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Monday, May 5, 2014


The Jade Belt Bridge in the Garden of Flowing Fragrance 流芳園 at the Huntington Library.

Lolita is a girl's name, the diminutive form of Lola, short for Dolores or Delora.  It means sorrow, taken from the Spanish title of the Virgin Mary, María de los Dolores, "Mary of Sorrows".  A very obscure tidbit.  However, it is funny how the meaning changes in very unexpected ways.  It was a name for a character in a book of the same title written by Vladimir Nabokov.  However, the greatest magnification of change comes about when the movie version was flung to the public in 1962, starring James Mason, Shelley Winters and Sue Lyon as Lolita.  This highly acclaimed and success of this American movie of the same title made it into the standard dictionary as "a nymphet", a sexually precocious girl.

I was interested in how the title would be in Chinese.  After searching through the net, the book's title was translated in Mainland China as a transliteration of sounds.  However, the Hong Kong version was 一樹梨花壓海堂 - A tree of pear blossoms weighing down on the crabapple blossoms.  A very colorful and salacious title to the Chinese.  I can imagine that the white pear blossoms upon the crabapple blossom red;  an old man bearing his weight down upon a rosy cheeked girl.  How apt the movie title is to have such a prurient innuendo and yet so elegantly presented.

After much research on the internet, I was able to trace the source of this line.  It has a delightful story.  During the Northern Sung Dynasty, a friend and mentor to the famous Chinese poet and statesman of the period, Su Dong Po was getting married.  The groom was eighty years old and the bride, an eighteen year old.  In the usual merriment of the times, wine were passed, song and dance amid the great din of festivities.  Of course in educated circles, poetry was freely exchanged.  In his toast, the groom boasted to the following lines.  Without the nitty gritty details, here's the English translation.

我年八十卿十八, I am eighty and you my dear, only eighteen,
卿是紅顏我白髮. Honey, your face rosy red while my hair snowy white.
與卿颠倒本同庚, With you, we are just opposites of the same age,
只隔中問一花甲. Between both of us is lies one sexagenary1 cycle.

Not to be outdone, Su Dong Po quipped in jest…

十八新娘八十郎, Eighteen year old bride, eighty year old groom!
蒼蒼白髮對紅妝. How white is the hair against the rouge of red.
鴛鴦被裡成双夜, Under the blankets embroidered in Mandarin Ducks2, two spend the night.
一樹梨花壓海棠. One tree of pear blossoms bearing down on the crabapple blooms.

1. In the Chinese calendar, to have the same sign one is born under repeated will take sixty years.  This is because there are twelve different "zodiac" animals one for each year, unlike the Western zodiac one for each month and that each animal has five elemental forms i.e. fire, water, earth, wood and metal.

2. Mandarin Ducks are symbol of love because Chinese believed they mate for life.  This is not true in nature.  Albatross has longer track record.

Friday, May 02, 2014

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