Grilled Squid and barbecued PIIGS


The above title should be quite clear, what with the roasting going on over at The Hill of the GS vampire squid, as well as the euro-fringe countries being dragged over the coals by the rating agencies.

Here is a frivolous haiku-ed comment made some time back about the GS squid, which came up elsewhere during some ‘ultimately barbarorous’ musings on markets, haikus and vogon poetry:

Salaxalan (G)Squid

Gently Dirk-ed, bleeds ancient

Cthulhu horrors

And more recently, I (thought I) espied Taichiseal structuring a subdued irony in his various posts and shared articles, on PIIGS and IBEX goats, and responded with the following:

Of PIIGS, goats, and IBEX…


What an amazing video/documentary of the Ibex goat! I really really enjoyed it.

I think I understand your offered irony, in your recent posts and shared articles…

If mountain ibex goats can cheat death with each uncanny leap from one cliff edge to the next, the Spanish IBEX index may yet survive…And PIIGS may truly fly.
And the stone-faced Teutonic/Deutsche/German monetary shepherds and their bluff will be called, and they shall eventually send in their largesse and rescue the entire herd of wayward profligate-spending pigs and goats.

Or they may not.
Any the market foxes and wolves will have a grand day feasting on the meat of piigs and goats…



Grilled green giant Cthulhu squid, thawed from at-the-bottom-of-the-world frozen ancient mythos…


Like the ancient Cthulhu blob which is actually the spawn of Life in the world, and when reawakened and released from its Mountains of Madness, seeks to propagate and imbibe and absorb all life;
the GS squid and its tentacles reaches “…everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”


列子 Liezi: Sandals

列子 Liezi (pronounced Lea-zi):



无几何而往,则户外之屦满矣。伯昏瞀人北面而立,敦杖蹙之乎颐。立有间,不言而出。宾者以告列子,列子提屦,跣而走,暨于门,曰:“先生既来,曾不发药乎?”曰:“已矣,吾固告汝曰:人将保汝。果保汝矣!非汝能使人保汝,而汝不能使人无保汝也,而焉用之感豫出异也。必且有感,摇而本性,又无谓也。与汝游者,又莫汝告也。彼所小言,尽人毒也。莫觉莫悟,何相孰也。巧者劳而知者忧,无能者无所求,饱食而敖游, 若不系之舟,虚而敖游者也!”

–《列子 – 黃帝》

Lie Yu Kou (Liezi) was on his way to the state of Qi, but in the middle of his journey he turned back and ran into Bo Hun Mao Ren (Master Confused Nonentity).
Bo Hun Mao Ren asked him:
“What made you change directions and come back?”
“I was startled by something.”
“What startled you?”
“I stopped to eat some food in ten different inns and in five of them I was served before anyone else.”
Bo Hun Mao Ren said:
“What was so startling about that?”
“Even when your inside honesty and sincerity isn’t displayed to others, sometimes the actions you take with your body reveals your inner light. At that point people you come into contact with can open their minds to being influenced by you, and without a second thought set you up as a paragon. That’s what worried me. When the innkeepers gave me special treatment and served me their finest soup, I thought it might get even worse by the time I got to Qi. If those who had so little were willing to give me so much and without a second thought treated me as though I was powerful, then how much more would a king with ten thousand chariots try to heap on me! His body worn out from defending the state and his knowledge at the brink of exhaustion by dealing with all the state’s affairs, he’d appoint me to be in charge of something and demand my services expecting a successful outcome. The realization of that is what startled me.”
Bo Hun Mao Ren said:
“Very good insights! However, being as you are, people will still try to serve you.”

When Bo Hun Mao Ren went to pay Liezi a visit on a later date he found that there were sandals (of guests) lined up outside his door. Bo Hun Mao Ren turned away and stood there tapping his walking stick. His brow was creased pensively and the corners of his mouth drooped in consternation. He stood there idly without saying a word then left.
The person in charge of greeting guests went in and told Liezi about the visitor. He grabbed up his sandals and went running barefoot to the outer gate where he caught up with him and said:
“Master, you’ve just arrived and now you’re going to leave without offering me a remedy for my ills?”
Bo Hun Mao Ren:
“I already told you that people would try to serve you, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
It’s not that you go out of your way to make people serve you, but that you’re not able to make people stop serving you. You’re probably finding something useful about their emotional enthusiasm toward you, as you keep encouraging them. If you must have this kind of emotional reaction around you then it’ll continue to agitate the core of your own nature. That goes without saying. And yet you keep on following this course. You know, no one will point this out to you, as they all just share petty words with you, and you lap it all up. None of them wants to learn to see anything nor wake up to anything, so what could they possibly share with each other! The clever ones keep working hard at being clever and the knowledgeable ones worry about how knowledgeable they are. Those without any talents whatsoever have no concept of looking for anything. They’re satisfied with having a good meal and go drifting from there. They float about as though they’re on an unmoored boat, dwell in a void and are drifters and wanderers.”

