© 2004 by Antonio ConceiÁ„o Jķnior aka A.Cejunior

At 4:00 am, the Avenida Almeida Ribeiro, leading to the inner harbour, was as silent as the deep night could be. I walked under the arcades filled with closed shops, heading towards the river. It was interesting to note that as the night went deep it also gets closer to dawn, very much like the Daoist saying that, when the sun reaches its pinnacle it is also the moment it begins its descent. I wondered how many people, realizing this, put it into practice.

As I walked through the shadows and the silence of that hour, looking at the steel gates shut with locks. Everything looked abandoned, even the lights that were lit at the No.16 wharf, whose tower clock I knew was dwarfed by the old hotel in front of it.
At the corner of Rua Camilo Pessanha, my eyes were hit by stronger lights that seemed like little suns showing that more people were awaken. It was a street stall, still opened. Or perhaps it just opened or never closed. The street somehow still kept the same centenary habits of old days when travellers took the boat up-river towards Guangzhou. I turned and faced the street which they named after the poet. I donít know if the poet ever came here in his rickshaw. It didnít really matter. There was a kind of connection anyway. Not having known him or his era in Macau, my father's stories seemed to become alive in the dark of the night.
The street was not totally lit, but the old tea houses were still there. I walked into the large granite stone paved street and looked for my favourite tea house. There it was, in the silent street, where merchants and other passengers went to have their breakfast before boarding the Guangzhou boat. I always wondered how did the old boat looked like. Probably it was a junk with a large sail, or perhaps a semi-westernized wood ferry. I recalled I have never tried to enquire about it. It existed and that satisfied me.

Once entering the tea-house, one enters another world at this early hour. The hollow bamboo dim sum holders stacked with different type of petit-fours that the Chinese eat for breakfast were surrounded by clouds of steam as I passed through the kitchen, my nostrils filled with the scent of a hundred undistinguishable odours, from food to tea.
The tea-house was half full of customers, some of them conversing, others engaged in reading newspapers, all of them with a plate or two in front, some still eating, others picking their teeth. Most were old, retired people of low income. There were steel bars in the windows where bird cages lined up, covered with a specially made cloth cover in an effort not to disturb the birds inside.
No one paid attention to my entrance as I slowly chose a table. I sat down and picked up a set of chopsticks ready for the old ritual of washing them in running hot tea. An old man dragging his feet came over and placed a pot of tea. I began washing the chopsticks as my eyes once more screened the visible area of the room. Women carrying trays with dim sum passed through the corridors formed by the aligned tables. Customers picked what they wanted with no words, a gesture sufficed. I chose to say hm-koi and the woman smiled at me as I asked for my favourite shrimp dim sum. She complimented me for being able to speak the language, and went about her business. I once more felt the atmosphere, with its cheap neon lights, a setting of pass eras, tables that were worn by thousands of customers. I felt I was in a kind of limbo, for it was day, yet it was still night. It was if time stopped in a dream-like place not pertaining to our times, something from the past that was being repeated every night throughout the days.
On one corner two men were playing Chinese domino. I focused my attention on them, the way they seated. Retired people do have different life rhythms I thought to myself. I knew this was a daily habit with them and I wondered why. Perhaps their houses were uncomfortable and they sought the company of others.

- Do you come here often? Enquired in English a feminine voice from my back. I turned around surprised, and found a young woman of delicate features, softly beautiful. She was dressed in a Chinese blouse and had a wide black skirt that reminded me of the Chinese University students of the 20's. I hesitated a bit in what to answer. Decided to say:
- wellÖ no, in fact it has been years since I came here.
I was not sure why I did not notice her.
She smiled softly: - It is very uncommon to see a foreigner here. Maybe I can practice some of my English. The smile was there.
I wasnít sure what to do, if to invite her to my table or keep talking across the tables.
- You speak wonderfully, I said. Do you come here often? It is not usual to see a young lady here.
She stood up and picked up an instrument box and came to my table.
- Will you not think badly about me if I seat and talk a little with you? My name is Zhou Yun
, she said, presenting me her hand. I shook her hand. It means Cloud of Zhou, from the Zhou dynasty.
- Do you know about Chinese history
? Her voice was clear and cheerful. - I was born in Anhui province. There is no sea there, but there is a beautiful mountain, Huang Shan, the sacred mountain, the yellow mountain.
- Can you explain your name? Her voice, her attitude was that of a curious person, eager to cross the bridge to the West or to what she thought was the West. Her conversation switched in an unusual pace, but then she was herself unusually open.
- Well, I said, - my first name is split into two concepts: the Latin name Antonius means priceless, but there is also Antheos, of Greek origin and means flower. It is questionable which can be the true root.

Zhou Yun laughed slightly:
- how interesting. If it means a flower, it is very feminine. Do you think your feminine side is strong?
She did not stop.
-And what about your surname? It is rather difficult to pronounceÖConseeco?
It was my time to smile:
- No, it is pronounced ConceiÁ„o. It is like in English for Conception; to Conceive...
She poured some tea, looked at me for some seconds:
- your names, your beard, are you an artist?

