To facilitate daydream
On the second day of my trip to China with two friends, the tour took us to a pearl centre. As with every other place we visited, the destination was a surprise for me on arrival, as I didn’t understand Cantonese in which the tour was conducted. I slept through the bus ride, competing against the loud tour guide who had a habit of exclaiming into the microphone, “ar!!” and giving me a fright. Even my Cantonese-speaking friend was exasperated to a point she told me that nothing he is saying is worth translating to me, and went to sleep herself.
I was very excited to discover that I had arrived at a pearl centre, for only the day before, I was introduced to a very curious historical figure, who was known for her avid love for pearl.
“The guide said, the Empress Dowager Cixi had skin like a teenager because she used to bathe in breast milk supplied by hundreds of maids, and swallowed pearl powder," my friend translated a summary for me. "When she died, she was buried among pearls with the biggest pearl placed in her mouth. But someone looted her tomb and that pearl in her mouth ended up on the shoes of a wife of some rich man- cut in half for each shoe; you know, as a show of power."
My heart sank a little for the two halves of the largest pearl.
We sat around a table in a white room, and a lady in glasses began to dissect a mussel. Slicing the shell open with a knife, she felt around with her bare hands the slimy body inside and suddenly, pearls tumbled out. “She said, the pearl powder they sell is pretty much the same as Shiseido products but cheaper”, my friend whispered a summary.
As the demonstration ended and the lady in glasses ushered us to the next room, I saw women in our tour group help themselves to the loose pearls just extracted out of the shell. One woman walked towards me and held out a single pearl. She gestured for me to have it. The little pearl sat in my palm with a quiet sheen.
“Can I have one too?” my friend asked. The woman shook her head. She mumbled something as she pointed to us both and put her handful of pearls away. “She said, ‘you can share’,” my friend sighed. “Don’t worry, you can have it”, she pushed back the pearl I held out to her.
You can share.
I put the pearl into my coat pocket and thought of the two halves of the Empress’s largest pearl. How can two people share a single pearl? I stayed awake on the bus and contemplated on what the woman had said.
Soon, an idea came to mind- I would make a piece of jewellery with it, and then give it to my friend. I can own the pearl as a maker of the piece, and my friend can own the pearl as its wearer. I decided that I would have to learn to make jewellery sometime.
Two years later, my friend decided to move overseas, I was studying jewellery making and we were travelling together once again. On the trip, she asked if I could make her a pinky ring of any design. While we were in Okinawa, I bought a ryukyu glass bead of what I remembered was about the size of the pearl I was yet to share with her.
The ring sits on the side of the little finger, with the little balls of white and blue side by side in a little hollow. I gave it to her on the day she flew off. I hope that she looks into the ring sometimes, and wanders off on a daydream about the days at the snow covered Great Wall of China and the Blue Cave of Okinawa, and all the other places we have visited together.
To Facilitate Daydream
sterling silver, pearl, hotaru-ishi glass