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.

Flowers They’re Not


Many have translated this Bai Ju Yi (772-846) poem as “A Bloom Is Not A Bloom”, but I translate it as


Flowers They’re Not

They look like flowers, but they’re not.

They look like mists, but they’re not.

They appear in the middle of the night,

And are gone by the break of light.

The spring dreams come,

like transient joy;

And leave like morning clouds,

no-where to be found.

Early Blossoms

This is a Tang poem by Zhang Wei (aound 778) which I translate as


Early Blossoms


Like strips of pristine white jade,

A tree of plum blossom stands;

At the end of a streamlet,

Near the bridge quite far away.

Would those nearer the streamlet

Flower and blossom first; or

Could they be frosty snowflakes

Still lingering on the twigs?

Listening to Music

Liu Chang Qin (709-785) is another Tang poet who is not very well-known.


But one of his poems stuck a chord with me:


Listening to Music


From the seven* strings come a sad melody,

As desolate as cold pine trees.

Though I love the old melodies,

People are not willing to play them these days.


* An ancient Chinese instrument, the Gu Qin, has seven strings.