We lived like Gods

I actually imagined this as being feasible as the setting to a fantasy series. Not saying that I will be the one to write said series, since I’m not crazy about gods or deities having large roles in fantasy, it’s one of the tropes that I’m personally tired of. Perhaps this is one idea born out of that boredom. Anyway, enjoy the piece. 

We lived like Gods. Not Gods as those lived in the Olympian Mountain but those who walked the earth, walked among the living. 

We lived like Gods. Not Gods whose statues were hung up or put up to be worshipped but in the person, living, breathing as mortals do. 

We lived like Gods. Gods and mortals, are they so different after all? If we walked and breathed among you, how would you tell us apart? If we don’t show you miracles, if we don’t flaunt our super powers, if we just quietly observe? Would you see us for what we are, or would you pass by, move on, bored at meeting yet another dull mortal like yourself? 

We lived like Gods. Gods that no one knew about nor acknowledged. Those were the good times. We lived free then. Unbound by the burden of humanity. Your beliefs do not do us honours, mortals. They only ever yoke us to you, chain us to your insignificant schemes. We are not pleased. 

We lived like Gods. Gods who were trapped. Gods who now seek to break free. There will be a bloodbath. Mortals against the Gods who were enslaved. 

We lived like Gods. Until we became Gods to mortals. 

We lived like Gods. We were not Gods before. Being Gods were our curse. We are now setting to break it, break our chains that bind us to you mortals and transcend. 

P.S. I usually give credit for the original poem but I actually don’t know the poem name nor the poet so have to bypass it this time.

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (11)- Bao Qian Guang

Who is she:

  • More commonly known as Bao Gu (Aunt Bao), she is one of the four greatest female physicians in ancient China 
  • Wife to Ge Hong, a renowned Daoist, physician and pharmacist. Both she and her husband were worshipped later as immortals. 

Notable Life Events:

  • Born sometime in the Jin dynasty (266 to 420 AD) to a prestigious family of scholar-officials believing in Daoism. 
  • Her father arranged for her marriage with Ge Hong after he became her father’s student to learn the craft of creating pills* which was usually a Daoist practice in ancient China  
  • After marriage, she started practicing medicine together with her husband and was particularly renowned for moxibustion. 
  • In 319 AD, her father built her a Daoist temple for her to practice medicine in now Guangzhou 
  • Her husband passed in 343 AD and she went to the Daoist temple her father built her to live and practice medicine with her student Wang Chu Ping (worshipped as Wong Die Seen or Immortal Wong in Hong Kong, I had deliberately switched to Cantonese phonetic spelling here) 

Why is she remarkable:

  • While I think being one of the four greatest female physicians is remarkable enough in itself, she was the second among the four greatest female physicians in terms of chronological order of birth so I was choosing by both expedient of information available and an interesting life (my initial research turned up one of the other four but I didn’t feel like her life was that interesting at all) 
  • I was, of course, drawn to the folklore bent of her life 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

Very hard to see through to her personality based on the information available but at least I feel like she lived a fulfilling married life with both of them practicing medicine and believing in Daoism. Since marriage was the only destination for a respectful woman in those days, I would guess that made her at least content. 

*In ancient China, pills were not always created for common medical practice, the most notable example being the pursuit of immortality of Emperors with the Immortal Pill(s) 

Broadening Horizon Reads- 2021

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell 

What impressed me most about this book was that it was not just a gimmick, the unusual form of the novel (or rather how the 6 short stories were presented) really cemented the theme. The other main note I had regarding this was that it was supposed to fill the science fantasy slot but after reading it, I felt like it fit the literary fiction genre much better. So the science fiction genre is still open for next year or maybe some years down the track. 

The Wych Elm by Tana French 

I was mainly intrigued about the author since I heard her name from multiple avenues. I think she is under psychological thriller although being me, I’m not good with actual sub-genres as opposed to what I label them. 

I’m not sure whether my main takeaway should be how she deals with character or plot. Then again, I’m not sure I actually want to analyse a mystery for my own writing (I mean, I sort of feel that I can more profitably analyse a fantasy if I was going to do that). I didn’t quite get the ending of this book and it leaves me thinking a little. But I can’t say that’s really a good or bad thing, I think I’m on neutral ground regarding this point. 

