Jinghu (京胡) and Dad
(I guess the correct name for this instrument is jinghu. Like I said before, there are a couple other instruments look like it.)
When I grew up, I had never seen Dad play jinghu. I didn’t even know we had one in our house. It was many years later, many years after I came to the U.S., I learned that Dad played jinghu well. Mom said even during the time our family was escaping from the communist, Dad managed to find a group of amateur Chinese Opera singers and played jinghu for the group at evenings.
I don’t think Mom was happy about it. Who would be under the circumstance? Mom had her hands full with 3 little kids and Dad wasn’t home helping. But like many traditional Chinese women, Mom didn’t complain much. Until one day my brother Chris had a fever, Mom carried Chris (Karin was tagging along?) walking a mile or two asking dad to take Chris to see a Dr. Later, whenever Mom talked about this experience, I could still sense a little bitterness in her voice.
Chris told me that when the leader of that amateur Chinese Opera group was diagnosed with lung cancer, he stayed with our family for a month so Mom and Dad could take care of him. When it was clear that he couldn’t live much longer, he left our house and died a month later. I don’t know if this was the reason Dad stopped playing jinghu or it was because after I was born, they have four children, and Dad just didn’t have time to play. Anyway, I had never seen my dad play when I was in Taiwan.
After Dad reached 80, his life became quite simple: reading Chinese newspaper, watching TV news, and watching Chinese Opera. I wanted to find a way to bring some excitement into his life, so I took a quick Chinese Opera lesson (I said “quick”) and sang a couple short ones (very short) for him. Chinese Opera, in a way, is like western opera. You know the melody, and the words, but you still may fail miserably. Dad had a good laugh. I laughed with him.
Seeing how much Dad “enjoyed” my performance, I followed up with a quick jinghu lesson. jinghu is not an easy instrument to play. At the end of two weeks, I only managed to play do-re-mi. Later when I visited Dad, sitting next to him, I couldn’t even find the right position for do-re-mi. Dad shook his head.
I asked him to play for me. He hesitated for a moment and then picked up jinghu, started playing. After so many years, Dad not only remembered how to play, but played amazingly.
Several months before Dad passed away, one day during my visit, Dad said to me, “What should I do with my Jinghu? No one knows how to play.”
I thought for a while, and told Dad that he could either take it with him or leave it to one of his children. I said, “Even though we don’t know how to play, every time we hold your jinghu, it would be like holding your hand.” And I suggested him to give the jinghu to my second brother Shao, because Shao had worshipped Dad all his life.
A couple of days later, Dad told me he wanted me to keep his jinghu.
I wish he had given it to Shao.
(Here is a video of Jinghu performance performed by a famous musician, if you are interested.