Monday, October 19, 2009

On the Love of Lotus... 《愛蓮說》 [Translation of Sung Poetry]

《愛蓮說》 周敦頤
水陸草木之花,可愛者甚蕃。
晉陶淵明獨愛菊;
自李唐來,世人盛愛牡丹;
予獨愛蓮之出淤泥而不染,
濯清漣而不妖,
中通外直,不蔓不枝,
香遠益清,亭亭靜植,
可遠觀而不可褻玩焉。

予謂:
菊,花之隱逸者也;
牡丹,花之富貴者也;
蓮,花之君子者也。
噫!菊之愛,陶後鮮有聞;
蓮之愛,同予者何人;
牡丹之愛,宜乎眾矣。

On the Love of Lotus

Of all the flora across land and water, there are plenty to adore:
Tao Yuen-Ming of the Chin dynasty admired only chrysanthemums;
Since the dynasty of Li Tang, the peonies have been popular with the masses.
I, for one, love only the lotus -- for the way it emerged untainted from the muck,
Raising cleanly above ripples of water with an unaffected grace;
Its hollow, straight stems eschew climbing-vines or branches;
Its scent turns ever purer the farther it travels in the wind,
And all the while it quietly holds its upright stance in peace.
It can only be admired from afar, not to be sullied nor debased.

I declare:
Chrysanthemum is the hermit of the flower world;
Peony, the rich and powerful among its peers;
Lotus, the noble soul among all flora.
Oh, the appreciation of chrysanthemum is seldom known after Tao;
As for the love of lotus, who else like me would feel the same?
Peony, on the other hand, seems rather suited to the mainstream.


Translated by Snowdrops, 2009. All rights reserved.

(Satisfied final version finally published at 18:28, 20 October, 2009)
(Tiny amendments effected on 28 July, 2010)


Update: 26th January 2011: I recently discovered that another person has slightly modified my above translation (His/her piece begins with, "Of all the flowers across land and water...") without providing any credit to my original translation. But derivative works without attribution are forbidden even under the Creative Commons 3.0 license (which covers all contents of this blog), and especially for a creative work that has already been marked as "All rights reserved". The person posted his/her derivative translation as a Word document online (on what looks like a forum for Taiwanese local teachers), and there is no facility that I could see to alert him/her of copyright violation. I am noting this incident here.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Random notes...

Paul Arden:

“It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”

“When it can’t be done, do it. If you don’t do it, it doesn’t exist… It’s exciting. It’s difficult and it’s fun”.

* * *

It's really great to discover another person who also thinks what an unsubtle pro-CCP piece of propaganda that Zhang Yimou film "Hero" really is!!

Nothing beats being able to chat politics and debate the state of the world over good food with well-informed, open-minded, kind-hearted souls, who are also conscientious and tough-as-nails (even though you would never guess it from our gentle demeanours)!

We may despair about what the world is coming to, but knowing that there are others who see the things you see and who care as much as you do even if you feel powerless to do anything, is actually pretty empowering.

We may be voiceless and powerless. But we are not blind and we are not alone. Thank goodness.

* * *

I'm beginning to realise that my true kindred spirits are those who have moved overseas and experienced a variety of foreign cultures, who have a grounding in the social sciences and humanities and thus do not see the world purely through a technical/utilitarian lens, who have not stopped thinking and asking questions despite being encouraged otherwise, who have an interest in the welfare of their fellow men and the wider world rather than the affairs of only themselves and their loved ones, who couldn't care less about the latest fads and gossips yet are intrinsically drawn to weighty complex frankly boring problems in spite of themselves, and who are politically-engaged in the best sense of the term, even though they may not be formally engaged.

Oh, last but not least, those who think that nationalism is a curse, a scourge upon humankind the same way as racism and sexism.

I feel at home with people like that. I really do. The sense of relief of having found my own kind is palpable. They may not share my nationality/ethnicity/gender, but they are like family.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Meeting THE Sartorialist... [fully-updated]

...in the flesh no less!

I have been following The Sartorialist blog on and off for a while now (it's in my Google reader, and discovered via LCL's blog), and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw by chance that he was coming to Dublin last Friday as part of his book launch! (Dublin is not particularly well-known for its contemporary street-fashion, I'm afraid. Although that may well change when Scott the Sartorialist is finally in town!)

