springgreen: (gaiden waiting)
[personal profile] springgreen
DVD commentary for [livejournal.com profile] lybra87!

Spoilers: Nothing really
Disclaimer: Not mine!
Notes: For [livejournal.com profile] emungere, who requested "Five things Kenren has brought Tenpou from the lower world." I finally gave in and admitted that I was actually writing fic and not lists.

Also, I totally cheat and steal off my own fic. Um, I mean... it's a sequel! Yes!

ETA: fixed formatting


When I first started this, I thought I had totally shot myself in the foot by not reading ahead for the five things requests and having already sort of written things Kenren brought Tenpou from the lower world in another story. I think I also decided to go for a less shippy angle and focus more on Kenren than on Kenren/Tenpou, as my default seems to be gen.

So instead of doing more work, I decided to rip stuff off of the previous story and hopefully expound upon it. I think my original story notes have the following gifts: instant ramen, Saikaku and shunga, seasonal plants based on a mix of Chinese and Japanese traditions(spring=sakura, summer=water lily??, autumn=maple leaves, winter=plum blossoms), an ink rubbing, and ?!?!

Also, this is such a typical story by me. I think nearly everything I've written has two of the three: a) random Chinese cultural influences, b) nothing happens, and c) everybody eats. This has all three!

1.

The first time Kenren visits the lower world, he brings back shunga and Saikaku for Tenpou because it's expected of him. He has a role to play, one that he usually enjoys, but his usual glee is dampened when he pictures Tenpou's response. Tenpou will simply look at the presents and calmly thank him without even raising an eyebrow in surprise or shock. The worst part is, Kenren knows Tenpou's doing it just to annoy him.

Just for fun, Kenren reads all of the Saikaku, at first to quote a line or two to Tenpou and get a reaction out of him. To his surprise, Kenren actually likes the book. To his even greater surprise, he has to buy two more copies after reading the story on the noble swapping of spit. He laughed so hard that he dropped the thing into his bowl of noodles. One copy is still for Tenpou, but the other is for him to keep.


This is my attempt to worm out of what must be a cliched situation: Kenren gives Tenpou something shockingly sexual.

There actually is a story in Saikaku's The Great Mirror of Male Love on spit swapping! I think one guy drinks out of a river, and his lover runs downstream to take a drink from the same river just so he can share in the first guy's saliva. Ahhh, Saikaku. You rock. I also just assumed that Kenren would get that book, as opposed to other Saikaku books, though I think Kenren would enjoy all of them.

Oh, and in case there are people unfamiliar with Saikaku, he's a writer from 1600s Japan who largely wrote about the pleasure quarters of Edo, sort of like a Tokugawa-era Jackie Collins. He was very popular but not really respected literarily until much later, given his subject matter. The Great Mirror of Male Love is basically Saikaku's ode to male-male love (I use this term instead of "homosexuality" b/c of the different cultural assumptions involved and etc.). There's a part in which he details all the ways in which male-male love is better than male-female love, and it sounds exactly like all of fandom's slash arguments! It's awesome.

The shunga is easy. He merely finds the most anatomically-impossible position and bookmarks it with a small poem he dashed off a few days ago.

He can't decide which is better: Tenpou stealing his copy of Saikaku after dropping his own in the bathtub (Kenren suspects it's for the same reason) or Tenpou quoting a line of his own poetry at him.


The poetry bit is stolen straight from the Tenpou fic. Also, yay for more pleasure quarter stuff! I guess this is from Kenren's visit to Tokugawa Japan. I worried a little about anachronisms, and then I remembered that this is Saiyuki we're talking about.

Also, in my head, Tenpou never really says anything about the things Kenren gives to him, but lets slip in sneaky little ways that he liked them. Just because he can...

2.

The second time Kenren visits the lower world, he surreptitiously watches a few very drunk youkai teens attempt to haul a street sign back home. Kenren has never been one to pass up trouble, and so, he stays up a few more nights to see what else may be considered fair game.

He catalogues two more street signs, four stop signs, a movie poster, and, most memorably, a plastic statue of a red-haired man eating a hamburger. Anticipating a trend in the theft of plastic statues, and therefore, the ability to blame his actions on other people, Kenren sneaks off with one under his arm.

More than a few people stare at him while he walks through the corridors to Tenpou's office, but no one quite dares stop him to ask what he's doing. Kenren will never understand Heaven; if he saw a man walking around with the statue of a rather portly, bespectacled man in a white suit under his arm, he would feel compelled to get the story, for a good laugh if nothing else.

