper arrangements were set in place for a traditional Chinese custom. A tray was artfully covered by a beautiful red silk throw upon which a whole array of objects were carefully placed among gorgeous fresh flower blooms in anticipation for the activity.
This tradition is said to have originated long ago during the period of the Three Kingdoms. Due to the tragic loss of Sun Deng, prince of the Eastern Wu Kingdom and eldest son of emperor Sun Quan, there was left a question mark as to who would continue representing the royal lineage in the future. The emperor was left with the riddle of choosing one of his grandsons as an appropriate successor.
While pondering over this difficult issue a Wu citizen came to his aid by suggesting the placing of certain items, each symbolic of a character trait or future path, on a plate and then letting each grandchild pick out the ones which pleased him the most.
A brush pen, learned books, coins and food were among the many items on display.
One of the children, Sun Hao, grabbed a bamboo slip in his tiny grip and an imperial belt, symbolizing royal power, in his other hand. These two choices were both seen as fortuitous and later led him to become an emperor.
Taking a more contemporary approach the parents decided to include amongst the usual choices of stationery, an abacus and stamps more modern items such as CDs, a telephone
and a computer mouse to correlate with the more fashionable career choices of today.
After warmly greeting and receiving the incoming guests and relatives, the parents gathered everyone around the central arrangement to watch the little bundle of joy as he crawled around, curiously fondling each object, trying to decide which one amused him the most before settling on a book entitled “Chinese Influence On European Art”.
“Ah a scholar, how marvellous!” exclaimed the grandmother.
As he grew older, the little boy proved to have a cheerful disposition.
When asked by kindergarten teachers on his favourite kinds of dishes he would always gleefully proclaim, “Rice and French fries!”
He was also very inquisitive and pensive, asking his parents to explain the process or phenomena of this or that.
One of his favourite pastimes would be to gaze at all the intricate and wonderful curiosities kept in the display cabinets. There were colourful porcelains depicting ancient pastoral scenes and delicate silk fans. Often he would tug at the sleeve of his mother’s blouse to make inquiries or ask to sit on father’s lap while lapping up stories on how these beautiful creations were made, listening carefully to the mysteries and histories that lay behind these precious little works of craft and how they in turn influenced the Continent.
When the young son turned six his parents decided to go on a family trip to visit his paternal relatives in the East. Having seen such marvels as the Atomium, the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum the little boy couldn’t wait to witness the wonders of China.
Arriving by airplane in Beijing he was welcomed by the beauty of the Summer Palace and the impressive Great Wall while the next stop on the journey was metropolitan Shanghai.
There he was greeted by sights of the most fantastical and vertigo-inducing skyscrapers, that seemed like futuristic pagodas reaching up to the high heavens. These constructions nestled comfortably along the boardwalk together with colonial buildings under the glowing neon lights that pulsated with promise.
The brightness of which was matched only by the glints of eyes heralded by the prospect of new adventures and foreign exchanges.
The young boy’s pupils drank in dilation the changing sceneries and sights through the train carriage windows as the family made its way to Guilin on route to Kunming.
The city of Guilin was wrapped in sweet Osmanthus fragrance, with the river Li meandering through the landscape filled with magical hills, cones and peaks all in the most wondrous shapes. Arriving in Yunnan was like entering a hothouse full of tropical floral delights such as camellias and peonies. Greeted by his uncle, aunt and cousins the family were shown other delights such as the rice terraces, which gleamed under the skies of the setting sun like golden dragon scales.
Playing around the house with his cousins the little ingénue noticed something curious on the table, a vase filled with – tulips! How strange that flowers so intrinsically linked to the Low Countries and found in many a neighbour’s garden should be seen here. His aunt smiled and explained how a renowned Dutch horticultural company had set up shop in this region to supply the demand in Asia, while his mother remarked that such wonderful symbiotic changes are happening more frequently and that the future will hold more opportunities in store for connections between China and Europe. “People all over the Continent are starting to learn Mandarin now, taking up martial arts just as people here are taking up English classes and practice their soccer skills,” his father relayed. Everyone nodded in approving agreement.
When the small family had to bid their adieus to the relatives and depart to Europe, they left a little heavy-hearted, but full of warmth with the joys that their experience had brought on within their minds and souls. Promises were made to meet up again soon and with that the family of three departed whilst holding each other’s hands, with the young boy centre, linking the European Yin with Chinese Yang in perfect harmony.