And being conveniently-located by virtue of my workplace, I snuck out during the lunch hour to attend his book-signing session at the Gallery of Photography (Meeting House Square, Temple Bar). (I left a message on his blog to say that I'd be there, but to be honest I wasn't quite sure if I was going to be able to go, as I had a meeting just before that lunch that could potentially go on for hours).

But I did manage to go there. Alas, when I got there by 1:10pm all copies of his books were sold out already (the Gallery director had posted a message asking people to start showing up by 12:30pm), and me and a dozen others were told to wait for their newly-ordered shipment. Meanwhile, the actual talk-cum-book-signing session was about to start in the upstairs gallery, so even though I was sans book, per the gallery director's suggestion, I still went upstairs anyway, and lo-and-behold, there is one lone final seat left on the front row! So I put on an affectation of confidence and asked the girls on either side if the seat was taken. It wasn't, so I sat there with a grin on my face, still sans book.

(I must admit it was a bit daunting to walk into an all-white gallery room with what presumably must be a pack of discerning fashionistas sitting there staring at you as you come into the entrance. For me especially that day, I had to walk the tight-rope between being presentable in an academic setting - I had to face students that morning, after all - and being presentable in a fashionable setting... not an easy nut to crack. One must command a certain level of social poise to pull it off and, I'm relieved to say I have acquitted myself well, I think. The fact that I did plan my outfit two nights before helped, as it was clear that most of the people there really thought through their wardrobe - you don't find the kind of run-of-the-mill Dublin crowd in this audience, as most of the young ones especially wear their attitudes on their sleeves.)

As I didn't have the book I was tweedling my thumbs while waiting for Scott (see how we're on first-name terms already!) to arrive, and so I struck up a conversation with the girl on my left, who was also there by herself but was one of the lucky ones to get a final copy of the book before the first shipment sold out. She turned out to be South Korean, and just graduated with a diploma in fashion, and had lived in Paris for quite some time. The girl on my right is Irish Irish, whom I later found out is actually a fashion designer herself, who has a collection on sale in a shop on the top floor of the Powerscourt Shopping Centre (a posh shopping mall at Dublin city centre). We were all shocked that THE Sartorialist deigned to come to Dublin for a book-signing, and we were also amazed at the amount of people who turned out. The rest of the audience seemed to be made up predominantly of Trinity and NCAD (National College of Art and Design) students (not surprising given how close the venue is to their campuses). Me, being an academic, feel like an exotic animal in such a hip audience (thankfully, there were also far less elegantly-dressed peeps scattered among the audience as well, and it wasn't just a young crowd but a good mix of ages, and the fact that it was one of the dreariest autumn days on record did help excuse whatever sartorial crimes we might have committed... although one does worry whether he's going to find any subject worthy of his camera during his sojourn here).(Edited to add: actually, no worries, Scott managed to do some brilliant work during the few days he stayed here, see: Blathnaid, Trinity Rugby Players, and Dad's old sportcoat)

Anyway, here's a few pics I took of Scott the Sartorialist at the end of his talk (I shall update this blog on what he said that was very inspirational to me in a little while).

Scott put on his glasses just before he sat down for the actual book-signing. The book in question can be glimpsed just to the right of the photo. He was literally just given a Guinness pint glass of what looked to be just tap water (not even bottled water, but then again, the Gallery of Photography is a non-profit outfit).

Also, I have to say that Scott is much shorter in person than I imagined he would be, especially given his elongated face and chiselled features. I also think he probably didn't bring enough warm clothes with him, as his bomber jacket was buttoned all the way from top to bottom - not a particularly good look - and he still looked like he was freezing (which was not surprising given the weather of the day). It was actually quite funny when he was being introduced by the Penguin publicist - as he too hesitated to come into the all-white room!

He was really friendly with everyone and took time to have a wee chat with each person as they asked for his autograph. And hey, I think my photograph of him above isn't half bad in terms of composition! (Although the image quality could be improved, as I was just shooting with my cameraphone). Anyway, he does have a Clark Kent look about him when he put his glasses on!

The guy behind him seemed to be the official photographer sent to cover this book-signing event. But he didn't take more than 3 pictures during the whole talk, and then just faffed about in the background at the end. The fact that the Gallery of Photography didn't have the foresight to order enough books to cover the book-signing crowd is also very disappointing.

