A Blogging Holiday

I’ve just decided to give myself a monthly blogging holiday and since October is my birthday month, I feel like I want to make this my annual blogging holiday. 

I am currently in a low energy phase with writing and that’s across the board. It applies to my main project, my side project and blogging. So hopefully a holiday will revive my energy for this blog. Meanwhile, I’m trying out or retrying out a new method of setting daily goals for my main project. So till we meet again in November. 

Self-Learning Side Project

Lately I’ve been thinking up time use again and about side projects and self learning. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that my writer self  is whimsical by nature. So all of what I’ve been thinking about combined themselves and now I have got a new side project (to replace the one I last talked about). It will still be written in first person POV and still starring a female protagonist. But as departing from my norm for novels, I will be writing a story with no planning. Instead, the story will come from my weekly gaming sessions on roll20, of the dice-rolling roleplaying type, not PC gaming (I play 2 three-hour sessions on each of my weekends). 

So I will be posting the story up on this blog in serial form. The genre is not quite fantasy, it’s more sci-fi except that everyone is born with a special ability. The story will be written from the perspective of Sam On (which is the character I am playing). It will be about the adventures of Sam and the crew onboard the spaceship Chen Xing (which means the Morning Star), or the Xing to the crew. Sam is an impulsive “archer” who uses a bow-gun that shoots out energy projectiles. The starting crew onboard the Xing are Sam (the gunner), Aurora (mechanic assistant), Estella (the pilot) and resident mechanic Hubert (or H squared to Sam, Hue to the others). The story starts off in the Frontier, which is a place abound with opportunities for the lawful and lawless alike. 

And that’s it in terms of the sneak peek. I will put up the first serial post of the story in October. 

Writer Scam Alert- Shaw Academy

I’m writing such a post because recently I’ve run into a scam with the Shaw Academy which offers online courses of creative writing and other topics and one month of free trial. How did I first encounter this scam? Through a Facebook advertisement. 

So how do they scam you? Well, when I wanted to cancel the free trial, I had to click around 5 screens of stuff that ended in a final screen that asked me to contact their Student Support Coordinator and gave me a number and a reference number for the call. So I called them the next morning during their reputed business hours and lo and behold, what I got was an automatic voice that told me their office was closed due to COVID, their business hours were Mon-Fri 9:00-5:00 AEST and told me to try again during those times. I tried a second time somewhat later and got the same thing. I then looked up what exactly was AEST, thinking that perhaps AEST was in a different time zone but no, Google told me Melbourne time zone is identical to AEST. This is when an alarm bell rang off in my head and I googled Shaw Academy Scam and sure enough it was a scam. 

Luckily, there are known solutions to this scam and doubly luckily, I chose Paypal as my payment method as opposed to a bank card (else it seems you have to go through the hassle of cancelling your card to stop them). So I did the magic over at Paypal and took Shaw Academy off my pre-approved methods list. 

But, I also read how Shaw Academy unexpectedly reopens your account charging you. So ongoing monitoring is what I will be doing till the remaining of this year and probably till next year. 

And before I go, I think I’ve also learnt to be cautious about Facebook advertisements from now on. I thought they would have vetted people before letting a company that runs a known scam advertise on their platform. But ah well… guess money is the only thing in the advertising business. 

Finally, if you are a fellow writer, remember to spread the word around so that there will be no more unfortunates taken in by this. Till next time.

Ancient Chinese naming practice

Today I want to discuss ancient Chinese naming practice since I have a personal fascination with names both in terms of their meaning and how they sound to the ears. This tends to apply to a lesser degree to English than my native language of Chinese but I still tend to grope for the right names to go with non-Chinese characters. 

So the key point about naming practice in ancient China is that it varies by social class (which is closely tied to one’s occupations). In general, there are four classes within the rank of ‘good citizenry’. Ranked according to prestige  (even though the one to which the term was attributed to never meant for the four classes to be compared and ranked), they were:

  • “Shi” (originally referring to generals and soldiers but later misinterpreted as/become a term referring to scholars and particularly government officials with administration duties as the Chinese society favours learning over martial prowess)
  • “Nong” (farmers)
  • “Gong” (craftsmen) 
  • “Shang” (merchants): in some dynasties, merchants were frowned upon and listed outside the ranks of ‘good citizens’.  

