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Monday, December 19, 2016

Updating an Old Friend

I look into the river.  I see my reflection standing still in this fast moving world of flowing waters.  There are fishes swimming against the current.  They move and yet they remain where they are.  I wonder if I am a fish in this rat race of the human world. Go with the flow and you will go far.  To the river's end and then what? I am tired, worn out byt he abrasion of time.  I need but to seek shelter in the quiet pools with no eddy surging round and round.

This was written on a summer's day of 2013.  As a translation exercise in semi-classical Chinese,

河中水, 速流而我映仍然留停不動.水界魚族逆流, 只見移動不見進. 疑問在此快度人世間中是我一條魚? 隨水而去當然有成就. 但到了河盡又如何? 疲倦的我, 精力經已被時間靡費.要尋找一個靜池安棲, 沒有旋渦團團轉.

The other day, as I was digitizing all the physical copies of my handwriting that I came across it again.  This time, I rewrote it solely from a Chinese viewpoint.

Each line is restricted to four characters. Some minor differences with the original ensure due to different cultural argument forms. Hopefully, my Chinese had improved. Also the style used as new material for my brush writing practice.

流水速速,  Waters flowing fast,
去而不復. Going, going but return not.
影動不去, The reflection moves but going nowhere,
鼎立如浮. Solidly it stood, flimsily it looked.
魚族逆水, Fish swimming upstream,
有移無進. Movements but progress made not.
心中自疑, Self-doubt in my heart,
我魚實也. A fish that I must be.
人界逆流, Swimming against the current in the world of men,
禍從己賜. Catastrophes are self-given.
順水者往, Those going with the flow,
前程錦繡. The road ahead, a success.
河終頭盡, At the river's end,
安焉何用? Of what use is there then?
精力疲倦, Tired are my physical and mental prowess,
時光所廢. Crippled by the passage of time.
覓尋安棲, Safe haven I seek,
靜池無渦. A quiet pond of no eddy.
團轉莫須, Swirls not required!
瑤池乎耶? Hark! 'tis the Jade pool of Paradise is it not?
風過漪缺, Ripple not as the wind passed by,
清風明月. A life of serenity led.
世外不必, Real paradise need not,
紅塵非惹! Just that the vulgar world be no longer courted!

Friday, July 22, 2016

A Poem For A Friend's Painting

On, 25 Jun 2016, an italki friend, Julius Ku sent me a marvellous Chinese painting that he did and asked me to pen a classical poem for him to complete his work. Below is the version that appeals to me most.

After studying the painting for awhile, I came up with a draft of to describe the painting. I liked the way how to boats are depicted simply.

山雲接海迎小舟 The cloudy mountains receive the ocean and welcoming the little boats.
松峭参天拜          Pine cliffs bowing to heaven.

With this idea, I can take my time to work out the mechanics in composing a classical Chinese poem. The idea was to compare human life with the seemingly eternal mountains and heavens. After much doodling, I came up with the following,

松冠峭壁参蒼天       Pine trees crowning the cliffs paying respect to heaven
人生蜉朝一日過       Life is like a mayfly day
自然依舊待/侍千秋 As nature remains waiting/serving for a thousand autumns.

I was stuck and had to fallow my mind. The next day, as I explored different words and rhyming schemes, a different version materialized,

千山白雲小舟臨/逢          White clouds of a thousand mountains, the little boats arrive/meet
松冠峭壁/敬蒼天/蒼天敬 Sheer cliffs crowned in pines pay respect to the vastness of heaven
桃源何處曾一見               Where had I once seen the source of peach (paradise)
迷離境界在水邊/              The blurry realm (of the paradise) is at the water's edge/
無意不識入仙境               Unintentionally and unknowingly, I stumbled into the fairyland.

Although the result is solidifying, I still think the poem is too contrite; words not too elegant and the flow of sounds not too smooth. 


1. Pine trees are longevity symbols but still has an end. The sky doesn't.

2. The peach source is an allusion to a story when a fisherman inadvertently stumbled into paradise filled with blossoming peach trees. He spent a day there before returning home. However, he could not find his way back the next day. This is a frequent theme in Classical Chinese poems.

I always have said -- "give oneself a good night's rest and things will look better the next day". Sure enough, after my daily jog, I came up with this:

千山白雲碧/滄/海迎 White clouds from the thousand mountains welcome the blue/cold ocean
松冠峭壁青天敬        Sheer cliffs crowned in pine trees paying respect to the green sky
桃源此處曾一見        The peach source is here where I saw once
心空愰惚入仙境        My heart is empty and suddenly the fairyland I entered.

