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Unique Letters

People of the Jingpo minority in Yunan Province in south China are well known for their cleverness at writing letters in objects rather than ink. To show that one misses a relative, or a friend who is far away, one will send a unique letter composed of a root plus a few grains of sesame. The root represents "miss" while the sesame means "very much." If one receives a piece of beef or pork from someone, the sender is saying that, "Someone in the family died the other day, but I am sorry that we did not inform you to attend the funeral because of the long distance."

Such letters are more complicated when young people use them to express love affairs. When a young man wants to show his love for a girl, he will send her a love letter made up of a root with a chili, a bulb of garlic, and several grains of sesame. This can be translated into this: I miss (root) you very much (sesame). My feeling for you is as hot as the chili. I am eager to see you as I must have a good talk with you (garlic). If the girl accepts him after reading it, she will return the letter, informing him that, "Ok, I know now, and my feelings for you are the same." But if she refuses, she will return the letter after adding some charcoal to it, which means that the possibility of her accepting him is as dark as the charcoal and to just forget about her.

When the girl attaches a sort of grass named milky grass to the letter, she is saying, "Don't get worried. I want to know more about you." Getting the reply, the young man will put two fresh chestnut leaves face to face and send them to her love together with a chili and some grains of corn, beans and unhusked rice to express his eagerness to be her bridegroom. If the girl replied by sending him some tobacco, the man should be wild with joy because she finally will become his bride. But he has to feel sad when he gets two chestnut leaves back to back. Getting the reply, the young man will put two fresh chestnut leaves face to face and send them to his love together with a chili, some grains of corn, beans and unhusked rice to express his eagerness to be her bridegroom. If the girl replies by sending him some tobacco, the man should be wild with joy because she finally will become his bride. But he should feel sad if he gets two chestnut leaves back to back.

Written by our column writer Ye Qinfa.

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