Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Do You Say "Blue Jay" in Chinese?

So, about a month back, shortly after my cho dan test, I witnessed a startlingly savage act of violence right outside my office window. Happily, it did not involve people I know, or human beings at all for that matter. Rather, it was an altercation between two fearsome beasts, unrivaled in its ferocity and unparalleled in its utter ruthlessness by anything I’ve seen with my eyes.

The beasts in question? A blue jay and a dove.

I know, right? I’m sure you were expecting feral dogs or some such. But no, just a couple of birds. But let me tell you, I’d never seen ANYTHING like this before. It was like “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” meets “The Sopranos.”

Briefly, the story goes like this: a friend of mine was walking back to his desk and stopped to look out the window, because he saw movement. He says “Holy crap, come look at this!” so I go and look. Just outside, a blue jay is thrashing the living crap out of a dove about 6 feet from my office door. And I don’t mean flapping his wings and being sorta threatening – I mean pouncing, clawing, pecking and ripping at the thing.

Not the sort of thing you expect to see everyday. But wait, it gets weirder.

I can see that the dove is already seriously wounded, and that if I try to scare the blue jay away it will just mean that I’ll wind up having to kill the dove myself, so we opt to just let nature take its course. A few other guys wander over, and we’re just kind of slack-jawed, astonished by just how brutal this attack is. We discuss as we watch, assuming that we are witnessing some sort of territorial fight, where the dove perhaps tried to build a nest too close to the blue jay’s nest and the blue jay was just not going to sit still for that crap. In a minute or so it’s done, the dove lying motionless on the concrete sidewalk. Clearly dead or nearly so. The blue jay flies away.

We start to look for a trash bag and begin to negotiate between ourselves regarding who, exactly, will take care of cleaning up the dove carcass and all a little shocked at the previous few minute’s events. And then, the blue jay returns.

With a vengeance.

It attacks the dead or nearly-so dove’s body with renewed ferocity, pecking and clawing in a frenzy. And suddenly … rips off the doves head.

Yep. Rips it right off.

And then, he flies away with it, leaving the decapitated corpse out on our sidewalk, a small pool of blood marking the pavement where its head had once been.

I swear, you could have heard a pin drop. We were utterly gob smacked.

The blue jay didn’t return. Shortly afterward a few other birds, black and brown and very common hereabouts (I’m not sure of the breed, but they have bright yellow eyes), began meandering into the area nearby, not getting too close to the remains but sort of … checking out the scene. Investigating. Like an avian version of CSI.

Soon, they left as well. And it was done.

I can’t for the life of me decide why the blue jay actually took the dove’s head: Was he some sort of feathered serial killer, taking the head as a trophy? Or did he set it on a spike near the homes of the other doves, to serve as a warning? Do blue jays eat bird heads as part of their diet? No idea.

But it was astonishing. I’d never considered birds as savage before. Perhaps coincidentally (and of course, perhaps not), one of the new hyungs I’ve learned, now that I am a cho dan, is a rather old form named Jin Do. Originating in the southern region of China, Jin Do is a fairly forceful and aggressive form (along the lines of Bassai), with a lot of powerful attacks and difficult stances. The animal this form is associated with is the white crane, which in many eastern cultures (including China and Korea) is also known as “the bringer of death.” I remember first hearing that bit of information a year or two back, and finding it a bit humorous.

After the blue jay incident, I find it less so.

So, as part of our cho dan promotion ceremony next month I have to present a vignette, which is simply a form of my own creation that I will perform for the audience while a brief biography is read, prior to my new belt and rank being officially awarded. Some folks just string together movements from other forms that they like until they get about a minute of stuff, but I of course instead over-think and overanalyze things, trying Create Something New and Meaningful.

So, given the concurrence of The Blue Jay Incident and this creative challenge, I’ve opted to use the experience as a creative focus for the vignette. My form will attempt to convey some of the savagery of the blue jay’s attack, while also relying on some of the more graceful sweeping motions typical of the southern Chinese styles, hopefully to impart something of a bird-like quality to the whole thing. I've got about 2/3 of the form on its feet so far, with about 40-something moves ready to go so far. All in all, it ain't bad.

Not sure how successful I will be, but it seems that when one witnesses such a strange event, it makes sense to make use of it somehow.

Post Script: Per my friend Angela, a lovely Vietnamese woman who also speaks fluent Chinese and Japanese, "lan nyao" (the "lan" pronounced with an ascending tone, and the "nyao" with a sort of dipping tone in the center) is Chinese for blue jay. It is, in fact, also a phrase that is typical of the southern Chinese dialects, which is nice as the hyung style I am trying to evoke is Southern.

However, she was a bit bashful telling this to me, as she was worried that someone was trying to play a trick on me because this phrase can also mean "penis." So, depending on who is listening, I will be performing either the form of the blue jay or the form of the penis. As I am utterly incapable of not sharing these facts with my friends, I have no doubt this will be cause for much laughter. Leave it to me, I tell ya.

My life is comedy.

Mood: Chillin' like a villain
Now Playing: Liz Phair, "Exile in Guyville"


M1EK said...

Birds as dinosaurs gets more believable every day. Also, please try not to rip your opponent's head off.

Susan LaGrande said...

This is a great story. I especially liked your correlation with Jin Do.

Hard to believe that, at least in origami, cranes are supposed to bring good luck!

Gregg P. said...

I think the image I most associate with the crane as a bringer of death comes from how they hunt for fish. They are incredibly beautiful to watch, gracefully gliding along just a foot or so the surface of the water. Silent. Effortless.

And when they spot a fish their head darts down, swift and sure, snatching the fish from the water and snuffing out its life in a split second.

Now, imagine this from the point of view of the fish ....