Above the ‘good citizenry’ are government officials (“Guan”) and royalty. 

There were also four (five) “cheap occupations” that are not allowed to marry those of “good citizenry” and become officials. These occupations had a high chance of becoming ‘hereditary’ but were not a certainty. Also, individuals born to poor farmers might be forced to take up one of these ‘cheap occupations’ sometimes. They include: 

  • “Chang” (prostitutes)
  • “You” (actors of Chinese opera and all its various local variations, all male in ancient times)
  • “Li” (underlings to the Mayor of a small Town that encompass those that have policemen duties as well as others with administrative duties. Either way, they do not have official titles like the Mayor)
  •  “Zu” (prison guards) 
  •  “Bin” (undertakers)- it’s mainly the fact that people think of undertakers as ill-luck. I think it varies by dynasty whether they are listed under the ‘cheap occupations’. 

Then below these ‘cheap occupations’, there are slaves (“Nu”) and certain classes of criminals who are considered part of the “cheap citizenry” whose brand actually carries over to later generations. 

So how exactly are ancient Chinese names different from modern ones? Well, the key difference is in the Chinese characters used and not used in names across different periods. For example, you would not see the Chinese character for Ruler, Jun, included in the names of respectable people in ancient times since it was thought disrespectful to the Emperor to do so. Same goes for the character for Pride, Ao. In fact, unlike its English equivalent, pride was always used in a derogatory sense in ancient Chinese text as opposed to neutral. 

Furthermore, it is common for individuals to have a little name in addition to their official names. What a little name is is that it is known only to family (parents, siblings, wife and other relatives of same generation or older generation than the person) and meant as a stand-in name while parents ponder over the official name or meant as an affectionate term. Nowadays, this practice is common in some localities such as Shanghai (where every child has one) whereas in other places such as Hong Kong this would be like a nickname that only some parents chose to give to their children. For the upper class, they even have three names. In addition to a little name and an official name, they have a ‘social name’ called “biao zhi or zhi’ (biao can mean praise, model or example while zhi means word in Chinese) for friends and acquaintances to call him by once they reach adulthood whereas his official name is then called only by elders and when the person refers to him/herself. It was considered discourteous to refer to an acquaintance of the same generation as you by their official names. Others of lower classes such as prostitutes, actors and slaves might sometimes have ‘zhi’ also (if they were originally of high birth since occasionally individuals born to the upper class did fall down into these three positions due to political strife, change of rulers etc. that occurred in ancient China). But on the whole, it is common for prostitutes and actors to adopt assumed names and for slaves to be renamed by their owners. Hence, they might also be said to have a form of ‘social name’ in the same vein of the upper class. 

For respectable females, usually their names are not known to outsiders but are rather referred to by their birth surnames or the surnames of their husbands.  In practice, this might vary depending on dynasty since it appeared that it was after the Tang dynasty when the Chinese society became more discriminated against women. However, it is hard to say given that not many respectable women’s full names were recorded in history, at least according to my knowledge. 

Below, I offer a run-down of the different names that could exist for males and females in ancient Chinese times depending on their social classes. 

Males 

Surname: Meng
Origin of Surname: taken from ranking within one’s own family. Meng was a
term used to denote the eldest son within a family
Little Name: Er Gou
Meaning of Little Name: Er is Two while Gou is Dog. Because child
mortality rates used to be high in ancient times, many parents gave their
children a ‘cheap name’ involving animals at birth in the hopes that
the child would be more resilient in terms of survival. It might also
have the connotation that the child was “born through [the Will of]
Heaven and raised up by Heaven”. Also, the child was second in birth order.
Official Name: Ze Lin
Meaning of Official Name: Ze has the meaning of a water source or more
generally moist. Lin is heavy rainfall. It is likely a name not given
by the parents but by some educated person (maybe a village Elder or
teacher). The name could convey wish for good rainfall that is
important to farmers and could also additionally be the result of a
Chinese fortune teller divining that the child’s life lacks the element of
Water and the name was a compensation for this.
Social Name: None
Social Class: Nong (farmer)/Li (Mayor underling)/Zhu (prison guard)

