Games With Friends

November 24, 2018, 07:53

Another month passes. He sits, now, in a polished wooden chair at an old desk in a room at an Inn at the edge of the village called Moganshan. It’s nicer than it sounds. But cold—there is no central heating in this part of Shanghai, only air conditioning that he knows will blow hot air because of the sun symbol on the remote. It should be snowing but it’s not that cold, and he’s told they don’t get much snow here anyways in Deqing or wherever they are. It took nearly four hours in an early-2000s model tour van driven by the now-past-middle-aged Chinese man who smoked a cigarette at the pit stop where all the foreigners stopped for the toilet and snacks. They all smoke cigarettes, unless of course they are married and their wives made them promise to quit. That’s Jie’s story, at least, but it’s likely true of others.

The lights are off. His coworker, Clay, snoozes in the bed in the room at the Inn at the edge of the village called Moganshan. Now the lights are on. Breakfast is in 20 minutes. He sips hot water from a baby blue Original ceramics mug that has on it a white rabbit and the word “dreams.” There is something dried and natural in the water but he’s not sure and it mostly just tastes water, not tea. He takes some pictures of the room so he won’t forget. Why write, then? To pass the time. Not for memory, certainly. He won’t remember this.

Breakfast is in 12 minutes. Last night they sat around a bonfire and played Mafia and Fishbowl. Serge, Jessie, Ethan, Ivy, Feng, Joe, Clay, and Frisky, Serge’s doggo. Before the bonfire, they ate Shao Kao (probably spelled differently) which is like shish-kebab barbeque over coals. It was mostly delicious along with the Chinese beer-water, fish ball soup, fried rice, fruit, and salad. He ate his fill, and his stomach bulged while his family did the same, miles away in Minnesota, celebrating a day of Thanks and Giving. He misses them, of course, but he will see them in less than a month when he flies to Portland for Christmas.


November 24, 2018, 13:48

This is the story of Moganshan. Once, long ago and certainly before this place was ever spotted with the sounds of construction, horns, and villas, a man loved a woman. The man, Gan Jiang, one of China’s most skilled swordsmiths, was ordered by Helu, the king of Wu, to forge a pair of swords. He and his wife, Mo Ye, set to work on the swords, but found that their furnace was not quite hot enough to melt the metal. Mo believed there was not enough qi—vital human energy, the air of life—in the furnace so, depending on the storyteller, they either cut their hair and nails, casting them into the flames, or they cast themselves into the flames as a sacrifice to make the furnace burn hotter.

In the former telling, the couple eventually produces swords good enough for the king, except that it takes them three years instead of three months as the king had commanded. The two swords are named after the couple: Ganjiang and Moye, male and female. They keep Ganjiang and give Moye to the king. The king, already upset, learns of their treachery and moves to have Gan Jiang killed. Before he can do so, Gan hides the male sword and leaves a message for his wife and unborn child about its location. The child is born, raised, and told the truth about his father. He seeks vengeance, but the king is warned in a dream of his coming. The king places a bounty on Chi, Gan’s son, and an assassin finds him. Taking pity on poor Chi, the assassin suggests that he surrender his head for the king, along with the formerly lost Ganjiang. If he does so, the assassin will take up the bounty and avenge Chi’s father. He does.

The assassin brings the severed head and legendary male sword to the king, who is overjoyed at their coming. But Chi’s head just stares and stares, making the king quite uncomfortable. The head is boiled and nothing changes; after 40 days there is no sign of decay or breakdown. The assassin convinces the king to stare back, thinking maybe the king’s power will cause it to decompose. The king bends over the cauldron, and the assassin makes his move, using Ganjiang to decapitate the king. His head falls into the water next to Chi’s, and the assassin resolves then to remove his own head as well. Three heads in a pot, flesh melting now that the deed is done and vengeance complete, only skulls remain. The guards cannot recognize whose head belongs to whom and decide the three men should be honored as kings for their bravery and loyalty. They are buried in the “Tomb of Three Kings” at Yichun. The swords are lost, then reappear during the early Jin Dynasty. They, too, are buried, but at Yanping Ford.

And, nearly two thousand years later, another man walks in the bamboo woods of Moganshan. He does not love a woman, nor does he know much about the making of swords. His knowledge of qi is limited to Danny Rand and his Iron Fist. But he has time, so he researches the story he only heard bits of on the way to the village of Moganshan. Feng, the teller, has it that the lovers committed suicide for the sake of the swords, and their souls are kept inside of the terribly beautiful weapons of old. He does not know which telling he likes better. The latter reminds him of Romeo & Juliet except that these lovers died for a noble reason. The former is bloodier, more wasteful.