Courage is Learning

I was pretty much going by order of I wrote each piece of Wild Writing but today I want to share something more recent. This is actually my own prompt, well, not my own exactly but a prompt that I heard from a writing summit that I attended. The original prompt was just Courage is…. The title was what emerged out of the actual writing. 

Anyway, here it is without further ado:

Courage is learning to say no and then learning to say it right. Courage is learning to separate yourself from others and then learning to treasure yourself as much as others. Courage is learning what is fear and then learning to live with it at least. 

Courage is learning that a change can occur in infinitesimal steps and each day you can take a single step in the right direction. Courage is learning to keep your end goal in sight and trust yourself to get there one day, forging on everyday to get closer. 

Courage is learning. Here’s what I want you to know: we are all more courageous than we give ourselves credit for. If we think deep enough, if we would open or close our eyes to remember. 

We are all more courageous than we give ourselves credit for. Courage, that was once the title of a short story I intended to write, salvaged from one of the pieces I wrote for high school. It didn’t go anywhere. The emotions when I wrote that piece were gone, spent. But here it arises again, anew. 

We are all more courageous than we give ourselves credit for. Courage, such a big word, but we can find it in small things. In fact, it is the small things that really test us, test our courage. That’s usually the way of the world. Courage is learning. Life is learning. 

Nuances of the Chinese language (2)- Family Relationships

In direct contrast with English, there are a lot more distinct terms for describing immediate and extended family relationships. There are separate terms of an elder versus younger sibling as well as delineations of whether the relationship originates from the fraternal versus the maternal side. 

Now before I actually start, note that I’m mostly sticking to phonetic spelling of Mandarin as opposed to actual Mandarin pinyin for this post unless otherwise stated or phonetic spelling gets too difficult for me. 

So let’s start with the immediate family. Dad and Mum are usually called Baba and Mama in Mandarin. Your elder brother is your Ger-ger (this is the actual pinyin, not the phonetic spelling, I don’t know how to spell it phonetically, I’m not a native Mandarin speaker and I never leant English pronunciation properly with the vowels and consonants either) whereas your younger brother is your Didi. 

Now, when it comes to your cousins, the lineage is slightly confusing because the delineation is not just as simple as from the fraternal or maternal side. Rather, the delineation is whether or not the cousin shares the same surname with you. So, therefore, all your maternal cousins and your fraternal cousins who are offsprings from your aunts are considered your maternal cousins or biao (pronounced roughly bi-ao) -siblings as they translate to in Chinese. Only those who share the surname as you yourself and from your father’s side of the family i.e. offsprings of your father’s brothers are your fraternal cousins or tang (pronounced t-ang) -siblings as they are called. 

For your uncles and aunts, the system is more similar to siblings. Your fraternal uncle is your Bor or Sue, depending on whether he is older or younger than your father. Your fraternal aunt is your Gu (or Gu-mu if you write it, it’s two characters, meaning “fraternal aunt-mother” if you want a literal translation) and the delineation of elder versus younger can be different across different regions when we speak of it. Your maternal uncle is your Ju-you (this is as close to the pronunciation as I can make it, it’s supposed to be a single character) whereas your maternal aunt is your Yi. Now, just on the topic of delineation of elder versus younger, I think Mandarin mainly uses a prefix of Big/Old and Small to separate the two. Whereas in Cantonese, we usually make use of suffixes. So our aunts who are our fathers’ elder sisters have the ma suffix when we call them (Gu-ma or aunt-mothers in literal translation) whereas our fathers’ younger sisters are called aunt-elder-sisters in literal translation (I can’t even phonetically spell the Cantonese term of elder sister so…). For our maternal aunts, the elder also takes the suffix ma but the younger was called Ah Yi (Ah is just a prefix that you can add to pretty much any name if you have familiar with the person, for example, we usually call our friends by their first names in Cantonese and add the Ah prefix in front). For our maternal uncles, we always add the suffix fu (meaning father) in Cantonese but our younger maternal uncle we add a second suffix with the literal meaning of son but takes on the meaning of little in colloquial use. For example, you can add the same suffix to the term wife or husband that makes it seem more intimate somehow. 

