Monday, June 22, 2015

Double Fives Peace to You!

Saturday, June 20th was Dragonboat Festival in China. You might already know about the tradition of this day that falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Lunar Calendar, thus known as Double 5s Day, from the entry titled Seven Pony-Tailed Heads, posted in June of 2011.

Only this year I learned it is not proper to say “Happy Double Fives Day!”, as one might wish a jubilant celebration for most any other Chinese festival.

Let's recap: Poet Chu Yuan's great love for his country, and his intolerance for the emperor tearing it apart led him to pitch himself in the river in a fit of agony. Villagers, horrified at this spectacle, threw rice in the water so that the fish would not eat Chu Yuan's body. They paddled boats around to further distract the fish. The custom of eating zong zi – glutinous rice dumplings filled with either meat or  sweet paste, and racing boats evolved from this legend. Needless to say, a venerated being pitching himself in the water is not cause for happiness, therefore the standard greeting on Double Fives' Day is: Double Fives' Peace to you! - duan wu jie an kang. No happiness expressed, although one can smile while delivering the greeting.

Side Note: I suppose it would not be appropriate to wish any Chinese a happy Tomb Sweeping Festival, either. They are anything but gleeful about their dead. I'll have to wait till the next Qing Ming festival to find out if I should say 'kuai le' – happy, or 'an kang' – peace.  

My Double Fives' Day was anything but peaceful. Quite the contrary: I was flying high on excitement!

The one thing I love to do more than eating and playing with my grandkids is riding my bike. I'd been denied that simple pleasure since February, when I broke my leg. These past 4 months have been filled with despair and depression: nothing worse for an active person than forced immobility! My leg's healing has been so incrementally gradual that I didn't think it would ever get better.

And then, one day, I was able to walk without crutches. Believe me: from that point on I worked and worked at making my leg stronger! All while doing squats and leg lifts and ankle flexes, I was eyeing my bike,stored just off the living room. If I could  walk, I could ride, I reasoned. Last week, I finally abandoned the crutches altogether.

The temptation was too great. I sat astride my pretty red bike. Getting on wasn't too painful or hard. Now, to see: can I ride? I backed up to the bathroom, at one end of the hall and rode the few meters to my living room – about 2 pedal strokes. SUCCESS!!! Over and over, up and down. I rode my hall like it was the prettiest bike lane ever made. At some point, I felt tears on my cheeks. Unaware, I had started crying at the sheer joy of again being able to do what I so love. “Tomorrow, I ride outside!” I vowed.

There was only one problem to my riding outside: the four stairs down to ground level. I barely make it up and down those stairs on my own. How to get the bike down and then back up?

Turns out, it was not that hard. Bracing myself against the wall, I rolled my bike down the stairs. At one point it was in danger of getting away from me but in the end, all was well. There we were, my steed – leaning on its kickstand and I, for the first time in a long time together in the great outdoors.

The next problem was the kickstand, on the bike's left side. I would have to stand on my mended leg to disengage it, and then the natural impulse to swing my right leg over the saddle... too much for my formerly broken limb, I thought. But I did it anyway, and it worked!

I cannot describe to you the joy I felt with each pedal stroke. For you it might be just riding a bike but for me it was the end of my tyrannical confinement. With wheels, I could go anywhere. I can build up my strength again, and get some exercise – something that had been severely lacking in my hobbled condition. The wind in my hair! The sun on my limbs! It was like rediscovering a treasured but lost aspect of myself.

I only rode for about 1 hour, and only around campus. I could have ridden longer but I didn't want to risk my legs turning to jelly, and not being able to get off the bike. Elated, I pedaled back home, managed a somewhat graceful dismount and carried my precious bike back into the house. I sat there, sucking down water, and thought: “Reverence to you, Poet Chu Yuan, but I sure am happy today!!!”   

For Fathers

There are plenty of happy fathers dotting my life: my son, son-in-law, and others who I have deep feeling for: Sam – who stated his little daughter is his true source of happiness, Chris whose tenderness is evident as he cares for his son, David who works long hours to make sure his children have everything they need and more. And there are fathers without children in my life, too. Today, they make me sad.

I find Fathers' Day a necessary acknowledgement of men who, by unspoken social decree must hide their feelings. Who have traditionally been the breadwinners and discipliners, seemingly emotionally distant from their offspring. Men who have a deep well of love, but maybe only show it at their children's weddings. I hope that Fathers' Day becomes more of a recognition of fathers' emotional involvement with their children, rather than a day to give them a wallet or a tie: something that represents their manliness outside of the world of feeling.  

