Encounters

Encounters is the first fictional work of Xiaowen Zhu, which brings together the author's deep insights into her life overseas over the past ten years.

Inspired by actual events, Zhu refracts the lives of ten people through ten remarkably brilliant stories. Among these people are: a rich philanthropist based in Los Angeles, a hermit artist living in the Californian desert, a wealthy member of the elite from the Middle East who holds banquets for guests at Malibu beach, a Zen Buddhist devotee practicing in New Mexico’s barren landscape, the Chinese silk king in Beverly Hills, a half-Chinese half-Spanish girl on her way to New York City from Barcelona in search of her true home...

Differing in cultural backgrounds and idiocrasies, ostensibly, these people share only one thing in common – being untangled through the lens of the author’s rich experiences, profound understanding and deep exploration. However, it is not difficult for readers, after savouring these interesting stories, to find out that these people are all in pursuit of the meaning of life, despite being from different races, cultures, ages and identities. Whether to use wealth for the benefit of society; to get away from the society and cultivate oneself; to leave home and pursue one’s dreams; to inherit traditions; to sacrifice for love; or to give up love for freedom, these all embody the choices of individuals who go against the tide of pre-conceived "societal roles" but may not necessarily succeed. On the contrary, feelings like "failure", "loneliness", "frustration" and "losing love" occur in many stories. However, the author does not focus on a single stage in life, but expresses smoothly the process of life (including

birth and death, love between men and women, gains and losses, among others) through the turn of time and space, which can be appreciated by readers.

In distilling the happiness of life, Zhu’s writing is humorous, featuring the deliberate use of romantic language, in order to emphasise the illusionary effect of happiness, exploring it psychologically:
“Maria’s delicate hands string the shells, one by one, to make a beaded curtain. The curtain is hung from the ceiling, around the bed frame. Every morning, she holds a piece of shell close to Theo’s ear, waking him up with the shell’s memory of the ocean. Theo doesn’t go to work till the afternoon, but has to work till midnight. Yet, he is always happy to be woken up by Maria this way. He tells her, what the shell is saying today, then falls back to sleep in her kisses.”(Excerpt from Chapter 8 Thoe: A Zen Buddhist Devotee in New Mexico)

In describing the bitterness of life, Zhu writes with sense and restraint, although not without compassionate feelings, such as:
“Next day, grandpa never woke up. I left the camera on the overbed table in the ward, filming him constantly. In the afternoon, he passed away. The doctors couldn’t bring him back. Grandma didn’t get to the hospital until after he passed. She had high blood pressure, couldn’t handle the shock, so she didn’t come with us at first. Mom and I stayed with grandpa until the end. Mom was very sad, but also felt a sense of relief. Surprisingly, grandma cried so hard that she nearly collapsed. She shook and pounded grandpa’s body, complaining how unfair it was for him to leave like this. I asked her, ‘Don’t you feel a sense of relief?’ She said, ‘We’ve been fighting for our whole life, now he’s gone, what can I do? I’m all alone, what can I do?’ Only then did I realize that she and grandpa were co-dependent, although full of struggle and pain.”(Excerpt from Chapter 7 Emma: Elegy of Suffering)

Zhu’s versatility does not stop there; she is also skilled in using aphorisms and verses, which starts from three levels (literature, philosophy and aesthetics) and then emerges in the dialogues between all kinds of characters, so as to convey an image of one’s mind and thus achieve the process of understanding. Readers can appreciate these themes in her powerful writing.

Xiaowen Zhu is also a gifted artist. She not only writes literary works, but works as a visual artist and documentary filmmaker; her works have been exhibited widely around the globe. Oriental Silk, a documentary film made in 2015 and one of the representative works of Zhu, centres on Mr. Wong, who is also featured in this book as the subject (see Chapter 5). Given a chance to see this documentary, readers may wish to compare it with the description in this book and analyse the coexistence of literature and moving image.

We will expect great things from the second book of Xiaowen Zhu’s Encounters. In that book, she will turn her attention to the European continent and the United Kingdom. Born in 1986, Zhu has lived in Shanghai, Frankfurt, New York, Los Angeles and London for many years. Also, her identity as an artist has given her a unique opportunity to access many interesting people. They are such a rich source of creation.

