Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some Last Images of 2010, a Translation of Su Shi Poetry, a Warming Vatful of Chinese Chicken Broth.. and Finally, a Mid-Life Stock-take...

At the height of the snowstorms last month.

Things don't look so dreary actually when the sun came out.

Kids played during the first thaw.

As can be seen from the shallow footprints above, this first snowfall in early December really wasn't that bad. In some parts of the country, the snow managed to recede significantly to give a wonderful feeling of springtime in winter...

Little did we know of course that a much bigger snowstorm was to arrive within a fortnight to enable us to have the proverbial White Christmas as well as a White New Year. We sure hit the jackpot this winter!

Anyway, this was taken when the kids in the neighbourhood still had the mood to make a snowman (albeit a headless one).

And yup, much of my gardening efforts earlier in the year turned out to be for nought because of the snowstorms... as sadly there are only so many plants I could save by putting them indoors.

I mean, if the first snow didn't kill them, the above second severe snow almost certainly did. ( I say "almost", as I don't want to rule out the tenacity of any living things -- I find, in my experience, even very sick ones could be gradually nursed back, given the right support and encouragement.)

Of the ones I managed to save indoors, none had done so well thus far than my lovely Camellia , bought as a small plant without any buds since early summer, which finally managed to flower in the depths of winter.

For a long time, I thought it was not going to flower at all (the buds had appeared for a full six months before flowering). I mean, right up until early December, the plant pretty much just looked like this (and yes, those were egg-shells on top of the soil. I also used coffee grounds for their acidity, as Camellia hates alkaline soil. So glad these folk gardening tips worked out well):

And I had to wait a good several months just to get the bud to turn white and open up a tiny bit:

I am so happy that my little plant stays true to its name as "the Rose of Winter".

The whiteness of its blossoms has an ethereal beauty that is similar in purity, though very different in tone, to the heavy snow lying just outside the glass-panes that separate this lively plant from the cold, harsh elements outside.

The above was the first to flower in mid-December, and has since declined, but there are luckily four more still to come into full bloom, some of these are captured below (though strictly speaking these are 2011 pictures):

It's such a wonderful reward to see something come so beautifully into fruition...

It is complete serendipity that, just as my white camellias are flowering, I came across the below poem by Su Shi, and although he was referring to Pear blossoms rather than Camellias (中譯:茶花), how wonderful that he was also contemplating the pale white blossoms against a backdrop of snow. I like his imageries so much that I want to set his poem down here and attempt another one of my literary translations (see here for my previous flower-themed translation of Chinese poetry):

"東欄梨花" --- 蘇軾





"Pear Blossoms by the East Fence" --- Su Shi

Pale pear blossoms, white amid dark green willows;

While leaves from willows fly, over town, blossoms gently a-float.

A column of snow droops dolefully from the far east railing,

How much of Life could one discern with the pure clarity of crystal?

(Alternative last line: How many times could one behold the annual passing of Ching Ming?)

Translated by Snowdrops. 2011. All rights reserved.
(Final satisfied version published 04:06 on 14 January, 2011)
(Added alternative last line at 02:20 on 14 January, 2011)
(Translation note 1: "清明" could be referring to the ancestral tomb-clearing festival in Spring -- the Ching Ming festival -- rather than as meaning "crystal clear"; I only took the literal meaning of the phrase in formulating my translation above. For a translation that incorporated the meaning of the Ching Ming festival, please refer to Alice Poon's work here and here.)
(Translation note 2: I'm really happy to be able to utilise some onomatopoeic assonances / alliterations in the manner of Gerald Manley Hopkins as part of my translation above, as in "pale pear blossoms", "while leaves from willows fly", and "droops dolefully". I'm sure this could be improved much further but am happy with what I was able to attempt so far.)
(Translation note 3: After a bit of deliberation, I've added an alternative last line that does take into account the translation of "清明" as Ching Ming festival as opposed to the literal meaning of the words themselves.)

From the Wikipedia entry on Camellia japonica (which is the genus that my pot plant belongs to), I am very glad to learn that there has been a beautiful English poem that is dedicated to the White Camelia japonica:


Thou beauteous child of purity and grace,

What element could yield so fair a birth?

