Lanhuacao (Orchid Grass)

I have tried to write in English since I started to study at UBC.

But there was a time when I was waiting for offers from UBC and other schools. I shared one bed with my cousin in Shanghai and we would go to a random cafe each day after we woke up. Overly priced latte and americano brought us energy and joy, we can sit there all day long.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was nice that I got work done every day and didn’t have much time to think about the approaching graduation. It was also terrible as covid brought an ambiguous future to me, and all human beings. The news spread, I saw people die every day, and heartbroken stories happened every fucking single day. This kind of powerlessness is the worst thing ever. And I found no one to blame though the incompetent and bureaucratic government should act more effectively instead of claiming it was fake news and blocking all the source information.

As I buried myself in my entry-level code and deadlines to avoid depression, there was this particular song, Lanhuacao, which I played as background music a lot. While the name “Lanhuacao” simply referred to Orchid Grass, the lyric was surprisingly motivating. With the cliché theme of making a fortune from scratch, the songwriter used tons of allusions, metaphors, symbolism, and metonymy to make this song relatable to lots of Chinese people who work freakingly hard and want to provide a better life for their families. Besides the exquisite integration of famous poets and poems from different dynasties, the usage of ancient Chinese mythology and traditional Chinese cultural references constructed the vivid imagery of his struggle and hope.

My favorite lines are:

宝骏踏断命里刺(The miracle horse trampled the thorns under my tread)

胭脂洒满暮光谷(The rouge sprinkled all over twilight valley)

他日若随凌云志(If my great ambitions come true one day)

敢笑黄巢不丈夫(Who dares to say that I am not a hero)

And the most touching lines are definitely:

博得明月出(On the day I make it)

用兰花换锦服(Trade in my orchid grass for the splendid clothing)

Although I’m not a big fan of traditional Chinese culture because of the ubiquitous discrimination toward women and the strict social hierarchies based on oppression, I do appreciate the incomparable beauty that lies in those ancient Chinese poems.

I listened to this song when I accidentally started the final exam on Edx and had to spend 2 hours finishing the unprepared exam at 1 AM, when I wrote my thesis, when I finished the oral defense, when I sat in the car to the airport. These were the moments when I felt most anxious but also sensed hope. As Dickens once said, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. Sometimes when you feel the most painful, you gain something valuable. But sometimes pain is just meaningless. Like I don’t understand why some women have to experience the pain during their periods.

As is known to all (or maybe not), life is a journey full of emptiness. When you feel the pain, you are probably achieving something hard. So don’t feel too terrible about yourself. Climate change is coming but let’s pretend we have a future. And that’s the future with some hope, or the future with some tradable orchid grass, as the language of orchid grass is hope.

Note: Orchid grass probably should be called Asiatic dayflower. Unfortunately, I’m not a botanist who can tell the difference between these weird names. Call it what you want. It’s just a plant mentioned in a Chinese song.