Tuesday, December 14, 2010

– the little Vienna - Tilanqiao - 提篮桥

“请问提虹口篮桥往那个方向走。 我想要到'小维也纳'和以前日本人居住的地区去" – I asked the two elderly volunteers.

(Hi, could you point to me the direction to Hong Kou, Tilanqiao. I would like to go to ‘Little Vienna’ and the place where the old Japanese settlement was)

It was Sunday 29Oct morning. I left the hotel early - 7-Day-Inn in Guizhou Road - 贵州路 - heading north and east - crossing the Suzhou River.

The old post office – now the Shanghai Post Museum - was visibly the most imposing colonial style building on the north bank of the river. The clock tower and the tall columns basking in the morning ray were visible from afar- revealing a façade of Old Shanghai that aficionados of heritage buildings would lap with joy.

The two elderly volunteers were seated on a low chair along the pavement across the road from the museum. They should be at least in the eighties.

I knew that I was headed in the right direction – as I had just checked the map from the free internet logon in the hotel.

Furthermore, as with the previous trips with a map in hand, I love to explore the city on foot – and would get my orientation correct.

The Hongkou - 虹口-area in the NE sector was one part of city that I had missed in the previous trips, and on the itinerary this time – other than to visit the World Exposition – was to explore this area.

I had read of Hongkou as the Japanese settlement. A google on Hongkou also yielded Tilanqjiao - 提篮桥.

To escape persecution this was that part of Shanghai where most of the Jews from Europe were headed to prior to & during the WWII period in the 1930’s and 40’s. It also stated that this was the one last frontier Old Shanghai - where the old European style buildings were very much intact.

Bingo!– I thought. It added to my excitement and expectation as I stepped out enthusiastically into the cold morning.

The elderly guides looked at me expressionless – & thinking perhaps they might not have understood what I said - I repeated :

"提篮桥 ‘小维也纳’, 以前日本人居的地区".

(Tilanqiao –the ‘Little Vienna’ and the old Japanese settlement)

Then one of them pointed me across the road - in the direction of the old post office where I came from, and said :

"往前走。 在前面的那条小巷,跟着那条后面的小巷往前走去。那条小巷.."

(Head straight . In the small lane in front – follow the small lane behind and go straight. Follow he small lane. ..)

I thanked them, and trusting what he said, I wandered forth. After a while I thought to myself –to go to Hongkou and Tilanqiao I should be heading towards the direction of the morning sun. However, crossing the road and into the little back lane – it was headed towards the direction I came from in the westerly direction, and away from the destination.

I then realized that - I could have been duped by these old gentlemen. He particularly emphasized to head towards the small lane and repeated - 小巷 – xiaoxiang .

I thought - these two elderly men could not - NOT have known Shanghai well, and being in the neighborhood of Hongkou and Tilanqiao – all the more they should know where these places were.

Tilanqaio – as I later got to pass by –had another landmark – the old Shanghai Prison .

Recalling the nuances and the way that he emphasized & repeated –小巷- xiaoxiang - the small back lane - these two elder men were taking a quick one on this visitor, I concluded.

Perhaps – Hong kou, Tilanqiao, Little Vienna – Japanese – were something not be to asked of– to these old gentlemen.

Well, Tilanqiao –Little Vienna did not disappoint. It’s a time tunnel into the 1940’s…you could chanced upon Zhou Xuan -周旋 - too..
Remember to bring along your GPS ….


1. 7-Day-Inn


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

expo 2010 shanghai – 万国来泸庆世博

This book – was perhaps the last of the many souvenir books published for the World Expo2101, Shanghai from May to Oct. The first edition was published in Oct 2010, the last month of the Expo.

After a 5 long month there were 73milllion visitors.

On the surface of it – this book seems anachronistic for this world event.

Here was a 21st century World Exposition showcasing forefront technology for a Better City, Better Life – and this author was romancing each of the pavilions and countries participating in the Exposition in old style penta and hepta – syllabic verses .

Much as the China Pavilion was trying to make a visual impact with this crimson edifice – this book in its un-assuming way celebrated the occasion in an age old traditional style – memorializing each of the 220 odd pavilions in millennium old style poetic verses.

Fans of Tang poems & into Chinese history would discern another correlation and the underlying link this book is perhaps trying to connote – the present day China and the China of the Tang Dynasty (618-907CE) close to 1,400 years ago.

The penta-hepta- syllabic style poem published in this book reached its maturity and was widely popular among the literati during the Tang Dynasty. That was also one of the high points of Chinese Dynastic glory and prestige. The so called – sheng shi – 盛世 – the pax Sinica .

During the reign of Emperor Xuan Zhong - 玄宗 (reign 712-756CE)– the zenith of the Tang Dynasty glory - poets such as Li Bai - 李白 - (701-762) and Du Fu - 杜甫 - (712-770) penned many of the evergreen verses that are still oft quoted in our everyday lives.

Coming on the heels of the 2008 Beijing Olympics & the 2009 - 60th anniversary celebration of the founding of New China, the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai – to the Chinese is another testimony that their country is on a much delayed wave of - 盛世. And the wish is that this - 盛世 - of the modern era - would surpass any of the dynastic great.

With almost all countries of the world represented in the Expo 2010 – as they said, the world came to China to throw a party for her – the author took pain & joy in penning a poem for each of the participanting pavilion.

This book – reminded me of a scroll painting that I saw at the National Palace Museum - Taipei - a few years back. It was a figure drawing of the envoys and visitors to the Tang court - each of them in their traditional costumes.

Perhaps it was very much with this glory of the Tang Dynasty in mind that the author penned this book of poems – welcoming the visitors from afar in the celebration.

Here’s what the author wrote of the - China Pavilion

中国馆 -


Flying eaves – columns & cross beams (dougong) – upright– Zhonghua (China)
One color- red – colorful – crimson ray
Stand towering – East – encompassing – four seas
Ascend – the world – contain – this exotic flower
Granary – crown – all under heaven – prosper
Reform – opening – a century – achieved
Song Dynasty – scroll – Qing Ming river scene – unfold – animation
Thousand year – old willow – sprout - new shoot

Short of being able to put the poem into proper English sentences – the translation of each Chinese word seemingly is able to convey at least a sense of what the author is trying to paint.

Needless to say, there is a deep sense of pride that the country is standing tall in the east, with her new found confidence amongst nations.

Well, the impressionable landmark and other equally impressive buildings and hardware in Shanghai – a visitor would tend to easily mistook that China is among the league of developed nations-

However, behind the facade of these grand trappings, there is much to be desired of the software.

The two big banners over Exit # 8 – subtly revealed as much of what the Chinese wish in their populace :

zhan liyi zhi bang fencai
To show a Nation of Etiquette

zuo sebo wenming youke
To be a Tourist of Quality

Perhaps one of the enduring etiquette the 73 million visitors took away with from the Expo 2010 – was queuing in an orderly manner, and wait patiently for their turn - even for 5 hours to visit the popular pavilions …

Postscript –

1. Tang Shan -唐山

How grand and great an impact did this Tang China left behind - you may ask?

