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