Another aspect of Fathers' Day that weighs on my heart is those fathers who have no rights with regard to their children. In many parts of the world, parents' rights are unequal, with mothers having the most rights. In America, it generally takes a proven unfit mother: on drugs, abusive, criminal, etc for a father to gain full custody. Fortunately, there are those of broken relationships who see the value in providing stability for their child. Thus, both parents are active in their progeny's life. However, there are quite a few fathers who are estranged from their children through no fault of their own, but by the mother's caprice. They have no recourse in the law. 

I hope that today, we can look around, find and recognize all of the fathers without children. I know several who have always wanted to have children. For some reason, it just never happened. What must this day be like for them? There's no reason to assume that they don't long for a child to hold and nurture. Fathers in today's progressive society - that finally accepts that men have as deep a capacity of feeling and need to nurture as women do, show us that such longing is not just the purview of women.

So, go ahead! Celebrate your fatherhood! If not a father, celebrate your father's fatherhood, and that of all of the other fathers in your life. But please: spare a kind thought to all of those men who have yearned for fatherhood, to whom it was, for whatever reason, denied.

Happy Fathers' Day to all who qualify!  

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Five Things I Miss About Winter

Summer is well and truly here in Wuhan. As I shower the stickiness of the day off, I think: what do I miss the most about winter?

1. No bugs. No creepies, no crawlies and no mozzies to bite, in early morning or late at night.
2. No dust. Well, not as much dust as in the summer, when Wuhan becomes a dust bowl and I can’t keep up with that all-pervasive intruder.
3. In keeping with #2: less smog/cleaner air. Winter air, being crisper and less moisture laden tends to not carry dust as well. Counter-intuitively, I breathe better in the winter than in the summer. What about you?
4. Room in my refrigerator. In the winter it is cold enough in my house to leave rice in the rice cooker and butter on the counter, as long as it is covered. Come summer, everything goes in the refrigerator, lest mold should gain a foothold. And, believe me: in Wuhan, mold can take over in a day.
5. Solace. In the winter one can hunker in front of a space heater, put more clothes on, or take a warm shower. One particular luxury is a heated bed. In the summer, no matter how lightly you dress, you are likely still soggy/sticky.

Funny thing about seasons in China: you know they’re there. In the states, I had the benefit of climate control in my house, car and office.

I do have climate control in my apartment but I try not to use it. It costs a lot and doesn’t work that well. In the winter it tends to dry the air, so much so that I end up with painfully dry sinuses and crackling skin. Those are aspects of winter I do not miss.

What don’t you miss about winter? What do you miss?

Poking Fun at English

Oh, sure! We’ve all had great laughs about Chinglish, those unintentional but sometimes hilarious translations of Chinese into English. Might there be an opportunity to laugh at English, as well? I think so.

Spoonerisms, sometimes called ‘silly spoonerisms’, are named after the Reverend Archibald Spooner (1834-1930), who had the unusual affliction of transposing letters or first syllables between words in a phrase. Thus, a simple phrase such as: “You were lighting a fire” becomes “you were fighting a liar”. Other classic examples include:

The Lord is a shoving leopard. (The Lord is a loving shepherd)
A well-boiled icicle. (A well-oiled bicycle)
Is the bean dizzy? (Is the dean busy)

When writing a spoonerism it is acceptable to change the original words’ spelling in order to maintain the phonetic quality of the phrase. Spoonerisms are, after all, an auditory joke. Phonetics are more important than proper spelling in this case.

I challenge you do decipher my favorite spoonerisms.

1. Please come for dinner: I’m cooking a knot of poodles.
2. Be sure to use that clable toth.
3. Spring’s arrival is heralded by a lean grief.
4. Never go anywhere without a hack of pankies.
5. Children all over America love eating dot hogs.
6. Chinese people usually eat with stop chicks.
7. Just before bed I always have a mass of glilk.
8. Roaches! Quick: get the spug bray!
9. There’s nothing like shaking a tower after a long rike bide.
10. Thanks to wireless communication, we no longer need wellaphone tires.
11. Essential to Asian cuisine is a kice rooker.
12. A strong wind extinguished the curning bandle.
13. Time for new clothes! I’m off to the mess draker.
14. A winter’s eve is the perfect time for a tug of me.
15. Hikers should carry a wattle of bot’r.
16. Please don’t buy another sack of pigarettes! 
17. I’m ready: I just need to shut on poos.
18. Amy startled a shock of fleep.
19. I can’t believe you ate a whole cox of bandy!
And, finally...
My Brit and Aussie friends are going to love this one...
20. My tharm wanks for your participation!
Can you figure these spoonerisms out? Would you add some of your own?

NOTE: answers in the next post. Have fun!