The crowd getting up to queue for book-signing... notice there is a mix of ages, and some not-so-well-dressed ones in there as well, so I didn't feel like I was sticking out like a sore thumb :P

Prior to LCL's comment, I didn't realise I needed to explain why I'm a fan of Scott Schuman the Sartorialist. But apparently I did need to explain myself. So here goes: Anybody who can see beauty in the ordinary, and enables others to see it, is a true artist in my book. Scott chose not to photograph the rich and famous, or only those clad in designer labels, or only those who are conventionally stylish. He photographed old and young, in all variety of street styles, and captured a moment of contemporary modernity that is both unique and commonplace. The key to his subjects' style is not that pieces have to be expensive or exclusive, but interesting yet ready-to-hand pieces that are put together as an expression of their personality. It's people wearing clothes, not the other way round. Scott shows us how ordinary people can be authentically fashion-forward in a way no corporate fashion houses can simulate through their multi-million dollar ad campaigns. That is why I am a fan of his work.

Now that's cleared up, anyway, as mentioned above, there are parts of Scott's talk prior to the book-signing that are quite inspirational to me:

During his own brief talk at the beginning, Scott touched on how he chooses his subjects for the camera, and he's basically saying the things that I already noticed about his photos from reading his blog: that every person he photographs has something to give him at that particular moment, that it is their personality that attracts him to photograph them, rather than their clothes or their look per se. He wants every one of his photo to show the individual, rather than be a mere comment on how good or bad that particular person's style of dress is. Like he never wanted, nor indeed could, comment on how well-dressed or stylish a particular person is, what he wants to show instead is that each person is giving him something different from others, through their style of clothes and how they carry themselves. He always got something from the people he photographs, although he never elaborated on what that "thing" is.

So my interpretation of his avowed philosophy is that, strictly speaking, his photographs are not "fashion photography" per se, but embodies the finest ethos of street photography. And although he didn't elaborate on the "thing" that he got from each of his subjects, we can all get the sense that that "something" is really undefinable and unique to each individual, so he didn't even try to define it, and the audience was intelligent enough (and know his work enough) to not have to press him for an explanation, as we can all see "it" in his photographs.

This is quite inspiring for me because, although I'm a designer label ignoramus, who have no sense of what's hot and what's not in the world of high-end fashion, Scott's photography (and this is coming from somebody who's worked for decades in the fashion industry) hammers home the point that style is something innate to the person, and has nothing to do with external trappings per se, and indeed, is not something that could be found when one is covered head-to-toe in monogrammed designer gear just because it's ordained by the fashion powers-that-be as THE thing to wear.

(To be honest also, when he talked about the above, my heart was screaming, "Oh Hong Kong girls should really listen to this!!")

The last question he got asked from the audience was about whether he had ever been to a place where he found it difficult to find a suitable subject for his camera. Scott pondered it a little and actually said that Sao Paulo is a city where he found it very difficult to find people with enough interest to photograph. And he attributed this to the immense gap between the rich and poor in the city, so that on the one hand, you have a rich upper-class who slavishly follow designer-label fashion, whose insularity is made worse by their constant insecurity about their societal position due to the vast number of poor people surrounding them; and on the other hand, you have this huge underclass in society who had very little to physcially live on, so expressing their individuality through their dress is not high on their agenda, and in any case, he couldn't get close to them because he's forced to be surrounded by security guards front and back when he tried to go to those slum areas because of his camera equipment, and thus it was impossible for him to blend into the local scene, which is what he'd normally do when going on a shoot around a foreign city.

From his experience in Sao Paulo (and he also mentioned that he found the exact same in Stockholm, which was rather surprising), Scott deduced that the existence of a middle-class is really crucial to fashion, that without a sizeable middle-class in a stable society, even if there is an upper class, fashion will be in trouble. He's never a believer of brand-names in and of themselves, and found the game of chasing the latest and hippest of designer labels pursued by the rich and famous rather tedious and beside-the-point. The poor is not in a position to appreciate fashion, and the rich is too insular to appreciate fashion as an expression of individuality. That leaves us the middle-class kids, who are able to mix and match pieces - perhaps a hand-me-down from a sister, paired with a newly-bought iconic piece of the season - to experiment and show off themselves.

