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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Japanese Koan (公案)


A koan is an accepted word in the English language. From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is defined as,

"a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhist monks to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden enlightenment."

This note is the result of a series of conversation in the comment box of Toshi on his piece, "Ginger Tea".

After my commentary, I stumbled onto this gem. Another example of how I learn things from correcting English essays of others.

For more information about what a koan is,

For more koan examples,

The following koan is taken from the second link. I find it of great interest because it is so succinctly well put and suddenly a ray of enlightenment came upon me. I would like to share it with those studying Chinese. I have been doing all this while without realization. It is entitled, "How To Write A Chinese Poem".

How To Write a Chinese Poem

A well-known Japanese poet was asked how to compose a Chinese poem.

"The usual Chinese poem is four lines," he explained. "The first line contains the initial phrase; the second line, the continuation of that phrase; the third line turns from this subject and begins a new one; and the fourth line brings the first three lines together. A popular Japanese song illustrates this:

Two daughters of a silk merchant live in Kyoto.
The elder is twenty, the younger, eighteen.
A soldier may kill with his sword,
But these girls slay men with their eyes."

Here is my translation into Chinese. Welcome to correct my mistakes and your suggestions are most appreciated,


1. I didn't literally translate sword into 劍 because I would need another character as adjective to fulfill the word count requirement. E.g. 利劍, etc. Weaponry seemed most appropriate.

2. I didn't think the Chinese character for men, 男 is suitable. So I used the character that can either mean a "male" or "hero". It has a better sound than either 男 or 士 (member of the senior ministerial class (old) / scholar (old) / bachelor / honorific / first class military rank / specialist worker). What do you this?

Monday, December 19, 2011



明月一夜明日來,  Bright moon of tonight, gone by the coming day,
今晨花開今宵謝.  Blossoms of this morn, withered by tonight's time.
流水速速東海去1, How quickly do the rivers emptying into the Eastern Sea,
古松默默對山青.  Only ancient pines facing the mountain green.

1.  All Chinese rives flow eastward into the ocean.

Merry Chistmas And Happy New Year - 2011

This was written as a note entry for my friends on Italki.  Might as well post it here as well.

I like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope all will have a blast and a great time for the remaining of this wonderful year of 2011. I, for one, will look forward to the coming year, although there are idiots out there believe that the world will end by then.

Long before the year 1000 A.D., there was the prediction that the world will come to an end on that first day. Even the Catholic Church indirectly became involved because the adherents of the doomsday prophecy claimed that the evidence was contained in the Bible. The fact that the Church did not clam down on the prediction proved that they believed in the prediction too. So people sold all their possessions and had a great time in 999 A.D. while others prayed fervently to get into heaven.

Hell literally broke loose when the day came and gone just like any other ordinary day. Riots broke out with angry mobs demanding their possessions back. The most obvious damage control was that the Pope was so pious that his piety so moved God to postpone the Armageddon till a later date! From that time onwards, the Church no longer was in the business of prophecy making.

Idiots of today are no different from those of a thousand and eleven years ago. They are still as gullible as ever. This is because they lack of a good education in science and logic. Where else but only in the US that you find this sort of thing happening. States trying to legislate the introduction of Creationism into school curriculum. The Chinese calendar has gone through the thousand year cycle five or six times. So is the Jewish calendar. It is just a number and nothing else. However this did not make the aversion of the number 13 in Westerners nor the Chinese and Japanese for the number 4!

The number of days in our lives is determined by the unseen hand of Fate. No one but those contemplating suicide, etc will know far in advance of their death. So I say, enjoy this only life you have. Whatever future lives, if you choose to believe their existence, worry about it when you are living in that future life. Right now, choose they way you want to live and not by the whims of others telling how you should live. You are an idiot if you let others run your life for you. You are just living a life of a lemming and nothing more. If you can go to sleep without your conscience gnawing at your dreams, then you are doing good. We all will grow old and die. I believe in retribution. It will come to haunt you in one way or another.

As for myself, I never have a Christmas tree in my home. Nor do you see any Christmassy decoration. First of all, I do not like any life killed for my pleasure. I am not a “bah humbug”. I have a morbid fear of the house catching fire as year after year I read such horror stories of the dried tree bursting into flames because of some electrical defect. Besides, I won’t be home most of the time. For example, starting from this coming Wednesday, I will be out partying with friends and not far from it will be feast after feast to be gorged away only to pay penance at the gym after the holidays! Not to mention that I will have to spend time to put up the decorations and then putting them down again. I rather be on Italki correcting someone’s English essay. It is more constructive and time well spent than to be up on a ladder inviting accidents to come.

