Eyes Wide Open
Eyes Wide Open
Orphaned at the age of three Tuan Yong was brought up by his paternal uncle Tuan Gang who had begrudgingly taken him in.
His uncle Gang had an only son Tuan Min who happened to be six months older than Yong. Min had two elder half-sisters but, being the only male offspring, was terribly fawned upon and spoiled from birth.
A special tutor was engaged to educate both children but with a particular onus to give the most attention and care to Min. Yong was pretty much left to his own devices to learn whatever he can. However Yong had the propensity to develop into a fine, intelligent, young man with high moral fibre. Gifted with many exceptional abilities, generous to a fault in nature, as well as, possessing a rather statuesque, handsome physique, Yong had, in every imaginable way, far surpassed Min. To the further consternation of his uncle Gang, Yong also possessed added brilliance and aptitude with the literary and the fine arts. By simply tapping into his vast reserves of imagination on top of his natural keen insight into nature, Yong would produce with the least effort dazzling masterpieces in a flash. He was therefore popular and held increasingly so in high regard by all his peers.
In contrast, Min, despite his efforts and many inherited advantages, could never measure up, always falling short in any social or academic endeavor. What’s more, as upstanding as Yong was in character and ability, Min was the opposite. But instead of acknowledging his inferiority, Min remained falsely confident, vain and cruel.
Wishing to advance his only son Min, Gang chose to be perpetually blinded to all his shortcomings. He refused to acknowledge the blatant facts when Min took full credit for Yong’s exemplary deeds and academic accolades. Most often Yong was also unfairly blamed and punished for many of Min’s loathsome acts. Moreover poor Yong would be severely reprimanded at each instance for his supposed failing to protect and deter Min from his nasty endeavors and his increasingly coarse, scandalous ways.
As they grew up, to the added consternation of Gang, his son Min had become progressively wicked and licentious, warranting more additional funds and force to suppress the resulting damage. To make matters worse Min had become a compulsive gambler and a womanizer. His idle ways led him to spend most of his time in unsavory places doing many abhorrent things. All of which of course was covered up with a certain pressure and occasional bribery; even though this greatly sapped Gang’s coffers.
Then came a day when Min committed an unpardonable crime; one that could not be so easily swept under the rug for any amount of finagling, threat or money. The situation was dire and something extreme needed to resolve it.
In a private conference Uncle Tuan Gang spoke his mind after laying the blame squirrely on Yong’s shoulders. “You should have been more insistent in your reasoning with Min and strove harder, been more persistent in order to prevent this catastrophic event. As it is, the authorities will be wizened to it by morning and will be coming to make an arrest!"
Finally, after all that ranting and raving, with his fury spent, Gang sat down and in a hissing voice added, “There might be, however, one last recourse left. That is, if you, Tuan Yong are willing to face this probable peril. “Looking down he mumbled, “And considering all that I’ve done for you, you owe me, at least this one favor!"
Yong ‘s life by any means had not been an easy one, still he felt he owed his Uncle a debt of gratitude for his upbringing, education and shelter for all these years. He therefore had little choice but to accede to this unfair demand and shoulder the full blame for Min’s crime.
“I’m not an entirely unreasonable man however, “His uncle hemmed and hawed. “That is why I’ve facilitated your escape. The authorities will look the other way till morning. This letter will give you the proper introductions to my friend Fan Wei who owes me a favor. He lives in the Sekor district in Dara province. The journey will be hard on you I dare say, as it crosses much hostile territory and is close to the border, a far, far place from here. He will take you in all right; he owes me and he can use you in his employ till such a time that this thing blows over. Is that agreeable to you?”
“Of course Uncle,” Yong fell on his knees, “I’m forever indebted to you for your mercy.” What other response could Yong give?
Shortly after leaving all that he had known behind, armed with a letter, Yong made good his escape under cover of night.
His arduous trek eventually took him to the foothills of a great mountain range. Looking up, he observed the snow cowered peaks and just below that the expansive span of dense forest stretching as far as the eye could see. Subsequently, his desperate gaze searched for accessible paths. He knew that crossing these mountains will be the last leg of his journey. From then on a far easier topography but harsher climate still awaited him. His provisions for sustenance were nearly exhausted, save for a small portion of dried bread and moldy cheese. Meanwhile though his foot-gear was threadbare he would still persevere, he was sure of it. He was only armed with a staff and a short knife for protection; fortunately though he had been spared from encounters with bandits or carnivorous beasts.
The snaking, narrow, rocky mountain paths with a sheer precipice on one side, led him ever upward for many a day, then one fine afternoon he found himself at the maw of a huge cave. As the weather looked rather ominous, he entered the cave to seek shelter for the night.