That is also very heartening for me to hear because, more often than not the term "middle-class" is rather derogatory when it comes to fashion, bringing to mind bourgeosie sensibilities and pedestrian, low-culture tastes. Yet in Scott's eyes, middle-class people have the best of both worlds - they are not so rich as to be full of themselves and see clothes merely as expression of their wealth rather than their personality (if they have one, that is!), and they are not so poor as to be preoccupied solely with physical survival and have no time for frivolous aesthetics.

So the above are the parts of his talk that inspired me. But in addition to the above, Scott the Sartorialist also spoke about how he wants to write better, that he wants to be able to connect with people not only through his photographs, but through words, and it's something that he's working on and something in which he is inspired by his partner, a writer. When asked what he thought of the "fashion month" in Milan, London and New York this year, Scott joked that nobody could be seen to be having fun in these dire economic times, and that it's a pity because he would love to see more young people involved in fashion, but that's one of the first things to go when times are hard as you don't have as many apprentices/interns working on shoots, and so he got less opportunity to photograph the new up-and-coming talents of the fashion world.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ireland... as a tourist destination...

Taiwanese travel programme introducing Ireland...



23 hour flight? Are you kidding me?

My workplace made a cameo appearance in the video, yay!

The Celts are EUROPEANS, so what are you on about? We are proud to be Europeans, witness the recent referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

I can't believe your man* got a SOBER Irish guy to sing "Molly Malone" in front of the camera in broad daylight!

And one of the statues that was featured in the video is not just an ordinary joe, but OSCAR WILDE for gods sake!

Is Dublin as big as Taipei? I truly didn't realise that. Dublin as a city is really really small, that's what the assistant in the tourism centre meant when she said that you can walk all around town. (The truth is that nobody would find going around the Dublin 'burbs to be an itinerary item for any sane tourist!)

But then again, I like the way the video captured Dublin as a free city allowing its citizens to do anything they please so long as it's not seriously disturbing or inconveniencing others. That's quite unlike what seems to be happening in HK these days...

*"Your man" is an Irish slang meaning "the guy"

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My first home-grown chillis...

From initial green shoots...




... to the first flowering




And from the sight of these surprising green fruits (surprising because of my enforced neglect over the three weeks that I was in Hong Kong)...












... to the very first red fruit...







... and finally, to a healthy crop of miniature chillis (hotness level: just below jalapenos)



















(Gardening Notes:

1. These chillis are completely organic. No fertilizer nor bug-spray nor any sort of artificial agent ever used. Only water and sunshine added to seeds in compost. Oh, and attention when I managed to give it any.

2. These chillis took a long time to germinate. The packet says 6-8 weeks, but I had to wait until the basil and the coriander had grown into proper seedlings before I even saw the very first pip of a green shoot. Had almost given up and was just about to throw it away but laziness and a faint sense of hope prevented me from acting on my impulse. Thank god I didn't!

3. These chillis were re-potted once. Once they became proper seedlings I moved them from the aluminium pouch that they came in, to a proper pot - by that I mean the IKEA aluminium pot with drainage holes at the bottom.

4. I agonised over what to do with these prior to my departure for Hong Kong, as they were flowering so prettily and I was afraid of what would happen to them when I was gone. In the end, rather than entrust them to others - I don't want to potentially sour a relationship over a dead plant - I placed them in a plastic basin of water and put them just on the inside of my balcony to ensure that they get enough sunlight. It was beyond my expectations to come back and see them not only not died of neglect, but actually flourished and have grown fruits. The dead-looking leaves were the only clue that the plant had been neglected and left to fend for itself. I felt - and still feel - so blessed.

5. Not a gardening note per se, but these chillis are seriously yummy, even if I do say so myself! It's tiny but packs enough of a kick to be noticeable, and there's a certain sweetness to the taste as well. I'm just sorry that the plant doesn't yield more fruit as they could all be used up in a couple of salads. Must plant more.)

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Important reminder as we face another anniversary of the birth of "modern" China

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word “maladjusted.” Now we all should seek to have a well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and the desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

----- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1958, emphasis added.



Further reading: An online campaign by HK bloggers in light of the recent assault on Hong Kong journalists by Xinjiang police.

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Viewfinder...

Where are you from?

Que sera sera...

Feed my pet!

Currently getting stuck in...

Have just finished...

Me, Anime...

A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

SNOWDROPS
S is for Sweet
N is for Natural
O is for Open-hearted
W is for Worldly
D is for Dedicated
R is for Romantic
O is for Original
P is for Perfectionist
S is for Special
What Does Your Name Mean?