目   录

CONTENTS

 

自序

PREFACE

 

第一章

玛雅:洛杉矶慈善家的三座家园

我的忘年交——一位真正的慈善家

 

I

Maya: A Philanthropist and Her Three Mansions in Los Angeles

A true philanthropist and a dear friend despite the age differences between us

 

第二章

托比:洛杉矶海港的冲浪者

冲浪是他的信仰,即使这意味着孤独

 

II

Tobi: The LA Harbor's Own Surfer

He rides the waves faithfully in solitude

 

第三章

文森特:沙漠之狐

浴火重生的沙漠隐居艺术家

 

III

Vincent: A Desert Fox

A reborn hermit artist living in the desert

 

第四章

雪伦:来自伊朗的犹太公主

她的人生有如凡人的童话,然而童话亦有阴影

 

IV

Sharon: A Jewish Princess from Iran

For many, her life is like a fairy tale, although not without a shadow cast

 

第五章

黄先生:贝弗利山庄的中国真丝大王

一位对往昔满怀追忆的怀旧人士

 

V

Mr.Wong: The Chinese Silk King in Beverly Hills

A nostalgic man in search of lost time

 

第六章

凯特:雪国中的猫女王

她在纽约州漫天飞雪的小城里建立了自己的理想国

 

VI

Kate: The Cat Queen in a Snowy Land

She has built her utopia in a snowy town in New York State

 

第七章

艾玛:受难记与挽歌

原谅是最大的安抚——一位悲天悯人的印度裔女孩

 

VII

Emma: Elegy of Suffering

Forgiveness is the greatest comfort–a compassionate girl of Indian descent

 

第八章

西奥:新墨西哥的禅修居士

他寻求的是内心的平静,宁愿与权势家庭决裂

 

VIII

Thoe: A Zen Buddhist Devotee in New Mexico

He left his family dynasty behind in search for inner peace

 

第九章

彼得:一个天才的陨落

对天才而言,他们纯真执着的个性完全无法被随波逐流、声色犬马的快乐所满足

 

VIIII

Pete: When a Genius Falls

A genius, true to his pure and persistent character, cannot possibly be satisfied by drifting with the current and enjoying good living

 

第十章

莎拉:纽约传奇

一个爱得勇敢而壮烈的中西混血女子

 

VV

Sara: Another Tale of New York City

A heroic love story of a half-Chinese half-Spanish girl

自 序

 

一个作家脑海中的构思总是比跃然纸上的文字更为精彩,我们想象中的冒险总是比实际生活中的困难更值得追求、攻克与忍耐,尽管一个荒漠隐士在苍茫幽杳中的寂寞和一个都市上班族在钢筋丛林里的孤独具有同等程度的心灵煎熬。

“读万卷书,行万里路”是我从少年时期就依稀形成的生活理想,如果出生于另一种时间与地点的组合中,比如百年前的中国,或是现在的叙利亚,我都极少能有机会以留学、旅行、工作的方式周游列国。恰逢其时是人生美好的机遇,而恰逢其人则是可遇而不可求的机缘。

在海外生活的近十年中,我被机缘带到了很多特别的地方,认识了很多有趣的人。我并不是一个热情高涨的旅行家,那些定位精准的旅行计划、野心勃勃的漫长旅程,都不是适合我感受世界的方式。虽然也喜欢听那些航海奇遇一般的趣闻轶事,但它们对我来说,更像是精彩的娱乐大片,它的有趣是老少咸宜、人尽皆知、一目了然的。能让我产生深层次共鸣的,却是理想家的逐梦之旅、艺术家的创造之旅、发明家的探索之旅、生活家的感受之旅——要与之形成共鸣,还不可或缺我的心灵之旅。

“心灵之旅”在这个时代,听上去像是个自命不凡的词汇,放着尘世中这么多实际的问题不去解决,一味讲求心灵,是生活无忧者才能享受的一种奢侈吗?“心灵之旅”确实是奢侈的,不过这个世界上,最奢侈的东西并不能用金钱换取,反之,一个人无论追求什么,最后也都是为了心灵上的快乐与满足。我不敢说自己对“心灵”有多么深刻的见解(最深刻的见解往往伴随最了当的表述),但通过对那些有趣人物的细致观察,倒像是一遍遍实践着我在书本中习得的真知灼见,其实也无外乎人的欲望追求、求而不得、得而复失、失而复得、有失有得这些生活的必演曲目。所不同的是,这些形形色色的人物各有一段传奇,有的令人感怀,有的令人唏嘘,有的令人动容,有的令人纠结……

人与人的深交,无论时间长短,都是一种缘分。有的人,认识了一辈子,也就像蜻蜓点水、浮光掠影;有的人,不过一面之交,便让人刻骨铭心、终生难忘。这种极深刻、极特别的体验给了我极迫切、极热烈的创作冲动。在不同人物的故事中,我几次强调了这一感受:

“窗外,闪闪发亮的银河系包围了这座小城的夜色,于千万点星光中,我们的肉眼总会注意到其中的某一颗,把它认作是最亮的那一颗。”(摘自第八章 西奥:新墨西哥的禅修居士)

“雪珠此刻化作了雪花,大片大片地落到车窗上,我把手伸向窗外,接住一朵,为什么千万朵雪花中偏偏这一朵被我接住呢?”(摘自第六章 凯特:雪国的猫女王)

