On China and other niceties
Category

Others

Will the pig give us a hand?: happy Chinese new year

By | China, Others | No Comments

As you know, the Chinese Zodiac, also known as Sheng Xiao (生肖), is based on a twelve-year cycle. Each year in that cycle is related to an animal sign. These signs are the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and finally, the pig. AIl is calculated according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Since this coming year is the year of the pig, we all have to find out what is the relationship of our own animal sign, the snake in my case, with the pig, in order to figure out how our life is gonna be this year. It seems the beneficial pig effect on the serpent will be reflected in my revenues and some good luck in any new ventures I might undertake. Will I strike it lucky? Let’s have a closer look.

I suppose living a life can be compared to writing a novel. In theory, we have a whole life ahead of us: a pile of blank pages we can fill with words. People who write novels or who live supposedly successful lives always say how easy it is: it’s just a question of getting down to it. They give the impression they’re always headed in the right direction and that everything they do has, or had, a goal or a purpose to it. Does the pig, or any of the other Chinese Zodiac animals, give a hand to them?

In contrast, I have to confess that I have a terrible sense of direction, and whenever I go somewhere, be it on foot, by motorbike, or by plane, I always think I am headed north, i.e. in the right direction, even though I might be going south. I really have tried to get my head round this, but with little success. I was born in Brussels to a mother from the Canary Islands and an Ecuadorian father, so I did wonder if my family’s ‘Southern Roots’ had disorientated me to the extent that I didn’t even know where the centre was any more.  That’s the way things are; I’m not going to go into why I prefer the north because of my complex about the south, or because it’s more developed, or whatever… I doubt the pig can give me any directions!

If each place is its own centre, the same goes for each life, and the same goes for maps; their centre is relative: it depends on the country where you buy them.  If you are in China, the centre of the map branches out from there, and if you are in Mali, the same principle more or less applies. In point of fact, when we examine our lives and place in the great scheme of things ours is the perspective of a mosquito. When we talk about life, and not some auto-life, what do we really mean?

Let’s dig a little deeper. I picture a huge GoogleBio focusing on different lives. Like the countries listed on Google Earth, when our lives are seen from the perspective of a roll call, they all look the same; any differences are simply details. These details may be important for those concerned, but they are so trivial, so tiny; barely changing our mosquito’s perspective, that without wanting to, we come up against the limits of existence; with that unbearable lightness of being.

I’m saying this because there is something unreal about this vivre à l’essai, this putting our lives to the test all the time: we can do something, or do the complete opposite without it affecting our existence one iota. ‘Can’t we do anything right (1)?’ , Goethe once asked.  Well, I’m afraid we can’t. We don’t do anything right, and worse still, we have very little room for manoeuvre. What ill luck we have, my dear pig!!!

Some Details

It might seem trivial, but the day I was given my Chinese name was a momentous occasion. Not so much for the event itself, when I didn’t really take it in, but for the significance it took on later. Things still existed, even before they had a name, but they were somehow different; I would say their existence was diminished. So, when they called me Táng Mènglóng (唐梦), I somehow felt that I had acquired a complete existence again, perhaps because this baptism created another way of existing in the world, and possibly reflected how I had changed over the years. Maybe it wasn’t even that: perhaps it merely confirmed what I had always been.  It’s at this point where I begin to have doubts, and, going back to the subject in question, I’m never sure about the extent to which our decisions make any differences to our lives. Probably none.

Due to the peculiarity of Chinese writing, and also the fact that the language is replete with homophonic words, the characters chosen for names are vitally important.  A good example is the word  (meng: to dream) which can be spelt (meng):  meaning ‘the first month in a season’. It also means ‘older brother’, but more importantly, it is also the first character of the name of the 4th-3rd century BCE Confusian philosopher Mencius (孟子 Mengzi) . The fact my teacher chose a character which refers to a dream world imbues my name with an oneiric, idealistic nuance, which it wouldn’t have otherwise.

Moreover, this character  (Táng), which would be my new surname, also connotes the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), considered the most glorious period of Chinese rule. The third carácter  (Lóng) means ‘dragon’, which is one of the symbols of China. This, coupled with the fact that these three characters in Chinese phonetics sound good together, means that when I say my name I am often complimented, given that I am the dragon which dreams of the Tang dynasty. At the same time, the name also conjures up the Ming dynasty writer Feng Menglong (冯梦龙), who lived between 1574 and 1645.

will the pig give us a hand

That said, an ice cream called Menglong () has become popular in China, as a result of which  people are increasingly likely to say “Ah, like the ice cream!” when I tell them my name. I can’t do anything about it. If you look at the photo, you can see the problem.

Spanish friends say my Chinese name Menglong sounds like the word “melón“, and I suppose at the end of the day, that’s what it boils down to. “A bit like a melon” means a “bit nutty” in Spanish, and that’s not far from the truth. Needless to say, that wasn’t how I imagined things would turn out. C’est la vie. Dear pig, can you still give me a hand?