–from the Liezi, chapter “The Yellow Emperor”

[Above English translation is actually from Nina Correa’s translation of the Chuang Tzu, but the passage is identical to the one in the Liezi (the Outer Chapters of the Chuang Tzu and the Liezi share a few identical passages).]

Nina Correa’s translation is rather harsh, but still useable.

Less and less sandals now…

Upso !

I love the sound of Korean declaratives. Especially the ones on negatives.

ah-ni-o : No

mol-lah : I don’t know

tway-so : No need; Forget it

But my favourite is the short and plaintive cry “upso!”, especially when delivered with shrugged shoulders, empty upturned palms and a pathetic innocent look.

up-so : Nothing; don’t have

So, in this spirit and in view of the recent, rather embarrassing traffic to these rural parts,

Nothing much to see here. Move along…

But the title above and its related thoughts, have actually been lying around in a dusty draft folder in my head for a little while. And the previous post on turn-of-the-19th-to-20th-century writers and images of a meeting of races and civilizations on dusty-brown lands, may have also prodded on this present posting.

Rather than the empty innocence which the words ‘up-so’ themselves point to, my first acquaintance with this short guileless phrase, was within the writings of a writer whose intentions wasn’t quite so mellow.

From Jack London’s 1904 syndicated newspaper article and essay, “The Yellow Peril”, written as a war correspondent as he travelled from Japan, through Korea, into China.

Full text of the essay “The Yellow Peril”:

Some highlights of the essay are quoted below:

The Yellow Peril

No more marked contrast appears in passing from our Western land to the paper houses and cherry blossoms of Japan than appears in passing from Korea to China. To achieve a correct appreciation of the Chinese the traveller should first sojourn amongst the Koreans for several months, and then, one fine day, cross over the Yalu into Manchuria. It would be of exceptional advantage to the correctness of appreciation did he cross over the Yalu on the heels of a hostile and alien army.

War is to-day the final arbiter in the affairs of men, and it is as yet the final test of the worthwhile-ness of peoples. Tested thus, the Korean fails. He lacks the nerve to remain when a strange army crosses his land. The few goods and chattels he may have managed to accumulate he puts on his back, along with his doors and windows, and away he heads for his mountain fastnesses. Later he may return, sans goods, chattels, doors, and windows, impelled by insatiable curiosity for a “look see.” But it is curiosity merely — a timid, deerlike curiosity. He is prepared to bound away on his long legs at the first hint of danger or trouble.

Northern Korea was a desolate land when the Japanese passed through. Villages and towns were deserted. The fields lay untouched. There was no ploughing nor sowing, no green things growing. Little or nothing was to be purchased. One carried one’s own food with him, and food for horses and servants was the anxious problem that waited at the day’s end. In many a lonely village not an ounce nor a grain of anything could be brought, and yet there might be standing around scores of white-garmented, stalwart Koreans, smoking yard-long pipes and chattering, chattering — ceaselessly chattering. Love, money, or force could not procure from them a horseshoe or a horseshoe nail.

“Upso,” was their invariable reply. “Upso,” cursed word, which means “Have not got.”


The Korean is the perfect type of inefficiency — of utter worthlessness. The Chinese is the perfect type of industry. For sheer work no worker in the world can compare with him. Work is the breath of his nostrils. It is his solution of existence. It is to him what wandering and fighting in far lands and spiritual adventure have been to other peoples. Liberty to him epitomizes itself in access to the means of toil. To till the soil and labor interminably with rude implements and utensils is all he asks of life and of the powers that be. Work is what he desires above all things, and he will work at anything for anybody.


The late disturbance in the Far East marked the clashing of the dreams, for the Slav, too, is dreaming greatly. Granting that the Japanese can hurl back the Slav and that the two great branches of the Anglo- Saxon race do not despoil him of his spoils, the Japanese dream takes on substantiality. Japan’s population is no larger because her people have continually pressed against the means of subsistence. But given poor, empty Korea for a breeding colony and Manchuria for a granary, and at once the Japanese begins to increase by leaps and bounds.

