Xin Piau's Guitar

 

      Xin Piau was a collector.  Mrs. Xin was even more of a collector. Their little house was filled with everything that might have any value to anybody at any time.  Mr. Xin had a workshop that was also filled up.  Mr. and Mrs. Xin had turned everything upside down looking for just the right kind of wire and wood - for Mr. Xin had decided to make a guitar.  _

      Mr. Xin Piau worked at the Panda Toy Factory, where he was a mold maker for toys that were sold to a big toy store chain in America and Europe and Japan.  He usually fashioned tools to make rubberized plastic people - army men and monsters and kung fu rabbits.  _  But today, for a funny reason he had got it into his head to make a guitar._

         Now many many years ago there was a Chinese monastary that had been blown up during the wars.  And in that monestary had been great books bound in cloth and leather stretched on wooden covers.  And there were scrolls on carefully turned wooden rods.  And everything had been chosen and cut and turned with great love and care centuries before.  _

      One year the monastary library caught fire all the monks came and doused it with water.  But the books were lost, and the scrolls were unreadable.  All that was left was wet leather and wood.  _

      During the war good and bad people had come and collected anything of value, and sold it or saved it._

      This is the wood that Xin Piau happened to find buried under a workbench.  It had come with the house.  And it was just right for a guitar._

      Now it also happened that many many years before that there had been bells in an old church in Europe.  They were cast from precious metals bought from traders when the church was built centuries before.  _

      Who knows where the metals had come from and what they had been.  But, like the monestary in China, the church was destroyed by a bomb, and what could be salvaged of the walls were turned into building blocks for a bridge.  And the bells were melted down and mixed with other metals to be spun into different kinds of wires to be used for the war.  _

      The war ended and they sat in a warehouse many years until they were used in helicopters that went to war near China.  And these helicopters were shot down and somebody had taken all different kinds of wire from the wreckage and put it on spools _  

      Xin Piau had bought some spools of this wire years before in a flea market.  And these wires were just right for a guitar. But Xin Piau didn't know where the wood or the wire had come from, and he built himself a guitar.  _

      His cousin in America had found him a book on making real Spanish guitars with very good pictures that he could follow without knowing English.  His cousin knew that Xin Piau loved woodworking.  _

      He built the guitar with great care, and when he was done - even though it wasn't a toy guitar - he put a sticker inside from the Panda Toy Factory. _

      Xin Piau didn't know how to play a guitar, but it looked very good, and the wire strings he put on sounded quite nice when they were plucked.

      He thought that perhaps his supervisor would like the idea of making guitars at their factory, so when he finished he took his guitar in to the Panda factory.  That day it happened that Bob, a man from the toy store chain, was inspecting the mold shop that Xin Piau worked in.  Bob saw the guitar at Xin Piau's bench with the Panda sticker inside of it. _

      "I didn't realize this plant made guitars," he said to Xin Piau's supervisor as he went out.

      "But we don't!" said the supervisor, very surprized._

      Bob took the supervisor back to Xin Piau's bench where they saw the guitar.  Xin Piau explained to his supervisor his idea.  Meanwhile Bob picked up the guitar and began to tune it.  Xin Piau and his supervisor watched as Bob played some chords._

      "I think this is very well made," Bob said.  "Would you have any objection to my taking it back to our main office?  This may be a very good product."

      Xin Piau and his supervisor were very pleased.  So Bob arranged to purchase Xin Piau's guitar from the plant.   Xin Piau was given 4 days vacation for making the guitar, and Bob took it with him to his hotel._

      That night after dinner he sat down with the guitar and began to play the old songs he remembered from school.  His fingers seemed to move very fast over the frets, and the sound of the guitar swelled through the room like the sound system in a big movie theatre.  His mind began to wander and he began to compose new songs.  Bob sang and sang all night, writing words and poems and new chords for songs that had never ever been sung before.  _

      "I never should have given up music!" he said, astonished at how good he sounded.  "I could really have made a good career of it."   Just then the phone rang.  The hotel clerk told him it was much much after midnite and he had the plane to catch soon in morning and besides was disturbing the guests alongside and below so could he stop music playing please?!