Surname: Wu
Origin of Surname: taken from the name of a State, usually meaning that
ancestor was of peasantry and adopted the name of his own state for
convenience or as a sign of patriotism. One of the ten most common
Chinese surnames Little Name: Chang Sheng
Meaning of Little Name: Chang means long while Sheng means birth or
living. Conveys wish for the child to have a long life.
Official Name: Lin
Meaning of Official Name: Lin is the female of the sacred beast Qi Lin in
Chinese myth. In particular, the term Lin Er is a term of praise
equivalent to saying ‘an outstanding son’.
Social Name: Feng Xian
Meaning of Social Name: Feng means revering or attending to while Xian
refers to ancestors. Clearly a name advocating filial values.
Social Class: Guan (official)/ Shi (scholar)/ Shang (merchant)

Females

Surname: Yao
Origin of Surname: a surviving surname from the time when ancient China
was a matriarchal society
Little Name: Yu Jia Er
Meaning of Little Name: Yu means jade, Jia means older sister, Er refers
to a son or more generally child. Jia Er acts as a gender-specific
suffix roughly translating as “little sis” while being named Yu
conveys that her birth family is wealthy or influential.
Official Name: Jing Shi
Meaning of Official Name: Jing means quiet while Shi means to contemplate,
conveying the wish for the child to have an introverted and
thoughtful nature. Again, this is a signal that her birth family was
well off.
Social Name: Shi Shi (*a double name with both characters being the same)
Meaning of Social Name: Shi means teacher, but might have too much meaning
since it’s an assumed name. However, it could be that she wanted to
maintain a little of her official name although the Shi character in
her official name is different from the Shi characters in her social name
Social Class: Chang (prostitute)

Surname: Ou Yang
Origin of Surname: taken from the name of the fiefdom of Ou Yang Ting to
which ancestor was Lord of
Little Name: Da Ya
Meaning of Little Name: Da means big while Ya can refer to a little girl
or a maid. She was the eldest daughter of her parents.
Official Name: Chun Hua
Meaning of Official Name: Chun is Spring while Hua means flower,
possibly the girl was born in Spring
Social Name: None
Social Class: Nong (farmer’s daughter)/ Gong (craftsman’s daughter)/ Shang
(daughter of a merchant family that is not well off in wealth/status)

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- September 2020

Tower of Thorns by Juliet Marrillier

I’m not disappointed with the second book in this standalone series and is very glad to find out the backstory to Grim. Overall, a satisfying read for me, with the same blend of magic, intrigue and compelling character background as book 1. I have book 3 on my to-read list.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

I think it’s a solid work (and closely follow the historical events and main characters, at least in terms of archetype) but I think because I’m a Chinese and know of the historical context a bit better than potentially other readers, I have slightly different expectations of the book which turns out to be met. The main one was that I expected the book to somehow have both Kuni and Mata as main characters and focus on the conflict between the two. This was further complicated by the fact that my sympathy seemed entirely taken up with Mata at first (perhaps that’s because I never really liked the charming rogue archetype that’s Kuni and I was reading another novel at the same where Xiang Yu, the historical inspiration behind Mata, was the main character). That got corrected some way past the opening chapters. But then towards the end I still feel like I want a more nuanced Mata (that departs from the historical archetype) to make things harder for Kuni.

The other thing is that I feel like Kuni is a bit of a ‘weak’ main character in that he is often pushed into certain key events in the story by sidecasts. Perhaps this is an artifact of the story being an epic (which does tend to make sidecasts strong, something I’m used to) but I think I don’t really enjoy keeping track of the changes in all the key characters in this story so much. Perhaps, this is again due to me knowing the actual history and so it’s like reading a book crisscrossed with spoilers for me. Still, I do enjoy some of the historical bending in this story and I think they are what keeps the story engaging for me.

Moonlake’s writing updates- August 2020

I’m now officially into draft 0.8 as I planned but well… things again weren’t proceeding quite as I expected. I am still more in the outlining realm compared to drafting. There’s simply too much gray area for me to fill in for a scene to actually really settle down to real drafting. Having said that, I am still working towards getting a rough draft of 2 chapters done this month. I’ve finished one chapter already and am working towards another as I am writing now. I feel like I need to exert some kind of self discipline else no matter how many decimal drafts I go through, they will always be less than a full rough draft with complete scenes. 