Being very satisfied with this version, I stopped the fine tuning. However, five days later, I used this poem to practise my brush writing. As I wrote, fresh ideas and words came into mind. This is the final version as one can go on eternally fine tuning things...

千山白雲滄海迎, White clouds from a thousand peaks welcoming the vast ocean,
松冠峭壁参天敬. Sheer cliffs crowned in pines paying respect to heaven.
桃源此處曾一會, This is the place where Paradise I once had been,
必是心愰入仙境. Must be in my absent-mindedness that I stumbled into the immortal's realm.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Classical Chinese Painting Demonstration By A Friend

Today -- a typical Sunday afternoon of Southern California; cloudy but bright though, with occasional beams of sunlight shafting through the clouds. West Hollywood --  Raucous laughter and rounds of merriment overfloweth out onto the streets as we drove by Hamburger Mary's.  Nothing unusual.

We missed our destination.  At Crescent Heights, we made a left turn.  Our first time to Vinadore Studio & Cafe.  We have not been regular WeHo visitors since the night we met up twenty years ago.  Much has changed.  It was a great respite to see this place of tranquility and quietude greeting us as we drove into the parking lot...  Reminding me how the Abbey was once upon a time: a cozy place where meaningful conversations could be carried out over a cup of coffee or a sandwich as lustful eyes gazed into the limpid pools of one's potential trick, mate or whatever...

We came to WeHo from the Long Beach Area to show support for a friend.  He was to demonstrate how traditional Chinese painting is executed.  We were early. We met our friend, the artist, and people we had never seen before.  Pleasantries exchanged and introductions made.  The place was filled with artwork of western painting decorating the walls.  In the forefront were some mounted and framed Chinese artwork adding further elegance to the place.  Another reason, we knew Andre Ting from other social gatherings and also as an artist but not to the extent of his talents.  Today, we are much educated.

The ambience nurtures an air of elegance as wafts of coffee permeate throughout the place. Along with the sight of treats ordered by others tempting our senses to no end.  We were getting hungry but more eager to see Andre demonstrating his talent.

As more had arrived,  it was time to begin.  Andre introduced some rudimentary information on Classical Chinese Painting after he had taken a few moments to clear his mind...  

Andre in comtemplation to clear his mind before demonstrating his talent

The simplicity of his stroke; seemingly a black mark on the paper soon grew fluidly into an elegant curve of an eagle's crest.  Simply amazing.  

Jokes were cracked; surrounding chatter competing with his explanations -- none could take away the steel-like concentration of Andre in maintaining his brushstrokes.

One astute observer remarked that one has to amortize the time spent in training...  True to a certain extent.  But without talent, no matter how much practice there is, a black mark still remains as such.

Without further ado, thanks to modern technology, mere words can do no better justice than these photos of the artist at work.

Someone asked why there is no outline of any sort.

One big difference between Chinese and Western art is that all pre-planning and penciling are done in the mind.  

Only when the artist is ready, will the swift strokes of the hand descend and begin its graceful dance on the paper.  

Practically speaking, the penciling will show up on the paper no matter how much erasing or hiding is done.

Almost done - in less than five minutes!

"Finished" - Almost...

For demonstration purposes, it is considered complete.  In the strictest sense of fulfilling the traditional requirements, it is yet to be.  First, the artist's signature in form of a real seal had to be placed.  Nowadays, signing in English is fine, but loses the Classical Chinese charm.  Finally, an accompanying poem and the date the piece is completed must be present. 

Painting is the child of calligraphy.  In the old days, painting was not taught until the mastery of calligraphy had been achieved.

To many Western art critics, it is considered graffiti in having the many seals of the painting's past owners stamped on it. To the Chinese, not only do they enhance the beauty but a testament to its importance. Many masterpieces were "extended" solely for this purpose.  There are times when the calligraphy is more important than the painting itself! "Study of a Mountain Engraving" (研山銘) is one such example.

Start of another style in eagle drawing.

Chinese paintings are highly symbolic and can be a rebus.  Thus the theme must suit the occassion as a gift, otherwise a heinous social faux pas is unwittingly committed.

For the uninitiated, it is a road laced with landmines.
For example, two butterflies fluttering delicately in the gentle breeze amongst peony tops makes a beautiful subject. However, as a gift to newlyweds; couple in a relationship, etc is highly inappropriate!  A pair of butterflies represent ill-fated lovers from a Chinese Romeo & Juliet story!