- Its impact is so long lasting that Chinatowns throughout the world are known in Chinese as - Tang-People Street – 唐人街 – Tangren Jie – literary – Streets of People of Tang

(Except for Japan – where Chinatowns are known as – 中华街- chuuka gai – literary Chinese Street. For唐人街 – Toojin gai – or karabito gai – could mean a Foreigner Street for Karabito could also mean a foreigner in Japanese).

- Our forefathers who migrated to the Nanyang – would refer to their motherland as – Tang Shan – 唐山 – Land of the Tang & themselves as 唐人 – Tan ren – People of Tang.
- Bruce Lee’s first blockbuster hit – The Big Boss – in Chinese is called - 唐山大兄 - Tangshan daxiong – Big Brother from the Land of the Tang.

Perhaps we should revert to this reference and identify ourselves as Tangren – ethnic Chinese from Southern China who migrated overseas during the later 19th to first half of the 20th century.

- It is an oft quoted example from the Quran – to search for knowledge one would go as far as to China . That was the Tang Dynasty China that the Prophet was referring to.

2. World Expo Poems -

世博诗草 (Shibo shicao)
王智钓著 (Auother: Wang Shidiao)

华夏出版社 (Publisher: Huaxia Chubanshe)
2010年10月北京第1 版 (First edition)
价:28.00 元 (Price)

3。 新加坡馆 - Singapore Pavilion

凭谁起 乐盒

4。 马来西亚馆 - Malaysia Pavilion


5. Expo 2010 Shanghai -



Emperor Xuan Zong – Tang Dynasty

Li Bai – Poet – Tang Dynasty

3. Dufu – Poet – Tang Dynasty


Thursday, October 07, 2010

正月春联八月灯 – eighth moon lantern

The autumn equinox day - 秋分–qiu fen – fell on 23Sep, a day after the Mid Autumn Festival – 中秋节。

Just as 春分 – chun fen - heralds the start of Spring - 秋分–autumn equinox marks the start of autumn. In the Chinese Lunar Calendar – the major festival to celebrate autumn equinox is the Mid-Autumn Festival.

(Similarly 春分- chun fen - spring equinox day is celebrated with the Lunar New Year)

Synonymous with the Mid-Autumn Festival is moon cakes and lantern, so much so that this festival is more popularly known as the Moon-cake Festival or the Lantern Festival.

When the Moon-cake Festival - 月饼节 - yuebing jie - is written in Chinese – how very - 俗 – su – coarse, crude and uncultured it rendered this festival. It is the most understatement and injustice to the celebration of the of autumn.

Well, to the many of us English educated and the anglicized – does it matter?

This is what Mid-Autumn festival is, namely moon-cakes and lantern, or at most the story of Chang-er floating to the moon after taking the elixir pill.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is more that just the many increasing varieties of moon-cakes that meet the eyes, and where the packaging cost seems more expensive than the cost of the moon-cake ingredients itself.

However, there is more to the Mid-Autumn Festival than just moon-cakes!

While listening to Capital FM95.8 (Chinese language channel) - over the Mid-Autumn Festival, it presented a facet of the festival that was much more refined and elegant that what the taste buds brought. The moon was serenaded in this season with music, songs and poems. It was of poems composed by poets more than a millennia ago, and the many beautiful pieces of Moonlight Sonatas of the orient, with - 月满西楼 –yue man xilou - Moon over West Pavilion - being one of the evergreens – and a must listen during the Mid-Autumn Festival season .

Further more, living in the tropics with the bright city lights does not do justice to celebrating the autumn moon. One would never be able to feel the gradual change in weather and enjoy the cool lightness of a moon-light autumn night where the hot sultry summer has given way to. Or witness the visual feast of autumn colors rendered by nature.

Perhaps the title – 正月春联八月灯 – is a manifestation of a yearning for this poetic side of autumn. Never mind it being amateurish, but it is an earnest attempt – to learn composing poems in the old style – the style that reached its celebrated height during the Tang Dynasty (618- 960 CE) – with what little self-tutored Chinese.

In the mood of being creative - the left over spring couplet –春联- chunlian - two lengths of red paper printed with gold motif and brush writing - were used to make two lanterns created out of the twigs of palm leaves

As such:

正月春联八月灯 – zhengyue chunlian bayue deng – literary means - First Moon spring couplet Eight Moon lantern.

That is - the spring couplet written in the First Lunar Moon was used to make lantern for the Eight Lunar Moon.

Being made of palm twigs the lantern looks distorted. However it’s a very green tropical autumn lantern – with no carbon footprint ...…..

Well, so much for the atumn lantern, a belated Mid-Autumn Festival greeting - from a millennia year old quote dating back to the Song Dynasty - 宋朝 (960-1279CE):

- danyuan ren changjiu, qianli gong chanjuan -

Wishing you long life, and though separated by a thousand li, together let’s enjoy the moon.


1. 水调歌头 – Poem by Su-Dongpo 苏东坡 (1037-1101CE)


2. 但願人長久 (詞牌-水調歌頭) - Wishing we last forever
Song sung by Teresa Teng ( 邓丽君) & the lyrics is the poem by Su Dongpo.


3. 月满西楼 –yue man xilou - Moon over the west Pavilion

One of the favorites – by Liu Jiachang- 刘家昌,
a very talented Taiwanese singer-song-writer of the 1970/s fame


Monday, September 06, 2010

街头街尾芽笼巷 – Re-cycling Geylang style

Date: 05Sep (Sun)
Time: 6:39:43PM
Venue: Lorong 44

He was diligently at work on the Slumberland bed by the refuse dump site, reminding me of a skilled butcher at work - skinning and deboning.

With a paper cutter, he painstakingly slit the bed open around its side length and breadth wise. When it’s done he flipped open the top of the padding – exposing a neat array of spring coils set in a metal frame. He then meticulously removed the cotton stuck to the edges of the frame and coil.

When the last of the cotton padding and tattered cover were removed and dumped into the refuse bin, he then neatly bundled up the metal frame and spring coil so that it could be loaded onto his bicycle.

In between - I started a conversation with him as he went about his job, praisign him for his diligence and his virtue: 刻苦耐劳 –kekunai lao.

He said that his home town is in Jiangsu – 江苏省- Jiangsu Province. He came to Singapore a year odd ago, and sort of regretted the decision – for one he’s not gotten used to the hot and humid weather.

He said that the reason he decided to sign up as migrant indent labor because of the quarrel with his wife - 和我老婆吵架才出来的 - he wo laopo chaojia cai chulaide.

He had built a small apartment in his hometown. However his wife was not satisfied with it – and clamored for a bigger one. As such he told his wife, he would then venture abroad to work. He has two children at home.

I asked if he was taking the salvaged metal to sell it at the re-cycling shop across the road – he replied with a grim no for he knew of another location which would give him a better deal.

As if a hunter that has gotten his prized catch for the day – with a satisfied grin on his face, juggling his load he weaved his bicycle precariously into the busy evening traffic & down the neon lit Geylang Road.

Well, if you have any old refrigerator or spring mattress to dispose of – have them re-cycled…… Geylang style.

