D16:富县 - Me China Red - CycleBlaze

April 3, 2021


When the hotel owner said that she'd found a driver for me who knew where the Grottoes were and who was willing to take me out there, what she actually meant was "she'd found a driver for me". Which is not to say that she was lying to me when she said she'd organized this, just that he might not have entirely been telling her the truth about knowing where they were.

The first thing he did after I got in the cab was to get on the Taxi Drivers of Fu County WeChat Group and leave a voice message asking if anyone had ever heard of the Liuyuan Grottoes. 

Luckily, despite the man from the Bureau of Antiquities trying so hard to convince me (via Tyra) that I shouldn't go and that I shouldn't want to go, the original directions of "roughly a kilometer east of the expressway onramp" were enough. Well, that and the Grottoes having (at some point since the 2014 blog with the exterior photos) gained a sign pointing at them and some brick stairs up some particularly steep bits of sticky muddy hillside. 

I'm working on the theory that most of the damage to the 11th century statuary within was natural in origin rather than deliberate. There's an article on this topic (well, on the topic of broken off noses and broken off pensises on classical statuary) in the 2011 Annals of Improbable Research which I honestly could have sworn I read in a longer, more complete form back in my art history days a decade and change earlier.

The local stone is a soft sandstone which is very prone to weathering. It's so prone to weathering, in fact, that the majority of the damage isn't statues which have--quite literally--been defaced, but statues which have melted into vaguely statue shaped blobs.

Whether this grotto started life as a cave or not, it's not particularly weathertight. Not only is there a puddle at the midway point which seems to be rain that came in from the entrance, the whole of the rear right corner has water running down the wall and there's bits going drip drip plink all over the place.

There are some more or less complete statues remaining. In particular, on the left side of the central column, there's a fairly masculine Guanyin¹ who still has his whole face. There's also a Buddha and two attendants on the rear of the central column who, although being melted lumps, still have their heads. My bedroom at home (which isn't even large enough for a king bed) is larger than this Grotto. If a Red Guard or other type person were intentionally coming in here with a hammer to mess stuff up, surely this space isn't large enough for them to have missed something at eye height.

So, whether the reason is people touching the statues as they prayed, unscrupulous collectors of bygone days, the idea that scrapings off of a representation of the Buddha would be good ju-ju in traditional 'medicine', or something else entirely, I just don't think that this is Cultural Revolution damage. 

The driver decides that I've spent long enough in the Grottoes to up my price by 10 yuan over what we originally agreed upon. It's little enough difference and I did spend a really long time there so I'm willing to pay without complaint. On the drive back to my hotel, he tries to convince me that if I liked this grotto, I would like the Grottoes near Zhiluo even better and I should pay him to drive me there and back again. That's a good 60km away though and even if this is a way to spend a cold (but no longer rainy) day, it's of insufficient interest to me when I could instead be finishing up the next set of deliverables on the science fiction novel.

This is probably one of the most excruciatingly painful translations I've ever done, even worse than the stuff I did for CTrip. Not because it's bad, mind you; cause despite the part where I'm also prodding the author towards various little rewrites that tighten up the story, it's not bad. It's just that, from start to finish, I expect a novel to take me three or four days. I started this at the end of December and I still don't know how its going to end. It's the anticipation that's killing me.

Turning in the edits on these two chapters, I'm chatting with the author and I discover that despite his coming to me via a contact in the American Translators Association, despite his passing all of my tests for being neither "clinically insane" nor a "raging narcissist", and despite his willingness to pay me up front at rates that I would not expect an individual to be able to afford, he doesn't already have a publisher lined up. So I put him in contact with the only Chinese SMOF² I know, and by the end of the day, sample chapters in both languages have been sent off to an agent.

Keep your fingers crossed for me. I've really enjoyed doing this and, having already transitioned from "drop everything and do this now" type work on the stupidest imaginable projects to actual books, it would be so fucking cool to transition again in the direction of fiction. Especially if I get more authors who are bilingual and who can actively appreciate what I've done. 

¹ The Goddess of Mercy used to be a male deity. Then she became a female deity. It's complicated but in completely different ways than you'd expect. This particular Guanyin is quite a few centuries too late to be presenting as male. Also, the weathered remnants of other Guanyins in the Grotto seem more feminine to me. 

² Secret Master of Fandom. If you don't know what it is, just go look it up.

Today's ride: 3 km (2 miles)
Total: 557 km (346 miles)

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