View From The Tower


It took me a while to translate this Verse from Song dynasty poet Liu Yong (987-1053):


View From The Tower


Alone I lean against the balustrade on a high tower,

With breeze bently blowing.

Peering into the distance,

Spring brings a skein of sorrow,

Indistinct from the far horizon.

Grass looks ashy in the fading light.

No one would know my unspoken feelings from the way I lean.

Planning to become wild and drunk.

Treating wine as songs,

Forcing myself to be merry.

Clothes and belts getting loose but nary a regret.

It is worth becoming haggard for her.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.


I remember following the television series, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in my pre-teen years, but I don’t recall anything about it. When I saw this DVD on the library shelf, I told myself to watch it to find out.

U.N.C.L.E. stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, a secret international intelligence agency at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s.

A CIA agent, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), takes Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), daughter of Dr Udo Teller (Christian Berkel), a Nazi scientist, from East Berlin, evading KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer).

A mysterious organisation plans to upset the fragile balance of world power, and these two agents reluctantly team up to stop them. They travel to Rome, where they are approached by Alexander Waverly (Hugh Grant), a high-ranking M16 operative who reveals that Gaby is an undercover agent under his employment.

The trio are then reassigned to a new international organisation under Waverly’s command, who announces a new mission to Istanbul. (Indication that there would be a sequel to this movie?)

This is a typical spy thriller – with lots of action, car chases, gun shots  – done with stunts, visual and special effects to radiate energy. However, I found that I did not enjoy the movie as much as I did the television series. Could the reason be the age factor? Umm…., anyway I probably would not watch any sequel of this movie.

Song of the Begonia


A poet of the Song Dynasty, Liu Ke Zhuang (1187-1269) wrote Lyrics to a Song of Divination, with the title of


Song of the Begonia*


Petals light as wings of butterflies,

Flowers scattered llike scarlet dots.

Heaven doesn’t cherish flowers,

But countless varieties still charm.

Flourishing at daybreak on tree tops,

Few remain by dusk on the boughs.

When heaven cherishes flowers,

They’ll endure despite wind and rain.



*My translation



Pawn Sacrifice

I have never mastered the game of chess, but I’ve heard of Bobby Fischer since my early teens so this 2015 DVD caught my attention when I last visited the library@esplanade. I’ve always liked watching biopics and this one was never shown in cinemas here.

The movie opens with the question: “What will Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire, who is also the producer) do next?”. This is what the world over is asking because he has failed to show up for Game 2 of the world title match with chess champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber).

In the next frame, we are brought back to when Fischer was a kid who started to play chess seriously when he was 12, beating American Masters such as Donald Bryne in “the Game of the Century” to become the youngest ever US chanpion. His goal was to play the Russians and win. The two child actors, Alden Lovekamp (absolutely adorable) and Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as the young Bobby are perhaps the best things in this movie.

Declaring the Russians to be cheats, unfair, unjust and immoral, Fischer quits at one point. Until he meets a lawyer (representing the likes of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones) and priest (Father Bill Lombardy, played by Peter Sarsgaard) who both team up to help Fischer towards his goal. He continues to study how the Russians play, every day, for 18 hours a day, for 4 years. Without chess, Fischer doesn’t exist. His genius is compared to Mozart’s, which I don’t agree.

So far, Americans have never beaten Russians at chess but it happened at Santa Monica when Fischer took them on, winning eight matches in a row. The only opponent left to defeat is Spassky. By now, Fischer is displaying signs of paranoia and delusional psychosis. Thinking he’s the best in the world, Fischer ‘disappeared’ for months and earned a  reputation for being tedious, arrogant and inconsiderate.

When Fischer finally beat Spaskky, he became the most famous celebrity in the world but his mental health continued to deteriorate and he disappeared from public view.

I did not recognise most of the music used here (like psychedelic rock music), except John William’s Olympic Fanfare & Theme. The archival footage add authenticity to the movie. This biopic is not like the conventional ones we get to see; this is more like a confrontation between genius and madness. It is about someone seeking to win even though he is losing his mind.