Reference :

1. 街头街尾芽笼巷 - jietou jiewei Yalong xiang

- Literary the Lorongs of Geylang – from the first lorong till the last.
- Lorong - Malay word for lane, or a side road
- Close to a distance of 2km in length – straddling on both sides of Geylang Road are the odd and even number Lorongs from Lorong 2 to the last Lorong 44.
- A colleague mentioned – “My wife will never want to go Geylang.” , even though he’s a long time resident. Perhaps it’s the notoriety & he should he forgiven.
-Geylang is so uniquely Singapore – without savoring the many good food there, one could not claim to be a true resident of the island.
- Just like a long-time resident of Tokyo would not have savored all of Tokyo without going to Shinjuku and the Kabuki-cho.

2. 刻苦耐劳 - kekunai lao


- to bear hardships and work hard (idiom); assiduous and long-suffering / hard-working and capable of overcoming adversity

3. 7D, Paya Lebar Road

Back of a row of old residential building along Lorong 41 as viewed from Paya Lebar Road, next to the Paya Lebar MRT station – Circle line exit.

7D, Paya Lebar Road used to be located here, however the block of building was torn down to make way for the Circle Line around 2004.

Rented a room here from Dec 1989 till Sep 1994.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

the Little Tokyo that was - a stroll along Middle Road

You have Chinatown, Little India, and well where Little Tokyo is – you may ask – considering the profusion of Japanese restaurants in Singapore lately?

If there is such a place – it was perhaps in Cuppage Center then in the 1970’s and 80's, and now at Mohd Sultan Road, with a concentration of Japanese restaurants, izakaya - 居酒屋 - traditional drinking joints, karaoke lounge, and where the Japanese expatriate would gather.

Well, pre-War Singapore certainly had one – an authentic Little Tokyo – that spread over a much bigger area.

Perhaps cos of political sensitivity & though these sites are not identified with a signboards, as with the historical buildings in the Civic district, Chinatown or in Little India, the Little Tokyo that was - is well documented in Japanese literature. And it was featured in the latest copy of J-Plus magazine.

Middle road – to the pre-war Japanese community was known as Chuo-dori – 中央通りThe Central Thoroughfare. Dotted along this road and its vicinity were shops and establishments – kimono shop, western apparels merchants, Japanese restaurants, eateries, clock shop, photo shop, dentistry, barbershop, hotels, , tour agencies, hospitals, schools, etc, - managed by the Japanese.

Here’s from J-Plus, a map of Middle Road, that identifies the vestiges of Little Tokyo – A stroll that will take you back to the old street scenes interposed against present day photographs. Here’s an abridged translation -

1) Beach Road

The Miyako Hotel, 都ホテル, and many Japanese shops were located in this three-storey building facing Beach Road, and located between Seah Street and Purvis Street (Hainan 2nd Street).

2. Middle Road,

This photograph was taken at the junction of North Bridge Road and looking towards the direction of the sea. With the road widening in the 1990's, it’s a pity that many of the buildings are no longer around. Middle Road was called the Chuo Dori – 中央道り- by the Japanese. Photograph showed road was flooded after a heavy rain.

3. Echigoya. 越後屋

This building was demolished in 1996 during road widening. It was what Mistukoshi Departmental Store is now then – the most popular and pride of pre-war Japanese shops. It was the first building in Singapore with an elevator when it was built in 1937.

4. North Bridge Road –

From 1905 – 1927 tram cars was a means of public transport, and it ran from North Bridge Road to Geylang. Visible in the photograph- the tram car rail track & electric post - next to where the National Library – opened in 2005 – is.

5. Malay Street

At Bugis Junction – next to Intercontinental Hotel - from the beginning of Meiji (1868) – this was the Geylang of the karayuki-san in their sojourn to the tropics. At its peak – there were close to 100 of these Japanese flesh trade joints, and as such - suteretsu – ステレツ - derived from street – became a slang in Japanese.

6. Victoria Street

A 1920 picture of Victoria Street with the stately 3 story building -The Yamamoto Dentist – 山本歯科 posted with signboard written in Japanese, English and Chinese, The Japanese called this road – 本通り -Hon Dori . Though nothing much of the old buildings are left, the St Joseph Cathedral is visible on the same side of the road further down.

Note :
Perhaps because of Japan’s early foray into western medical sciences, the Chinese wording on the signboard on the 3rd floor read -日本西法牙科 – that is literary - Western science Japanese Dentist .

7. Waterloo Street – Singapore Japanese Primary School – 新嘉坂日本小学校

The school started in 1912 from a wing of the Toyo Hotel located in Middle Road. The photograph showed the school hostel which was built in 1921, and was in operation till the end of the Pacific War.

The building has remained almost intact and is now the Stanford Art Center.

8. Middle Road – view towards Selegie Road from the Junction of Bencoolen Street.

The Japanese Consulate was directly on the hill behind the shop houses. The Star of David building built in 1928, still stands, and is occupied by shops selling local food.

9. Singapore Japan Club 新嘉坂 日本人具楽部

This building located at the end of Middle Road was the Japanese Club, which was set up in 1922, and a part of the Japanese Association. Located in the building were restaurants, billiard room, and other facilities, as well as the office of the Japanese Association.

The present site is occupied by the Selegie Shopping Complex.

10. Japanese Consulate 日本領事館

The Japanese Consulate to Singapore was established in 1879, and moved a number of times. After which it moved to this hill location in Wilkinson Road, overlooking Middle Road. Since the end of the War, the building has remained, and is currently used as a art studio and gallery.

Well, the next time you take a stroll along Middle Road – from the junction of Beach Road, to Selegie Road – take this map along to enjoy a flavor of yesteryear Little Tokyo vis-à-vis the Singapore version..



A widely distributed bi-weekly magazine of the Japanese expatriate community in Singapore published on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month.

It’s cover printed on glossy paper with a touch of quality runs a caption in English – Total Lifestyle Magazine - has a catch phrase in Japanese – Live life in Singapore with a PLUS -

shingaporuraifu ni purasu wo umidasu

This free magazine is available at Japanese establishments, such as restaurants , departmental store, and supermart.

2 ) Post war Japanese settlers in Singapore –


4) The Japanese Association, Singapore
The photographs in J-PLUS are attributed to JAS.


Friday, July 30, 2010

IPOH – Cinderella who lost her glass slipper

Well, that is the the analogy of her current state - the Cinderella who has lost her glass slipper.

Perhaps for the baby boomers who are into their middle age, they would have many a story to share with their grandchildren on the – Golden Age of Ipoh.

Well, this was what Ipoh then enjoyed, as the book puts it – when tin was king. Ipoh was the center of the Kinta Valley – and as with the surrounding townships, she came into being because of tin.

Towards the close of the 19th century & into the early 20th century she was practically transformed from an up-river outpost located in thick equatorial jungle into a modern and well planned town. She was the commercial capital, educational & entertainment hub.

However, in her early boom years & and in the many cycles of high tin prices that brought to her town folks prosperity and economic comfort, she had been treated as the step-child by her colonial master. She was portrayed as the Cinderella of the FMS (Federated Malay States) and naturally the step mum was the colonial ruler.

She was denied a port linked directly to Lumut, though her early councilors had strongly petition for it. Among others she was also denied a smelting plant – and all the tin that she produced had to be sent to Penang to be smelted into ingot for export.

She was denied being given the state capital-ship despite having grown to be the premier township in the state, and the leading contributor to the FMS.

That Ipoh became the state capital was by the grace of her Japanese conqueror. The state capital was moved from Taiping to Ipoh, during the war years by the Japanese army.

