Lan Ting

It was a wet November morning, my last day in Shaoxing, when I visited Orchid Hill Park. I entered the park and followed a winding path that cut through a bamboo grove, with the sound of raindrops lightly tapping my umbrella. Bamboo shadows patterned the slick stone paving under my feet and the path led me to a small pavilion situated at the edge of a lily pond. The pavilion was raised upon a platform three steps high and four stone columns supported its sweeping gable roof. Inside, there was a stone tablet that read “Lan Ting.” During the Spring Autumn Period, at the foot of a hill, a pavilion filled the spot where orchids once stood. And so, it was named Lan Ting, or the Orchid Pavilion. In the spring of 353, Wang Xizhi and forty-one of his friends and family gathered at Lan Ting. For the literati, spring was a time of renewal, a time when the return to nature washes away the grime of winter. Wang and his group played a game by the pavilion. They floated cups of wine down the stream, drank and wrote poetry. Wang wrote the preface for this group of poems titled “Lan Ting Shu,” a work that many consider to be a masterpiece of Chinese calligraphy. Looking at the fabled pavilion, I remembered thinking, “this is it, where was the stream or the hill?” The significance and meaning of this place was now marked only by two words. Except for the inscription, the building was simple and ordinary. I had come chasing the place that inspired a masterpiece. I had also come looking for clues that might close the gap between my present and that spring day back in 353. I wanted inspiration, but nothing remarkable happened.

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