Palace of the Moon

by Isabel Sethi (United States of America)

A leap into the unknown China


The feathery leaves of the Persian silk trees provide little relief from the oppressive heat that has settled across Beijing. The heat has driven most of the city’s inhabitants indoors to find solace before the artificial freeze of their AC units, but my grandmother would not be deterred, jauntily stepping along the dusty dirt path winding into the heart of Beihai Park as I trail dutifully in her wake, contemplating the the apricot blooms that pipe the tidy edges of the passing jade lawns, erect like soldiers in the stifled breeze. As we walk deeper into the park, the dirt trail is replaced with polished stone and more people appear: tourists armed with cameras wheeling about clicking at the somber statues lining the pathway, sellers sitting cross-legged upon patterned mats displaying rows of brightly colored toys, and passerbys splayed across the squat walls bordering the gardens, languidly fanning themselves with folded magazines and straw fans. We arrive at a shady grove and my grandmother melts into the ranks of the Tai-Chi practitioners. I plop down and watch the group lunge and reach, each maneuver slow and deliberate like molasses creeping from a tilted jar. Before long, the weariness of monotony dawns upon me and I grow restless of my passive spectating. I stand up and wave to my grandmother, pointing emphatically at the path leading away from the clearing. She nods, and I am off, my solitary condition, newfound independence, invigorating me, making each step one of bold purpose in persuit of some great adventure. I emerge back unto the park’s central avenue, and spot an ice-cream vendor swathed in the shadow of an elaborate archway. I walk across the square, my stride quickening as the scorching sun beats down upon the exposed locale, until I am once again welcomed into the cool embrace of shadow. I reach into my pocket for a crumpled yen which I exchange for a fruit bar. Peeling the plastic apart, I bring the ice to my lips. The initial twang of orange puckers my lips, the cold providing a sweet sojourn from my fevered state. I scan my surroundings. The grandeur of the archways, ruby columns and lilting artichoke rooves, are sirens singing promises of splendor and so I walk through. A few paces forward and an idyllic vista unfurls before me. A great lak sits before me, gilded with emerald lillies that form knots of green across its expanse. A pearly stone bridge stretches over and I walk across, stopping at its zenith to gaze at the water below. Catfish sniff at the smooth stones pebbling the lake-floor, gently coaxed into dance by the mild current. Minnows dart around the lily pads dimpling the surface, their scales glinting as they capture streams of light illuminating this underwater world. I continue across the bridge until I reach a series of arches. Golden rain trees panicled with balmy yellow flowers ring the path, ending at the base of a small pagoda. Heavy bronze bells hang around the perimeter. I graze my fingers upon their lip, feeling the curved edges slip along my fingertips. Benches in dulled crimson form the base of the pagoda with matching columns that support the bronzed canopy. The back of the pagoda is situated upon a pond, surrounded on both sides by bleached rock. Willow trees droop their heavy heads along the bank, as peppered koi in hues of citrine and ebony swim, flicks of their tails sending rippled echoes that furrow the water’s face. I step over the back railing, lowering myself gingerly unto the platform upon which the pagoda sits, letting my feet dangle above the water in loose circles. It is quiet here, as if all is in hushed reverence of this ethereal beauty, the soft silence cultivating a confessional air, a harmony that offers solace to an overborne soul. I close my eyes, taking in a breath of the sweet perfume of Yulan Magnolias dashed with the salty strain of the stagnant waters. I open my eyes again to Man’s parcel of the firmament, my lips still numb from the last of my icepop, the taste of citrus beginning to wane upon my titian stained tongue.