Discovering the Eight Immortals

One day while I was at the boatyard, inside a very old building where they were fabricating all the furniture for the Mei Wen Ti, I ran across something that was very puzzling to me. Stacked next to a wall, were sixteen carved wooden panels about two feet square. The top panel had a sword carved on it. I looked at the next panel and it was a basket of flowers. But there was nothing in my design specifications that called for sixteen carved panels. What were they?

After a discussion with the furniture maker I learned that eight of the panels would be installed along each side of the Mei Wen Ti for decoration beneath the hand railings, which run around the aft portion of the main deck. The only thing I learned was that the panels had something to do with a “fairy story”. The man working on the furniture wrote out rows and rows of Chinese characters and then handed me the small slip of paper. I thanked him and put the “fairy story” in my journal with the intention of learning what it all meant later.

The panels depicting the Eight Immortals are hoisted on to the Mei Wen Ti for installation.

Later in the construction, I took this picture of the wooden panels being hoisted aboard to for installation and noted them in my journal. I still had no idea what they represented but made a mental note to do some research back to the states.

Somehow during my travels, the small slip of paper got lost and the “fairy tale” depicted in the panels remained a mystery.

Then one day aboard the Mei Wen Ti in 2003 I started reading a small red book titled “Kuan Yin: The Legends of the Eight Immortals". Since I had a statue of Kuan Yin on the boat, the story piqued my interest. As I paged through the book, I noticed a picture of one of the Eight Immortals, Han Hsiagn-Tzu, who was holding a flute. Since there was a flute on one of the panels topside, I decided to investigate. Taking the little book with me to the main deck, I found in addition to the flute, the magic sword representing Lu Tung-Pin, and so on until I had identified all eight (I will write more about all in a future blog).

The famous Eight Immortals.

So the panels don’t necessarily represent a “fairy tale”, but each panel represents one of the Eight Immortals, a group who represent all conditions of life in old China. When the workman wrote out the explanation of a "fairy tale" I am guessing he figured it was the easiest way for a Westerner to understand their meaning. The more I learned about them, I found how revered they are in China, and there are many stories written about the exploits of these immortals. I'm guessing over the centuries, pilots and junkmen felt the need for some supernatural assistance to give them moral support, and the tradition (of putting emblems aboard vessels) is still alive and well despite many years under Communist rule.

Please visit again soon to read about other unexpected and delightful things that make the Mei Wen Ti so special. If you enjoyed these short stories, I'll bet you'll enjoy reading "No Problem, Mr. Walt"!

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