Language journeys and memories

[Was tapping out a comment here when, as usual, I let my thoughts and memories run away from me, and ended up with a lengthy and embarrassing exercise in nostalgia.

But since I’ve already written it, guess I’ll just place it here instead.


… I remember I did my Japanese and HCL without any issues; but that was quite some time ago when there were much fewer students offering these subjects.

I actually wanted to take French, mainly because I really wanted to read Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel and travel it’s ‘phantastic’ world in the original language. But father was adamant that Japanese would be much more useful for work and business (this was before the full decimating effects of the Plaza Accord on the Japanese economy became apparent), and that French was only for dreamers and slackers, or if you wanted a stultifying dead-end job at the UN.

As usual, fathers always get their way. But I thought I was getting him back by being as disinterested in my Japanese lessons as I possibly could, getting into all sorts of trouble in class, and skipping classes altogether. At that time, the MOE Language Centre (foreign language classes were held outside of school) was located in an old but rather rustic, beautifully wooded and small cosy campus at Winstedt Road, near Newton Circus. But I was cutting so many Japanese classes, I could probably be found more often hanging out just down the road at the Far East Plaza McDonald’s, Scotts Road instead.


But I do have good memories of the Winstedt Road campus. Once, when again baiting the Japanese teacher with my innocent questions on the Sook Ching Massacre and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, I must had pushed him too far. He went apoplectic and chased me out of the classroom, and made me stand on a chair along the corridor, facing the wooded grounds of the campus. I remember standing high up on the chair and looking at the trees and greenery, feeling a refreshing little breeze and thinking: This ain’t too bad, the view’s pretty good from up here; and started playing Othello positions in my head.
Another enduring memory and image from the growing years.

Alas, I now regret not taking my Japanese language lessons more seriously; at the end of the four years, I never became more than a journeyman in the language, hampered by silly youthful rebelliousness, and perhaps even more so, by a misguided latent and burgeoning chinese chauvinism. But at least I was able to watch my favourite Macross Saga cartoon anime in the un-dubbed version.

I didn’t totally give up French either. I took lessons off and on at the Alliance all the way till Junior College (senior high), and took some French elective classes in university as well. While I still struggle mightily when trying to read Gargantua and Pantagruel in the original French, I know I would not have enjoyed the annual French Film Festivals as much as I did without my feeble French studies (at that time, the biggest foreign film fest in town was the annual French Film Festival organized by Alliance Française).

Ah, now there’s some good colourful celluloid memories…
Blue, White, Red
Bleu, Blanc, Rouge
liberté, egalité, fraternité


Dukkha — Suffering

The four truths are presented within the Buddha’s first discourse, Setting in Motion the Wheel of the Dharma (Dharmacakra Pravartana Sūtra). An English translation is as follows:

1. “This is the noble truth of dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are dukkha; union with what is displeasing is dukkha; separation from what is pleasing is dukkha; not to get what one wants is dukkha; in brief, the five aggregates subject to clinging are dukkha.”

2. “This is the noble truth of the origin of dukkha: it is this craving which leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there, that is, craving for sensual pleasures, craving for existence, craving for extermination.”

3. “This is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: it is the remainderless fading away and cessation of that same craving, the giving up and relinquishing of it, freedom from it, nonreliance on it.”

4. “This is the noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha: it is the Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.”

It has been more than twenty years now since I first followed my mother on her visits to the Siong Lim Temple/Shuang Lin Monastery for her regular devotions and ablutions, playing with the tortoises in the temple courtyard and ponds, drinking the coarse Oolong tea, and hearing and imbibing as the monks and lay-folk do their singsong chanting of scriptures.
And later in school, selecting and studying Buddhist Studies for my Religious Knowledge class and eventually receiving prizes for coming in first in school and the country for the subject. Later still, beginning formal practice in Dhyāna meditation under 禅 Chán masters of the Linji and Caodong lineages, and perhaps, even experiencing for myself the first and second Jhana levels. Latterly, visiting Soto Zen schools in Japan to practice shikantaza as a tourist, and taking retreats in Taiwanese Chán monasteries to practice silent illumination as a practitioner.

I have studied much, practiced a fair bit, and experienced some.
And yet, remain ever so enmeshed with dukkha.


There once lived a man of great knowledge. His reputation as a scholar spread throughout the land and still he longed for recognition. And so it came to pass that this scholar sought out a Zen Master in a nearby monastery asking to be shown the true nature of the universe. But part of him wanted and expected the Zen Master to acknowledge his wisdom. The scholar was granted an interview and seated at a low wooden table. The Zen Master entered the room in silence, placed a tea cup before the scholar and proceeded to fill it with tea. The cup filled up and began spilling over the table, and still the Zen Master continued pouring. The scholar cried out in alarm “My cup is overflowing!” The Zen Master answered “Precisely!” and so ended the interview.

To be emptied, bit by bit…

口头禅 ‘Talking Zen’

If you see through this world and let go of it…this is wisdom.
If you see through it, but don’t let it go…that’s just “talking Zen”.

Amongst White Clouds – Official Trailer:

Amongst White Clouds Part 1 of 6:

Once delusion is extinguished, your wisdom naturally arises…and you don’t differentiate suffering and joy.
Actually this joy and this suffering, they are the same…the same.

We always think we had already let it go.
But we never did.