(1) “Sage, tun wir nicht recht?” is Goethe’s original quote.

 

 

John Ruskin

John Ruskin (The Napoleon of Brantwood)

By | China, Others

Back in October 2018 I met FT´s management editor Andrew Hill at Financial Times premises. He then talked enthusiastically about the release of his new book in 2019. Well, the time has come and his book Ruskinland: How John Ruskin shapes our world is now available for pre-order. I have to say that his enthusiasm about the book sparked my interest on John Ruskin. Needless to say, the following day I bought a copy of Ruskin´s Unto this Last. Here some thoughts, while I wait to receive my copy of Ruskinland…

When the idea of writing a post on Unto This Last occurred to me, I instantly thought of G.K. Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and in particular his humorous chapter, Introductory Remarks on the Art of Prophecy. Whatever else he might have been Ruskin was a species of prophet, as Andrew Hill says in his enlightening introduction:

“Given the failure of almost everyone to foresee the financial disaster of the late 2000s, Unto This Last now merits re-examination. The latest crisis shattered the confidence of market economists –the same smugness Ruskin was attacking in 1860–and fueled many specific concerns that he would have recognized and shared: worries about excessive pay and bonuses, about the use and abuse of wealth, and about the purpose of work.”

I must admit that if only by force of circumstances Unto This Last has now earned the status of a historical essay dealing with the past. But the book is not so much an attempt to render an image of the economic state of Britain in the 1860s, as a study of the foundations of political economy itself: as a result, I would venture to say that the book is highly relevant to the situation we face today, particularly the five things a Ruskin CEO should do, among them, robust leadership, rather than those heart-warming statements issued by contemporary business leaders, such as: “every person has leadership responsibilities and potential.”

As Andrew Hill comments, Ruskin would probably have found this cheesy motivational approach feeble. This kind of language is what Chinese netizens mockingly call “chicken soup” (鸡汤jītāng ), a catch-all term for gooey, feel-good essays that might belong in a Chicken Soup for the Soul type book, along the lines of “Ten things Jack Ma taught me.”

Returning to Chesterton: “The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called, “Keep tomorrow dark”, and which is also named “Cheat the prophet”. The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely.”

It would seem Ruskin is refusing to lie still in his grave: he admitted that the essays of his book “were reprobated in a violent manner… by most of the readers they met with” when they were first published in Cornhill Magazine, but then noted sarcastically, à la Chesterton, when they were published in book form: “So I republish the essays as they appeared. One word only is changed, correcting the estimate of a weight; and no word is added” !!! (The bold letters & the exclamation marks are mine!!).

In conclusion, all I can add is that Unto This Last is a very good read and is overdue for rehabilitation, as Andrew Hill argues.

P.S.: Unto this Last had such an impact on Ghandhi´s philosophy that he decided not only to change his life according to Ruskin´s teaching, but also to publish his own newspaper, from a farm where everybody would get the same salary, without distinction of function, race, or nationality.
Unto This Last was translated into Chinese in 2011 as 给这最后来的 (Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press).

 

portadas John-Ruskin

comimos y bebimos

This book was made por sharing

By | Literature, Others

I like eating, drinking, smoking; I really do. Needless to say, I also like conversation, discussion, laughter and a long etcetera of other things, but what really matters for me, what I really like doing, is sharing all these activities. To be honest, I don’t even like going to the bathroom alone, although one must, like a few other things, because after all, people talk.

Leonor gives me no credit for studying all those languages, Chinese, Japanese, because I enjoy it, as simple as that. I tell her she’s wrong and that what I really like is smoking, drinking and suchlike and that the studying is basically self-improvement, and that doing so does require an effort, and a hell of an effort at that. But that’s pretty much where she and I are at. I should point out that Leonor is my mother-in-law.

Anyway, to the point, and getting back to the pleasures of eating and the good life in general, I’ve just read Ignacio Peyró’s latest book, Comimos y bebimos, subtitulado Notas de cocina y vida, (We ate and we drank: notes on cooking and life) published by Libros del Asteroide.

I think the best thing I can say about it is that it’s a book to be shared, because after finishing each page, I want to talk about it with somebody, uncorking a bottle and sharing a bite to eat. Anyway, I’ll say no more and instead leave you with a small fragment that I believe counters our age of running and vigorexia…

More maiorum

Montaigne’s appetite was such that he was unable to talk when seated at the table, while Doctor Johnson ate trancelike, breaking into a sweat, the veins standing out on his brow. And here we are today, worried about whether or not to ask for a sliver of cheese. (Page 163)

P.S. What some writers might call praise, I don’t. So let’s say it: Ignacio, you’re almost better in book form than in person. And that goes for Pedro Letai as well!!!

Este sitio web utiliza cookies para que usted tenga la mejor experiencia de usuario. Si continúa navegando está dando su consentimiento para la aceptación de las mencionadas cookies y la aceptación de nuestra política de cookies, pinche el enlace para mayor información.

ACEPTAR
Aviso de cookies