Friday, March 20, 2009

Ignorance and Hammeredism

"The Chinese are taking over the world!" a new acquaintance hissed to me secretively today at the inauguration of the Canadian Embassy in Nice, "They're EVERYWHERE!"

This delightful conversation went on in the same vein for a good chunk of time until my friend Vince stepped in to save me from this eccentric lady and moved the topic from the overwhelmingly enormous Chinese population in the world to various aspects of Chinese culture.

I find that this type of make-you-wince-with-discomfort-because-you-can't-believe-people-are-saying-what-they're-saying conversation is actually not all that uncommon when speaking to many European people, particularly if they're a bit older. I'm not suggesting that all Europeans are ignorant, but many, especially the French, just don't censor themselves when speaking. Many believe absolutely crazy things wholeheartedly, and they just want to tell you about it. It's actually very honest in an almost charming way, if you don't get offended.

Over dinner later on that night, my friends asked me how it makes me feel when people say stupid things like that, and I realize that I didn't give them a very complete answer, because I was interrupted by our meals arriving.

It actually doesn't really bother me if I think or know that the person isn't purposely trying to insult me or my race or my culture. Often, they're just trying to relate to me, even if they might be doing an awful job about it. I get that some people are just ignorant, but they're not actually trying to be rude, so I'm ok with it. If they're not uncomfortable, I'm not uncomfortable, and I'll humour them. Besides, I can laugh about it later over dinner and it makes a great story!

And I know people like that won't likely ever get to appreciate awesome poetry like the following. Also written by the great (Li Bai), this poem urges readers to enjoy life while they can because time is fleeting. Now, at first it sort of sounds like he's only repeatedly telling everyone to go get hammered, which isn't entirely untrue, but it's actually more of a metaphor; this lonely, depressed genius always felt like his talents were not appreciated or utilized by the emperor, so he he derived his greatest pleasure from alcohol. Thus, drinking, in the context of his work, means enjoying life.

The translation is done by Professor Ying Sun of the University of Rhode Island, and "is intended to be idiomatic, apprehensible for western cultures, and rhyming whenever possible."



Bring in the Wine (Li Bai, 701-762 AD, China)

Can’t you see the Yellow River coming from heaven,
Running to the sea with no return?
Can’t you see the mirror, high and bright,
Weeping over black hair at dawn, but white by night?
Enjoy life when there is prosperity.
Never tip a gold cup to the moon, empty.
Heaven has given me a gift and it’s my turn.
All my forture is squandered, but it will return.
Let's have fun - a feast with veal and beef.
Empty three hundred drinks before we leave.
Master Cen, Pupil Danqiu,
Bring in the wine and I'll keep pouring for you.
And I'll sing you a song.
Please listen and hum along:
The life style of the rich is all fake.
I’d rather stay drunk, never awake.
All sages in history were solitary,
Except those drinkers who left their glory.
When Lord Chen entertained in Ping-Le Palace,
Pricey wine was poured just for joyfulness.
Why worry about spending money, my host?
Bring in more wine and I’ll drink the most.
Take my spotted stallion and fancy fur.
Ask the lad to trade for the wine I prefer.
Drink away the eternal sorrow we all suffer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Birthday Bêtises & Classic Chinese Poetry

I turned 22 yesterday!

Like many other 22 year olds, I celebrated by going out with my friends and, as my eloquent brother put it, got totally shitfaced, which led to spending the first half of today completely stationary in bed, willing my stomach to settle. How "klassy", I know.

It's not that I have a penchant for sauce (although I do appreciate a good brandy and a good whisky) or that I'm fond of drinking to the point of sickness. My birthday aside, I'll shamefully admit that I was actually trying to drown my sorrows because I just got the most memorable birthday present to date: a broken heart.

Like my girl Amra says, "Les mecs, ils sont tous des connards!"

I relayed this to my indignant and very irritated mother, who responded shrilly, "That's so stupid!!! Why do you have to drink to celebrate? Why would you drink when you're sad, when you know it would just make things worse?!"

I replied that, yes, in the back of my mind I was aware that drinking wouldn't make me feel any better, but I definitely wasn't the first to whom getting hammered to drown out my dolor appeared an inexplicably excellent idea. I then surprised even myself by quoting two lines of classical Chinese poetry written by (Li Bai), one of the greatest Chinese poets in history:


Paula Varsano translated these two phrases beautifully as

"Plunge a knife in to break the water
the water flows but faster.
Raise a cup to quell the pain
the pain grows but deeper."

It's interesting to note that many of the most revered Chinese poets in history were notorious alcoholics. In fact, they even have a nice name for the eight most famous ones - 飲中八仙 (Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, according to Wikipedia).

Anyway, after this conversation, I grew curious of what made up the rest of this poem, so I did some research online and found it. However, because the Chinese language is so intricate, I couldn't really understand what the poem was saying even though I could read the words, so I called up my mom to ask her to explain it to me, since she's the best teacher I've ever had.