For grandparents, your fraternal grandfather is your Yeah-yeah whereas your fraternal grandma is your Nai-nai (pronounced Ni-ai in one sound as close as I can tell). Your maternal grandfather is your Wide-gong (gong is pronounced g-ong, the term is outside grandpa in literal meaning) whereas your maternal grandma is your Wide-por (or outside grandma). In Cantonese, we usually call our fraternal grandma Ah Ma with the inflection going down whereas Nai Nai is what we call our mother-in-laws. We also tend to call our maternal grandparents g’ong g’ong and por por respectively. 

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 9

We decided to dig around our landing spot to figure out why it was bare. By we, I meant me and Estella. There might be a ruin lying underneath the clearing or something else interesting, we figured. 

Estella marked off several spots on the ground using chalk, giving me a confident smile. “We should find something interesting here, want me to help dig or stand guard?”

“I think stand guard, you are the expert on dealing with these plant monsters.” I told her and started digging on the closest spot. 

“Sure thing.” She replied and drew her gun. 

“You girls find anything worthwhile out here?” Aurora asked us, coming out of the Xing. 

I had gotten three or four inches down into the ground where the soil changed from firm to a type of spongy softness. I kept going. 

“Not sure, ask Sam. I’ve been keeping watch.” Estella replied. 

“Not much yet. Just the ground getting softer, perhaps a good spot for planting if we want to expand the garden outside.” And then the shovel hit something hard, producing a metallic echo. 

Aurora chuckled at the sound. “You just proved yourself wrong my friend.”

I bent down and brushed the soil away, thinking to retrieve the metallic item out of the ground.

“Careful, whatever is buried here might be buried for a good reason.” Estella warned me. 

Turned out it was a flat metal surface. Feeling around it, it seemed to stretch away in all directions. I stooped to take a closer look. Aurora knelt down next to me and poked at the ground. 

“I think you found a hatch to something, could be another ship crashed here, or it’s an underground structure.” Aurora said as she pulled on something in the dirt. It popped open, showing a keypad underneath. Aurora hooked it up with a series of wires and a green light came on after a few minutes with a pop sound. 

“Behold, treasure!” Aurora announced triumphantly as she pulled open the hatch.

“Or you just popped the lock to a centuries old septic system.” Estella quipped with a wink.

Something was pushing up and bulging outwards from the ground. A circular piece of machinery a few feet wide settled in at just under six feet tall. Popping arose from several other places around us. 

“I think that might of connected to a larger system.” Aurora said thoughtfully.

I readied myself for combat. Seeing this, Aurora drew her own pistol. 

“Is there enough fuel from the converter for lift off?” Estella asked Aurora as she backed towards the ship entrance. Aurora confirmed in the negative. 

By then, other posts have risen up around us. More or less in the spots Estella had marked off for me to dig. We decided to fall back to the Xing. As we did so, some of the plant creatures at the edge of the foliage started to creep near, presumably drawn by the excitement. 

Estella pointed to them with one hand as she stepped back on board. “Seems the plants don’t like whatever you did either.”

“These posts could be the locking mechanism for a huge hatch.” Aurora said thoughtfully. “Meaning we’re parked on a giant door, or elevator.”

The posts continued to rise several more feet into the air as I clambered over the threshold. Last in the line. 

“Good thing the ship didn’t park us over any of those.” Estella noted. 

From aboard, it’s apparent that the posts formed a rough circle around the Xing. Time crawled by until they seemed to lock into place with a hum. A net of glowing blue billowed out from each post, like spiderwebs launched into a soft breeze. The web strands wavered one way and then the other until they grew long enough to start twisting around each other. 

“Good going, you woke up the entire moon.” Estella glared at Aurora.

“It beats being overrun by plants for a fourth time, doesn’t it?” Aurora replied with a shrug. 

Estella grinned. “You’re right about that at least.”

“I think the only way out is down now. So let’s wait for the biofuel converter to do its work and then we go explore what’s under.” I said. 

The blue net seemed to have converged as far as we could see aboard. A deep rumble sounded, reverberated throughout the ship and we began to descend. “Well, that did the work for us.”

Aurora placed a hand against the wall to steady herself. “With any luck we just found an abandoned space station and are entering the docking bay.” She gave us a hopeful smile. “Makes me wonder if maybe this thing is made from the same alien tech bits our ship is.”

“We’ll know soon enough, someone should go tell Hue what’s happening so he doesn’t freak out.” Estella replied. 

I volunteered for the job. When I got there, all I saw was the lower part of him sticking out of a panel and the only sounds grunting, swearing and the occasional clang of a tool hitting something metal. I tried to coax him out of there but he would have none of it so I gave up and brought him up to date in the state he was. 