“于千万个时刻之中,难道不是这一两个短暂得简直要错过的时刻,把生命的意义点亮起来,然后提醒着日后局促而庸俗的生活,我们还有超凡的时刻可以指望吗?”(摘自第九章 彼得:一个天才的陨落)

作家的文字,最终表达的都是自己。透过对这些人物的心灵探索,其实,我也在探索自己的内心与精神世界。这就好像站在两面镜子之间,任由镜中反射无限循环,每一面都是对真实的写照的写照的写照的写照的写照……

在社交网络无限发达的今天,每个人都可轻易拥有成百上千的“好友”,每个人也都可以精心打点自己的数字身份、虚拟形象。人类变得比历史上任何一个时代都更加自恋,而“大数据”对社交网络的分析进一步保证了我们只在自己想看到的镜像中解读真实,这就好像有一位隐形的策展人,把每天呈现在我们面前的影像和文字过滤为我们想象中的样子,因为,只要根据脸书上的50个点赞,“大数据”就会比同事朋友更了解你,而根据100个点赞,就会比你的父母更了解你。

我们是随波逐流,还是超然物外呢?当然,这不必是一个单选题。我喜欢的,是通过科技和网络从更深的层次去了解世界的复杂性,而不是简略快省地抓住一两个信息要点,用二元对立的思维去评价什么好,什么不好。“好”和“不好”本身,是小动物和小孩都能理解的利弊问题,但他们理解的范围,是立时三刻的,极度简化的。这本书里的每个人物都有其自身的复杂性,正是他们的复杂性,让我感受到生命的幽远神秘,而这一点,又是跨越文化、种族、阶层、背景的。

因为创作与工作的关系(我同时也从事影像艺术和纪录片的创作,并且在欧美多地教学多年),我在近十年中陆续结识了许多有趣的人物。他们中,有特别富有的慈善家、收藏家,也有特别贫寒的艺术家、隐居者,还有在家庭悲剧和个人命运中挣扎的、看似平凡实则出众的普通人。我以真实事件为灵感来源,创作出了这些文学人物,虽然是虚构的,但他们的真情实感和精神生活源于现实,希望可以与读者共鸣。

英国心理治疗师及作家亚当·菲利普斯在《失之交臂——赞美未经历的生活》一书的序言中写道:“我们所谓的精神生活,很大程度上是我们未曾经历的生活、错失良机的生活、由于某种原因而失之交臂的生活。”我深以为然。欲望是生命最原始的驱动力,渴望一件不曾得到的东西,远比珍惜一件已经获得的东西更让人全神贯注、百折不饶。我们的精神世界总是不可避免地在欲望和失望之间摇摆,谁不向往年轻时,那种仿佛一切皆有可能的豪迈与天真?时间的推移让尘埃落定,欲望变为失望、惊喜、坦然或是压抑,新的欲望总会接踵而至,只要生命延续。我的这本小书,亦可看作是不同人物在欲望的跌宕间起起伏伏的探索之旅。

我非常喜欢德国作家泽巴尔德的一句名言:“大事件都是真实的,而小细节往往是捏造的。”对我来说,笼统意义上对人的概括无助于我了解人性,比如一个人的肤色、籍贯、信仰、婚姻状况,这些冷冰冰的系统分类和一个活生生的独立个体之间有什么本质上的联系呢?诚然,人都畏惧自己不了解的同类,好奇变为打探、传闻变为谣言、距离变为隔离、防范变为攻击,这些例子从日常生活到国际时事,层出不穷。但我感兴趣的,是如何不被刻板印象及偏见左右情感,如何在人与人之间建立真正的理解,如何不把自己狭隘的视野当做世界的全部——或许这也解释了,为何本书中的大多数人物都有移民或离散的历史,经历过某种刻骨铭心的痛失(感情、亲人、婚姻),但依然坚持以自己的方式体验生活(除了其中一位人物)。

我出生在上海,有幸在法兰克福、纽约、洛杉矶、伦敦这些国际化程度很高的地区生活过,多元文化对我来说,早已是生活的必需品,我无法满足于单一的(哪怕是最美好纯真善良的)文化环境——整齐划一的双层玻璃窗、安全准时的公共交通、微笑的妇人和摆尾的小狗,这些反而像是《楚门的世界》里色彩明亮但缺乏阴影的人工道具。法国哲学家加斯东·巴什拉在《空间的诗学》中提到,艺术家需要在险境中寻求灵感,而写作本身也是危机四伏的——自我表达的危险、实验语言的危险。或许,从这些身份多元、境遇复杂的人物故事中,我们可以一窥人性在险境中的创造(不仅是现实意义上的,还有精神意义上的),以及人与人之间超越社会角色屏障的互相理解。

​朱晓闻

2016年12月于英国伦敦

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