Most Ipohites would not have known these facts, unless one is a history buff and keen enough to dig thro old records. Well, that was what the author of the book is and did -a medical doctor cum historian - he spent close to five years researching and writing the book.

Sources quoted were from the the early day newsletters, gazette, such as the Perak Pioneer, Times of Malaya & Perak Government Gazette, as well as from the Internet - IpohWorld, for many of the old photographs of yesteryear Ipoh.

Whatever it was, the Ipoh that we grew up in - was the pride of all. We used to boast that we were the cleanest town in the country -and I wonder if they still do such ranking now. We would bask in the glory of her millionaires, and often quote that Ipoh had the greatest number per area. Needless to say Ipoh has all these years maintainted her rank in the number one position when it come to - beauties.

Well, during the book launch at ISEAS, the professor rightly commented - that we Ipohites thought that we were the center of the world then. How true.

The clock struck midnight close to twenty five odd years ago when the price of tin collapsed.

Economically the town, no the city has dwindled into a state of stagnancy, since. Perhaps, Cinderella had it too easy then, for fortunes were literally made overnight when one struck tin.

Cinderella, has yet to find her new pair of glass slippers.

The present mood and state of Ipoh is perhaps well depicted in a photograph – captioned Today – (page 690) - togehter with a series of town scenes taken thro the decades. The photograph was most likely taken in the old town area – with the shop houses shut and one is a dilapidated empty shell.

Despite its quiet emptiness, and the lack of economic development leading to many a building falling into disrepair, Ipohites should all the more reflect on their proud history – and the contributions their forefathers did for Ipoh - be they the Yau Tat Shin/s who built Ipoh New Town or the Uncle Ah Ngau/s – who manned the gravel pump in the open cast mine eking a living to feed a brood.

Well, I always remember those big Chinese characters on the wall of the school located in the bungalow complex at the junction of Jalan Datoh and Chamberlain Road –

Coming from an English medium school, I had a limited knowledge of Chinese then, and did not know its meaning till much later.

Cinderella would not have deciphered them either , but her sworn-sister Maiden Hui - 灰姑娘 – Hui-guniang - should have no problem reading and internalizing the phrase -

自力更生 艰苦奋斗

-zhili geng sheng, jianku fendou -

Perhaps it had a socialist slant when it was first written, but the message is every green. Well, learning Chinese could be meaningful & fun ...


1. IPOH - When Tin was King

by Ho Tak Ming,
Perak Academy, 2009


2. Ipoh World


2. 怡保深斋学校 - Ipoh Shenzai School

One of the Chinese medium private instituitions started in IPOH, with Chinese as the medium of instruction. In early years of her inception and thro to the 1970/s, and as with many of the Chinese-based medium schools, they were a hot-bed of commuist ideology.

Often times - there was a thin grey line between what was cultural and what was ideology. And many a students could perhaps enticed into it cos of the cultural identity.

It was sort of a thing to be dreaded then if a family had a a left leaner or sympathiser. But in hind sight it could be the cultural draw more than the ideological chants that attracted them.

I remember out of curiostiy - one afternoon attended a meet the peoplel session of a reformed communist at the Wan Hwa Primary School hall, in Menglembu - in the early 1970's, organised by the specail branch. It was a female 'comrade' from Menglembu or from the surrounding area. Could not recall exactly what she said - but something to the effect on how she had fallen into the spell of the communist ideology.


3. 自力更生 艰苦奋斗

自力更生 - regeneration through one's own effort

艰苦 - difficult / hard / arduous

A catch phrase commonly used by the socialist/communist camp in their struggle for self-what ever. Though outwardly the phrase connotes a socialist slant, but the the gist of it is to struggle against odds and adversity, and a renewal of one-self in times of trail and strive. For it celebrates - industriousness, honesty, scholarship, amongst others.



Tuesday, June 08, 2010

.. from port to port ...

A handwritten date in the guide book to Portopia '81 – the Kobe Port Island Exposition – purchased at the Minoo Campus. (箕面キャンパス) , University Co-op –大学生協 - seikyo -( in campus store) , noted:

8Juy 1981
Osaka University of Foreign Studies (OUFS)

It was 3 months to the date on arrival at the university for a six-month intensive Japanese Language course. The Minoo Campus was a new campus site about a year or two old and located in the northern skirt of Osaka Metropolis.

The Osaka World Exposition – Expo 70 – was more than a decade ago, and the Okinawa Ocean Expo was more than 5 years ago.

The Portopia '81 was a celebration of Japanese technological innovation with the completion of the man-made island reclaimed from the sea off Kobe City,.

Quoting from the guide:

Mountains inching out to sea … A reclaimed Island 120 times as big as Koshien Baseball Stadium15 years in the making

Of the pavilions visited – was the IBM Pavalion.
Interestingly the theme of the exhibition was .. Japan’s continuing cultural adventure. -

The main exhibit was a 20-m long model of an ancient kentoshi ship . Officials, scholars, and monks from Japan travelled on these kentoshi vessels to the Tang court of Imperial China (Tang Dynasty 618-907 CE) .

Perhaps IBM – a leading US company had chose to feature the kentoshi - 遣唐使 –literary meaning envoys dispatched to Tang China - vessel then, was because - with Deng Xiaoping selected as the 1978 - Times Man of Year - there was plenty of goodwill and positive feel towards the country. China – was just starting on her first step towards the trail and error of the market economy.

At the OUFS - met the first of the exchange students send by the Chinese government to Japan. Two were from Shanghai and one from China NE – majoring in Japanese Studies. A hallmark of these students was their drab attire – the pride of the proletariat perhaps.

Fast forward Shanghai World Expo 2010 … what a generation make-th.


1. OUFS - Osaka University of Foreign Studies – 大坂外国語大学

A search for OUFS lead to Osaka University School of Foreign Studies  -.
大坂大学外国語学部 and came to know that OUFS had merged with Osaka University in 2008.


2. Osaka - Expo 70

3. Potopia 81 - entrance ticket

3. Time Magazine – 1978 – Man of the Year


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

. . . from - 浮屠 to 佛 to 仏 -

A browse thro the bookshelves found these two books – spanning a period of 21 years odd.

The one in English - Buddhism in China – A Historical Study – by Kenneth Ch’en - bought in July 1988, not long after coming to work in Singapore at the Pearl Center next to Outram Park MRT Station.

The second book –written in Chinese by Ji Xianlin (1911.8.6-2009.7.11) – 季羡林自选集:佛 - Ji Xianlin Collection: Buddha - was a recent purchased in Nov 2009 at a Buddhist artifacts cum bookstore in Geylang East.

Among the number of books on Buddhism, and the many aspects of Buddhism – and being one interested in things historical – thro these readings – it has allowed me to gain a little insight into the spread of the religion from its cradle somewhere in Nepal to India and the rest of Asia.

Initial books were in English, and thro the years, thro self-study driven by an urge to understand one’s ‘mother tongue’ as well as to have a first hand knowledge of one/s ‘mother culture’ – it has gradually enabled me to read books in Chinese directly.

(If not directly – many of the web dictionary could help to translate the more difficult words)

The recent read by Professor Ji has an interesting article on how the Chinese word for Buddha - 佛 – fo - came about.