Well, this is my way of celebrating my year end holidays. This coming Wednesday is also the start of the Winter Solstice. Not a big celebration here but I am sure it is a big one over in the Chinas of Asia. Still, it is as valid as any other reason to get friends together to have a great time. I hope you too have a good time to enjoy with friends and family.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Cats - The Bitch and the Tuxedo

This is in response to KaryLam's note in, to share our loves.
The Blue Kitty

She was there before the house was built. She was there when the house was built. She was there before we moved in. She was there at the main entrance to the house when we moved in! Yes, right smack in front of the entrance. She did not run away but looked at us and give us a pitiful meow as if telling us, “You may stay and live with me”. With that she ran off.

By now you know who I was referring to. It’s a bluish grey neighbourhood kitten. As we settled in the house, she was always around, giving us a meow as if asking if we find her domain accommodating. Soon we fed her and she began to come into the house as well. We do not know if she has another person to scrounge off since she seems to a master of herself. Finally she decided that it will be us that she shall choose to live with.

We do not know what to call her. Our next door neighbour told us they call her “Squeak” because her meowing sounded like a squeak. However we did not like the name. We were not sure if she is a Russian Blue. She looks like one. So we called her the “Blue Kitty”. Later from the internet, she is a Korat a very similar looking one but her eyes are not orange. We really did not care if she is a Russian Blue or a Korat but her name stuck. She would be indignant if you just call her “Blue”.

She is standoffish, aloof and regal. She does not come to you when you call her. She simply stares and looks at you as if you are an idiot. However when the sound of the can is opened even though she is far away outside of the house, she will come pounding in! She has an amazing sense of hearing. She is the queen of the jungle backyard we have. You see I like to have a tropical garden with over twenty different species of bamboo and broad leaf plants. She rules with iron fangs.

One morning upon, opening the door, one of us screamed! She brought a gift for us to show us that we are welcomed – mind you, just a bloody head of a half eaten mouse. Of course she was indignant. “What’s the matter with your? Don’t you like my gift?” From that time onwards, she no longer shares her dainty morsels with us unappreciative blokes! Such royal temper. For one thing, she does keep the rodent population down.

We loved her even though she is finicky and only comes to you she has the time and your attention is wanted. However one of us even spoils her by buying a blanket with cat paw pattern for her to sleep in his bed in the cold nights. Of course guess who has to let her out of the house when she feels that she needs to go out to survey her kingdom at 3am! Yes, moi! Why we tolerate her nonsense is beyond our feeble minds!

This is the Blue Kitty for you. I shall talk more of her when the arrival of the Tuxedo into our lives.

The Tuxedo

A year later, we discovered that the Blue Kitty was eating her food more than usual. This is because we have to fill her bowl with dry food all the time. Then one day, I noticed a skinny black and white kitten eating from her bowl. It ran away when I tried to approach it. It was skinny and scrawly. It had a lip defect that it made it looks like one of those old cartoon black and white cat characters with a sneering smile.

Each time, when I ran off to a distance, I would call “meow meow” and fill up the bowl. About a month later, it began to warm up to me. I guess it knows that I am feeding it and hung around the place more often. Sometimes when I see it lying on the garden furniture, I would approach it slowly with the dry cat food in my hand and calling my now familiar, “meow meow”. Soon it would approach me cautiously and ate from my hand. After a few times, it was complete at ease with me and allowed me to pat it.

Soon I was cuddling it and scrounge its ears. It loves to be scrounged in its years. Since it is a tuxedo cat, we called him Tuxedo. Soon it because a fixture of the house. I never believe my cats to be indoor cats. I have a big garden and with its tropical theme, the cats adored the garden. However a great change came over the Blue Kitty. She was no longer friendly, even more aloof. I guessed she felt hurt as if we were taking in a second wife or concubine into the house. She would only come in to eat and then leave. The Tuxedo on the other was adorable like any favoured concubine. It would come over to you when you call or even when you are not calling. It would come and knead you on your stomach if you are lying down on the couch. Whenever you feed it, it would give you a meow first as if to thank you. It will not eat the moment the food is poured into its bowl. It would wait for awhile as if in deep thought of a prayer before eating. To me it seems to show gratitude. Well, I guess cats are like human beings too. The Blue Kitty is acting like the first wife! She knew though she is the rightful owner of the place, she refuse to eat from the same bowl as the Tuxedo and so we have no choice but to fork over our hard earned cash to buy a different bowl for her. Whenever the Tuxedo approaches the Blue Kitty, she would angrily swipe at him for its usurpation of the throne. The Blue Kitty will no longer let you touch her at all. She just comes in, eats and then bounces off. What a bitch!

Later we found that the Tuxedo is a tom cat. It would come and sleep in my room with me and purring away just to keep me awake. What can I do? I am just a sucker. There are many nicknames for the Tuxedo, he is known as the “Moo-Moo”, “Momo”, “Mochi” and “Mucho-mucho”. I adored the “Mochi” while the Blue Kitty seemed like an ingrate. Later I conjectured that he was from a family of tuxedo cats who lived in the upper hillock of our neighbour’s house. He must have wandered down from the slope and got lost. Whenever I had a broom in my hand the Blue Kitty would run away as if in fear. I suppose she must been abused as a kitten. However the Tuxedo showed no such thing. I guessed he must have a different life. An innocent one and not streetwise like the Blue Kitty. Sometimes naivety breeds pleasure. Once I used a giant broom to brush his body. He became addicted to it. He loves to be brushed. So each time he sees a broom in my hands, he would come over to me and plop down, expecting to have a body massage! Eventually I have to put him inside the house before I do any outdoor cleaning. What a mochi he is.

