Monday, 25 March 2013

Kungfu!

I thought about posting this last night following a discussion my friends and I had about martial arts, but I was too lazy. Here it is!

Martial arts include Chinese kungfu, right? They asked.

No, I said. A martial art known as 'Chinese kungfu' doesn't exist.

拳 'Quan' ('Fists') and 道 'Dao' ('Ways' or 'Methods') are the words used to describe the different styles or schools of martial arts. I've noticed that the Chinese languages make more use of the former eg 詠春拳 Yongchunquan (anglicised as 'Wing Chun') and 太极拳 Taijiquan (anglicised as 'Tai Chi'), whereas the Japanese and Korean languages utilise 道 (eg in 空手道 Karate-Do (Japanese) and 跆拳道 Taekwondo (Korean)) more often.

And kungfu? The term in Mandarin Chinese is 'wushu' 武术, which literally translates as 'martial arts'.

'Kungfu', or 'Gongfu' 功夫 itself is quite a hard one to translate. It does not, however, mean 'martial arts'. A martial artist, or indeed any craftsman or artisan, has 'deep kungfu' or 'good kungfu' if he/she has shown skill, persistence and endurance when displaying his/her art.

So whenever an English speaker chats about 'kungfu' to a Mandarin speaker, the Mandarin speaker will look quite lost, and when Carl Douglas sings about 'Kungfu Fighting', what he's really singing about is how skillful a certain way of fighting is. And now you know why.






Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Chopsticks!

Saw an interesting article in the Telegraph, a British national broadsheet, today. The chairman of a Chinese provincial forestry group commented that in order to conserve wood stocks, wooden chopsticks in public places ought to be ditched, and diners encouraged to bring their own tableware. Either that, or, shock horror, the last resort would be the provision of metal knives and forks in public.

It wasn't just the article that was interesting, but the comments section, where some commentators expressed curiosity as to why the Chinese use chopsticks instead of knives and forks at mealtimes. Here're some pearls of wisdom from my grandma about this topic.

My grandma's experience was that after all that sawing with a knife and fork, the energy you get from the food you've eaten just dissipates, just like that. Not only that, but you need to observe so many quirks, like whether you've used your fork like a spoon to shovel your peas into your mouth versus whether you've rammed your peas against the back of your fork which, that you get distracted from enjoying and tasting the food.

When she used chopsticks, all she focussed on was savouring the food, and whether the people around her had eaten more than enough (the tradition in my family is that before everyone eats, both the older and younger attendees of a meal must make sure that every plate or bowl of rice on the table has a bit of meat or veggie on before starting to eat).

Personally, I don't mind what I use to eat my food, because by the time my meals are served I'm so hungry that all I want to do is eat. And anyway, at the end of the day, everyone, no matter where they come from, eats with their mouth.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Jittery nerves

G'day, hello, bonjour! I've always loved telling stories, but as a child, I was discouraged from pursuing a career in entertainment and in the arts. Looking back, my looks and weight meant that in all reality, I would have been typecast as Porky Pig.

The people who say that money isn't everything clearly have a safety net to fall back on, whether it's their family, friends or the State. I used to think like that, too, but as life moved on, I could see that people with money were, on the whole, better off than those without money. So for me, it was imperative that I earned a decent wage, which I did as soon as I could.

Once I realised I could stand on my own, I found myself wondering whether this was it. Was I destined to not tell stories anymore? I found myself realising that I loved the sound of my own voice too much.

Fate intervened in November 2012, when an adaptation of the celebrated ancient Chinese play Orphan of Zhao that was produced by the RSC controversially featured just three actors of East Asian descent in supporting roles. An international outcry followed, some soul searching was done, and questions were asked, the main one being, 'why are British East Asians invisible?' Thanks to the British East Asian Artists Facebook page, and thanks to a lot of comments and articles posted by my fellow Brits of East Asian heritage, I came to realise that racism against East Asians is present, but so subtle indeed. I also found that a question was getting flung back at the East Asian community from the wider community: why are there no British-born writers of East Asian descent of note? Once there's decent writing and writers around, the reasoning went, the actors would follow.

That got me thinking about the quote by Gandhi: 'You must be the change you want to see in the world.'

With all that mind, here is this blog, which will find its way. I am also in the middle of writing some novels, so watch this space!