Even so, he would not of himself constitute a Brown Peril. He has not the time in which to grow and realize the dream. He is only forty-five millions, and so fast does the economic exploitation of the planet hurry on the planet’s partition amongst the Western peoples that, before he could attain the stature requisite to menace, he would see the Western giants in possession of the very stuff of his dream.

The menace to the Western world lies, not in the little brown man, but in the four hundred millions of yellow men should the little brown man undertake their management. The Chinese is not dead to new ideas; he is an efficient worker; makes a good soldier, and is wealthy in the essential materials of a machine age. Under a capable management he will go far. The Japanese is prepared and fit to undertake this management. Not only has he proved himself an apt imitator of Western material progress, a sturdy worker, and a capable organizer, but he is far more fit to manage the Chinese than are we. The baffling enigma of the Chinese character is no baffling enigma to him. He understands as we could never school ourselves nor hope to understand. Their mental processes are largely the same. He thinks with the same thought-symbols as does the Chinese, and he thinks in the same peculiar grooves. He goes on where we are balked by the obstacles of incomprehension. He takes the turning which we cannot perceive, twists around the obstacle, and, presto! is out of sight in the ramifications of the Chinese mind where we cannot follow.

The Chinese has been called the type of permanence, and well he has merited it, dozing as he has through the ages. And as truly was the Japanese the type of permanence up to a generation ago, when he suddenly awoke and startled the world with a rejuvenescence the like of which the world had never seen before. The ideas of the West were the leaven which quickened the Japanese; and the ideas of the West, transmitted by the Japanese mind into ideas Japanese, may well make the leaven powerful enough to quicken the Chinese.

We have had Africa for the Africander, and at no distant day we shall hear “Asia for the Asiatic!” Four hundred million indefatigable workers (deft, intelligent, and unafraid to die), aroused and rejuvenescent, managed and guided by forty-five million additional human beings who are splendid fighting animals, scientific and modern, constitute that menace to the Western world which has been well named the “Yellow Peril.” The possibility of race adventure has not passed away. We are in the midst of our own. The Slav is just girding himself up to begin. Why may not the yellow and the brown start out on an adventure as tremendous as our own and more strikingly unique?


Back of our own great race adventure, back of our robberies by sea and land, our lusts and violences and all the evil things we have done, there is a certain integrity, a sternness of conscience, a melancholy responsibility of life, a sympathy and comradeship and warm human feel, which is ours, indubitably ours, and which we cannot teach to the Oriental as we would teach logarithms or the trajectory of projectiles. That we have groped for the way of right conduct and agonized over the soul betokens our spiritual endowment. Though we have strayed often and far from righteousness, the voices of the seers have always been raised, and we have harked back to the bidding of conscience. The colossal fact of our history is that we have made the religion of Jesus Christ our religion. No matter how dark in error and deed, ours has been a history of spiritual struggle and endeavor. We are preeminently a religious race, which is another way of saying that we are a right-seeking race.

“What do you think of the Japanese?” was asked an American woman after she had lived some time in Japan. “It seems to me that they have no soul,” was her answer.


No great race adventure can go far nor endure long which has no deeper foundation than material success, no higher prompting than conquest for conquest’s sake and mere race glorification. To go far and to endure, it must have behind it an ethical impulse, a sincerely conceived righteousness. But it must be taken into consideration that the above postulate is itself a product of Western race-egotism, urged by our belief in our own righteousness and fostered by a faith in ourselves which may be as erroneous as are most fond race fancies. So be it. The world is whirling faster to-day than ever before. It has gained impetus. Affairs rush to conclusion. The Far East is the point of contact of the adventuring Western people as well as of the Asiatic. We shall not have to wait for our children’s time nor our children’s children. We shall ourselves see and largely determine the adventure of the Yellow and the Brown.

–Jack London,
June, 1904.


Indeed, Mr. Jack London. So be it.

阿Q正传 – The True Story of Ah Q

Just learnt something new from dailyspecs.

The fictional character of Walter Mitty, from writer James Thurber’s newspaper short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, first published in The New Yorker, on March 18, 1939.

And a definition of a Walter Mitty is apparently:

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a Walter Mitty as “an ordinary, often ineffectual person who indulges in fantastic daydreams of personal triumphs”.


I can’t help but notice the striking similarity between Thurber’s fictional character (as well as the circumstances of how his story first saw publication), and one of the most beloved characters in modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun’s “Ah Q”.

Lu Xun first published “The True Story of Ah Q – 阿Q正传” in instalments between 1921 and 1922 in the Beijing newspaper 《晨報副刊》, and the stories were later collected and published in his famous book Call to Arms/呐喊 in 1923.



