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.

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