With intermixed trepidation and eagerness in his heart, his feet carried him further and further in. As it was still daylight, he took advantage of the scant light streaming in. Eventually he arrived at a large opening, a huge chamber bathed in plenty of light. Up ahead, his eyes beheld the source; an unexpected huge opening that looked out onto a distant forested mountain. Incredibly a person clad in strange priestly garments was seated at a bench table, brush in hand, quite engaged in painting on a silk cloth. Unable to believe his eyes, he tentatively advanced until he was right behind the seated stranger. Leaning over he observed a most remarkable painting. It depicted the scene outside of the opening so perfectly, so lifelike. An exclamation escaped Yong’s lips as he marveled at the artistry.
He took hold of his senses however and pulled back; then quickly apologized, “Please excuse me for this intrusion, but what an amazing ....” He’d suddenly found himself lost for words.
The stranger had at first remained perfectly still and quite unperturbed. Presently he half turned to glance at Yong.
At once Yong bowed to the stranger who had by then risen to his feet and squarely faced him. After his repeated apology for his infringement of the painter’s privacy, Yong formally introduced himself, and then exclaimed his deep admiration of the painting in progress. He rambled on without intending to for several minutes. A profusion of words and concepts mainly extrapolating on the points of the painting he admired streamed from his mouth; followed by other historical references and artists relating to the style and subject of the painting.
“You seem quite knowledgeable of the arts” the stranger, who’d listened with unusual patience, finally smiled. He then introduced himself as Liong Xiá and further inquired, “But what is this person Zhang Shen Yao you’ve made mention of? I am not familiar with that person. “
Yong could hardly believe his ears, “Surely you jest, sir?” He politely smiled. “He is a legendary artist, known far and wide in the realm."
But the stranger simply shook his head. In the ensuing silence, Yong was obliged to offer more explanations; and so, he succinctly told the account of the story of Zhang Seng Yao’s painting of Dragons:
He was a famous painter, during Wei-Jin the South and North Dynasties who excelled in painting animals, birds and particularly dragons.
According to legend, the Emperor had ordered him to paint dragons on the wall of AnLe temple. After he drew four dragons, Zhang invited the emperor to take a look.
“But the work is incomplete! “The emperor was displeased, having at once noted that the dragons were drawn without the pupils.
“The absence of the pupils is purposeful, “Zhang quickly explained, “as they are the essence of the dragons. To do otherwise would bring the creatures to life and usher in unwarranted consequences.”
The emperor, thinking this to be a high exaggeration of an egotistical artist, demanded Zhang complete his work. Zhang Shen Yao was therefore forced to do as he was bid. No sooner did he complete the eyes of two of the dragons, lightening flashed and thunders roared. There was a strange mist that filled the air and in that chaos the two mighty dragons emerged through the mist. In a flash they dashed through the cave’s ceiling to instantly disappear without a trace into the sky. When the smoke and mist cleared, the emperor saw that only two dragons remained on the wall.
“Quite an interesting account” Xiá nodded at the conclusion of Yong’s retelling of the story. You have a flare with words, sir that enlivens the scene. Thank you for that.
“Nevertheless, “Yong added thoughtfully. “ As enduring as this legend is, and there are even supposed to be documented historical accounts of its validity in the Royal Library. Now that I’ve said it out loud.... “Yong shrugged, doubting his original firm belief. “Perhaps it’s nothing more than a high exaggeration to beguile or entertain the masses.”
“Who’s to say” Xia shrugged. “Then again...” He picked up and unrolled one of the scrolls then spread it across the table.
Yong was amazed at the lifelike painting of a bird... But what’s this? There were no pupils.
He looked up at Xie questioningly.
Xiá smiled, “Would you like to know?”
“Yes,” Yong eagerly nodded.
At which point Xie took a brush, dipped the tip in ink and simply painted in the pupils.
No sooner had he done that then, to the amazement of Yong, the bird blinked, his feathers ruffled, and then instantaneously came to life and simply flew away, escaping through the wide opening of the cave.
Yong knew at once that this was no ordinary mortal. But his thoughts suddenly, for some reason, turned instead to the letter in his inner pocket.
“What’s this? “But then, when he reached for it, he discovered that it was missing. Had he dropped it along the way?
Yong, looking up and saw the very letter with its seal intact in the hands of Xiá.
“Are you looking for this? “ Xia looked grim as he glanced at the letter. Then suddenly he fixed his eyes on Jiang and asked, “You’ve never once had the temptation to open it to see what’s inside?”
“Of course not! It was not addressed to me.” Yong gave his frank response.
”Then again, this once, perhaps you should have.” Xia pursed his lips.
Yong understood at once the peril that awaited him at the end of his journey. After all his survival would have been a bane to Gang with so much at stake. It saddened Yong however that his Uncle had so little regard for him. Then again, perhaps his Uncle’s love for his son was far greater.
Having decided quickly he knelt before Liong Xiá . He then pleaded to be his pupil.