Even if are more than two butterflies, it is best to avoid from being misconstrued.

A crouching tiger showing its ferociousness is most appropriate for a military official, a school teaching Kung Fu, and in the modern day, an attorney, a tax accountant or a judge.

For a genteel profession, it is highly ominous as the pronunciation for tiger in Chinese also sounds like the word for hardship!

Demonstration complete but not the entire composition even by Western standards -- the eagle is too lonely.  A finishing touch of a pine tree branch was added to the bottom right to "weigh" down the subject.

However, to the traditionalists, this is not enough.  This will be seen as an eagle flying to nowhere, in other words, no ambition.

The pine tree represents longevity and endurance in the mortal world.  A red sun on the top left shining over distant mountain tops would be very traditional indeed.  The sounds for "red" and "eagle" are similar to that for "hero".  Thus the composition tells the viewer to "leave the vulgarity of the world behind and aspire to the lofty heights of heroism"

The rooster is Andres's final demonstration for the day.  Its proud stance gives a sense of self-assuredness in its strut.  The paper on which it was painted on is of great quality and had to obtained in China as one cannot find it in Los Angeles. If you look closely, the gold flecks in the paper brings out the liveliness of its tail.

This final painting inspired me so much that a classical styled poem was born into my mind. After much revision, I humbly include it here with a  rough translation.

梧桐高枝鳳凰貴,  Noble is the phoenix high on the boughs of the Wutong tree,
地上群立獨我尊.  Of all standing on this earth, I am the most revered.
紅冠一頂朝日召,  With a red cap, the morning sun I summon,
天下萬事就此傳.  Under heaven, all matters henceforth be decreed.

In Chinese mythology, the phoenix is considered to be the queen of birds, thus the empress' imperial insignia. It is said the phoenix will only alight on the boughs of the Firmiana simplex, commonly known as the Chinese parasol tree.

All in all, it was an afternoon very well spent.

14 Mar 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

Happy Chinese New Year - 2015!

Happy New Year Everyone!


Quickly goes the Horse! Slowly comes the trotting Ram. Another year arrives.
Winter departs, red blossoms obscure my eyes.
Envy not the distant white clouds and the mountains green,
With drunken eyes, I welcome the flowers in my slumber of spring.


The Three Shadows

An evening walk at the Cabrillo Marina.  The evening air was warm. Then a sudden whim for a selfie...

From this photo, I was inspired in composing the following poem.

空中一月一遍明,  In the sky, one moon, one stretch of brightness,
地上三影三人夢.  On the ground, three shadows, dreams of three.
此時此刻再難聚,  Difficult for this hour, this moment once more repeated,
好比無緣無相逢.  Better than not having this happened at all.

I guess I was being melancholic, so I came up with a tad less pathetic in tone...

空中一月一遍明,  In the sky, one moon, one stretch of brightness,
地上三影三人夢.  On the ground, three shadows, dreams of three.
此時此刻此聚佳, This hour, this moment, this get-together great,
無緣無份無相逢. No fate, no destiny, no rendezvous.

12 Oct 2015

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

後庭花 - Courtyard Flower

細風落葉微飛舞, Gentle breeze, falling leaves; slightly in dance.
高閣芳林昔日豪. High pavilions and fragrant forest; grandeur of old.
一遍黄地花雖有, A stretch of ground in yellow, though grown with flowers,
七尺青絲結綺無. Rapunzel, her Tower of Beauty Forming, no longer around.

The ground looked yellow because of the approaching dusk.  Of course there is no Rapunzel in Chinese.  For more details, see

A Nocturnal Reflection

烏節路名也. 是新加坡大厦酒店購物中心遊客區. 堂煌極奢. 品質高貴, 服務一流. 當然也是食玉炊桂!

烏節幽幽雨早成, Orchard Road is now quiet with the passing rain,
華燈代月引道徑. Bright lights replaced the moon to lead my way.
多年相隔自有異, Many years had passed since, and of course, there will be changes,
懷中前景朝夜明. In my mind, the former scenery is always clear.

I had purposely used 前 to be ambiguous since it can mean "former", "in front" and word play on 明, "bright" or "clear". So the last line can also be interpreted as "In my heart, the scenery in front of my eyes will always be bright". However, due to context in the previous line, this is not the intended meaning. I could have used 舊 (old) to be clearer but I think it is too direct for my taste.