A perfectly useless afternoon spent uselessly at eternal resting places

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.

–Lin YuTang

It was a perfect day today to spend a lovely grey and cloudy afternoon in a subdued, quiet and out-of-the-way spot far far away from the sounds and bustle of the festive holiday. With lush greenery, gentle slopes and terraces, gurgling ponds and fountains, and very pleasing and comfortable 25 degree temperatures and even a slightly chilly but still agreeable December wind, it was the perfect conditions to pack a flask of hot oolong tea, some favourite 饼-piah snacks and teatime nibbles, a little book of old shared poems, an assortment of colourful fresh flowers, and a quiet mind and mood, to spend the holiday with loved ones at their peaceful and eternal resting places.

Some have previously raised eyebrows in askance at my peculiar and even a little macabre way of spending the holidays. But after the previous night’s christmas eve dinner of feasting drinking and conversation, what better way is there to spend Christmas Day, than with some light fasting as a penance for the previous evening’s overindulgence, some solitude to regain a little equanimity from the dissipation, and to quieten the heart and mind for an afternoon of peace, light tea and snacks, some favourite verses, and pleasing memories.

And over the years, I’ve even gotten to be quite good at 花道-flower arrangement, snipping arranging tweaking Mum’s favourite flowers into a little colourful and flowery ‘盆景’ and vista, in the various little vases set up permanently at the alcove. Nothing approaching what Mum’s skilled hands could produce of course; but I’m sure she would still be pleased at my clumsy efforts.

Lighting up matches and votive candles for loved ones in heaven…
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And the song in the head for this peaceful afternoon, one of our favourite old song we were always playing on the old turntable, from a long time ago:

浮生千山路 The thousand mountain roads of this fleeting life

浮生千山路

小溪春深處,萬千碧柳蔭,
不記來時路,心托明月,
誰家今夜扁舟子。

長溝流月去,煙樹滿晴川,
獨立人無語,驀然回首,
紅塵猶有未歸人。

[chorus]
春遲遲,燕子天涯,
草萋萋,少年人老,
水悠悠,繁華已過了,
人間咫尺千山路。

小溪春深處,萬千碧柳蔭,
不記來時路,心托明月,
誰家今夜扁舟子。

行到水窮處,坐看雲起時,
涼淨風恬,人間依舊,
細數浮生千萬緒。

[chorus]
春遲遲,燕子天涯,
草萋萋,少年人老,
水悠悠,繁華已過了,
人間咫尺千山路。 x2

The thousand mountain roads of this fleeting life

The small stream at the deepest places during springtime, ten thousand jade willows give shade,
Forgetting the road whence I arrived on, placing my heart upon the full moon,
Whose house tonight a wanderer (prodigal son) still roams on his lonesome boat.

The moon above flowing away upon this long creek below, the trees on the misty slopes filling (reflected in) the clear glassy river,
The lone man stands wordless, abruptly turning his head back to look,
Fearing there is someone yet to return from the red dust (worldly cares/events/relationships).

[chorus]
Spring late so late, the sky-realm of the swallows,
Grass lush so lush, the young man grows old,
The waters leisurely so leisurely (or sadly), the time of flourishing has passed,
The thousand mountain roads of man and world may be measured in just inches and feet.

The small stream at the deepest places during springtime, ten thousand jade willows give shade,
Fogetting the road whence I arrived on, placing my heart upon the full moon,
Whose house tonight a wanderer (prodigal son) still roams on his lonesome boat.

Walking to where the waters are shallow (end), sitting down to watch the clouds rise,
A peaceful breeze cools and quietens, the world continues on,
Carefully counting the ten thousand threads of this fleeting life.

[chorus]
Spring late so late, the sky-realm of the swallows,
Grass lush so lush, the young man grows old,
The waters leisurely so leisurely (or sadly), the time of flourishing has passed,
The thousand mountain roads of man and world may be measured in just inches and feet. x2

.
.
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Very appropriate lines for my afternoon today:

行到水窮處,坐看雲起時,
涼淨風恬,人間依舊,
細數浮生千萬緒。

Walking to where the waters are shallow (end), sitting down to watch the clouds rise,
A peaceful breeze cools and quietens, the world continues on,
Carefully counting the ten thousand threads of this fleeting life.

Guess that’s what I was doing today, 細數浮生千萬緒-counting the ten thousand threads of this fleeting life.

https://dustysojourner.wordpress.com/2009/11/15/a-portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-mans-grief/

5 thoughts on “A perfectly useless afternoon spent uselessly at eternal resting places

  1. What a coincidence. As I look out of the window into the dark skies, an almost full moon looks back wanly at me.

    不記來時路,心托明月,
    誰家今夜扁舟子。

    Forgetting the road whence I arrived on, placing my heart upon the full moon,
    Whose house tonight a wanderer (prodigal son) still roams on his lonesome boat.