Phoenix Hairpin

Poets Lu You (1125-1210) and Tang Wen were deeply in love but forced by circumstances to divorce. They met again nine years later when Lu wrote Phoenix Hairpin on a garden wall and Tang replied with another. Here is my translation of their Song Verses:


Lu You’s Lyrics:


Fine, pink hands; yellow sealed wine –

The town is filled with Spring’s colours but

The willows remain trapped within the palace.

Fine east winds, short happiness –

Gloomy spirits, separated for years.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!


Same old Spring, haggard looks,

Silk handkerchief stained pink with tears.

Peach blossoms fall, ponds and pavilions empty.

Oaths and promises remain but brocade undelivered.

No! No! No!


Tang Wan’s reply:


Sympathy is lacking, people are unkind,

Rain at dusk cause flowers to tumble.

Dry whipping winds, drying sad tears.

Wishing to unfold matters of the heart,

Murmuring alone by the banister.

Hard! Hard! Hard!


On our separate ways, we’re now different from before,

The ailing spirit often drifts and sways like the swing.

Cold horn signals, night will soon end.

Fear of being questioned,

Tears are awallowed to feign contentment.

Pretend! Pretend! Pretend!

Mindfulness Based Stress Management 2

I was looking so much forward to the second session of the Mindfulness Based Stress Management (MBSM) this morning that I ended up quite disappointed, because the trainer spent at least half the entire duration repeating last week’s session, not just for recapitulation but for the benefit of the three participants who were absent.

It was only when the Responses to Stress was discussed (in small groups) that things got a bit more interesting. All the males were in one group, and the females were split into three groups; this was in order to find out how differently men and women would response to stress. It seems that men talk from the head, as their brains are comparmentalised, more structured and logical, whereas women talk from the heart. The discussion was lively, and brings us to the explanation of Body Sensations (such as Anger, Anxiety, Envy, Fear, Happiness and Surprise) and Body Scan Descriptors (such as Balanced, Cool, Dizzy, Dull, Relaxed and Tense). Mindfulness requires us to step back and reflect on our feelings; and we need to pay attention to our body sensations.

What followed was perhaps the highlight of the day’s programme: exercises for Stress Management and PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation) involving scrunching up our faces then relaxing it, tensing our arms and relaxing them, tensing up our shoulders and chest then relaxing them, tensing up our legs then relaxing them and breathing in relaxation and breathing out tension.

Another set of exercises is called Mindful Movement Meditation where we have to be mindful of our breathing and our body sensations. This involves having the feet apart, arms raised, fruit pick, side bend and shoulder roll. I shall make an effort to incorporate all these into my daily exercise routine. I may also look up the book called Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace In A Frantic World the next time I visit the library.

It was only after this that the trainer embarked on what was supposed to be today’s topic: going into detail the Being & Doing Modes. Being is “what we are” & Doing is “what we can accomplish”. Being Mode is letting go, being still, observing and regaining perspective and helps to put us back in contact with all of our senses; Doing Mode is action and immediate responses (hurry up, faster, quick) and can result in being ‘automated’. More often than not, many of us are in the Doing Mode; we need to think of the kinds of emotions both states exhibit and what the impact is on others. More will be elaborated in the next session, though they are supposed to be covered today.

I hope next week’s session will be better than today’s.

An Evening In Autumn

I remember the first three lines of this poem by Li Qingzhao (d. 1155) from forty years ago. So I decided to do a translation of the entire Song Lyrics by one of the greatests poet in Chinese history:

An Evening In Autumn


Searching and seeking,

Quiet and bleak,

Desolate, bereft and forlorn.

The Autumn warmth has suddenly turned chilly,

It is most difficult to keep well.

A few cups of light wine,

Are no match for the strong morning wind!

Wild geese fly past,

While I’m grief-striken,

But they are friends from bygone days.

Fallen chrysanthemums pile up all over the ground,

Withered and scattered,

What else is there to pluck?

Leaning at the window alone,

How do I pass the time till dusk?

Raindrops fall on a parasol tree,

That becomes wet by evening.

A time such as this,

Is filled with sorrow immense and immeasurable.