And wiki describes Lu Xun’s character of Ah Q as:

The story traces the “adventures” of Ah Q, a man from the peasant, rural class with little education and no definite work. Ah Q is famous for “spiritual victories”, Lu Xun’s euphemism for self-talk and self-deception even when faced with extreme defeat or humiliation. Ah Q is a bully of the less fortunate but fearful of those who are above him in rank, strength, or power. He persuades himself mentally that he is spiritually “superior” to his oppressors even as he succumbs to their tyranny and suppression. Lu Xun exposes Ah Q’s extreme faults as symptomatic of the Chinese national character of his time. The ending of the piece – when Ah Q is carted off to execution for a lowly crime – is equally poignant and satirical.

I really wonder if James Thurber had really not read and was influenced by Lu Xun’s “The True Story of Ah Q”, and had forgotten to include an attribution. Hmm…

Anyway, Lu Xun is probably the most influential modern Chinese writer in the post-dynastic, nationalist and later, socialist periods. Notwithstanding the later efforts by the chinese communists to appropriate his writings and his persona, as a ‘socialist writer’ of the first degree.

Lu Xun was one of Mum’s favourite writers, and the “The True Story of Ah Q” (and it’s film version) was the first of Lu Xun’s many writings which Mum shared with me.

The funny character of Ah Q and his hilarious but sad encounters, especially when told through comic strips, made it very palatable for a young boy. But it was Mum’s patient explanations of the story’s many cultural sociological and political backgrounds, allusions and significance, which really made Ah Q and his dusty-brown world come alive for me.

Growing up, I had difficulty reconciling the forceful, always razor-sharp, and sometimes militant writings of Lu Xun with the whimsical story of Ah Q I had so enjoyed as a kid. But gradually, I realized that with this one short story of the clueless Ah Q, Lu Xun poignantly captured in full, what was probably the most turbulent and uncertain period in China’s millenia-long history:
the end of more than two thousand years of dynastic feudalism coming on the heels of nearly 100 years of foreign militarist aggression and humiliation, and an uncertain future for a China torn apart by internal forces between the feuding warlords, nationalists and socialists.

While I do not particulary enjoy reading Lu Xun and his sometimes overly-combatant style*, Mum placed his writings firmly on my reading list so many years ago, and we have “The True Story of Ah Q” to thank for that.


[*Lu Xun had sometimes attracted from his critics the unfavourable diatribe, 绍兴师爷 – an advocate/solicitor/lobbyist from Shaoxing (his hometown); a province which gained some fame in the Qing dynasty era for producing many learned scholars and officials who attained positions in the imperial court; as well as for their strong argumentative, debating and persuasive skills.

杜甫 Du Fu: On war

On a prior post about Bertrand Russell on the chinese, I mentioned a Du Fu poem. Here it is again.

Russell had referred to another Tang poet, Po Chu-i  (Bai Juyi/ 白居易), and his “The Old Man with the Broken Arm”:

The Old Man with the Broken Arm

At Hsin-fëng—an old man—four-score and eight;
The hair on his head and the hair of his eyebrows—white as the new snow.
Leaning on the shoulders of his great-grandchildren, he walks in front of the Inn;
With his left arm he leans on their shoulders; his right arm is broken.
I asked the old man how many years had passed since he broke his arm;
I also asked the cause of the injury, how and why it happened.
The old man said he was born and reared in the District of Hsin-fëng;
At the time of his birth—a wise reign; no wars or discords.
“Often I listened in the Pear-Tree Garden to the sound of flute and song;
Naught I knew of banner and lance; nothing of arrow or bow.
Then came the wars of T’ien-pao and the great levy of men;
Of three men in each house—one man was taken.
And those to whom the lot fell, where were they taken to?
Five months’ journey, a thousand miles—away to Yiin-nan.
We heard it said that in Yiin-nan there flows the Lu River;
As the flowers fall from the pepper-trees, poisonous vapors rise.
When the great army waded across, the water seethed like a cauldron;
When barely ten had entered the water, two or three were dead.
To the north of my village, to the south of my village the sound of weeping and wailing,
Children parting from fathers and mothers; husbands parting from wives.
Everyone says that in expeditions against the Min tribes
Of a million men who are sent out, not one returns.

I, that am old, was then twenty-four;
My name and fore-name were written down in the rolls of the Board of War.
In the depth of the night not daring to let any one know
I secretly took a huge stone and dashed it against my arm.
For drawing the bow and waving the banner now wholly unfit;
I knew henceforward I should not be sent to fight in Yün-nan.
Bones broken and sinews wounded could not fail to hurt;
I was ready enough to bear pain, if only I got back home.
My arm—broken ever since; it was sixty years ago.
One limb, although destroyed—whole body safe!
But even now on winter nights when the wind and rain blow
From evening on till day’s dawn I cannot sleep for pain.