Such a wonderful way of bridging, I thought to myself. Very few people enquire about the meaning of namesÖ I smiled back:
- letís say that I like to create some things.

In her unusually open way she said:
- Iím a musician. I play pi-pa.
Her hand picked up the box that she held in her lap, almost like holding a baby. Her fingers begun to tap on the box top as she looked at me with expectation.
I could not believe her openness. It was not traditional at all. I brought myself into saying:
- perhaps you would not mind to play something? I would love to listen to your play.
Her eyes shone, she was pleased. I could see that she was suddenly quiet and concentrated as she somehow gathered her thoughts while her elegant hands opened the box and lovingly took out the pi-pa.
She held the instrument in place, positioned herself to play, and stroke the first chord. The music started in a melancholic and suave mood while I noticed that, somehow, the atmosphere became lighter, as all the surroundings seemed to disappear under a growing mist. Then the sound went echoing into the sky telling a geographic tale of tall mountain pinnacles. It somehow reminded me of Edward Griegís romantic Morning in his Peer Gynt suite no. 1.

Zhou Yunís pi-pa took me to revisit the position of man in Nature and to feel the nostalgia of time and distance. I had visions of my own interpretation as she played. There was no other sound at all, as if the tea-house became suddenly still, suspended in time. Even the birds listened.
As the music faded away, my eyes and mind were lost in the mist. She politely waited for the sounds to completely vanish from my head, and was smiling in expectation. I looked at her and could not help but say:
- beautiful.

- It is a piece called Huang Shan Yun, the clouds of Huang Shan. I recalled that she was from Anhui.
I was never in Huang Shan, I said, but it was as if you had taken me there.
- I miss my village, the sight of the Yellow Mountain, but here I can see other things and meet other people, she said with a smile that was a mixture of sadness and of childish happiness. She sipped some tea, her eyes lowered, covered back the tea-cup and raising her eyes she said: - yi shan hai you yi shan gao. I knew the proverb and I thought about how the contemplation of nature at such a level of grandiosity could bring about the saying that for every high mountain that we know, there is always another even higher. I wise call for humbleness derived from the knowledge of nature.
Zhou Yunís face opened again in surprise.
- Ni dong
? (you understand?) Ni ke yi chiang pu dong hua? (can you speak Mandarin?)
- Uů ke yi chiang hang xiao
(I can speak very little) I replied.
She looked around, and then looked at her wrist. There was no watch, but a wooden Buddhist bracelet. It is time for me to go, she said. I felt that we lost the sense of time because of watches. I shared her sensing that the night was giving way to the first light, something still undefined, hesitant. I noticed that the others were also getting restless, somehow as if agitated.
I asked Zhou Yun:
- I would say it is about 5:30
. She looked at me a bit surprised: you know? You can sense the change? I smiled, started to put my things in the pockets. Do you know Edward Grieg? I asked back.
- Yes, of course. I am a professional musician, remember? Then, as she noticed me getting ready to leave, she asked:
-
Have you been to the Camoes Garden? I am going there to practiceÖ I sensed the subtle invitation.
It was ironical. I lived contiguous to the garden for nine years, listening to the birds singing. We left the tea-house together. Some of the guests were carefully taking their bird-cages from the windows and were also leaving.
Outside the air was cool and I could hear the old men with the bird-cages chatting with each other. Zhou Yun didnít know that I lived next to the garden and that I knew we were taking the same route. We walked in silence, each of us with our own thoughts. There was no urge or need to talk out of politeness. She, as a musician, must appreciate as much the music as the pauses that are part of it. I knew she understood the need for silence, digesting a new acquaintance. The walk was pleasant and it was not too far away. That part of the town was slowly coming alive.
I knew that the gardenís gates would be opened at 6:00 so I was quite sure about the time, though I refused to look at my watch.
We arrived in time to see the old people doing exercises and the bird-cage men starting to remove the cage covers, so that their birds could feel an illusion of freedom while they would discuss their singing abilities.
We walked past the main paved way and climbed gentle stairs. To the right was Caműesí effigy. Zhou Yun led the way to the left, towards a platform that has a view towards the delta.
She apparently knew the people and bid good morning to the chess players and the old women who where exercising.
She chose her spot which I suspected was her usual spot. She sat down, smiled at me.
- I hope not to be a big bother
to you she said.
Again the pi-pa started to make its voice heard. Now it was open air, and it sounded like a breeze. The women smiled at each other, the men concentrated on their chess games. I walked up to the low end of the platform looking at the part of the city, then the brown muddy Pearl Delta branch. The water seemed still at the distance, but I knew it was like a flowing book telling stories of fishermen, of men arriving from up-river, full of hopes, others going up to Guangzhou.
The waters reflected the sounds of the pipa as the day gave birth to the sun and a thousand reflections responded to the sound of the instrument.
Day had finally conquered the night and Nature once more continued its sublime order.