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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Garden of Good and Evil


My backyard garden is a place of tranquility for me. A refuge from the noise of the outside world; an inner sanctum of a peaceful calm I sought. It may be a place for writing poems or reflections on life while sipping a cup of tea. Let not the lull of the place deceive you. It is also a place where plots and counterplots are hatched to neutralize office politics; to find a way how to delicately strangle opponents with silken cords; also to sip a cup of tea under the cool shade of the bamboo forest.

What the place really needs is a table with a zither on it, waiting for its player – preferably me, to strum the strings lambently in thought. I do not need to have the traditional incense burning to complete a classic Chinese scholar setting. You see, this place is also a garden of evening fragrance; perfumed by various jasmines, honeysuckles and daturas. Kin to the brugmansia, these are also known as angel or devil trumpets. Its fragrance is of heavenly delight while its taste is of deadly poison. In right dosages, you will be lifted into paradise; a tad too much, writhing your way to hell. Internet literature describes a journey accompanied by painful convulsions and vomiting. Not a very nice way to die. To die is never nice anyway! Never have I even put a cigarette to my lips, let alone these exotic natural hallucinogens. However, to know your poisons is a good thing.
Today, on this warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon, I am on a more sedate mission (I would indeed be a fool to write about the plots of my office sagas so publicly); sipping my cup of Chinese tea with a Chinese almond cookie or two; mulling over my new love. It had been constantly gnawing at me; caressing me and bending my mind to its will… After lunch, I decided to take the rest of the day off to enjoy the wonderful weather of a “warm” spring in Southern California. Sunshine abounds and gentle breezes rustling the bamboo leaves. What a life!

No one raises an eyebrow in the office. They know my habits well. If they want the diva to give her best, better humour her antics. They know that I will be back in the office late in the night hacking away while they are in deep slumber of a 2am dream. You see, my boss and I are cut from the same cloth! Yes, we understand each other tacitly. He has a wife that he wants to run away from and I am here because my creative mind works best at this unearthly hour. Sometimes, I wonder if my boss and I are sweethearts of the night because we have many “pillow talks”. These talks have far more weight than all the meeting discussions. We need no decorum; just plain honest talk based on hard facts. For all those who are starting on the corporate ladder, my advice is to observe the habits and likes of your bosses. Then worm yourself into their confidence. I learnt this from the Broadway show and movie, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying1.

For those interested, here's a video link to my secret garden,

My new Love is a week-old poem that slipped into my mind on a sleepless night as I was tossing and turning in bed. I could not sleep; not because of office politics but just a simple case of insomnia.

大雨西來抝柳蔭, Great rains from the west bend the willow shade.

It is a great line begging to be capped2. Finally I came up with,

小亭東立擋馬蹄. The little pavilion stood in the east, stopping all horses’ hooves.

I felt two more lines will make a lovely poem,

金釵步搖已兼收, Golden hairpins and step danglers3 have been put away.
借問蒂下鴛鴦暖. May I dare ask, are the mandarin ducks4 under the leaves warm?

Although the English translation rhetoric is good, I did not like the structure of the last line or its rhyme.

Benben5 suggested the following sentence structure,

蒂下鴛鴦是否暖. Are the mandarin ducks under the leaves warm?

This solves the sentence structure but not the rhyming scheme. It has been bothering me ever since. I wanted closure from this love and move on with my life. I sound so superficial and shallow. Don’t I? I came up various schemes, such as,

蒂下鴛鴦度春宵. Under the leaves, the mandarin ducks spent the night of spring.
蒂下鴛鴦一對儷. Under the leaves, mandarin ducks, a lovers’ pair.

As if to compound my unsolved agony, a new character came barging into my mind unceremoniously resulting in,

橫雨西來抝柳蔭– Slanting west rains came bending the willow shade.

This slight change in my opinion is more elegant as the image is more vivid and suggestive. The first version merely implied that the rains were slanting at a westerly angle. This one is more forceful. Now the second line needs changing in order to satisfy the rules of couplet matching. Friends ask me why I have so much interest for such no-longer-chic and obsolete literary pursuits of the past. Well, I tell them that they are as valid today as in the past. To me, this form of mental exercise keeps me alert and hones my thinking. Software is very much like that. A slight change in code will have a cascading effect. Those who know programming can attest that bug-fixing is a very difficult and tedious task, an art form where with one false move everything goes haywire! Fixing one bug may introduce many more down the line. Worse are the mutual or double bugs. They may have the property of cancelling the erroneous effects of one another! Hence by removing one bug, the effects of the other now manifest itself into full force. Yes, I do reach out for other fields for metaphors and paradigms to my software writing and bug removals. I mainly draw on music and literary techniques because I do not know other areas of knowledge.

The new second line now becomes,

直路東去點山脚 (天綫) The straight road going east, touches the foothills (horizon)
直路東去摧馬蹄 The straight road going east, urges faster horses’ gait.
直路東去闖天機 The straight road going east, crashes the destiny of heaven.

The third line can remain but the last one now has a few variations.

蒂下鴛鴦只一隻 Under the leaves, only one mandarin duck is left.
不怕鴛鴦只一隻 Afraid not that a mandarin duck be alone.
不比天下江山秀 Incomparable to the beauty of the empire.

Still I am not satisfied. I am honest to myself. I know that there are things which I cannot solve. I know when I am licked. If they are not that important, I shall put them aside like old love letters in a box. Perhaps, when the next time, when I peruse them again, I may have Calliope and Erato with me... Anyway, my friend is coming to see me for an afternoon Chinese tea. Anticipating for more gossips!

The Blue Kitty -

1.   The 1967 movie version,


3. Hairpins with danglers at one end so that when women walk, these pieces sway in elegance with
    each step. Together with the non-danglers, they are a must have for wealthy women in the imperial
   days. Danglers are designed to catch the eyes of the men as they walk and at the same time non-
   danglers are weapons for protecting their virtue either to commit suicide or to fight off would be

4. Mandarin ducks are symbols of love and fidelity.


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