This single syllable word did not get into China directly from India but thro the translation of translated works of Tocharian - 吐火罗 - tuhuoluo - a defunct ancient tribe found in the Kushan Empire in NW India around 1st - 2nd CE.

Directly from India, Buddha was translated as - 浮屠 – futu – a two letter word – which is closer to its Sanskrit - 梵语- fanyu - origin. In early Chinese classics prior to adoption of the word 佛 by the literati, 浮屠 was commonly used.

Perhaps then,
释迦牟尼佛 - Shì​jiā​móu​ní​fó​ - Sakyamuni Buddha – could be written as 释迦牟尼浮屠. –Shijiamounifutu .

And his teachings the Buddhist Dharma - 佛法 - fofa - would be written as - 浮屠法 –futu fa.

Well, with - 佛 – written as 屠法 – in this new ancient context it sounds and looks - 糊涂 – hutu - indeed!

(If you do not know Chinese - you can copy this word- 糊涂 - and paste it to the web dictionary in Reference - Mother tongue is fun! )

When Buddhism spread from across the mainland from China thro Korea tto Japan, the Japanese came up with a variant for writing 佛.

Perhaps the Japanese famous for their haiku –俳句 - short stanza poems and – and a knack on minimalism – ( they being the progenitor of using simplified Chinese characters ) simplified 佛 – to -仏 - and pronounced as – butsu - ぶつ - ( on reading) . or hotoke- ほとけ (kun reading ) .

Well, the Buddhist Dharma in Japanese is written as - 仏法. How then would you pronounce it : ぶつほう?butsu ho? No, it is - ぶっぽう - buttpo .

What a cupful indeed – from 浮屠 to 佛 to 仏 .. or was it just an empty half cup.


1. Ji Xianlin - 季羡林


2. 浮屠 to 佛


- 1947年10月9日

3. Tocharian


4. Kushan Empire


5. Chinese-English Dictionary

Monday, May 17, 2010

曾经上海 - the shanghai that was

With the world expo and the focus of attention worldwide– what was the Shanghai then –

Perhaps then, thro the eyes and ears of this lass – probably in her sixteen to seventeen in the second half of 1930/s -

The rare treat to a movie to the cinema in Ipoh would be a made-in-Shanghai film. The high mandarin collar of her flower patterned Chinese dress –would have been tailored to the fashion trend in Shanghai. Her bobbed hairstyle popular in the 1930/s would have been the hairdo of the Shanghai actresses.

The latest Mandarin songs that she listened to would be from the parade of singers from Shanghai. The legendary Zhou Xuan-周璇 – popularly named the singer with the golden voice - 金嗓子 -. jin shang zhi - would come to represent the voice of the Shanghai of that era.

From the late 1920/s thro to the 1940/s – for close to two decades, the Shanghai recorded Mandarin songs crescendo to their golden age. Many of these songs would be what her children would first hear from their cradle when they grew up in the late 1940s to thro the fifties.

天上人間 - tian shang ren jian - Heaven on earth – re-rendered by the popluar Taiwan male crooner Fei Yuqing – was one song that she remembered well. She said that she learnt this song in her school days.

Many of the classic evergreen Lunar New Year songs – were written and fist sung in Shanghai. Akin to a Christmas is not one without listening to ‘White Christmas’ – the Chinese Lunar New Year - is incomplete without listening to the LNY songs like –恭喜恭喜 - Gong Xi Gong Xi - sung by the brother and sister team - 姚莉/姚敏 – Yao Li / Yao Min - and lyrics by - 陈歌辛 - Chen Gexin.

With the establishment of New China, the horses no longer galloped and the dancers no longer waltzed, and the bourgeois and the capitalist roaders took flight. Night Shanghai faded into a long slumber.

The baton of being the entertainment and cultural center of the Chinese diaspora – that is - huaren - 华人 –passed on Hong Kong and Taipei. From the 1970/s to the 1980/s came the likes of Sam Hui - 许冠杰 - and brothers and Teresa Teng - 邓丽君.

With her re-established glory and all the mega hardware - will Shanghai re-emerge as the cultural & entertainment center of the Huaren – 华人world?

Photographs / scan

1. Mum - (1922 to 1987) in her teens - probably in the mid 1930/s.

2. Book Cover -

A Short History of Shanghai -
FL Hawks pott - Kelly & Walsh, Limited

RMB 80.00 on 1999.11.10 @ Shanghai Pudong Airport -
first holiday trip to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou


1. 费玉清 - 天上人间(新茶花女电影插曲)


2. 周璇 -

3. High collar Cheong Sam of the 1930/s




Tuesday, April 06, 2010

spring …a window into Japan

Yesterday 05April, was Qing Ming – 清明. It is the first major festival after the Lunar New Year festivities in the Chinese calendar of traditional festivals.

Another must know of this season, other than it being the Tomb-sweeping day, is the Tang Dynasty poem by Du Mu – 杜牧 - 803-852CE , titled Qing Ming - 清明


Tis the season of Qing Ming with misty rain filling the air
Along the path a traveler on foot filled with melancholy
Asked ‘Whence the wine shop? ‘
The little cowherd pointed his finger to the distant Qing Hua Village

Thro the millennium this poem has set the mood for the season. And even in tropical Singapore & SEA, where rain is expected practically daily – when it rains around this time of the year, the older Chinese folks would as a matter of fact quote – it’s because Qing Ming is near.

Where in the Chinese psyche – the start of April is perhaps rainy, a call to filial observances, across the ocean and east of the China Sea, and to the Land of the Rising Sun – April registers a differently mood altogether.

The rainy season of Plum Rain – 梅雨 - tsuyu - in the beginning of summer – is still two months away.

The mood is perhaps best conveyed by this QSL card from Radio Japan – with the pinkish blossom of Sakura busting onto the scene practically over night – to truly herald the return of Spring to mother earth.

In the Japanese literature many a story and poem starts with ….

満開の桜の木の下に - mankai no sakura no ki no shita ni ….
Beneath the full bloom Sakura tree. ..

The new fiscal and academic year starts in April in Japan. It is said that one of the first assignment of new hires is to go and ‘chop’ a place beneath the full bloom Sakura tree for the company picnic.

In our lower secondary school days in the early 1970/s we were taught the Japanese folk song - Sakura. We sang it in Japanese, but did not know what the lyrics meant, expect that Sakura means Cherry Blossom.

Japan then, was the premier developed country in Asia and well on her way to becoming the ‘Japan as No 1: Lessons for America” of Ezra Vogel best seller in 1979.

My window into Japan then – was thro Radio Japan, the shortwave station overseas station of NHK – the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. While my cohorts would listen to Bee Gees and Melody Fair, I would be tuned in to Radio Japan to the likes of such pops as:

Jirozu - ジローズ - 戦争は知らないこどもたち - sensoo wa shiranai kodomotachi - The kids who doesn’t know about war
Fuse Akira布施 明 – シクラメンのかおり- shikuramen no kaori - The fragrance of Cyclamen

Fast forward:
April 05- 2010/Monday bulletin - Radio Japan – 3680khz 2300hrs UTC:
- This year’s Sakura bloom lasted a record of 10 days. In normal years it would be in full bloom on average for 8 days, and starts to fade. However because of the cold weather that followed after it blossomed; it lasted for a good 10 days.