Whatever the case may be, he must be my previous life debtor. First of all I have to spend extra money on taking him to be neutered. The Blue Kitty on the other hand did not cost us a single penny at all even to this day. Even her neutering, someone did for us. One day she disappeared for a day and the next time we knew, someone had done a kind deed for us. Most probably because of his naivety, he was always being bullied by other neighbour cats getting into fights and received wounds. Each time we have to take him to the vet. So often that he became the Money God to the vet! We tried to keep him the house in the night but still incidents happened.

Then one day, after a particularly nasty wound, the vet told us that the Tuxedo has developed some kind of kidney problem because feline form of AIDs most probably caught from wounds of raccoons in the neighbourhood. This is totally different from the human type. We did not have the heart to put it to misery even though I was for it because he looks very healthy. To cut the sad story short of seeing him wasting away with injections or whatever not, in the end we have no choice but to put it to sleep. Of course everyone in the household was sad except for one. You guessed it! Her Royal Highness – the Blue Kitty.

Whether you believe it or not, the moment the Queen found out that the Tuxedo is no longer around, her character changed once more. She is now more friendly and reverted partially to her former self. At least she no longer runs away when she sees you now. It is like the first wife had forgiven the husband. Now once in a while, when she feels like it, she would come to you, starts purring and knead your stomach too. Perhaps she learnt a trick or two from the Tuxedo. However she is imperious as ever and this morning she is scratching on the staircase carpet to let you know that she is tired of staying inside the house and is out on an inspection tour of her realm.

As I am loading the picture of the Tuxedo Mochi, I can still feel a tear welling in my eyes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Reply

My Facebook friend sent me a poem of his the other day. I guess this is our way of grinding our minds as a pastime. I do not know long did it take him to compose but I am sure it must be in a short period as his Chinese is excellent. This was what he sent.  I have included the translation and annotated some of the not so apparent references as footnotes for your understanding and enjoyment.

蘭花氣質比天仙, Orchid fragrance better than those of a fairy,
天生註定世人賞. Only destined to be enjoyed by others.
幾度花落紅庭院, How often have the flowers fallen,
花謝花飛飛滿庭. All over the red1 courtyard, withering and in flight.
春風艷色未挽留, But alas, no spring wind can bring them back2.
色消香斷奈何天. Alas, colors faded, fragrance stopped.
往日風流朱顏改, Merriment in days of yore; no longer rosy are these cheeks of mine,
紅樓玉壁依然在. But cinnabar buildings with walls of jade still remain.
低聲嘆氣我自憐, In whispers and sighs, I pity myself.
自古紅顏多薄命. From time immemorial, such are the pitiful lives of beauties.

For days, I cracked my mind for a suitable reply. I have to have a similar theme and yet something different. To cut my story short, the following poem was the result of an image formed during my jog up the hill. Two once upon a time lovers met again after many years. It describes the scene of this chance meeting. I never like my women characters to be weak and fragile.

一滴珠淚千古恨, One tear drop, a thousand regrets.
秋波隱忍萬世愁. Hidden in the eyes, a myriad sorrows.
揮扇遮隔身外塵, Waving my fan, I seek refuge and distance myself from the outer dust3,
釵搖回首不望後. Swishing of my hairpin4, I turned and looked not back.

Anyway I came up with a second version. I did not know which is better. Most grateful for any pointer or comment. Thanks all.

一滴珠淚一滴恨, One tear drop, one drop of regret,
是否淚盡恨不留. Tears gone, no regret left?
揮扇遮隔眼前塵, Waving my fan, I seek refuge and distance myself from this dust before me.
釵搖回首不多聞. Swishing my hairpin, I turned and listened no more.

1. In the original poem, there are mention of “red buildings/mansions/towers” and red courtyards. These are residence of the nobility. By imperial law of those times, no common people are allowed to have red colored walls. Special dispensation must be granted by the emperor. Yellow is reserved for imperial use and therefore no nobility can use that color either. The rich may adorned their homes with other colors.

2. Actually the translation should be, “No spring wind can retain their fading beauty.” I find this is too explicit in English. In this way, it makes readers have a more vivid imagination.

3. The red dust means the vulgar world with all its gory comings and goings.

4. Ancient Chinese women adorned their hair with elaborate hairpins unlike those of today. The more elaborate ones are like tassels and can hang to their shoulders. These metallic accoutrements can be used as a weapon either to stab the attacker or to use as means of committing suicide.  These tassels are also known as 步搖 literally, "step swayers".  I prefer to translate them as "step danglers".  Here’s a photo for easier reference.