Direction of the Horse’s Head

Framed poster

Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) does not exist for Chinese, but Lang Shining (郎士寧) lives forever.

Lang is the Chinese name of the Italian man who spent most of his life in China and died there, too. He came to China as a missionary but died known as a painter. Three Qing Dynasty emperors liked his art. His paintings sell for millions of dollars today.

I love his painting, Ayuxi on Horseback. The painting itself is an evidence of mastery of a foreign culture. I love the strong horse with tender eyes and the man, Ayuxi, who is ready, resolute, yet relaxed.

I bought the poster in the National Palace Museum of Taiwan. If you only have time to see one thing in Taiwan, this museum is it.

I brought the poster to a frame shop in our neighborhood. The owner was napping at his desk when the shop door clanked open. He raised and smiled at me with sleepiness.

I forgot noon to one o’clock is the customary nap time.

It was a small shop, congested, haphazard. He had a big, home-made table in the middle, on which lay fragments of rice papers. “Oh, that’s a Japanese scroll I’m repairing for an old man.”

We agreed on a frame. He rolled my poster out on the big table to measure. I asked him how long he has been doing this and whether his business is good.

He has been doing this for 27 years.

Really?! I thought he was in his 30s. Not true, he is in the 40s, and he started learning the trade when he was 16.

I asked him about the changes he sees in his profession.

Wood, good wood is rare to find.

Tell me more.

He picked up a few wood stumps and showed me the cross-section. You see, he said, these are really good wood from Taiwan. Because they breathe, they hold shapes, and will last a long time. These are wood from hot places, like Indonesia.

I don’t see a difference, I said.

He smiled, “Most people cannot tell the difference. But feel it,” He put the stumps in my hands. “These two are heavier.”

They were.

“Trees in hotter places grow faster. But they are not good. They deform in Taiwan’s weather. But good wood costs more. So most wood I can get now and most people want to pay for are these cheaper ones.” He tossed the stumps back to the corner.

It is lighter to put on the wall.

“True, but it won’t last very long. Taiwan’s weather is too humid.”

When I went back four days later, my poster was waiting for me in the frame. I paid and thanked him. As I was just about to leave the shop, he called out, “Hang it in a place where the horse’s head is not pointing directly to a door.”

“Huh?”

“Well, not everybody cares, but I know some business people care especially about this. Men on high hoses are successful. If the horse’s head is facing a door, it will go out and bring the luck from your home with it. Don’t take it lightly.”

Oh no, I didn’t take it lightly. I hung the picture in a nook, near where we eat. The horse  has to go around a wall before it can take the luck from our home out the door.

That was the spot we wanted it to be in the first place.

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