      So Bob went to sleep and took his plane back to America, carrying the guitar with him.  _

      He didn't take the Panda guitar to his office when he returned.  Bob was very busy with other work and he knew he must wait until the time was right before he suggested buying real guitars from the Panda factory -- not just plastic heros and Kung Fu rabbits.  Meanwhile, he practiced his guitar playing at home, and wrote many new songs._

      He called some old friends and began a small group, and they spent some money to record his new songs onto a C-D._  Just about then Bob made a presentation to the company and suggested that the Panda factory could make good guitars for their stores.  Xin Piau's guitar  was left in a Vice President's office.  Bob bought himself a very expensive new guitar, and played very well on it.  Xin Piau's guitar had made him a very good musician, and he was very happy writing new songs._

      Xin Piau's guitar with the sticker from the Panda Toy Factory sat in the Vice President's office for nearly a year.  No one did anything because they were very very busy with other new toys._

      Anna the cleaning woman noticed that the guitar had been in the same place for a year.  One evening she asked the Vice President, when he was working late, if it was his guitar.  He looked at it, trying to remember why it was there.  He saw the Panda sticker inside.

      "We're not buying as much from Panda these days. I think you could have that guitar if you wanted it, Anna,"  he said. _

      And so Anna took it home to her brother, Hernan.  Hernan worked in a big hospital parking lot all through the night.  He would sit in the little office in the hospital basement and read the papers and collect parking fees and watch all the cars through video monitors over the window in his booth.  Hernan took the guitar with him to work. _

      It seemed that he could make his fingers run like acrobats over the strings, and the cold empty garage became warm and sunny like a festival day in his home of Ponce, in Puerto Rico._

      Hernan couldn't wait to go to work now.  The doctors and nurses and orderlies would always stop for several minutes to listen to Hernan play, getting courage as they came and went from their jobs, which were often so full of sadness.  Hernan's playing was full of yearning and hope of a better day.  He composed many new songs of his own, and his friends told him he should play them at the Club Latino._

      Hernan's music was liked very much by everyone.  He bought himself several new guitars.  One from Brazil, one from California, and an electric guitar from Japan.  He played in a group, and left his job at the hospital garage.  Then they went on a tour of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands.  Hernan told his sister that she could make a gift of the Panda guitar to one of the boys in her apartment building.

      She gave the guitar the Xin Piau had made to a boy named Raoul who lived upstairs.  Raoul loved to sing, but he had never played the guitar.  He took the Panda guitar and plucked the strings several times.  It sounded very good to him, but then he put it down.  His family was very poor, and his mother just had lost her job.  His mother and father asked Anna if she thought Hernan would mind if they sold the guitar to help them with their rent.  Anna told them that she had gotten it for free and that it was a gift to them to do with what they pleased.  She was happy if it could help in any way.  "Everyone can't become a great singer like Hernan," she said with a smile.

      So the guitar from the Panda Toy Factory was taken to a pawn shop to pay for Raoul's parents' rent.  The pawn shop owner saw the sticker from the Panda Toy Factory and didn't want to pay anything for it.  When they told him it was the guitar of the singer Hernan from the Club Latino the shop owner tried the guitar.  He knew it had a good sound, and that he could sell it because Hernan was well-known to people around there.  So Raoul's parents got enough for 2 week's rent and were happy.

      The guitar was in the window for a month with a sign that said "Hernan the Singer's First Guitar," but no one bought it.  Once Hernan went back to Puerto Rico people sort of forgot him.  Someone new was singing at the Club Latino.

      The shop owner took it out of the window and put it in the corner of the store.  Many months later an old man named Mourabi came in the shop.  Mourabi was looking for very special instrument that he had played in his home near Persia.  He was a very fine musician in his own country, but he had come to America after a bad revolution.  He worked many years as an electrician in America, and he was getting old.  He was looking in all the pawn shops to see if anyone had his favorite instrument:  a gusla with horse-hair strings.  But nobody did.

      The shop keeper was going to be funny and picked up the Panda guitar:  "Maybe you can make this into a 'guzzler' - it's just taking up space here.  I'll sell it to you cheap!"  Then he plucked the strings to finish his joke.

