Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Translation: Arashiyama in the Rain

On a recent trip to Kyoto in Japan, I came across a monument with a Chinese poem on it attributed to Zhou Enlai up on Arashiyama Mountain (岚山). Here’s what it looked like:

The inscription was a bit difficult for me to read, so I took a photo and then got a Chinese friend to help me decipher it. It turns out to be a poem that Zhou penned while studying abroad in Japan in 1919. In the 1970s, when Zhou came to Japan looking to establish a trade relationship, this monument was presented to him. More about the poem here on Baidu Baike. Here’s the poem rendered more legibly:


潇潇雨 雾蒙浓

Arashiyama in the Rain

I went to Arashiyama twice in the rain
Both banks were framed by green pines
Squeezing against a few cherry trees
Towards the horizon
One mountain peak stood out the most
Light green spring waters flowed out like this
Winding around the rocks, holding my reflection
Whistling winds, dense mist and fog
A ray of light peaked through the clouds
The more I looked upon this beauty –
The realities of the human world
The more I want, the more confused I become –
In the confusion I suddenly chanced upon this point of light
The more I truly sensed its beauty

The last five lines of the poem are the most interesting to me. I guess when Zhou Enlai wrote the thing as a young man he was reflecting a more conventional idea of nature providing grounding for human thought, aesthetics, etc. But 50 years later, when courting the Japanese over the possibility of developing China, the image of a ray of light coming though the clouds takes on an entirely different character. I wonder if the master statesman was pleased with the selection.

posted by ferret at 5:40 pm  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 4

[Ferret is frazzled, looking for a piece of paper on his table entirely covered in crap. He’s been far too busy lately, but thinking to himself about what exactly has been taking up his time, he can’t say. He just knows he needs to find that piece of paper. It’s a receipt for something he wants to return. Or was it a receipt for registering for something? Yes, that’s it. Registration.]


Where is it?

[Ferret finds the box he’d received ages ago. It’s full of just as much mystery as before, its faded packaging with just the words 上海 written on it are full of strange portent.]


Damn, I totally forgot about this.

[Ferret takes a deep breath and starts to open it up, forgetting about the thing he was just searching for. Inside there is just brown packing paper, or so it seems. He continues to pull it out until he finds a small black notebook in the bottom of the box. He picks up and flips it open. There is a message scrawled on the front page.]



A reward for whoever returns this

[and an address below it]



Mr. Wang

20 Shouning Lu

[Ferret flips through the rest of the pages in the notebook and finds nothing else. He sits down on his chair next to his desk and looks at the cover of the notebook, thinking.]

posted by ferret at 5:33 pm  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Shanghai at Sea

Sailing on and on, and on and on I’m a lost soul with his beard grown long floating over the still waters while a calm wind blows. But below me in the deep, I know that trouble is bubbling up. I can feel it.

My companions are bedraggled rum sots and dreamers. We keep our ship tidy, but rage through the evening, pulling great beasts from the brine and singing holly holly to the bright night sky. We’ll say it never ends.

We come to shore where we greet the natives. They smile at us like gods, and curse at us like them too – in moments of weakness and under their breath. I don’t know if they mean to destroy us. I suspect they don’t know either. We never stay long enough to find out.

It’s always back at sea, back at sea.

We’re heading somewhere.


I do not know.

posted by ferret at 1:14 am  

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 3

[Ferret looks at the Box on his table and begins a conversation with it. Unfortunately, one sided.]


What are you?



You’re a box. I know, but… That’s how it is, isn’t it? I’ve lived here for how long and I’m still lured into all of this bullshit. I get boxes delivered in the middle of the night and I start talking to them.


[Ferret paces away from the Box, then paces back.]


Who could possibly want to send me a box?



God. I need a drink.

[Ferret goes to the refrigerator and finds he only has some soy milk, a couple of days past the expiration date. He sighs then takes it out pours it in a glass. He sips on it, eyeing the Box.]


You thought I meant a real drink, didn’t you? I did too.



I don’t have any alcohol in my house. I’m a cheap drunk anyway. I’d rather be rational about this.



Soy milk is high in protein. That should be good.



What do you want from me?



You know, on the phone, the girl said you “were” Shanghai. You’re all that Shanghai is in a box, huh?



You’re a bunch of bullshit gift certificates, aren’t you?



Fine, I’ll deal with you tomorrow.

[Ferret slugs down the last of his soy milk, puts his glass in the sink and goes to bed, leaving Box in the darkness.]

posted by ferret at 3:16 pm  

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Xun You

So… I found a card on the ground for one of those Three Kingdoms card games the kids seem to be playing these days. I didn’t recognize the character on the card, so I thought I’d dig a bit deeper.


First of all, I was surprised to find out that this is supposed to be a man. He looks super girly. His name is Xun You, who was one of the head military strategists for Three Kingdoms‘ bad boy, Cao Cao. I suppose that he wasn’t really a fighter, per se, so looking feminine isn’t such a big deal. The inscription at the bottom of the card reads (originally in traditional characters, but I’ve switched the script to make my life easier):

知能过宁武   德可配颜渊

Knowledge surpassing Ning Wu, character on par with Yan Yuan

I guess these have something to do with playing the card game it goes with.