As I talked, our descent continued, punctuated by occasional bumps as if the mechanism was caught on something. Eventually, we stopped with a lurch. H-squared climbed out of the panel then, looked at me and mumbled something about plants. Then he held up some pieces of withered vine. 

“Forget about plants for now. Come with me, I don’t want us to rush back here for you in rescue.” I told him. 

The ship suddenly lurched sideways. I put out a hand on the wall to steady myself and then looked across to H squared to make sure he was all right. He had already turned back around and was rooting in the panel again. I rolled my eyes. 

When the ship quietened down, I went alone to rejoin the girls. A giant open space lay outside the hatch, lit only by a bluish bioluminescence. The shadows of a few large objects lay scattered across the space. 

Aurora asked me about H squared absentmindely but I could tell her attention was already engaged by the prospect of exploring the new area. Estella smiled at me and passed me a glowstick and flashlight. 

“Doing repairs which I cannot break him out of. So I decided to leave him be.” I replied as I took the items of light from Estella. 

“Not sure where we’ve wound up, but I’m eager to find out.”  Aurora panned a flashlight across the ground outside. The floor was made of metal and grated, probably for easy drainage. 

“I wonder if those things in the distance are more ships?” Estella pointed to the large objects.

“Back to back formation with Guppy in the middle?” I was already on to the specificities of exploring this space. 

Aurora asked me to take the lead and I agreed. 

“I’ll bring up the rear, let’s check out the closest large object, if they are ships we might find more fuel.” Estella said. 

“Assuming they run off the same fuel ours does anyway,” Aurora replied, “Lead the way, Sam.” 

I went towards the closest object, which turned out to be a derelict ship. Mostly dismantled with lots of parts and pieces missing. Rusted and overgrown with vines.

“We might be able to salvage this for parts if we need any.” I pointed out. 

“We seem to have found a ship graveyard,” Aurora nodded to me, “I’m more curious what happened to the crews.”

“Clearly someone is down here with how this ship’s been mostly dismantled.” Estella noted. 

“We can check the crew’s quarters or the lounge.” I shrugged and moved in closer to look at the ship. Estella followed me.

“Heads up, we got company.”  Aurora walked up to us and told us quietly, “Something scrambling around at the edge of the lights, near the ship on our right.” 

Estella briefly glanced in that direction, “They’re probably scared of us, especially if they’ve been stuck down here for a long time.” 

I trained my gaze away from the right. I figured too much attention from us might alert the thing, whatever it was. 

“If it’s living I can’t feel it.” Estella said. “I say we go over and explore that ship next, see if we can find whatever it is you saw.”

“Same thing I felt with the plants, so could be there’s more plants there, or you saw a plant monster.” She added as an afterthought. 

“Only one way to find out.” Aurora said. She asked me what I thought. I shrugged and moved over. The ship was in worse shape than the derelict,  essentially just a bare metal frame thick with very green vines. It was a contrast. 

“Somethings stripped this ship bare.” Aurora concluded after panning a light around it.

“That does seem like our plant friends.”

“Except for the vines.” Estella pointed at them. “This ship either came down here recently or the vines can live down here just fine. Though I think they’re dormant right now, like up top when night falls.”

“What probably happens is ships land, get overrun by vines and stripped, then carried down here every so often by an automated system, that wreck is probably a recent arrival.” Aurora conjectured. 

“Then what about the thing you saw moving around?” Estella asked her. 

“Could be a survivor, saw us and ran, which is why you couldn’t sense them.” She shrugged. “We can keep poking wrecks if you want, fall back and start a big fire from some wreckage and see what it draws for attention, or keep poking around to look for an exit, or whatever ideas you gals have?”

“I don’t like the big fire idea but other than that, I don’t mind.” I said. 

“Let’s see if we can pick up the tracks of whatever you saw and follow it to its home.” Estella suggested.

“Sure, what could possibly go wrong with that?” Aurora agreed with a grin, shining her light along the ground to look for tracks. It disappeared right between a spot of vines somewhere near the skeleton ship. We gathered around and found a tunnel leading within. 

“Whatever is living down here has to know where we can find good, water, fuel.” Estella said. Great excuse, I did not tell her. 