Not sleeping for pain
Is a small thing to bear,
Compared with the joy of being alive when all the rest are dead.
For otherwise, years ago, at the ford of Lu River
My body would have died and my soul hovered by the bones that no one gathered.
A ghost, I’d have wandered in Yiin-nan, always looking for home.
Over the graves of ten thousand soldiers, mournfully hovering.’’

So the old man spoke,
And I bid you listen to his words.
Have you not heard
That the Prime Minister of K’ai-yüan, Sung K’ai-fu,
Did not reward frontier exploits, lest a spirit of aggression should prevail?
And have you not heard
That the Prime Minster of T’ien-Pao, Yang Kuo-chung
Desiring to win imperial favour, started a frontier war?
But long before he could win the war, people had lost their temper;
Ask the man with thy broken arm in the village of Hsin-fëng!

–Translated by Arthur Waley


But for me, rather than Po Chu-i’s poem on ‘escaping from military service’;
I prefer this more poignant poem on War and its cruelties, and especially how the 老百姓-common people submit in despair, yet with dignity:

The “石壕吏-Official at Stone Moat Village”
by 杜甫/Du Fu

At dusk, I stopped to rest at Stone Moat village,
An officer came that night to capture men.
The old man escaped by climbing over the wall,
The old wife went to look outside the door.
How angrily the officer now shouted,
How bitterly the wife did weep out loud!
I heard the words the wife was sending forth:
“Three sons of mine were sent to defend Yecheng.
From one of my sons, a letter has arrived,
The other two have recently died in battle.
The one who survived has kept alive for now,
The dead ones though have met their final end.
Inside this house, there are no people left,
There’s just a grandson suckling on the breast.
The grandson’s mother also cannot go,
She goes about without a skirt intact.
Although I’m an old woman with failing strength,
I ask you to take me with you tonight.
If you should need workers at Heyang,
I can prepare the morning meal for you.”
Her voice then died away into the night,
I seemed to hear her sob and whimper still.
At dawn, before I set upon the road,
It’s only from the old man that I part.

–Translated by Burton Watson



杜甫 Du Fu: Madman

Towards the end of his life…


作者: 杜甫




by Du Fu

My thatched cottage stands
just west of Thousand Mile Bridge

this Hundred Flower Stream
would please a hermit fisherman

bamboo sways in the wind
graceful as any court beauty

rain makes the lotus flowers
even more red and fragrant

but I no longer hear from friends
who live on princely salaries

my children are always hungry
with pale and famished faces

does a madman grow more happy
before he dies in the gutter?

I laugh at myself–a madman
growing older, growing madder.

杜甫 Du Fu: Even beggars, chooses

Even beggars on the brink of starvation, especially poetic ones like Du Fu, chooses…


作者: 杜甫





by Du Fu

Oh good, I don’t have to be
police commissioner at Hexi!

it would have been backbreaking
supervising all those beatings

I’m an old man, I can’t
rush around, bustle, and strut

but the job they’ve given me now
at Palace Guard headquarters

won’t take too much time
it will pay for my wine

and allow me to go on
writing these crazy poems

so no more thoughts about retirement
back in the hills of home

I turn my back on that
and set my face to the wind.


[footnote by the translator, David Young]:
An extraordinary combination of self-mockery, relief, and irony. All of his aspirations for high office have come down to a fairly humiliating outcome: Du Fu had been offered a post as police commissioner of Hexi. The work would be “backbreaking” in two senses: he would be bowing constantly to superiors, and he would be supervising the beatings of common people. He turned it down. He then was offered a minor job in the office of the commandant of the crown prince’s palace guard, without almost any real duties. He accepts it wryly and writes this poem to commemorate the end of both his career aspirations and his dream of retiring to a hermit’s life.

杜甫 Du Fu: Genius thwarted…and refined

Sometimes, no matter which school one goes to, what kind of education he receives, or even if he be a natural genius whom ‘noone can possibly imagine the depths’ of; life plays its cruel jokes and the heavens withhold in its petty jealousy.

杜甫/Du Fu, may be the one man in chinese history to perfectly epitomise the chinese sayings:
怀才不遇 – To be filled with talent but unable to meet with the opportunity use it.
天妒英才 – The heavens are jealous of the mortal’s talents, and places hardships before the man, thwarting him at every corner
(or an unexpected and early death; fortunately for latter generations, not the case here with Du Fu).