Now to the back!

There’s a bit about what we know about him historically, etc. Most of interest to me is bottom where there’s stats for his “military worth” (武力值), his “strategy worth” (谋略值) and his “overall worth” (综合值). He’s the best in terms of “strategy worth” (92/100) as you’d expect. Man, he really looks like a lady in this picture though, doesn’t he? He doesn’t always look like this though. Here he is in the old school 80s TV version of Three Kingdoms:

Rock out, Xun You.

posted by ferret at 5:37 pm  

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 2

[Ferret is lying in bed, trying to sleep. There’s a knock on his door. He flicks on the lights and goes to answer it. There’s a Young Man there holding a small box.]

Young Man


Hey, delivery.



What is this?

Young Man


It’s a delivery. It’s a, um, it’s a, “delivery”.



I know it’s a delivery, but I didn’t buy anything.

Young Man


Take a look at the address. Isn’t this 203?




Young Man

那怎么办? 你不要的话,我就带回去。

Then what do you want me to do?



Where is it from?

Young Man


Let me see.

[Ferret and the Young Man examine the package. There’s no return address. In the area on the box where it should be, it just says “Shanghai” in Chinese.]

Young Man





I know.



Why are you working so late?

Young Man


I’m working overtime. What does it have to do with you anyway? Do you want it or not?



Somebody just called me and told me you’d be coming.

Young Man


Of course! This is a delivery. A “delivery”!



I know, but I feel like it’s all a joke or somebody is spying on me. Something like that.

Young Man


If it’s a joke, then it’s a joke. Spying on you? How do I know? Do you want your package or not? If you don’t want it, then I’m going.

[The Young Man begins to walk away with the package. Ferret stops him.]



Come back! I’ll take it.

Young Man


Okay. Sign here.

[Ferret signs for it.]

Young Man


Hey,your Chinese is pretty good. How long have you been in China?

[Ferret raises his left hand and extends all five of his fingers.]



Five years.

Young Man

Very good!



[ They wave goodbye to each other. Ferret closes the door and sets the box down on his table.]


Well, what now?


posted by ferret at 4:47 pm  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shanghai in a Box – Part 1

[It’s late and Ferret is lying in bed, reading a book, evading sleep just a bit more so that he can dig further into the world of words. The telephone rings. He picks it up. There’s a voice – female, nervous. There’s the sound of talking in the background as if it’s coming from a call center.]









Oh, um, hello. You are a foreign person?


Hello. Yeah. A foreigner.


Who is this?


You’re calling me. You can’t ask “Who is this?”.


I… umm… do you want Shanghai?


I’m sorry?


Do you want Shanghai?


Do I want to go to Shanghai?


No. You are in Shanghai.




Then do you want Shanghai?


What is Shanghai?


What is?


Yes. What are you talking about?


I will send it to you.




One hour.


No. I don’t want it! Whatever you’re selling I don’t want it!

[Ferret realizes that whoever was on the line has hung up.  He lies back in bed and his mind reels with thoughts of what it is that he’s been signed up for – credit card offers, free trials of hand lotion, cellphone service for a provider he doesn’t use. He sighs and turns out the light. After contemplating the darkness for a moment, he closes his eyes, rolls over and goes to bed.]


posted by ferret at 2:12 pm  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Translation: Soul and Body

In the Longhua Martyr’s Cemetery there’s a tunnel full of all manner of revolutionary sayings, some of them communist, some just generally pushing the reader to fight the good fight.

This one seemed interesting enough:



If one has a soul, then one must have a body!


However, if one doesn’t have a soul, then what good is a body?


This isn’t just some saying, nor is it a philosophy, it’s something else altogether.

Qu Qiubai

posted by ferret at 10:45 pm  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Listless Days

I am carried through these listless days

Still frantic and amazed

Crying with awe at every sight

As pink skies fly into the night


Still the world moves quick

And I’m full of hope

My expectations taut

Tight as rope


I’m a tightrope walker

Walking where I please

I feel the adrenaline

Fly through my knees


There are fantastic dreams

That still catch my eye

Although most of my visions

Are programmed, by and by


There are still adulations

To be cried to all above

Although most of life

Is lost in regular push and shove


I want my smile to be a touchstone

A reminder in my mirror’s gaze

That yes! yes, I am living!

Through all these listless days

posted by ferret at 5:51 pm  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chinese Girls with English Names

There were those girls I met years ago when I first came to Shanghai, the ones with names like Xinglei, Liming, Zhang Jing… there were many. I could never remember their names the first time. The second time was hard too. And the third. Point is that I eventually got it, and when I did it was glorious!

What happened? Years later Xinglei became Cindy, Liming Linda, Zhang Jing Jane.

I feel a bit sad, almost like there’s a part of them missing now. I wonder if they feel the same.

posted by ferret at 10:02 pm  
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