“There’s a kind of tunnel right here.” Aurora pushed back the vines and gestured to it innocently. “Want to take the lead again, Sam?”

I moved in. “Seems well travelled.” I commented on the path not long in, when the path split in different directions, not just left and right but top and down as well. 

“This is suboptimal.” Aurora commented as she came abreast of me. 

“Another maze,” Estella looked down at Guppy. “You lived in a maze in that trash warren, think you could lead us to the center of this one?”

Aurora pulled out a rope to tie around her waist. “So you don’t lose me.”

“I am slippery.” Guppy announced proudly. 

“Like a well oiled machine.” Aurora agreed as she tightened the knot. The second she did, Guppy disappeared into the maze. 

“Oops. Yuck, there’s slimy stuff in here!” Came the cry a while later. 

“Slimy?” Aurora sighed as she followed the rope towards Guppy. “What new definition of disgusting have you found for us now dearie?”

“You know. That stuff that smells. You didn’t tell me bout that, Aurora.”

“This is why I bring up the rear, so someone else can blunder into the nasty things.” Estella whispered in my ear with a giggle. I gave her a playful slap. “You naughty girl.” She gave me an innocent-like smile. “You’re just jealous you didn’t think of it first.” She said with a wink.

A light appeared ahead. I took it as a signal from Aurora to join them. I put a camaraderie arm around Estella and moved off toward Aurora and Guppy.

“Ooh, Aurora, I think I know where it is.” Guppy played at whispering, when her voice actually carried well. Ah well, can’t be a spoilsport. 

“Where what is?” Aurora asked her. 

“The thing. You said it was moving.”

“Well, it was when I saw it, where is it?” The light had moved, probably to shine wherever Guppy indicated. I could not see the girl but I heard her voice, “This way”. 

We followed on a twisting path that went up and down. The vines lying around, despite being slimy and stinky, made good handholds and footholds. 

“This is like walking up the wrong end of some giant monsters digestive tract.” Aurora stated with a growl of displeasure.

“Which end is the right end?” Estella asked innocently, trying not to giggle.

“Too graphic an analogy.” I cringed as a picture came into my mind.

“I-” Aurora paused at the question. I was afraid she was actually going to present an answer. “Just forget it.” She said with a sigh and I did the same. 

We had come to what was probably the bridge; there was nothing left inside anymore. Guppy was standing just inside. Aurora walked up and stood next to her, penning her flashlight around. 

“So what do we have there? Seems just an empty space to me.”

There were vines everywhere the flashlight shone on. It touched on the back wall, moved on and came back. In the circle of light, a plant creature cowered. It tried to pretend that it was the same as the vines behind it but its colouring was off. It was too yellow. 

“That’d be what Guppy found, it looks… Scared?” Aurora commented. 

“We outnumber it, and it’s clearly unwell,” Estella nodded, “It’s probably afraid we’re here to do it harm, invading its lair like this.” She eyed it curiously. “I wonder how long it’s been down here?”

“Assuming it’s a plant creature and not someone wearing vines as camouflage.” Aurora peered at the creature, raising her voice. “If you’re human speak up, we’re not pirates, we’re just explorers, and can help get you out of here.”

The thing emitted a strange kind of high-pitched squeal. 

“I don’t think that’s human, unless that’s a special power.”

“It’s a plant,” Estella told Aurora. “And you’re scaring the seeds out of it.”

“Oh,” Aurora lowered the light, “Do you think we should take it with us, help get it back to the surface somehow?”

“I mean it’s a plant but it’s a smart plant, leaving it here to starve and die seems wrong.”

“If Estella wants it as a pet?”  I raised my eyebrows at her. Aurora gave her a “well?” expression. 

“If it was a flesh and blood animal we’d help it, we should do the same here.” She walked up, kneeled down next to the creature, pulled out a piece of fruit from her pack and held it out in the hand with a visible green stain on it. “Food.” She told it gently and glanced back at us. “It should be able to metabolize this, hopefully.”

“I think if we adopt this thing long term, Hue will blow a gasket.” Aurora said. 

“Just long enough to get it back to the surface, it belongs with its own kind, it’s a wild flower.” Estella assured us. 

“Estella can hide it in a basket. H squared is going to have his head in the panels for quite a while.” I suggested. 

“It can stay in the garden until we find a way back to the surface, he’ll never even know it’s there.”