Du Fu came close to winning high office several times but was always thwarted one way or another.

Once, during the holding of an imperial worship ritual and ceremony (special periods which allowed courtiers and officials the opportunity to submit essays directly to the Emperor outside of the usual officious conduits), Du Fu wrote and submitted his essay 《进三大礼赋表》, which so impressed Emperor Xuanzong that he wanted to find out which of his courtiers wrote it. When it was reported that the essay was in fact not authored by a court official, but was penned by an impoverished scholar subsisting as a 賓客/guest under the patronage of a nobleman, the emperor ordered the prime minister to invite Du Fu to be examined by a galley of court scholars to ascertain his talent, and presumably to appoint him to office.
The prescient prime minister, who had already embarrassed himself before the Emperor when he could not understand and explain many parts of Du Fu’s magnificent but dense essay, of course will not allow a potential threat to himself to enter the imperial court so easily.
He carried out Du Fu’s examination himself personally, and asked Du Fu to first recite his long essay in full. Du Fu replied that he could not. Then the prime minister asked Du Fu to just recite any of the three parts of his essay. Du Fu again replied that he could not, but he could explain the meanings, intentions and allusions of his essay. But the prime minister cut him off and ended the examination there; later reporting to the Emperor that if Du Fu could not even recite words he supposedly wrote, he must surely be a fake and had plagiarised words which were not his own.

But perhaps, the abject poverty and near-starvation, bitterness bleakness and strife placed upon Du Fu’s life, were not cruel jokes and tempests sent by fate, but rather heaven’s finest bitter-sweet gifts of trials and tribulations; and the only way for Du Fu, though battered worn and scarred, to be refined from an eager young talent, to a true and immortal poet-sage.

Here is one of Du Fu’s more well-known poems, written in his middle years, but still seeking after government office (and increasingly desperate to provide for his family). At this period, Du Fu could no longer afford for his entire family to remain in the capital city while he looked for work, and so had settled his family in a county where a relative lived, while he remained in the capital. The poem’s title, basically describes an early example of a suburban-city commute, and may be transliterated as: Five Hundred Words about my journey from the capital to Fengxian county.


作者: 杜甫





by Du Fu

Imagine a man in commonplace clothes,
advancing years,

impractical and even stupid,
struggling on

he wanted to rank with sages
instead he has white hair and failure

he’ll stick with his goals, though, until
they close him into his coffin

a poet who writes from the heart,
anxious about the poor

for which his fellow scholars laugh at him!
well, I will not stop singing

even though I dream
of traveling far away

I have to think the emperor still cares
about this realm of his

the sunflower turns to the sun
that is its very nature

the ant seeks security
retreats to its own burrow

why should it imitate the whale
trying to swallow the seas?

but oh I am sick of begging
whining about my obscurity

I know it all ends in dust
and I think about famous hermits

and the only things that relieve my heart
are poetry and drinking


Year’s end, the grasses withered
a great wind scouring the high ridges

in bitter cold at midnight I set out
along the imperial highway

sharp frost, my belt snaps
my fingers are too stiff to tie it

around dawn I pass
the emperor’s winter palace

army banners against the sky
the ground tramped smooth by troops

thick steam from the hot green springs
imperial guards rub elbows

cabinet ministers live it up
the music drifts through the wintry landscape

the hot baths here are for important people
nothing for common folks

the silk the courtiers wear
was woven by poor women

while soldiers beat their husbands
demanding tribute

of course our emperor is generous
he wants the best for us

we have to blame his ministers
when government is bad

plenty of good people at the court
must be especially worried

when they see the palace gold plate
carted off by royal relations

women like goddesses are dancing inside
all silk and perfume

guests in sable furs
music of pipes and fiddles

camel-pad broth is served
with frosted oranges, pungent tangerines

behind those red gates
meat and wine are left to spoil

outside lie the bones
of people who starved and froze

luxury and misery a few feet apart–
my heart aches to think about it!


But now I must go on
to cross the Wei and Jing

the ferry landing has been moved
because of floods

one bridge is still intact
above the surging waters

thinking ahead to my wife
trying to cope with this weather

desperate to be with my family
I arrive at last to learn

my little son has died
probably from sheer hunger

and I stand and weep in the street
the neighbors crowd round me, weeping

my shame overwhelms me, a father
who couldn’t feed his family

I who have never paid taxes
never been conscripted

I realize I’ve had an easy life
and I think again of the poor

losing their farms, sons sent to war
no end to their griefs

till my sorrow becomes a mountain
whose peak I cannot see.