Defilement bore me - my abiding place

Was mid the foul clods of polluted earth.

But light looked on me from a holier sphere,

To draw me heavenward - then I rose and shone;

And can I vainly to thine eye appear,

Thou dust-born gazer? make the type thine own.

From thy dark dwelling look thou forth, and see

The purer beams that brings a lovelier change for thee.

Okay... enough of poetic musings on ice and snow and purity :) How about a vatful of delicious Chinese chicken broth that is sure to warm the cockles of your heart as well as fill your stomach?

This is my first ever attempt to make Chinese broth. In fact, I invented the recipe when I found myself craving Chinese soup in the middle of the snowstorm last month (last year technically also). Will put up the recipe in the next while, as I have to say it tastes absolutely gorgeous and, more importantly, even authentic (even though it was a complete invention by a newbie / amateur Chinese cook such as myself!)

* * * * *

Finally, a little note to sum up my past decades... 人踏中年,與其來個中年危機,倒不如做一個小小總結,積極的面對人生。

Late 70's. -- Toddler. 襁褓幼稚時期。也有片段回憶,都是開心的。

80's -- Growing up. 成長;價值觀成立及鞏固。最快樂的童年;自信心爆棚。然而,好景不常:八九六四;父母離異。

90's -- Emigration. 移民;激烈轉變。自信變自卑;外向變內向。可是,也遇上好好的本地朋友和老師,慢慢地學會欣賞這裡的人和環境。考上理想大學;真正重拾信心。九七回歸,難忘的暑期工。完成四年愉快充實的大學生涯。拿獎學金,出國進修,初次真正獨立生活,亦正式明白「夏蟲不可以語冰」這七個字的意思。

00's -- "Lost decade". 困惑之年。事業選擇不如理想,被某些同事抵制(初時以為是單純的背景問題,後來了解到其實自己的不圓滑也是致命傷)。當一些自己尊敬的上司與同僚也走了,自己也選擇重回學園,並幸運的覓得一教席。然而沒想到學府內同樣爾虞我詐,理想曾一度破滅。自在外回來再次與家人同住後,與家人關係尤其日益惡劣,終於頂唔順,搬出去自成一家(雖然現在是名副其實的負資產苦業主,但我還是認為自己能擁有自己的天地是非常幸運的,加上不打算賣樓,亦暫支持得住,還不心存感激嗎?)。可惜還未在待人處事上學乖,也遇上不少小人,工作縱有熱誠,但也常遇滑鐵盧。可是也僥倖遇上幾位真誠支持鼓勵後輩的模範前輩(雖然其中一位已在兩個月前輕輕的走了...),和很多讓我受益不淺的的學生,在研究途中,也遇到很多善良的,美自內心的,深具啟發性的人。當身心疲憊得像一個破機器般勉強地運作,他們是我堅持下去的理由。

Last 3 months -- 十年了,破機器終於有機會給停下來稍為修補。我也真的幸運,當機器壞了,身邊竟還有親人好友,他們竟然還未完全被蒸發掉,儘管我是非常沒有給予他們應得的時間和關心,真是奇蹟!而我也未因那些困惑之年而放棄自己,也是奇蹟!

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At Fri Jan 21, 06:26:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger laichungleung said...

I don't have the courage to look back let alone writing something down, as frank as you do here.

At Mon Jan 24, 11:25:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thanks LCL. I'm not sure if it's just narcissism or actual courage that prompted me to write that little summary. But as mid-life crises / eccentricities go, I guess that's not too extreme and in fact, forgiveable :)

At Fri Jan 28, 06:28:00 a.m. GMT, Blogger Sidney Sweet said...

The Hanyu Pinyin of the name 蘇軾 or 苏轼 is "Su Shi", instead of Su Zhi [in the title of this post] or Shu Zhi [somewhere down below in the same post].

At Fri Jan 28, 11:07:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

Thank you Prof Sweet, I will be correcting those now. Again I really appreciate the fact that you took time to kindly read through and correct my writings.

All the best

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good work

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