Quite a few years ago, the woman writer Li Lingxiu sent me an orchid plant. I put it on the windowsill above my bookcase. Its deep green, fleshy, sword-shaped leaves were lined up like a troop of soldiers. Twice a year among the leaves there would appear orange-coloured spots, and all the family, young and old, would dash around excitedly telling each other that the orchids were about to blossom.
That would be really good news. The dozens of flute-shaped orange flowers, each with five petals, would open upwards and stand like refined gentlemen bowing politely to each other. As the stems grew, the "gentlemen" would become taller and stand there in peaceful repose for a whole month without withering!
This prompted me to flip through the "Confucian Analects" once more. The revered sage Confucius had many definitions as to what constituted a gentleman, but the best quotation I could find to describe my gentleman orchids was "The gentleman is slow in speech but nimble in action."
For "speech" I think of the orchids' fragrance, and for "action" I think of the orchids' shape and period of blooming. The gentleman orchids have a faint scent and a deep colour. Dozens of flowers would remain standing for days on end, bowing politely to each other. The sight of them is so uplifting. I am fond of the pungent scent of roses and the recondite perfume of Osmanthus, but their petals fade in a few days and their fragrance vanishes leaving me melancholy, and appreciating all the more the gentleman orchids.