After arranging his gift in Tenpou's office, Kenren walks off, whistling to himself. The greasy packet of fried chicken he leaves in the pocket of Tenpou's spare labcoat is merely a bonus.


The beginning of random food! Wait, I guess the bowl of noodles in the first one actually counts. This one is my "I have no idea what else to do, argh!" snippet. Yay for the completely random details in the backgrounds that Minekura adds in. This is also taken from college memories of people stealing street signs.

Also, I so want a picture of Kenren strolling down the halls of Heaven with Colonel Sanders tucked under one arm.

3.

The third time Kenren visits the lower world, he attempts to be traditional. He drops by Suzhou and Hangzhou to stroll through the gardens and admire West Lake, but he forgets that the lower world has seasons, unlike Heaven. It's too cold to spend much time outside, so he ambles into and out of the many shops selling embroidered silk products instead. While he's amused by the double-sided stitching, he quickly gets bored of the fluffy white cats and fat, glimmering carp stitched everywhere.


In which I gratuitously put in random Chinese details!

I think one of the reasons why I find myself writing Gaiden-fic so much is because it gives me great chances to put in random Chinese details. I do it for Saiyuki-fic as well, but Gaiden just feels more classically Chinese to me. I think it's because of Heaven -- my favorite parts of Journey to the West include Monkey wreaking havoc in Heaven.

Anyway. I'm not sure what time period this is in; probably post-Song-Dynasty. But West Lake is famous and has been for quite a few centuries. The bit about the seasons is my attempt to sneak in more serious things into the story and a lead-in to more of the Heaven vs. Earth contrasts later.

I wish I had some artistic reason for putting Kenren in Hangzhou and Suzhou, but really, the reason was just because I've been there and I liked it. Also, the stores there really do sell a whole lot of fluffy white cat embroidery.

He finds himself a tea house and stays there for hours; though he applauds heartily for the tea house singers and the shamisen performances, he ends up savoring the excellent Longjing tea and the famed pork rump the most. The Longjing is cheaper and much more interesting than insipid tapestries, but Kenren regrets not being able to carry the pork rump with him.

He probably could, but he'd end up spilling pork fat over his uniform, and it wouldn't taste that wonderful in Heaven anyway.


Oooo, I have a Theme developing! Sadly, I had to wiki the bit about Longjing tea; I'd forgotten it was a specialty of the region.

I suspect this is post-Song-Dynasty because the pork rump is already famous; I don't actually know if the poet Su Shi actually invented it, but I will pretend that he did. The dish is this giant hunk of pork with the skin and many layers of fat still attached, braised for a really long time with a somewhat sweet sauce that is probably largely composed of soy sauce. It looks a bit disgusting when you first see it, but under all the fat is this incredibly tender and flavorful piece of meat that really just melts in your mouth. I love it. Some people I know eat the fat and the skin too, though I usually don't.

Also, I totally mix Japanese and Chinese things together in this fic; I don't think the shamisen was usually played in China, though Wikipedia tells me that the shamisen is descended from a three-stringed Chinese instrument.

4.

The fourth time Kenren visits the lower world, he spends too much money on yakitori and is left with two options. He can either disregard his budget and spend hours placating Konzen and assorted other bureaucrats, or he can attempt to live without the large sashimi dinner he had set his heart on. Given that Konzen's temper is even shorter than usual these days, Kenren goes for the cheap dinner. It's one of his better choices; he discovers the joys of instant ramen.


Finally, we get to instant ramen! I think this was actually the first snippet I wrote. Also, I stuck in Konzen being annoyingly bureaucratic just because... well, do I really need a reason?

When he decides to share this wonderful thing with Tenpou, consummate collector of strange objects, he cannot decide which flavor Tenpou would like best. He debates between the original Nissin chicken flavor or a rather bizarre corn and ham version before giving up and buying one of every kind he can get his hands on.

He's right. Tenpou loves both the chicken and the corn-and-ham so much that he mixes them together, to disastrous results.


Again, I probably put in too much personal experience -- corn and ham is one of my favorite flavors as well, and it has the bonus of being one of the weirder flavors I could think of. Also, this contains the completely gratuitous fact that the very first instant ramen flavor ever was Nissin's chicken (knowledge courtesy of Wikipedia, with all the caveats that entails).

For the record, I have never mixed different ramen flavors together before, though now I'm tempted to try it.

And again, I mix up China and Japan dreadfully, as this bit is obviously set in Japan. Also, more food!

5.

The fifth time Kenren visits the lower world, he falls in love with it. It's not that he didn't like it before; he enjoys the smoke of barbequed meat wafting down the streets, the harping and bargaining in the night markets, the bright tang of plum wine, and the colors everywhere, so different from the white pallor of Heaven. But nothing surprises him, so he remains merely affectionate.