To get into the mood of the Sakura season on this tropical island, a live Sakura in bloom was exhibited at Nee Ann City – the premier shopping center with Takashimaya as anchor tenant.

Meanwhile, the love affair of Singaporeans with Japanese food & things Japanese continues unabated …be it in hiragana or katakata … a brand with touch of Japanese seems to sell….

Postscript :

1. QSL card –
dated : April 4 – 1993,
address: 7D, Paya Lebar Road.
This QSL card from Radio Japan was dated 04April1993. It was an acknowledgement of the technical report on the reception condition of the shortwave broadcast

Though it is 17 years ago to the day that I got this Qcard, the engagement with Radio Japan goes back much longer and the first QSL card I got from Japan went back another 20 years before that – in the early 1970/s .

2. Yakun Kaya Toast @ Central

3. Japanese food stall @ Chinatown food center
まるはちまる - 080

5. Japanese pops
戦争は知らないこどもたち– ジローズ

シクラメンのかおり– 布施 明


Monday, March 29, 2010

… the emperor’s portrait - a tale behind ...

While preparing to shift, found this yet to be completed portrait inside the sketchbook. The grid drawing was dated 12.Aug.1995.

Well, it was done close to 15 years ago, and it seems that the drawing is awaiting to have it completed all these years.

And while trying to confirm if the figure was that of the Ming Emperor Yungle - 永樂 (1402-1424), I rummaged thro a pile of old newsletters. No, it was not Yungle, but Yung Lo’s grandson, Xuande - 宣德(reign 1425-1435).

The newsletters from which this picture of the emperor was copied was published by the National Palace Museum (NPM) Taipei - 国立故宫博物院展览通讯 -覽通訊, -

I was on their free subscription list for a number of years. First from the early 1970/s thro the 80’s with the address in 1A Menglembu, and later from the early 1990’s till 2001 after moving to Singapore.

Recalling how I first got to get the free copy, the - Voice of Free China - 自由中國之聲 - came afresh .

DX-ing, short-wave radio listening was, and is still is my hobby. It was then my window to the outside world for the boy from the small town. The world came alive turning the magic knobs on the Philips Philetta vacuum tube radio.

Among the many short-wave broadcasts varying from Radio Japan, Radio Beijing, Radio Nederland, BBC, and the Voice of America - the Voice of Free China (VOFC) was one of my most listened to stations. It beamed from Taipei, Taiwan to South-East Asia, in Mandarin, and the dialects – such as Hakka, Cantonese, and in English. The reception was pretty clear, and strong on the vintage Philips.

In each of the hourly shortwave broadcasts, it started off with the signal, then the announcement - This is the Voice of Free China, and the national anthem of the Republic of China – Three Principles of the People – would solemnly followed.

The Taiwan then was the bastion of things Chinese, and played claim to be the vanguard of Chinese culture. Thro the DX – technical reception report that I sent to the station, my name and address found its way to the National Palace Museum newsletter mailing list.

The short articles in the newsletter introducing the crème de la crème of the Chinese artifacts and paintings making their rounds at the various galleries provided a good insight to the readers of this wonderful work from Dynastic China.

For a period of time after moving to Singapore, I did not get to receive the newsletter until I re-registered with the NPM counter in one of the World book fairs in the early 1990/s. I continued to receive the newsletter through the nineties and into 2002.

However, when I got the 2001 edition – I thought that NPM had posted me a mistaken newsletter. Instead of the trademark cover with selections from its Chinese Imperial collection, this edition was a 1928 oil painting by Salvadro Dali - Carne de gallina inaugural.

Looking back, this was a perhaps the signal of the de-Sinicization process - 去中国化 that was to come in Taiwan. The pan-green DPP - Democratic People’s Party - won the Presidential office the year before in the May 2000 election.

Earlier on in 1998, the Voice of Free China was replaced with Radio Taipei International. With the opening of Communist China already into her 20th year, and the end of the ‘Cold War’ - Taipei had found that her beacon call – VOFC - had played her historical mission and had to be taken off-stage.

In 1970’s during the throe of the Cultural Revolution in mainland China, one would hear Radio Peking riling and purging Confucius, while and on the other hand, from the VOFC one would hear the solemn chants and tones from the bells in Taipei’s Confucius Temple - on the ceremony to commemorate the Sage’s birthday.

The past voices from the VOFC will always have a dear place in my heart.

1. The National Palace Museum


2. Voice of Free China - Radio Taiwan International


3. 自由中國之聲 - zi you zhongguo zhi sheng - VOFC


4. Three Principles of the People 三民主義


--// --

Monday, March 08, 2010

遇寶 – a treasure awaiting re-discovery

If the story in Wikipedia of how the early Cantonese named Ipoh were to be believed, then the Chinese character for Ipoh should be written as: 遇寶, instead of 怡保.

For :
遇寶 - yubao (pinyin) – yeebou (Cantonese) – meaning – to encounter - 遇 - treasures -寶

怡保 – yibao (pinyin) - yeebou (Cantonese) – meaning to preserve/defend - 保 - harmony - 怡

However, in all essence, Ipoh’s first name I believe was Paloh . For the descendants of the early Hakka’s who were one of the earliest migrants to the mining outposts in the Kinta Valley have to these days call Ipoh as Paloh.

Whenever we want to go to Ipoh –we still say –– 上壩羅 - song baloh (Hakka)- shang baluo (pinyin) , meaning to go up to Ipoh.

For the term上 - 下 or 落 – shang and xia or luo - meaning up / above or down/below – is used as a verb here to mean to move in the direction towards or away from a place, and with the capital location as the source of reference.

Thus when we are returning from Ipoh to Menglembu – we say :
落万里望 – luo wanlimoong (Hakka) - luo Wanliwang (Pinyin)

- this concept of - 上 - 下 came in handy when learning Japanese – for when one travelling in the direction toward towards Tokyo – it is 上がり – agari. While 下り- kudari - is moving away from the capital city -

Susequently when Ipoh grew and taken on a township - her name evolved from Epoh to Ipoh, and the Chinese equivalent is 怡保. A name meaning - defending or preserving harmanony.

Perhaps a aptly named new township - on the same theme of peace and harmony - as with Taiping - 太平 - the old capital of Perak State in the Larut Valley.

The early migrants to Ipoh are the Cantonese and Hakka’s engaging in the tin mining industry. They left the poor villages of Southern China, located mainly in the Pearl River estuaries and the mountainous regions of South-eastern Guangdong Province – 广东省.

Since then in 1978 when China opened her door and experimented with - socialist market economy - 社会主义市场经济 – many of these poor villages in the Pearl River estuaries have boomed into mega-factories for the world. And in many aspects, these once – poor villages are doing much better economically than Ipoh and her outlying townships in the Kinta valley.

Perhaps Ipoh is a city where her treasure is awaiting re-discovery. Since the collapse of the tin mart in the late 1970/s Ipoh has lay dormant for the greater part of the last 30 years, when the world passes her by.

And for the past year and more - it spiralled into political stalemate, bringing unwanted attention to this once peaceful valley.

With the resources of the world being depleted by the rising economies of the new world order, perhaps a re-discovery of the application of tin would make it viable to mine the mineral again.

The town that tin built would perhaps have her re-birth.