      Mourabi's ears perked up when he heard the sound.  "This is NOT the sound of a gusla - BUT.... it IS the sound of a faraway home, and a far away time."  Mourabi looked at the shopkeeper seriously.

      "I'll trade you two old silver rings for your instrument."

      The shopkeeper agreed, and Mourabi left with the guitar that Xin Piau had made in his home in China. 

      Mourabi was an old man, but he was not too old to learn something new.  He had learned English, and had studied to be an electrician, so he decided to learn to play the guitar.

      He tuned the guitar in an old way, but it was new for guitars.  When his fingers touched the strings he could almost hear his grandfather's horses whinnying outside the family tent when he was a boy.  He began to chant old songs that he'd thought he'd forgotten, and between the chords on the guitar, he would strum his fingers across the old wood to sound like horses' hooves galloping across the plains.

      Mourabi cried and sang sadly and sweetly all night long.   He was not accustomed to so many strings on his old instrument, but somehow his fingers all seemed to know where to be and how to pluck the guitar from the Panda Toy Factory.

      Mourabi wrote many new songs.  Just like Bob from the toy company had written many new songs.  Just like Hernan had written many new songs.  Mourabi felt younger, and he sang for all the students and families from his country who had fled during the time of the revolution.  They made tapes of his singing and sent them to their friends back home.  Their friends copied the tapes of Mourabi's singing, and gave them to their friends.  Soon many people were singing his songs about a better time, and a peaceful time when all were free to come and go and visit their families, and see the rooftops and sky of their old cities once more.

      Mourabi's name became famous in his homeland without the old electrician Mourabi ever knowing.  One day he came home to his little apartment and found everything had been smashed.  His refrigerator door was open and food was emptied everywhere.  In the corner, the guitar from the Panda Toy Factory lay broken.  On it was a note in thick black marker:

      "Stop singing or this will happen to YOU!"

      Mourabi was not afraid.  He had seen much worse destruction in the revolution in his country.  IN fact Mourabi smiled, because now he realized that his songs were being sung everywhere in his homeland and that the government was scared.  "Songs are more powerful than an army," he laughed to himself.  "I am old, so what do I care what they threaten me with?"

      So Mourabi cleaned out his apartment and put all his broken furniture out on the curb to wait for trash day.  Then he bought himself a new guitar and left the city.  He found a little town with a good lake for fishing, and mailed his tapes to a friend in the city.  The trusted friend copied them and secretly sent to their homeland.  Mourabi was safe and his songs were sung for many years.

      After Mourabi left there was a trash strike, and the broken guitar that Xin Piau had made sat on a ripped overstuffed chair for weeks.

      Joe was a trash-picker.  He picked up the pieces of the guitar and looked carefully at the wood.  He knew his woods.  This sounding board and the neck had fine swirled hardwood grains, and were more perfect than any he had seen.  He couldn't tell what kind of tree it came from, but he knew the wood was very old and rare, and that it was not originally meant for a guitar.  He knew with some sanding and oiling he could get a good price from a jewelry box-maker or a picture framing shop down-town. 

      Joe didn't know metals besides brass and aluminum and copper and zinc, so he unscrewed the strings from the old guitar and took his prize hardwood home.

      Now perhaps the most miraculous thing about this guitar was that in all the playing that Bob and Hernan and Mourabi had done on this instrument, they had never, ever broken a string.  This is because the metal from the church bells had created a very special alloy, or mixture, when it was spun into wire during one of those wars, and Xin Piau had not used strings that most guitars are used to. 

      Later that afternoon when Tanya passed the chair, her purse caught on some guitar strings.  As she got them untangled, she noticed that they had tarnished to a strange color - sometimes pink, sometimes the color of parchment.  Tanya was a metallurgical engineer.  She put the wires in her handbag and went home.

      When she took them to her laboratory she cut a very small piece from one of the wires.  It was smaller than a pin-head.  Then she ground it down into a fine dust.  She did this all day long to all kinds of metals, to test that her factory was always using pure pieces.  Her factory had to be very careful about the metals it used, because it made thousands of tiny pieces of satellites that had to work forever. 