I wrote myself into a corner with that first line. I couldn't figure out why in the world Kenren wouldn't love the lower world from the very start, since I felt like he would.

I've always thought that Kenren was one of the most human of the Saiyuki characters and that he and grown-up!Goku were the most well-adjusted. And part of that is because they both enjoy life so much, the small and insignificant as well as the large, which is why Kenren and grown-up!Goku may be my favorite Saiyuki characters.

This time, he wanders into the mountains and finds centuries-old inscriptions of poetry on the cliff walls. He scoffs at the high-flown language and tortured metaphors, shakes his head at the stupidity of short-lived humans eking out immortality in stone and rhyme. He is so annoyed by the repetition that he downs a cup of rice wine every time the moon is mentioned. He is drunk by the time he comes across a poem by Li Bai, and despite the obligatory reference to the moon, Kenren stops and doesn't laugh. It may be because this poet seems to appreciate wine as much as Kenren does, or it may be that the images of the moon, a solitary poet, and good wine somehow remind him of Tenpou.


I think this is the first time that I've gotten shippy so far in the fic, which is rather odd, considering that the entire story is about things Kenren gives to Tenpou. But really, 1-4 are more a character study of Kenren than a look at Kenren/Tenpou.

And for anyone who's keeping track, we're now back in ancient China.

I'm not sure if people actually carved entire poems into mountain walls, but in Chinese literature, there's a healthy tradition of landscapes and poetry, so much so that poems on a certain landscape will usually reference past poems written on said landscape, with a feeling of, "Wow, it's amazing that I'm looking at the same thing that [Famous Poet from Centuries Ago] gazed upon and inspired said poet to write [Famous Poem]." So the landscapes of China are layered with centuries worth of literature, maybe not literally in most cases, but possibly so in others.

On a minor note, I particularly liked "eking out immortality in stone and rhyme."

On a more light-hearted note, Kenren plays a drinking game with himself! I love Chinese poetry, I really do, but you could totally play a drinking game with it.

And now, here comes the second obligatory mention of a famous Chinese poet, though I think more people know Li Bai (Li Po), as opposed to Su Shi.

I think Kenren would have liked Li Bai if they'd ever met; Li Bai was famous for drinking and wrote a good deal of poetry on wine and on being drunk, quite possibly while drunk. Supposedly, he drowned because he attempted to embrace the moon in the water while drunk.

Like so many other Chinese poets (Su Shi included), Li Bai was exiled for offending the emperor, though unlike most Chinese poets, he was actually pardoned and didn't die in the hinterlands of China, starving (like Su Shi did).

Have I mentioned how much I love Chinese poetry? I really do.

Also, for anyone curious, the poem Kenren's reading is the one written out in the Wikipedia article.

Also also, I completely didn't think about the moon/Koumyou reference while writing this; I think my mind was more on the moon reflected in water as a standard Buddhist symbol of the temporary, though of course that works well with Saiyuki themes of non-attachment too.

There's no reason why it should. He's never been drinking with Tenpou under the full moon or ever done anything so sentimental as toasting the moon. But when he makes a rubbing of the poem, the wet ink on paper resembles Tenpou's stained lab coat, and he thinks Tenpou would like that the easily torn copy resides in Heaven while hewn rock remains on earth.


I always want to take that second "moon" out of the second sentence.

Since a lot of calligraphy ends up being carved on stone slabs, people try to preserve the calligraphy to look at later by making rubbings. It's not really a rubbing; it's more brushing ink over the stone surface and then laying paper on top, so it's really more of a print than anything else.

I am authorially handwaving the logistics of making a rubbing from a mountainside, as opposed to a stone slab.

I'm still not sure if that last sentence works the way I wanted it to -- I love the image of it in my head, but getting it down in prose didn't work so well.

He knows then that he's loved this world and its imperfections and contradictions all along. He only needed someone to show it to.


Punchline! Like so many of my other stories, I had no idea this was going to be the punchline till I got there. And once I had it, there was finally a structure to the story so it wasn't just "Five random things Kenren got Tenpou" and the beginning of this segment finally made sense. I love it when that happens.

Also, I hug Kenren. He is so awesome.

6.

The last time Kenren travels to the lower world, he is no longer a visitor. Execution and reincarnation are only hours away; he feels he should spend the time remembering his long life in Heaven. He finds he has little impression of the politics and the work, of the centuries he watched pass by.