The Kinta Valley is awaiting the discovery of her - unobtanium – albeit all the good and green stuff.... I mean.

Postscript –

This pamphlet by Kinta Heritage was given me by my niece on a trip back to Ipoh last December.

A google on Kinta Heritage – shows a site awaiting update. And scan of this pamphlet is found in another blog, except the page on – Ipoh’s Living Heritage.

Markers with informative signboards were put up at the various historical sites in the vicinity of Ipoh civic center and the Old Town. However, as if it’s the norm of things, most of them are poorly maintained and in a dilapidated state.

Ipoh Heritage Trail – Map 1 – is map number one, and am eagerly waiting for the rest of the maps.

Kudos to Kinta Heritage for doing its bit for a treasure to be re-discovered.

References –








Wednesday, March 03, 2010

shooting lantern riddles @ tiger terrace - 猜灯谜

The celebrations to usher in the Year of the Tiger came to a close on 28Feb, Sun.

Over the fortnight from the new moon to thefull moon, there was much gaiety & boisterous happenings to renew one’s self and spirit . With the Resort Word Sentosa throwing its casino doors open on the most auspicious of day and time – the first day of the first moon @ 12:38pm, all the more – the celebration to welcome Spring in this city-state has morphed into a festivity to honor the God of Fortune.

Perhaps an indication of this trend it that it has become de rigueur - to end the lion dance with a big bang from a golden cascade confetti cannon, and shouts of - huat ah! – 發啊 – (Hokkien dialect) – meaning - prosperity!

A boisterous New Year

The Chinese are a loud and boisterous people, I’ve often told my Japanese friends. The louder the noise the merrier, I said. And – huat ah! , is the latest addition to this whole symphony of noise for the Chinese Lunar New Year (LNY) celebration.

Unlike the Japanese, where their New Year is celebrated in a more somber and quiet tone, such as with a rendering of the elegant koto - 琴- court music, the Chinese LNY – is celebrated with a bang. And the louder the bang the greater the fortune it will bring in the coming year.

Where are the boisterous bangs coming from:

- LNY songs: A LNY song is no longer a LNY song without an accompanying of cymbals, gongs and drums

- Firecrackers: The real sound of firecrackers could still be heard at Chinatown or at the River Hongbao - 春到河畔迎新年- during the opening and closing ceremony of the LNY celebrations. In their substitute are mechanical firecrackers driven by pneumatic devices that give a false punch.

- Lion and Dragon dance: Without the vigor and near deafening beat of the drums and cymbals the lion and dragon would be a lame and lifeless piece of cloth paper-maché.

- Lo hei : 撈起 - the tossing of raw fish salad is getting to be akin to yam-seng toast during wedding dinner, the louder the wish made, the merrier.

Shooting lantern riddles –

Lest be it taken for granted that LNY is but all noise, gambling and wishing for good fortune, LNY is also a time for literary pursuit. At a corner of the River Hongbao celebration, as in past celebrations, a stage was set up for ardent fans 猜灯谜 – cai deng mi - to test their skills on solving riddles.

This pastime has its beginning during the Song dynasty(960-1279AD), a millennium ago. On the 15th Day of the first lunar month, during the Lantern festival – 元宵节 - yuanxiao jie - the literati & the educated would hang riddles on lanterns, with each trying to solve the meaning behind it. As such these riddles came to be known an lantern riddles - 灯谜 –deng mi - and an activity – associated with the LNY celebration.

These riddles are also known as 文虎 –wen hu - literal tiger - in Chinese. The contents of the riddles are many facets & is a test of one’s general knowledge on current affairs as well as the classics. One has to solve what the word or phase that is behind the riddle.

Without a sound fundamental in Chinese & especially the written Chinese characters, and be up-to-date on current events in the Chinese newspapers, one would hardly be able to track down the – tiger.

The stage where the riddle is held is known as tiger terrace - 虎台-hutai - because solving a ‘lantern’ riddle’ is akin to shooting a tiger - a literary one for that.

A riddle that came on during one of the day’s that I was at the tiger terrace was:

-cong jun chu zheng zai cishinow is to hour for the army to go on the expedition -

The riddle is to guess a well-known personality –

Well - the answer is:
伍茲 – Wuzi

In English it is - Woods.

The person who solved the riddles had to give an explanation as to how he/she arrived at the answer. The MC would determine if the answer was logically explained, and if it was he would strike a drum beat. The right answer was rewarded with a token.

As to the explanation on deriving the answer to the riddle:

For: 从军 - cong jun – means – to serve in the army or to gather an army

While: 伍 –wu – means - a squad of five soldiers

As such - wu is the answer to cong jun.

As to: 出征在此时 - chu zheng zai cishi – meaning – now is the hour to go on an expedition

The answer to it is - 茲 : zi – which is for Wuzi - the surname of a famous personality that has been hitting the headline lately.

The word 茲 - zi - is hinted in the riddle from the word - 此–chi -, and both words have quite a close sound and meaning - namely, zi - hereby, and chi - now, this. As such chi is also a pun on the word zi . (Confusing? lost? - you got to know some Chinese-ne, to get the logic)

The word - Wuzi - for Woods, is referring to Tiger Woods that is. His full name in Chinese is: 老虎伍茲 - Laohu Wuzi .

With -Lauhu – meaning – Tiger, and Wuzhi - a transcription for Woods, without a particular meaning.

Well, so much for the lantern riddles... isn't Chinese cool & hip..

LNY is not just all merry and money. In the midst of all the noise, feasting & the rolling of dices & clatter of chips – the Chinese New Year it’s also an occasion to brush up on one’s Chinese.

As to Mr Woods comeback, take heed, geomancers, punters – this is the year of the Tiger and for the Tiger….at least it’s written in the lantern…

Postscript –

1. River Hongbao

An annual event held by the Singapore River – to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Over a period of 8 days or so, there are nightly performances by cultural troupe invited from China with exhibition of lanterns, a giant God of Fortune structure, food and cultural fair adding to the festive mood.

With the Chinatown light-up, and Chingay Parade – it is one of the three main LNY public celebrations.

On the 3rd day of the LNY – MM visited River Hongbao celebration– 春到河畔迎新年. When he arrived there was a bustle of excitement in the air, and the folks were cramming around to get a glimpse. It was a pleasant surprise as it was the closest that I got to see him in person since coming here. And, thought Dad would be as old if he was still around.

The 18M tall God of Fortune showered golden confetti at regular intervals. And when MM was around, to add to the gaiety – the golden shower spurted forth from the gigantic structure.

2. 春到河畔迎新年

In Chinese the River Hongbao celebration – is referred to as:

chun dao hepan ying xinnian - meaning – the celebration of New year with the arrival of Spring to the River - the Singapore River that is. It is much more a cultured and poetic name than River Hongbao.

For - hongbao – 红包 –in pinyin – meaning the red packet – is a red envelope with money – given out during the LNY, for good fortune.

Perhaps, it would be considered an un-cultured term for such an important festival, to the Mainlanders if they could read the English term for it.

3. Spring Couplet – 春联

LNY is also a time to put up spring couplet – with phrases celebrating spring to & to welcome –harmony, happiness, health, & wealth.