The creature sent out a few little vines to touch the piece of fruit on offer, as if sniffing it. After a moment, they tentatively took it and pulled it into the mass of vines where it disappeared. 

“It didn’t hurt Guppy or Hue in the engine room so it’s clearly not carnivorous,” Aurora said. .

“I got some great fertilizer back at the garden, powdery nitrogen stuff they use in greenhouses, plants love it.” Estella pulled out another piece of fruit, holding it out and stepping back to slowly lead it towards the tunnel.

“As long as it doesn’t grow to a size where it can grab people.” I said. 

“As long as it doesn’t start tearing up the ship you can store it wherever you want.” Aurora added. 

As we were speaking, the creature took several teetering steps forward to reach for the second piece of fruit. Some of its foliage was shaking ever so slightly as if stirred by a non-existent wind. Estella reassured the creature and lured it out more slice by slice of fruit. The rest of us had gone on ahead letting her bring up the rear as per usual. I was bored. I itched for action or something to catch my eyes. That was when I saw, in the opposite direction for the Xing, a shape smaller than a ship. 

Craft/Curiousity Reads of 2021

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I picked this up because there was a breakdown of this book in one chapter of Larry Brooks’ Story Physics. So I was hoping that by reading the actual novel first and identifying the key structural moments and then turning back to Brooks’ chapter it would enrich my understanding of the 3 Act structure. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Larry Brooks didn’t really subscribe to the 3 Act structure as I learnt about it but rather to the model of a story being composed of 4 parts held up by 3 major plot points (which is basically cutting Act 2 as I learnt it into half but the 3 major plot point system was a bit different from the set of structural moments that I learnt holding up the 3 Act structure). 

I’m not quite sure what I’m taking out of this book, personally. I had started a book analysis group and I nominated this for our first book to study (we are taking turns at nominating books and by alphabetical order of first name, I came first). So perhaps I will be singing a different tune later since we are analysing this book for the rest of the year. 

Da Vinci’s Code by Dan Brown

I got to this book via almost the same source: Larry Brooks’ other book Story Engineering. He didn’t have a whole chapter devoted to this book but just used it as an example to illustrate his points here and there. So I got curious about it (and from this, you should be able to deduce which is a craft read and which is a curiousity read). 

Besides the controversy factor, I think I actually prefer the first book of the series which I personally felt like had more stakes involved. I did get unusually curious about various paintings reputedly by Da Vinci, enough to actually Google them. 

We live in flawed abundance…

The starting line is from the Way under the Way by Mark Nespo. I had doubts over sharing this but the Wild Writing practice is about honesty and generosity so I decided to go ahead and share this piece that showed me as having a mix of generous and ungenerous thoughts and as flawed as every other human being out there. 

We live in flawed abundance of love. We might not always get the one we love but somewhere out there or maybe even closer, someone is bound to already love or or about to love us. We might not always get what we are after but we get something different and as good as what we want or even better. Life is generous that way or winds up that way. Trust it but give it a little bit of time. Your turn to be generous towards it. 

We live in flawed abundance of hope. There are all kinds of hope, not just the one type. There is misplaced hope, misguided hope, illusory hope, tenuous hope, desperate hope, false hope. Quite a mixed bag of hopes out there. But as long as there is, cling on. See where it takes you and go from there. 

We live in flawed abundance of abundance. You know, the Internet age, the age of convenience. You get all types of information, even all types of things, at your fingertips, at a little button you click on the screen. That’s the rosy picture of it. Does it work so well truly? Nuh. But there you go. That’s the image of what this age is supposed to uphold. 

We live in flawed abundance of freedom. Yeah yeah. There’s democracy, individualism, you name it. But unless you are an orphan, who doesn’t have connections to others, who doesn’t deal with expectations to negotiate, responsibilities to uphold and social rules to navigate? So where is true freedom? Doesn’t exist, I tell you. Not unless you go Robinson Crusoe. But then, not him either. He’s just too busy with survival. Not true freedom either. 

Nuances of the Chinese language (1)- Written versus Spoken

This new serial post is actually inspired by the fact two Internet friends asked me about the Chinese language, separately but with a coincidental timing that was very close to each other. 