The poem and the best translation I could find go:


What left me yesterday
Can be retained no more;
What worries me today
Are the times for which I feel sore.
In autumn wind for miles and miles the wild geese fly.
Let's follow them with eyes and drink in tower high.
Your writing's forcible, like ancient poets, while
Mine is in Junior Xie's direct and easy style.
Both of us have ambitions high;
We'd bring the moon down from the sky.
Cut running water with a sword, it will faster flow;
Drink wine to drown your sorrow, it will heavier grow.
If we despair in our lifetime of all affairs,
Tomorrow let us sail away with loosened hairs.

My mom summarized it to me as: What has happened is the past. There might be things that bother you right now, but take some time to look at how beautiful the world is - there's nature and there's literature to inspire us. You might want to drown your sorrows by drinking yourself silly, but in reality, that doesn't help at all. Instead, why not take a carefree trip and enjoy the world and to forget about the things that are making you unhappy?

Nicely done, Mom.

And it just stunned me all over again how brilliant classic Chinese poetry is, especially because of how much meaning and imagery can be captured in so few words, and with so much structure. Beautiful. I think I'm going to look into taking some Chinese lit classes when I go home.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Melted Chocolate Seduction

Is there anything more seductive than melted chocolate? (Besides, of course, a beautiful person drizzled in it.) It’s smooth, sweet, fragrant and robust. Satisfying. Best of all, it’s bad for you. How can anyone resist?

I sure can’t. Chocolate fountains and fondues get me every time. I don’t have regular access to either of those things, but luckily, I’ve found a worthy substitute: Chocolate “Muffins” from Le Chant du Pain, on the NW corner of Andrioli and Rue de France, in Nice.

I walked in one day, intending to get a chocolate croissant for my chocolate fix, when I noticed this beautiful concoction, seated in a perforated paper cup, with melted chocolate oozing all over the top. It was pretty much love at first sight. And not the sweet, romantic kind like I felt for my Spanish doctor, but the aggressive, dirty, animalistic, I-must-devour-you-right-now kind.

So I did. And it was amazing! Really fulfilling, just like I’d imagined.

What I especially appreciate about it is the fact that it’s milk chocolate – my favourite. The cocoa flavour is not as strong, but it’s creamy and very easy on the palate. And in addition to the lovely crown of the muffin, there are milk chocolate chips floating around inside, too. It’s so yummy!

But then I got a little confused - what’s the difference between a cupcake and a muffin? I always thought that cupcakes=sweeter=tastier=worse for you=far superior. And cupcakes are iced. But I’ve done some research, and apparently the answer can get quite complicated and involved. Some people say that it has to do with how it’s made, some say it has to do with the nutritional value, while others say it’s completely subjective.

Me? I don’t care. A rose by any other name, right? I’m just going to keep buying and eating my sweet, luscious treat.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Love Stories

I have a thing for love stories. Besides chocolate, they're probably my nourishment of choice.

I also have a habit of making up love stories for absolute strangers. For example, there’s a bakery very close to where I live, that I always pass by when I go to the bus stop in the morning. Last semester, whenever I had an early class, I’d convince myself to get up and make it to school on time by promising myself a pain au chocolat from there.

More often than not, this sweet, young lady works the counter. She’s very courteous, always smiling, and very down-to-earth. I once saw her kissing goodbye this young chap (the baker?) who came out of the kitchen. I imagined that that bakery was their baby, that running one together was what they always wanted to do and that they were living out their dream together. Perhaps they grew up together, were best friends all throughout their childhoods and saw each other differently in high school. Or maybe they had to go through a million obstacles to get to be together (feuding families, possibly?) and now they have everything they always dreamed of, and are living a happy life together. Or perhaps they met by chance when one of them was vacationing here in Nice, but the other decided to stay here for love, because being apart was just absolutely unbearable and unacceptable...

Living my own great love story has always been on my To Do List. I got to live a pretty good love story in Amsterdam during my spring break trip last week. It wasn’t in Japan or with a Taiwanese boy like I might have imagined, and even though it was brief, it was also intense and memorable. And I feel really fortunate, because it was with someone who was everything I could ever hope for. Really and truly a wonderful guy who will be a huge gift to an incredibly lucky girl one day. I still think the world of him even though we’re apart, and I wish all the best for him.

The day we said goodbye, I was, naturally, very sad. I saw pure heartbreak whenever I caught sight of my own reflection in windows we passed on our way back to my aunt’s apartment to pack up. So I sent a little prayer up to his God, because he’s Catholic and I don’t have a religion, myself. It went a little something like this:

Dear God,

Please take very good care of him. Please ensure that he gets to enjoy good health, and a long, happy, fulfilling life. Because he really is one of your finest pieces of work to date, and he deserves it all. And please make sure that when he eventually finds someone he decides to love forever, that she is as wonderful as he is, if not more.

But I hope he remembers me fondly for the rest of his life, as I will him.


I hope He got my message...