The couplet that I wrote – a first - this year:


Tian jian hua ri shu qing jing
Shi you chunfeng ju taihe

Dawn soothes the morning calm
Spring breeze congregates harmony


1.River Hong Bao


- news carried in Chendu City web on MM visit to River Hongbao – adapted from LHZB – Chinese daily /Singapore.

2. Chingay parade –

2. Lo hei –撈起 - Yusheng salad -

3. yam seng - drink to success

4. Lantern Festival and Lantern riddles -元宵节, 猜灯谜



Thursday, February 04, 2010

交春 – the start of spring

On this day at the time stated in the Almanac- 通勝 – mum would made offerings to Heaven at the altar set up at the porch. On the altar would be a piece of red paper written with the phrase -迎春接福 . Another unique preparation for this offering was that in place of the usual porcelain censer for placing the joss sticks she would use a small basket filled with rice grain and wrapped with red paper.

At the end of the prayer session, she would request a male member of the family to paste the piece of paper over the front door of the house.

As a child I was always curious as to why this one of a special offering during the Lunar New Year period. Even if it was on the first day of Lunar New Year with all the offerings and prayes, , this offering would be made, on the specified time and then up went the small red banner up the front door.

As I grew older, and able to write with Chinese brush, I took on to write the words to welcome – the starting of spring, and paste the smaller red banner over the front door.

In our dialect this offering is called – gao chun -交春 - jiao chu (pinyin) – literary the interval to Spring.

The timing for gao chun is not fixed but changes each year on the day of - 立春–li chun - one of the 24 solar terms in the Chinese lunisolar calendar – which falls on the first week of Feb each year usually on the 3rd or 4th day.

This tradition of honoring the start of spring was not practiced widely even then. I noticed that among the households in our neighborhood and within our uncles and aunt, perhaps it was only mum that observed this custom. And now, it would be harder still to find a family that would still keep this tradition in the hometown, and certainly not in Singapore.

As a child I would hear the older folks mentioned that on this day one would be able to make an egg stand up-right when placed on the table. Perhaps it was a pun on the word - 立春– li-chun . While li - 立 - meaning to stand upright , and chun - 春- meaning the spring season, is also the same pronunciation for an egg.

The day of 立春 marks the start of spring. The phrase 迎春接福 - ying chun jie fu – means to welcome Spring and the good fortune that it brings.

In the traditional agrarian Chinese society – this was an important day with all its rituals and customs. The custom of pasting - 迎春接福–above the front door to welcome spring seems to be practiced only within the Hakka’s in Southern China – as a google indicates.

Postscript -

1. Chinese Calendar : 2010. Feb. 4


今天是農曆二十四節氣之首的立春, 代表著新一年的開始. 古時候的生肖屬相都是以立春為準, 一直到1914年才被袁世凱改成目前的農曆正月初一

- Today is the day of Li-chun – in the 24 solar cycle - Agrarian Calendar . It symbolizes the start of Spring. In ancient times, the zodiac year in which one is born was counted from the day Li-chun.

It was only in 1914, when Yuan Shih-kai, changed it to start from the First Day of the First Month of the Lunar calendar

2. 交春 – Start of Spring

2010年2月4日6时48分,农历二○○九年十二月二十一日卯时立春(立春也叫打春)。 北方就是这时,南放提前10分

- the time of gao-chun is 06:48 Northern China, and in the south it is 10 minus earlier.

Namely with the time 卯 - mao




3. The 24 Solar terms -


4. Chinese Almanac –通勝 -tong sheng


5. 立春 - risshun – Japanese

Li chun – is still widely celebrated in Japan as Setsu-bun 節分– or the bean throwing festival,.




Friday, January 29, 2010

萬里郷情 芽籠望

上个月趁着长假回家乡去走了一趟。这三几年来 ,一年一度的回乡都转到阳历年年未十的二月分,而这正好又是冬至的季节。俗语说过冬大过年,回家乡过冬也是个挺好的选择。

在冬至那一天喝完早茶走在怡保市旧街场的商业街巷时听到一位商人和他的邻居店铺的老板说 - 又大一岁了。

听见这句话,觉得很温馨很有意思 。 小时候,每每过冬时常会听到大人说, 吃了汤圆就又大了一岁。冬至过了就等待年了, 而过冬就代表年就快要到来了。

这个概念过冬就等于过年在家乡的街头小巷还听得到 –

圣诞节前的那一周,家乡的天气早上清凉,一早起来感觉寒冷,蓝蓝的天空带来了北方冬天天气的气氛。那就又好像回到更远的那个乡镇去。 那是 客家山地的松口镇。

记起旅游客家本营的梅州松口镇已经过了有十二个年头了。 那年和父亲们一起还乡刚好是挂着亚洲金融危机 地飓风。冬至 晚饭在香港吃完了的第二天就乘长途巴士到广州。然而过了一夜接着搭夜班火车往梅州去。

梅县松口是 祖辈的老乡,是祖父们度过他们童年的故土。也许为了那个浓浓的乡情,年轻时离乡背井到了南洋来,度过了四十多年的岁月成家立业,最终太平洋 战争结束后的 1946年还是选择归还乡度老年。

他和他的二哥如同大多数其他南来的客家乡亲都到去了锡矿生产地区。。 也许这个位置在近打河流山谷 刚开发的村落的地貌环境有些像他们家乡的山丘,他们定居了在这 个名为万里望的小镇上。

从他少年下番到老大还乡的漫长岁月里,大时代的日子一幕一幕马不停蹄的在演变, 从大清皇朝的崩潰到共和,从小战到战大战一直到新中国开国的前夕他在这两地的家乡建立了密切的来往。

记得小时候,有两大铁箱子从老屋搬过来的,里面载满着书信。那一件件传统红色信封上是贴着民国邮票,而贴着清朝的邮票的信也看过。 因为不懂 得中文, 不知道信中写些什么, 但都晓得那一封封的家信是两的来来往往的传家讯。

转眼间,光阴如箭 从祖父下番到南洋已过了一百多年了。 从祖父那一代开算起南洋这一方后裔面已经传到了第五代人了。而从万里望作为本营又在这五六十年里移民到别的地区去。

对于咱们生在万里望的裔孙家乡是在万里望,梅县松口已是个远方陌生的老家 。以前和远在唐山老家的密切关系已被岁月冲得淡淡了,而那两地的来往也逐渐消失了。

多年来每每回到万里望都会去再次寻探这些家乡情。 从中了解到我们各个族群是从哪里来, 咱们的根在那里。

万里望镇真唯一的乡亲会馆是嘉应五属会馆。从会馆墙壁上挂着的先辈们的遗照中可看到祖父母的照片。 小时候清明节去扫墓时父亲多次提过在总坟可找到祖父的名子。这回回乡也去寻查了战前乡亲会所修建的总坟。从刻在墓誌铭上先贤们的名列中了看到了祖父的名子, 也解到祖父建总坟的一些贡献和捐贈 。


Postcript -

A thought of home from Geylang -

A check at the MD_BG Chinese-English translation web, 乡情 – xiang qin – is translated as nostalgia or homesickness which does not seem to fully convey what the phrase in Chinese means.

The trip home in December, was the annual ritual of ‘ balik kampong’ (in Malay), which perhaps much more aptly describes what going back to the hometown connotes.

It’s written in broken Chinese, and perhaps a more intimate way to convey the xiang qin .