      Tanya was very surprised at what she found.  The wires were full of a very very rare earth metal that was only found in a few placed in the world.  It was very hard to buy.  Tanya checked a little from each wire and it was all the same.  This would be very good for her little company, because the strings from Xin Piau's guitar had enough metal for hundreds of little parts. 

      So Tanya took the wire strings to the chief lab engineer, and they put them into a special electroplating bath and put the rare earth metal into a plating solution.  And all of the molecules from the strings of Xin Piau's guitar were made into the tiniest contacts and bridges and wires of special computer chips.  And Tanya's company made parts of 850 chips from that one batch of metal that Tanya took from the strings of the broken guitar from the Panda Toy Factory.

      Meanwhile Joe had cut and cleaned and filed and fingered that old wood from the monestary library until it had a soft glow of something to be found in a famous museum.  As Joe worked he sang, for the wood was even more beautiful than he was capable of imagining.  Joe even composed some new songs to sing.  He knew he would get a very good price, but it didn't matter anymore.  He had never handled wood as rich and warm as this.  It didn't matter how old it was or what kind of tree it had come from.  He knew it would soon be a great work of art.

      When he was finished he took all the wood to an art teacher named Claudia at the art museum school.  Joe told Claudia of the guitar.  The artist saw the wood and beamed.  She saw that Joe had made the old wood live, and she promised Joe half of what she got for her art. 

      "The real value is in the wood, not in what my hands make of it."   Claudia was a good woman, and a wonderful artist.  She worked on the wood from Xin Piau's guitar all that summer.  She made a most beautiful sculptured and tiled frame of it, and it was hung up for sale in a gallery window in the very center of town.  A very important foundation bought the Claudia's frame for quite a lot of money.  It was to be used to frame a permanent exhibit it of the first, and most important peace prize given in the world, and it was to travel from place to place.  Claudia was very happy that her work would be seen by so many in such an important way.  She paid Joe as she'd promised, and Joe was overjoyed at how much she'd gotten, because he got half.

      Now it so happened that when the chips from Tanya's company were tested in ovens and freezers they worked without failing - perfectly.  For chip factories this is considered a miracle.  When a big telecommunications company found out they bought all 850 chips to put them into their satellites.  Every year after that there were 25 new satellites communicated with each other using the chips from Tanya's factory, each which contained the tiniest bit of metal from the strings of the guitar that Xin Piau had made.  And as you may know, many satellites circle the world at the same speed as the earth turns so they can just hover over cities around the globe. And they sit up there like an electronic umbrella over our heads that goes everywhere we go.  And now these satellites were singing in frequencies controlled by metal contacts fashioned from the bells of that forgotten, bombed-out monestary in the mountains.

      And here is an end to this very very long story about Xin Piau's guitar. 

      Xin Piau and his wife still collect things in their house.  Now Xin Piau is now fashioning a miniature model of the great palace in Beijing for his town hall. 

      Bob moved his family to a pretty farm near Nashville, where he writes songs for other singers to record. 

      Hernan got married and bought a nice house in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where he and his wife started a music school.  His group plays every weekend at the village club, and then at festival time they go from island to island in their own boat playing music at all their favorite towns.

      And Mourabi keeps singing old songs and new songs onto tapes for his friends.  But he doesn't have to worry about the generals in his homeland.  They were overthrown by people singing Mourabi's songs.  So now Mourabi can go back to his homeland whenever he wants - but he prefers to stay in his adopted village and fish, play his new gusla and his guitar.

      One last thing.  When Xin Piau retired his cousin from America called to congratulate him.

      "Now you'll have time to make that guitar from the book I sent you!" his cousin joked. 

      "But I made that many years ago, cousin," Xin Piau said.  But his cousin didn't hear him because the phone lines all over the world were suddenly filled with the sounds of many guitar songs. 

      "I didn't hear what you said!" his cousin yelled back.

      "I said I'll make you one!" Xin Piau yelled as loud as he could.  And the telephone lines were all clear again and it people could talk together as if they were face to face.

      "Congratulations on your retirement, Xin Piau!"

      "Thank you, Cousin." 

 

 

(picture of telephone technicians trying to figure out what happened)