dimanche, novembre 29, 2009

Insomniac Thoughts

From Gallery-in-China.com

As a Chinese growing up in Singapore, I have been brought up in a number of Chinese traditions and customs. Mom is one of those people who couldn't travel as and when she wants because she has prayers to perform, paper money to burn, food to offer to the Gods or the ancestors etc on certain days every Lunar month. I think that it is important to respect certain interesting traditions as they keep our history and customs alive and normally the family together.

Many years ago when I was researching for my Thesis, I vaguely remember learning that the Chinese moved towards an age of Enlightenment more or less at the same pace as the Europeans, but decided around the 15th Century to stop the process and stay with their holistic approach to life. After a Western education and a decade living with a very Cartesian Frenchman, I have become pretty good at linear and logical thought myself, but holism is still a part of me. I am very much an individual, but I am also part of my natural and social world, I often define myself in terms of my relation to the past (including my ancestors), my current existence and to the future (including my reincarnation).

Though of course people knowing me know that I usually cannot control my tongue, that I often explore (not just say) what I think. That's not very Chinese, since all through our history you get your heads chopped off if you do not know how to keep your opinions to yourself. That's why Chinese paintings are often about scenery (e.g. mountain, water, wind) and animals - though they often are not about scenery or animals, requiring one to look beyond what was painted to its real meaning all expressed in symbols. Chinese plays and literature are also strong in symbols - telling you about warring feudal lords, abusive monarchs, corrupt government officials etc through stories about drinking tea in tea houses, eating noodles in noodle houses, feuds in large rich familes and so on. Even war messages get passed on in mooncakes.

How many times have I to explain to the others that when one is offered something by a Chinese, try not to accept immediately as it would make one look greedy. And if your host is doing things correctly, he will push his offer in order to prove his sincerity at which point you may accept it and make everyone look good. It is of course a waste of time, so if I offer you something and you say no, you probably will not hear me offer it again.

The only thing most Chinese people feel very safe in talking about is food and money. The former probably as it is the surest source of comfort (and as Chinese food is usually good) and the latter as it is tangible and safer than politics. The Chinese restaurant owner here persists in asking me how much my husband earns and my late aunt each time I showed her something would ask me how much I paid for it. My parents believe in earning face by spending lavishly on others, and some of my relatives do the opposite counting their money like they could bring it to the grave. And kids are expected to support their parents in their old age, because life is a cycle - though if you think about it, no kid actually asks to be born in the first place.

In this vein, I actually get furious when I am approached by gipsy women or men brandishing children or pictures of them in supermarket carparks expecting me to feel sorry for them. I probably would have if I hadn't kids of my own. I wanted to tell them (and probably would one of these days) that they shouldn't have children if they couldn't support them. Children are not the tools of their trade, children need to be given a chance in life, a roof, an education, food, time, love and a future. And I don't buy the perpetuating of the human race bit - because studies have shown that we are overpopulating the planet. If our governments are telling us that we need to replace the population - it's economics. Then they will go to war and kill us off anyway.

Having said that, it was worth celebrating the day my brother became a father for the first time last month. Because he can afford it, will be a good father and will, I'm sure, try to raise a responsible person. Though at the same time, my sister lost her MIL and Chinese customs stepped in, threatening to tear our family apart instead of bringing us closer together.

You may know that part of Chinese superstition dictates that someone who has lost a close family member must not attend white or red events within 49 or 100 days depending on how they look at things. Mom, as usual being overly enthusiastic with her interpretations and being more orthodox than the Patriarch, got out of hand, starting to stop almost everyone from seeing the new baby. It is amazing how many reasons she managed to find for my dad, my sis etc from going near the baby, until my brother and his wife (with some nudging on my part) decided to risk her ire and tell her that they are not superstitious and would like to have said people visit their child. I am all for tradition - until it proves to tear a family apart instead of keeping it together.

I am writing this down - thoughts that filled my head when I was counting sheep last night to no avail.

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