    Sigh. This prodigal son and lonesome wanderer is tired of roaming. And I actually want to forget where and how I got here, but I suppose placing my heart upon the full moon shall be futile as well…it looks too pale and feeble to offer any solace, hope or direction…

    長溝流月去,煙樹滿晴川,
    獨立人無語,驀然回首,
    紅塵猶有未歸人。

    The moon above flowing away upon this long creek below, the trees on the misty slopes filling (reflected in) the clear glassy river,
    The lone man stands wordless, abruptly turning his head back to look,
    Fearing there is someone yet to return from the red dust (worldly cares/events/relationships).

  2. I was told this song referenced a series of poems. I don’t know how true that is, given these are common imageries in traditional chinese poems. But I never investigated further, it’s like the layers of irony on terms like winter of discontent adds to its potency. http://wp.me/pWmjr-1CP

  3. :)
    Yes, that was what my mother told me too when she first shared this song with me. As with much of the stuff she would share with me then, this song and lyrics were also surreptitiously meant to be teaching material – I was delighted when she revealed that the song lyrics were largely taken from old chinese poems; to a young and fresh-eyed boy then, this was another of Mum’s magic and revelations she was so good at conjuring up.

    In my old 2009 post where I first mentioned the 浮生千山路 song, I had wanted to add the origins of the song lyrics, but I guess I got distracted then. I vaguely remembered most of the lines came from verses of rather obscure old poems, with a couple from more well known poets. It seems you found some of these old poems as well. :)
    I have forgotten there was a 王維-Wang Wei line in them as well.

    Heh heh:
    [
    Now is the winter of our discontent

    Now is the winter of our discount tent
    ]

    now-is-the-winter-of-our-discount-tent

  4. Hah, my mum tried to interest me in Xu Zhi Mo by making it into a morality tale… she has weird ideas about me. Xzm, Zhu Zi Qing and the rest she tried to pass on to me didn’t resonated, while I’d to find Feng Zi Kai, Lin Yu Tang and Taiwanese writers on my own. I think she scoffed at a Jiang Xun book I got for birthday when I was in high school. I just spent the afternoon at Lin Yu Tang’s house =) Apparently, he invented stuff as well. Pretty neat with the mix of leather, paper and wood scents and amusing elevator music…and a well-lit library with his complete works for visitors’ reading pleasure…so am mollified after being cheated by the weather forecast into having this wet weather plan instead of hiking. Just as yesterday, discovered why people like Xu Murong since I was trapped at Taitung Eslite for nine hours after believing the weatherman that Lyudao would be feasible. Should have spent the day watching raindrops a la Po the kungfu panda at Chihpen.

  5. Your afternoon spent at Lin Yutang’s house must had been an enjoyable one – he was the modern master of enjoyment and 逍遥游 (unbridled natural enjoyment) after all.
    Yes, wood scents would be very keeping in character with Lin Yutang. I remember in his book, The Importance of Living, he had a fascinating section on scents and incense, and the integral part it plays for the refined enjoyment of life. If I remember correctly, he talked about how incense had been fashionable lifestyle accouterments for genteel chinese since ancient times; I distinctly remember he also mentioned how the Song dynasty poetess Li Qingzhao and her husband had partaken of this indulgence as well, while enjoying their favourite pastime of collecting and reading etchings of old epigraphs.

    Actually, writers like Lin Yutang and Xu Zhi Mo were haraam/forbidden in the house in the early years: Father would frown and go harrumph! if he caught me with their books, as well as others he considered equally frivolous and indolent. But I had inside help who would connive with me to smuggle and hide my stash of contraband readings…after all, Mum had her own list of ‘liberal’ writers she enjoyed reading as well, like the amazing but ‘salacious’ 张爱玲 Zhang Ailing.

    On a separate note, my most admired modern 20th century Chinese writer is someone who made the decision to stay behind on the mainland after the tumultuous 政变-regime change of 1949, even thought he certainly had the means and wherewithal to leave and cross over to HK or TW, like so many other chinese writers, scholars, intellectuals, artists did during that period.

    I believe 钱锺书 Qian Zhongshu is the most underrated Chinese writer, thinker and scholar of the last century, with a natural talent and genius not below that of Hu Shih and Lu Xun. We would never know what heights he could had attained in his mature creative years had he not been under the yoke and restraint of official socialist ideology and boundary markers, and the persecution he suffered and survived during the cultural revolution; but his work from his younger pre-1949 days was simply brilliant, and even the work he produced on comparative literature and semiotics during the socialist period was notable as well.

    While I was heartened with Mo Yan’s Nobel win and sincerely feel his achievement is laudable and well-deserved, a part of me is a little sad that the first Chinese to win the Nobel Literature Prize, will not be 钱锺书 Qian Zhongshu and what I think is one of the best chinese novel written in the 20th century, Qian Zhongshu’s 围城/Fortress Besieged (1947).

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