莫待无花空折枝 Plucking empty stems

空折枝 plucking_empty_stems




Golden Robe

The gentleman is advised not to treasure the gold-embroidered robe (wealth and riches)
The gentleman is advised to cherish and use well the time of youth
When a beautiful flower blooms, it is at that moment the natural time to snap the stem (pluck it)
Wait not till there are no more flowers, and you snap the brittle empty stems in vain

–Du Qiu Niang/The Lady Du Qiu

Written by a rather obscure lady poet, the 金缕衣 Golden Robe was still collected into the famous canon and anthology, the 唐诗三百首 or the Three Hundred Tang Poems.

I still remember learning this poem from my Chinese teacher, 卓老师 Ms Zhuo. Most Sporean students study Chinese as a second language, and Ms Zhuo was always lamenting about the sorry state of our Chinese studies; though a few bright sparks among us gave her some consolation and comfort — those who have been studying Chinese officially as a First Language (much tougher material and exam standards) as well as the Taiwanese and Hong Kong classmates who are naturally native speakers of Chinese.

I remember Ms Zhuo earnestly explaining to us the poem’s meaning, that rather than single-minded pursuit of earthly treasures, wealth, power, pleasures, one should cherish above all else that light-footed and fleeting Time, and make full use of the moments and opportunities as they present themselves.
And naturally the wise-asses among us wise-cracked: Ah, Teacher, you mean 人不风流枉少年 If a young man is not promiscuous (seize all the opportunities that come his way), he would have wasted his youth.

On a more somber note, as Time flies and the years pass, and as I reach the summertime of my life, when I have trodden through and placed more years behind me than I probably will have ahead of me, the gentle prodding from the above lines are becoming evermore insistent.

I despair a little about just how fast and remorselessly time marches on. I wonder how many more blooming flowers I will have to look forward to. But most of all, my thoughts return more and more to the beautiful flowers in my life which I had forsaken, those gentle blooms that time, circumstances, my proud obstinate and willful Self had let slip by…
And the empty brittle stems and memories I am left clutching and plucking in vain.

Wait not till there are no more flowers, and you snap the brittle empty stems in vain

The Colour of Tea. Chán. Life.

A slightly indulgent music video on Tea. But still, very enjoyable.
Am tapping this out while cradling my cuppa green tea in hand, of course…

And some very well-written lines from the song below:

The fragrant wind from the Tang Dynasty, the rain of today
(The Classic of) Tea connects the past and present (in a cycle)
The poem concealed in the teacup, who shall discern
While the colour of tea swirls and ripples away


《茶香》- The Scent of Tea:

一縷茶香 醒山林
青山鸟语 风也摇曳

The mountain forest awakes with a thin/threadbare scent of pleasant green tea
Green hills, birds singing, breezes dancing
A cup of fresh green (tea) is the best accompaniment for a bosom friend
Laughing and talking about subjects ancient or modern, so pleasing!
The fragrant wind from the Tang Dynasty, the rain of today
(The Classic of) Tea connects the past and present (in a cycle)
The poem concealed in the teacup, who shall discern
While the colour of tea swirls and ripples away

[Lyrics largely taken from the translation already in the video; with some, I thought, more suitable alterations.

Apart from the very elegant rhyming pattern used, the touchstone or keyword(s) and alliterative sound and main imagery within the lyrics above, has to be the the exotic Chinese word 縷 or thread, and the word 绿 or the colour green, both pronounced with the same irregular phonetic sound, though of different accents: lǚ and lǜ.
Very delightful. Hats off to the lyricist.

The context of the lines is referring of course, to 陆羽 Lu Yu, and his 茶经 The Classic of Tea — the fount of all things regarding Tea (and yes, all Japanese cha ceremony literature and traditions refer back to Lu Yu).

Lu Yu:

茶经 The Classic of Tea:

Lords of the Seas

If Park Tae-hwan is the ‘Marine Boy’ (kinda weak nickname dubbed by the adoring Korean media and public), then Michael Phelps must be the erstwhile reigning but just retired/abdicated King Neptune, and Ryan Lochte the older and later-blooming/rediscovered Grecian archetype sea-god Poseidon;
and Sun Yang must surely be the 東海龍王 or Dragon King of the East Sea.

Olympics swimming: Sun Yang wins 1500m freestyle gold

China’s Sun Yang destroyed the rest of the field to break his own world 1500m record and win his second gold medal of London 2012.

Sun finished in a time of 14 minutes 31.02 seconds – 3.12 seconds faster than the world record he set at last year’s World Championships in Shanghai.

Sun was eight seconds clear of Canada’s Ryan Cochrane with defending champion Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia in third.

Once the action got underway, the 20-year-old, who had broken Grant Hackett’s long-standing world mark last year, set off quickly and was above world-record pace from the start.

He quickly put distance between himself and his rivals and from then on it was a race to see by how much he would break his old record.

Behind him, Cochrane and Mellouli got involved in a tussle for medals after the challenge of South Korea’s Taehwan Park faded.


What a great swim by Sun. He swam the last 100m in 53.5 seconds which is superb. After the shaky start he had he reset himself and I think it shook him for the first length. But you have seen the master of distance swimming in action.

–Adrian Moorhouse
Olympic gold medallist and BBC pundit

And a nice touch after the race during the medals award ceremony and photo-taking, when Sun Yang unexpectedly stepped across the hoardings near where the Aussie contingent were sitting at, to embrace his part-time Australian coach.


But going by this logic, who then is 孫悟空/Sun Wukong, the Monkey King … ?
And where may the 如意金箍棒/Ruyi Jingu Bang or the As-You-Will-Golden-Cudgel be ?