Along the edge of Golden Gate Park, trees flashing by at the edge of my vision, increasingly numbered streets to my right barely visible through the thick understory of my runner’s hyperaware tunnel vision; I am exquisitely sensitive to everything on the path in front of me, every leaf, needle, stone, stick; but things beyond may as well not exist. Forward, along a wide, straight, slightly downhill path through eucalyptus and juniper; I am the only one, and it is a moment of beauty.
Something suddenly filters into my consciousness; the sound of voices, singing, in another language, a song I’ve heard many times, a song I know, a song that abruptly pulls me out of my running-induced reverie and forces me to turn my head and watch; I watch; I am forced to alter my stride, to turn, to run through a tunnel of underbrush to where I hear voices raised in elderlywarbly song.
For what I hear is the classic Han Chinese romanticization of the Tibetan Plateau: 青藏高原, Qingzang Gaoyuan – a plaintive, attemptedly-heroic song about the beauty of the Plateau landscape, complete with mock-Tibetan syllables. I am compelled to join.
I walk towards the sound, and soon emerge out of the underbrush into a small, unexpectedly paved clearing. There I find six or seven elderly Asian men and women huddled around two chairs, upon which are seated two further elderly Asians, these playing the erhu, a kind of two-stringed Chinese violin which can be tearjerkingly emotional in its bare simplicity. These erhu players were not forcing the maximum technicality out of their instruments, but were certainly doing a job on the emotional aspect. I found myself back in a Qinghai banquet room, listening to a vice-headmaster sing Qingzang Gaoyuan – his favorite song – toasts of baijiu flowing continuously around the table, that unique type of moderately drunken goodwill flowing in ever-greater measure as the singer launched ever further into the song – and consequently came increasingly close to the famously difficult-to-sing coda.
Which, back in Golden Gate Park, we soon reached, our voices cracking in the cold air, higher and higher until the top note, momentarily hit, caused us to cascade back downwards along the scale in climactic relief and satisfaction and joy and release – release from my surroundings and worries and fears and frustrations and interests and angers and ultimately from life – all through one especially unexpected and uniquely placed moment.
These singers, all old Chinese men and women, meet weekly at 12 noon on Sundays in Golden Gate Park, in a random clearing just east of Spreckels Lake and just south of the intersection of Fulton St. and 32nd Avenue. Join in if you want to sing random Chinese folk songs!