Thursday, September 03, 2015

Filial piety

竹叶青 (literally "the green of bamboo leaves") is the name of an infused wine as well as a variety of tea. At the foot of Emei Mountain, after an arduous two day hike, I thought about which gifts to take home and one of the first I thought about to buy gifts for was my father-in-law. He likes his wine and tea and 竹叶青 tea was a specialty of the region. I vetted various tea types in a half hour long tasting session and bought a packet specially for him.

Meanwhile, I was reading the second novel in a kungfu trilogy, The Return of the Condor heroes, in which the protagonist discovers that those who raised him for part of his youth also were elemental in the death of his father. The phrase 养育之恩 often comes up ("the grace of being raised"), which is the obligation to a child to be repaid to those who raise him, and this competes in his heart for a desire to avenge his father's death (杀父之仇不共戴天 literally "you cannot share a sky with those who killed your father").

It's fair to say that the concept of filial piety (孝顺) infuses the culture here, these being two examples of many. This refers to the obligations to your parents for their raising you. In China these were codified by that man Confucius, 2500 years ago. In western culture we rely on individual enlightenment to the necessity to take care of our parents. In the Orient, parents expect care, money and support while the children are educated from a young age their filial responsibilities. In the West children will often say they didn't choose to be born, and parents would feel awkward with overt support. It's two different systems of social expectation and obligation.

Flying back from Chengdu, a China-based American author, Zak, sat next to me for the flight and one of the topics we touched on was filial piety. We both felt increasing bond and responsibility with our homeland based elders. There was the irony of desiring to be abroad but feeling increasingly obliged to serve those at home. For me it manifests in serving my local "parents" and my imminent move back to New Zealand.

I drink the tea and watch my father-in-law for his appreciation. It's nice tea. It's beautiful tea. You place the leaves in a cup and pour water on them. They all rise to the top and then progressively drop to the bottom. Some leaves drop a little then float back to the top. It's all a dance of water and leaves. And then you drink.

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