translation attempt

Honored or humiliated
I’m not taken aback,
Leisurely I observe
the blooming and falling of the flowers
in front of my chamber;
Leave or stay
I do not care,
Easily I go with
the tightening and smoothening of the cloud
in the sky beyond.

I came across this Chinese poem today, written (or first published, I’m not certain) during the beginning of the 1600s, and I was completely blown away by its beauty and wisdom. The above is my first attempt of translating it into English.



how many pigs today? (day 5 of 9)

China Trip – Day 5 of 9

In traditional Chinese culture, people greet each other by asking: “Have you eaten yet?” or in Shanghainese “侬吃了伐?” I don’t think this greeting is still used among the younger generation Chinese; at least I have not been greeted this way for as long as I could remember.

I, however, invented a different greeting during this trip to Shanghai.

Let me give you some background first. Huangpu River is the largest river that flows through Shanghai into the East China Sea. It is also a major source of the city’s drinking water. See my picture below, taken from Bund, looking out to Pudong on the other side of the Huangpu River. Can you imagine Pudong was just farmlands and warehouses and was virtually flat only 20 years ago? But I digressed. According to Baidu, the Chinese Google, dead pigs regularly float down the Huangpu River. This March though, it had made news finally because too many pigs came downstream. BBC first reported this on March 11th.

When I arrived in Shanghai a couple of days later, this was one of the first news stories I heard. My friend J.Y. immediately warned me not to drink tap water, as if I would ever do such a thing even without the pig story. And the number of pigs being fished out of the river were increasing daily. When I first arrived, it was 2,000 pigs and it was a big news then. When I left Shanghai 9 days later, the count had already gone up to 10,164 pigs.

So instead of greeting people with “Have you eaten yet?”, I greeted people with “How many pigs today, do you know?” And I had gotten great responses. People would pause for a second after receiving such an unexpected greeting, and instantly accepted me with knowing smiles as one of the locals/insiders and not that of a visitor. 😀

There were various responses to this issue, but what I liked most were the following two:

1. This shows progress in China, that the living standard is higher now even in the poorest areas, so that the dead pigs ended up in the Huangpu River and not in someone’s belly.
2. This shows progress in China, that news like this is actually made available to the public and not suppressed.

Bottom line, the dead pigs symbolize the progress in China!



Author’s Note: I stopped writing posts on day 5. It was hard to be motivated to write everyday when there was no way to post due to the Great Firewall. I’m making up the missing posts now. This one is written on 3/25/13 and will be backdated to 3/17/13.

lifetime vacation (day 2 of 9)


China Trip – Day 2 of 9

Even after all these years, I still marvel at any non-native-Chinese who can speak Chinese well, albeit the fact that half of the world have learned to speak English as a second language. So when my friend N.P. picked up the phone and said in Chinese, “你好討厭喔” (the literal translation would be “you are such an annoyance”, but used here as an intimate whine between friends), I was utterly impressed.  She and her husband had been in China for about 3 years, living in my favorite building in the chic Former French Concession district of Shanghai.  We went yoga together a couple of days later.  While I was traveling in Berlin last September, I also went for a “yoga in English” session.  I personally think that is the best trick up my sleeve in peeking into real local life as a tourist.  It did not disappoint me.

Later that day, I also met up with another friend of mine, J.Y., who had come to Shanghai only 6 months earlier with her husband and two kids as expats. It seemed to me that everyone treats their time in China as a chapter of their life experience, as something transitory. Somewhere else, their home awaits. Hence, they explore and get a taste of the culture and local life as an outsider, and they cherish the moments, even some unpleasant ones, as if their stay was a long and extended vacation, and they are dealing with the pleasures and irritations of a common excursion.

It’s quite different for most overseas Chinese, as we uprooted from China, and planted roots abroad. It was no vacation but real and serious life. But would it be such a bad idea to treat life as a long extended vacation anyway? One might stay in luxury hotels or backpack and camp-out due to economic differences, but the experiences would be all real and true, and it would be all yours to have and no one can take them away from you. And at the very least, it would be fun!

Chinese new year

This Hawaiian native came into the yoga room, beaming with joy. He said “Happy Chinese New Year” to a few people in the room he knew, and apparently the morning had gone so well for him that he was excited about an auspicious new year.

I always wondered how people could be so happy, sometimes even with a little envy.

He came by and chatted with us, and told us about the Sun Yat Sen park and the history of the family with Hawaii.

Sun Yat Sen is a name known by all Chinese.  He was considered the father of the Republic of China and had led the revolution back in 1911 that brought down the two-thousand-year old imperial system.

While I was happy to learn about the Sun Yat Sen – Hawaii connection, it’s his brother’s story that I’d like to share.  Sun Yat Sen’s older brother Sun Mei was a successful merchant, and was the one who had supported Sun Yat Sen’s education.  Later, he had acquired massive land in Maui and was nicknamed King of Kula.  However, Sun Mei had to sell off his land piece by piece, then his business and finally to declare bankruptcy just to support his younger brother’s revolution in China. I wonder whether Sun Mei had done it out of the love for his younger brother, or out of his own political ideology. Probably both.  But standing beside Sun Yat Sen’s statue and looking at the vast land beneath my feet and the pacific ocean beyond, the land once belonged to Sun Mei, I couldn’t help feeling the love Sun Mei had for his brother.

Maybe one’s passion doesn’t have to be art, music, science or business, maybe one’s passion is the love of someone else, be it one’s children, lover or in this case a brother.

How to define a successful life? What to write on one’s tombstone? Here at the Sun Yet Sen park, where the world celebrates him as a courageous thinker and leader of his era, I give my respect to his brother.

Yet, would I be satisfied if my tombstone says “a good daughter and a loving wife”?  Most likely not, as I feel I need to be more than just that.