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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Same Thing, Different Packaging

As I always say, ideas and concepts are independent from language. Only packaging shows the cultural differences. As an example, advertisements for Asian fragrances accentuate the purity and serenity of nature with blossoms while Western (especially American) ones have images of female sexuality oozing out of every curve and the male’s - out of every muscle! Very different approaches indeed. However, with the power of American consumerism leading the way and the notion that sex sells, such differences are fading away. One just simply cannot argue with profit.

Today, I am not talking about product packaging but of cultural images. A picture is worth more than a thousand words. However, there is no accompanying image for this essay as I cannot draw, paint or illustrate; and so you, my readers will just have to do with your imagination. I had tried to find suitable images on the Internet and hopefully come up with some sort of collage to illustrate my points. I failed. I shall try in words instead.

Take a simple rainy scene. Imagine that rain is falling at angle from left to right, implying that the wind is westerly; a tree or two on the right and perhaps, a distant structure afar in the left. In our minds, each one of us will conjure this scene differently in details. However, within each different cultural group, there will be shared common experience that is considered as the norm. For example, in a western mind, it is quite logical to see a moving cloud with a human face blowing fleecy clouds of rain towards a tree. You won’t find this sort of a thing in a classical Far East depiction. Instead, a grand scene of misty clouds enshrouding in the landscape of mountains and river as the main theme. Tiny windswept willows to suggest movement or with tiny people seeking refuge from the implicit depiction of rain in the background. Western classical art is explicit and places Man and his personification at the center while Far Eastern art places nature in the foreground with details left out for the viewer’s imagination.

Now I shall try illustrate my point further by more poetic forms. An English version may be,

“Zephyr herding fleecy clouds of rain towards the tree”.

Here, Zephyr, also known as Zephyrus, is the personification of the west wind. This line paints of a pastoral setting in spring or early summer because he represents the breezes of these periods. Even a figurative translation of “The gentle west wind blowing rain towards the tree” does not quite fit quite well into a Chinese imagery. It has to be repackaged into something like,

“The westerly rain bends the willow tree”.

This is translated to suit the English mind. The literal translation would be something like, “Great rain from the west bends the willow shade (canopy)”. 大雨西來抝柳蔭. This would be the conclusion for the essay. However, this Chinese line is too good a one to let it pass. Therefore, I would like to issue a challenge to my Chinese readers, if I may, that they complete this couplet. I await eagerly for your responses.

Thursday, April 05, 2012, 5am

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