[footnote by the translator, David Young]:
Written in 755, on the eve of the [An LuShan] rebellion. Du Fu had settled his family in Fengxian and had made several journeys back and forth to the capital. This record of one of them represents a new departue on his poetry. He is quite direct in his criticism of the court’s luxury. His fellow feeling for the poor, which his courtier friends have apparently mocked, is explicitly connected here with his own grief at losing his child. He feels that his own ambition has been self-destructive. No poem of this kind existed in Chinese poetry before this; it is more personal, more searching, and more comprehensive than anything that preceeded it.

Very interesting recent translation by David Young. His “syntactic” and “middle-way” style between prose and verse is worth reading, even if it misses some of the actual context of the original chinese.

And the last and third part of the above poem, still as always, so sad…
Du Fu’s grief, lightly expressed but so painfully felt; and a ‘resounding’ exclamation for the rest of the poem.

[After this period, Du Fu’s poems get increasingly shorter, his choice of words and imagery more sparse and yet more succint, and in some cases, tightly-bursting(an opposing paradox, I know) with emotion. An example: 春望/Spring Scene]

Du Fu:


A dollar fifty vs 150 grand

Think I need to post-face my previous post on smarts and schools with this following…

Brand-name schools and the education they provide are so over-rated:

Will Hunting says:
See the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life.
One: don’t do that.
And two: You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.

And the comeback by the Ivy-league philistine:

The Philistine Ivy-leaguer:
Yeah, but I will have a degree. And you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive-through on our way to a skiing trip.

And the only kind of language philistines understand, even Ivy-league educated ones:

Will: Yeah, maybe. Yeah, but at least I won’t be unoriginal. By the way if you have a problem with that, I mean, we could just step outside and we could figure it out.
The Philistine Ivy-leaguer: No, man, there’s no problem. It’s cool.
Will: It’s cool?
The Philistine Ivy-leaguer: Yeah.
Will: Cool.


And the best scene in the movie, the first two minutes of the opening:

The golden-sepia dusky glow, the spartan room, and piles and piles and piles of open books…
Matt Damon leafing through and absorbing pages whole, that faraway look in his eyes, and that magical word floating through the screen… Boundary.

Not a very smart move, lady

Following from previous posts on sensitive and smart ladies, here may be an instance of a young lady who may have some smarts, but may have yet to develop wisdom:
[and my even more unwise self, can’t help adding my unwisecracky comments, in red]

Scoring high in grades but not in values
-Elite school students who never mix with others lose perspective-

Tue, Apr 06, 2010
The Straits Times

By Sandra Leong

OVER the past two weeks, the words ‘meritocracy’ and ‘elitism’ have stirred feelings of loyalty, indignation and dismay all at once.

Just ask the old boys of St Joseph’s Institution (SJI), who have been making a very public case for and against the lowering of the school’s entry requirements to enable more students from its feeder schools to make the cut.

Meritocracy must prevail, argues one camp. Easing entry requirements will only cause academic standards to slip. But SJI must not become elitist, counters the rival camp. Boys from the Christian Brothers’ schools, based on that affiliation alone, should qualify.

The imbroglio once again puts the focus on the uneasy relationship between meritocracy and elitism. A cynical take is that the race to the top will always leave behind stragglers, and those who cross the line first are bound to look down on their weaker counterparts. Given this attitude, it does not surprise me that some SJI alumni are campaigning fiercely against the ‘E’ word.

I attended Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) and Raffles Junior College (RJC), both elite institutions. I confess that as a young adult, I was conceited and felt unsympathetic to the world around me. These days, when people ask me what is my alma mater, I often say I’m a Rafflesian – but a ‘recovering’ one.
[Wrong answer Sandra; you are supposed to act all coy and play the ‘guess-the-school’ game, and then very adroitly at the right moment switch safely away to another topic. Now that takes some smarts to pull off.]

Before I incur the wrath of Rafflesians past and present, let me say I am grateful for the all-rounded education I received. Way before the term ‘holistic learning’ became a Ministry of Education catchphrase, my $300-a-month secondary school fees in RGS paid for classes in speech and drama, etiquette and philosophy.

My teachers did not teach us to be snobs. But neither did they teach us not to be snobs. As a Rafflesian, one never spoke in terms of examination pass rates. It was the number of As one got that signified one’s mettle.
[Hmm. Even within elite schools there are still different levels of elitism. A real elite R-sian never speak in terms of As. (Straight As and perfect scores are the assumed minumum). It is the accumlated extras (S-papers, First Prizes in subjects, Angus Ross’s, Olympiad medals, captain-ships of sports teams, president-ships of societies etc) that set you apart.