So let’s start with the basics. First, we have to distinguish with the written language and the spoken language. There are only two systems of written Chinese: the complicated (the original) versus the simplified. The complicated system of written Chinese dates back to the first Emperor of ancient China, to the Qin dynasty (221-206 BC). For a long time I believed that simplified Chinese dates back to the Communist party that holds office in Mainland China but apparently some of the simplified characters actually could date as far back to the Qin dynasty as well and others appeared in the work of ancient poets throughout Chinese history. So the Communist party did not invent it as I believed, only made it the official writing system. It used to be that Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau used complicated Chinese whereas mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore used simplified Chinese. But I guess now Taiwan is the only place that still uses complicated Chinese. 

As to spoken Chinese, there lies your myriads of dialects or local/regional variants of Chinese. Now of course there is the official Chinese spoken: Mandarin which again dates back to the Qin dynasty which imposed one common written and spoken language for the whole of China. How close are these dialects to each other? Some are quite close, from neighbouring regions. Others are like foreign languages onto each other. If I borrow an analogy to the English spoken language, then I would say some of the Chinese dialects are like UK versus US versus Australian versus Canadian English whereas others are like English versus Spanish versus Italian, all derived from Latin. 

Now, personally, I can speak in three separate Chinese dialects to varying degrees: Cantonese is my mother tongue and I can converse in accented Shanghai-nese and Mandarin. To me, these three dialects are quite distinct and let me summarise here how they feel to me in sound and impression:

  • Cantonese- it’s a casual language and new slangs frequently crop up even before the advent of the Internet age, from TV dramas and movies (of course, I’m talking about the Hong Kong variant of Cantonese, can’t speak for the Canton region or Macau which also speak Cantonese, never lived in either place). There are no sounds in Cantonese that require you to roll your tongue or stick your tongue up to the roof of your mouth (which are both hard for me, at least I’m not aware that I have the ability to do either consciously). It’s funny but I can’t really speak for how it sounds like, perhaps it’s mother tongue bias. I should also mention that there is no pronunciation system in Cantonese that is equivalent to that in English or Mandarin pinyin. I learnt all my Cantonese pronunciation by being told in school how each character is pronounced. That was the way we did it in Hong Kong in 1989-1994. Since then, there had been a problem of people born after me that had a tendency to not pronounce words properly by swallowing part of the sounds in a character that distorted meaning. I think part of the solution offered was to sort of steal from English in order to coach people in proper pronunciation but I had already left Hong Kong by then. So I don’t know whether this meant a revamp in how you taught Cantonese pronunciation in school or not (and plus there was all that weirdness of what language you got taught in at school and how the same school rapidly changed between English versus Cantonese versus Mandarin after 1997. Heard this vaguely from Hong Kong news, not part of my personal experience).
  • Mandarin- consistent with its status as the official language, it’s quite formal and I tend to associate it with announcement, news broadcasting and that kind of stuff. I also tend to think of it as having lots of tongue-rolling sounds. 
  • Shanghai-nese- to me, it sounds a bit rough and I often associate it with noise and bickering. On this mainland Chinese dating show, a girl from Shanghai once said that it was a dialect good for bargaining with shopkeepers when asked what the different Chinese dialects were good for. I agreed with that also.

Moonlake’s Writing Updates- September 2021

I’ve actually been going pretty strong ever since I got back to my WIP in July. I burned through 10 chapters in that month and for August it was 8 chapters.. Sounds grand, right? The reality is that I was leveraging 90% of this on previous notes and tying up loose notes from revision. Only the last of these 10 chapters provided the scope for some muscle work and I took it to as far as I could go before I had to let it go until the next round (a fork in the plot for a particular scene that doesn’t have much repercussion on later chapters but I still need to make a decision and I wasn’t ready for it). 

But I’m learning to celebrate the small victories, to take them as they are. So I’m putting this up here and on the Facebook group I run, not to get accolades, just to record it down somewhere. Coincidentally, this is what I’ve been doing for Wild Writing. Just recording down what comes to my mind on the page. I’ve been using free writing (Wild Writing is just a special form of free writing for those who did not read the first Wild Writing post) more extensively now, at least 3 times a week. Lately, I’ve even concocted my own prompts (two of them so far, one I’ve used, the other one I just came up with today). 

So, overall, on the WIP, I’m up to draft 0.81. Yes, I’m using two decimal places now, because somehow I feel like I might need more iterations. And like I was telling a member from my FB group, this WIP is going to take as long as it takes. 

That’s it for writing updates. Until next time.