Li Shang Yin’s Untitled Poems

Li Shang Yin (813-858) is a well-known Tang poet who wrote so many poems that he simply titled some of them “Poems in Four Lines”, which I translate as Untitled. Here are excerpts from two of them:

 

(1) Meeting was hard and parting was harder,

Flowers wither when the winds turn weaker,

 

Silk is exhausted when the silkworm dies,

Tears will cease when candles become ashes.

 

(2) The winds and the stars last night

Drew us together at the east hall of the Western tower;

 

We had not the phoenix’s wings,

But had hearts linked by magical powers.

 

Bends

This 2013 movie, in Cantonese and dubbed in Mandarin, was selected for several International Film Festivals (in Toronto, Korea, London and Hong Kong) and stars Carina Lau and Chen Kun.

Anna (Lau) is an affluent housewife and Fai (Chen) is her chauffeur. Fai’s wife (a Mainland Chinese) is about to give birth to their second child, and they don’t want to be fined for having a second child in China and don’t want their child to become an illegal citizen.Though Fai crosses the border easily every day for work, it is a struggle for him to find a way to bring his wife and daughter over to Hong Kong from Shenzhen.

Anna is also struggling to keep up the facade of an affluent lifestyle, even for her daughter studying overseas, especially when her husband suddenly cancels all her Credit Cards and disappears. Her maid leaves her and she has to resort to sell her expensive paintings, sculptures and antique vases.

To Anna’s surprise, she’s not the only one facing financial turmoil. She unwittingly discovers about Fai’s attempt to smuggle his wife in the boot of Anna’s car when it overheats and stalls on a long drive one day. Eventually, Fai flags down a taxi to take his wife to the hospital and Anna is left to walk down the hill in her high-heel shoes and two branded handbags.

I did not quite like the way the story is told and find the music used  disappointing. When a beautiful cello is shown next to where Anna is seated at home, I expected to hear some cello music in the background, even if she doesn’t play it. When Anna attends her ballroom dancing classes in preparation for a Charity Ball, I expected some dance music in the background. To my disappointment, there is no cello (or any classical music) or any dance music. Even the movie’s theme song, The Beginning of the End, sung by Carina Lau, did not impress.

Dealing With Negative Emotions

Two weeks ago, I signed up for this talk with a couple of friends at the Serangoon Public Library, forgetting all about the jazz performance on the same afternoon at the library@esplanade.

I wondered if I had made a wrong decision when I saw there were only about a dozen attendees at the talk. When the two facilitators could not play the introductory video, I wished I was enjoying the jazz performance instead.

It was only when the facilitators role played an incident highlighting the destructive emotional cycle that I felt that perhaps I would learn something, like some useful tips on how to deal with negative emotions. For eg, instead of blaming others and justifying our triggered thoughts when a hot button is pressed, we should learn not to take things personally, nor make assumptions, but move away from the situation to avoid further conflicts.

Besides discussing what “thinking” and “emotional” brains and “emotional destructive cycle” mean, the facilitators also shared some signals to show that the body is stressed and strategies to manage negative emotions. These include

  • Body Talk – clenched jaw & gritted teeth, stomach upsets, aches & pain, chest pains & rapid heartbeat, insomnia, nervousness & shaking, ringing in the ear, and cold & sweaty hands & feet;
  • Feelings Talk – easily agitated, frustrated & moody, feeling overwhelmed, like losing control or need to take control, difficulty relaxing & quieten the mind, and feeling lousy, lonely, miserable & depressed;
  • Mind Talk – constant worrying & racing thoughts, forgetfulness, inability to focus and poor judgement;
  • Behaviour Talk – changes in appetite, procrastinating & avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol, drug or cigarettes, and exhibiting more nervous behaviouss such as nail-biting, fidgeting & pacing.

Some ways to stay calm and happy in the long run include:

  • Giving people the benefit of the doubt
  • Looking at yourself for the problem first
  • Be mindful
  • Choose your battles
  • Confront with compassion

In conclusion, Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony (Mihandas Gandhi).

Spinning Plates

This 2013 documentary is about three extraordinary restaurants and the incredible people who make them what they are:

  1. Alinea is a cutting-edge Chicago-based restaurant, named seventh best in the world, where food is at once art, at once craft, at once science. The chef has to battle a life-threatening obstacle to pursue his passion.
  2. Breitbach’s Country Dining is a 15o-year-old family restaurant in Iowa. Once, a gas explosion blew the restaurant but it is still standing because of the unbreakable bond with its community.
  3. La Cocina de Gabby is a fledging Mexican restaurant in Tucson whose owners risk everything just to survive and provide for their young daughter.

The unforgettable stories of family, legacy, passion and survival come together to remind us  how meaningful food can be, and the power it has to connect us to one another. It is a celebration of the art and passion of nurturing people, not just feeding them but nourishing their soul and making them feel comfortable.

Life is what we make it. Let’s make it a feast.

Thoughts On A Quiet Night

I first came across the well-known Tang Poem ‘jing ye si’ by Li Bai (701-762) when I was a kid, learnt it in lower secondary school, and only now try to translate it into English:

 

Thoughts On A Quiet Night

 

Glowing moonlight over the bed,

Like early snowflakes on the ground;

Observing the bright moon above,

Thinking of homeland far away.

A Morning In Spring

I find it quite interesting to translate Tang poems into English. Here’s one by Meng Hao Ran (689-740) which I translate as A Morning In Spring:

 

Deep in slumber in spring,

Unaware of daybreak;

Upon awakening,

Birds can be heard singing;

 

Howling wind and loud rain

Were heard throughout the night;

Who knows how much petals

Have fallen on the ground?

The Zero Theorem

Since I’ve never liked science fiction, the only reason I borrowed this 2013 DVD is Christopher Waltz and Matt Damon. And was I disappointed! First, Waltz is completely not what I remember him to be; second, Damon appears in only one scene!!

The story is set in a futuristic London. We are in a chaotic and confused time. There are so many choices and so little time. What do we need,  who do we love, and what brings us joy?

Waltz is an eccentric and reclusive scientist (Qohen Leth) working on a mysterious project delegated by Damon (Management) who asks: What is the meaning of life?

Somehow, the futuristic sets ring forced and faked. I find the story mind-boggling, with endless mention of software, data, programming, mass, uploads and target overrun tedious, despite the stunts, special and visual effects.