We felt entitled to big things in a merit-driven society where mental dexterity equated strength of character and virtue. We felt so because we had trumped the system, even if it was the ‘system’ that had allowed us to get this far in the first place.

Intellectual snobbery can be a scary thing. A running joke when I was sitting for the A-level examinations in RJC was that the National University of Singapore law faculty half consisted of Rafflesians. The other half came from ‘students from OJ’ – other junior colleges.
[Only half ??]

They were wary of me because I was a ‘Raffles girl’

I did not have a single friend from a neighbourhood school. In our world, we did not see a need to venture beyond what we knew.

Many of my friends came from rich families and lived in the Orchard or Bukit Timah areas. I remember a then 15-year-old friend asking me where I lived.

‘Siglap,’ I said. She asked quizzically: ‘That’s where all the Malays live right?’

I never learnt that failure was sometimes an unavoidable option. Two years ago, I sank into a funk when I did not get a scholarship. A non-Rafflesian friend jolted me to my senses when he asked: ‘How many people even get to think about doing a master’s?’

Growing up this way, you lose perspective. You forget that you belong to a privileged minority, that in the real world there are those for whom a C grade (and not an S-paper distinction) represents the pinnacle of academic achievement – but who may be wiser in many ways than the academically gifted.

It was only when I left the comforts of my flock that I realised how close-minded I was. Unlike some of my peers, I did not win a scholarship or study overseas. I studied at Nanyang Technological University, where classmates told me they were initially wary of me because I was a ‘Raffles girl’.

I learnt that brandishing my elite school background, from the way I spoke ‘proper English’ to wearing my RJC physical education T-shirt around my hostel, rubbed people the wrong way. I learnt there were other ways to win respect without riding on the coat-tails of a brand-name education.
[Sigh…poor Sandra.
You NEVER wear your R-sian shirts again in public after leaving school. That will just be asking for it.

And ‘different-leveling’ your English and language to suit the audience is the fun part, little girl.

My work as a journalist also quickly brought me crashing down to earth. Loftiness goes out of the window when you have to talk to everyone from politicians to cancer patients to victims of natural disaster.

I hasten to add that for every misguided smart-aleck I encountered among Rafflesians, there were others who were humble and well-adjusted. Still, an Old Rafflesians’ Association president once quoted in this paper defined the Rafflesian character as ‘predominantly achievement-oriented and goal-driven’ – traits I dare say which tend to create a type of ultra-competitiveness that leaves little room for empathy and humility in the absence of a countervailing value-system.
[Darn. I must have missed that indoctrination lesson on ‘achievement-oriented and goal-driven’ traits.
It must had been a first-period class. I missed morning school assembly and first-period classes for two years straight. Couldn’t get up in time.
So logically, in the ‘countervailing value-system’ sense, having missed the above indoctrination, it should mean that I am highly uncompetitive and therefore strongly empathetic and humble. Well…]

Many of my schoolmates went on to become civil servants, lawyers, bankers and doctors. They keep to the same small social circle they grew up in, married within it and will probably wish the same life for their offspring as well.

I’m not saying they grew up into mean-spirited, Ayn-Rand spouting adults just because they excelled in what they did. The pursuit of intellectual excellence is a virtue that our educational system quite correctly promotes. But the pursuit of intellectual excellence to the exclusion of character or value excellence breeds an exclusionary attitude to the rest of society. Many of the products of our top schools forget they have to give back to the society that allowed them so many opportunities.
[Heh heh…
So Sandra thinks that smart and excellent students turn into elitist mean-spirited Ayn-Rand spouting adults.
This may have a fountainhead of truth to it somewhere…]

It is especially worrying when the exclusionary attitudes bred in school become accepted life values. You judge success using markers that only you and your like-minded friends agree upon. For example, my unmarried girl friends tell me they will never date a man without a degree, a car or a ‘respectable’ job – and they are entirely unapologetic about it.

These are people who live for years without having to step outside their comfort zone, leading a bubble-wrapped existence.

The sooner that wrap is removed, the better.

–This article was first published in The Straits Times.


I’m not very sure, but I think this journalist, young junior and fellow alumnus, is only a few years into her working years.

The prevailing subject and circumstances she was commenting on and submitted her article into –the matter of another school, SJI’s debate on its recruitment standards– is surely not the best arena for her to throw her hat into and offer her own experience of scholastic elitism.

Not a very smart move.