The moments he treasures are small ones: watching Konzen squeeze mayonnaise into his instant noodles and making disgusted noises; untangling Goku's knots of hair from the plastic statue's eyeglasses while Goku perches on the statue, wailing for Konzen; stealing Tenpou's yakitori and shunga and berating him for keeping such obscene material around.


I had to bring the ikkou in; I do madly ship Kenren/Tenpou, but I love the ikkou relationship equally madly. Also, completely random Sanzo-mayonnaise explanation!

He has very few sorrows and even fewer regrets. Once upon a time, he meant to bring back sakura from the lower world as a gift for Tenpou, but the flowers wilted into a brown, wrinkly mess, shedding petals and stamens in his pockets. He's glad he never did succeed; it would have been cliched and depressing, and he likes plum blossoms and what they stand for better anyhow.

There's no way to bring anything back to Tenpou now, so Kenren leans back, closes his eyes, and hopes that Tenpou's future incarnations love the lower world anyway. He's not worried about himself; he's been looking forward to the change for longer than he's known.


This is me trying to desperately cram in the plant symbols that I came up with at the very beginning, while also indiscriminately mixing Chinese and Japanese symbolism. Obviously, sakura is Japanese and equates ephemeralness, along with other things. Plum blossoms are usually symbols of spring in Japan, but I'm more using the Chinese symbolism here -- like crocuses, they bloom in the winter, so they're usually a symbol of conquering adversity. And... it's just such a Chinese flower. Maybe Kenren thinks of them as a symbol of life in the midst of stultifying deadness, to put in more Heaven vs. earth comparisons.

I was going to have Meaningful and Heartbreaking Sakura of DOOM, but then I thought that might be too cliched, so instead, I went with cliched plum blossoms!

And really, how was I supposed to write a Gaiden fic without the requisite heartbreak at the end? Though for Kenren, I don't think this is heartbreaking at all; I think if reincarnation hadn't come with Goku's imprisonment, he would have gladly welcomed it.

What breaks my heart is that Hakkai and Gojyo don't love the lower world and don't love life the way Kenren does, even though I think they're learning to.

I think that's it... [livejournal.com profile] lybra87, was there anything else you wanted me to cover that I didn't?

(no subject)

Date: 2007-03-26 11:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
Thank you so much, that was really fascinating (and a great excuse to re-read the story.)

The canon is a Chinese-Japanese hybrid, so I think the mixed influences are appropriate.

As for the sakura of DOOM, I am cannot slight it. With some stories, it is impossible not to use it. Anyway, sometimes things become cliches because they are just that awesome.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-03-27 05:14 pm (UTC)
ext_6116: (Default)
From: [identity profile] springgreen.livejournal.com
Oh, I'm glad it was interesting!

I feel one cannot really have Gaiden fic without sakura of DOOM, or at least some other seasonal plant life of DOOM.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-03-26 11:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] vom-marlowe.livejournal.com
Also, I so want a picture of Kenren strolling down the halls of Heaven with Colonel Sanders tucked under one arm.
Did you know this is your fic most likely to randomly appear illustrated in my journal? Well, it is. LOL. I love this series of yours...it so encapsulates for me what Gaiden is all about.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-03-27 05:14 pm (UTC)
ext_6116: (Default)
From: [identity profile] springgreen.livejournal.com
Rock! That would be so awesome!

And thank you, I'm really glad you like it.

(no subject)

Date: 2007-03-28 07:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lybra87.livejournal.com
Thank you! That was awesome and lovely. And I have matching icons, ganked from your journal no less ^_^.

The random Chinese references are a nice touch; sense of familiarity for me anyway. I giggled insanely when I saw the nod to Li Bai and *that* poem. It's so ubiquitous. You pointed out that Gaiden feels more classically Chinese and now I can see it. I always thought Gaiden had a different feel to it from Saiyuki, but could never pinpoint exactly what it was.

I do like the flowers touch; I suppose sakura is cliche, both in Gaiden and splashing over half of manga, but Gaiden does remind me of sakura so yay for slipping it in.

I was drooling over the mentions of braised pork and chicken flavoured Nissin noodles! It's junk food, but I love the chicken flavour so, so much.

Thanks again for doing this, it's very fun to read the author's notes. I enjoyed this and the fic very much. ^_^

(no subject)

Date: 2007-03-28 09:03 pm (UTC)
ext_6116: (Default)
From: [identity profile] springgreen.livejournal.com
Yay Li Bai! Yay poems about drinking and toasting the moon!

Oh man, now I'm craving instant noodles. They're so bad for you, and yet, they are such comfort food.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the fic.