Writing with Water

Near the lake that cools the Summer Palace in Beijing, a tall man with a wet mop wrote something in large Chinese characters.

This mystery writer’s first thought: “What a clever way to write a message that would disappear before authorities could gather evidence.” I scrambled to take out my camera and get a shot.

My second thought: “Can’t be anything subversive. Too risky in such a public place.” I asked our tour guide what the man had written. She glanced at the characters and said, “Something about tourists and peace.”

I could tell she was lying, but since I don’t read Chinese and don’t make scenes in China, I didn’t challenge her.

When I returned to the States, I showed a Taiwan-born friend the photo. She couldn’t read all the characters, but one part said something about birth and another about the coming of autumn breezes. She explained that when the man took water from the lake in his bucket, he also mixed in a little oil.

What the photo shows is a form of performance art. I suspect he’s demonstrating his calligraphic skills by quoting or composing a poem, not a political statement.

I still like the idea of using writing with water in a mystery.

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