An Internet writer acquaintance recommended me to Rober McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting to me. I’m now reading half to one chapter of it on a daily basis. I feel like it’s giving me useful insights. 

On the side project, that never really went ahead besides basic planning. Instead, I’ve now gone back to doing articles in prose for which I could put in roughly 100 words per day so that I can feel like I’m keeping my writing muscles exercised. 

Overall plan for the WIP for this year remains unchanged: to get draft 0.8 done by end of this year and accept that it will still be less than a rough draft with full scenes but will be a hotch potch of full scenes, partial scenes and outlines of scenes. 

TV and Story Taste

I’ve blogged extensively about my reading taste. I thought today I will do an ‘old wine in new bottle’ trick and turn to my story taste in TV. By TV, I actually mean both TV and movies since I have identical taste in the type of stories I enjoy (plus I’ve always preferred watching a movie at home on a DVD relative to the cinema, I personally never liked the cinema surround sounds etc.). 

First up, I like fast-paced stories because the most I want to get out of a TV series or a movie is entertainment value. So I watch a fair bit of action movies/blockbusters and a new pickup was the spy thriller genre of TV series from mainland China, set in the period of WWII when Japan invaded China. I also tended to enjoy a fair bit of the Hong Kong TV series in the romantic comedy genre that I watched, mainly taking the form of a couple starting off ‘on the wrong foot’ with each other. Basically, there was plenty of witty dialogue where the two bickered with each other and plenty of humour. They are like the equivalent of light reading to me. 

The three types of stories that I really like or really empathise with me, however, remain the following, not in any order:

  • Heartwarming stories: I tend to prefer family love as a theme. For example, I quite liked the Family Man starring Nicholas Cage. 
  • Uplifting stories: They can be the ‘pursuit of a dream story’- I felt like I would be interested in watching The Pursuit of Happyness ever since I heard about its synopsis. Or there is this Hong Kong TV series made in 1989 starring Stephen Chow that I’ve watched three times already- I basically keep watching re-runs of it whenever it comes on. It’s called the Final Combat and is the story of an unlikely hero. I admit I was in it more for the humour and the dynamics between Stephen Chow and the female lead as a child but I also think it speaks to me on a personal level and reinforces my worldview, hence uplifting to me personally. 
  • Insightful stories: I never liked any of the Oscar nominees due to slow pace and sometimes content that I have no personal knowledge like Dances with Wolves (I was in primary school and still living in Hong Kong when it came out). But I enjoy stories that can shed useful insights into life. Nothing springs to mind at the moment but I think that’s because I don’t go out looking for these types of stories, I just encounter them on ‘chance’. 

I’m not sure how close my TV story taste conforms to my book taste, to be honest. At least, I’m not seeing a very close connection. But perhaps my taste does change across different mediums through which I consume a story. What about all of you? 

Serial Reader

Perhaps it comes with the genres I read but I mostly read series, something you probably all know if you’ve read my Moonlake’s Book Tastes series. 

So why do I lean that way? Foremost are two factors: I like familiarity and I like immersion. In some ways, the two are linked. While familiarity is more to do with risk avoidance and comfort loving, it also allows greater immersion into the same setting or the same set of characters. 

I also have a particular quirk in terms of series length. I can read up to n books of the same mystery series (given that they are all standalones essentially, just different cases with the same detective) or standalone fantasy series but my norm is usually just 5 books for a single cohesive fantasy series (i.e. all books in the series need to be read in order to form a single story). At the same time, I can read multiple interconnected fantasy series based on the same world. For example, I had read Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia series all the way from Riftwar to Darkwar which is like about 15 books in total. I’ve also read most of R.A Salvatore’s Drizzt series even though I keep describing his writing in that series as mediocre. I’ve just grown fond of Drizzt as a character and I read about him for comfort. 

And that’s it for today. Feel free to drop a comment if you want to share your little reading quirks for a series. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (6)- Liu Ru Shi

Who is she:

  • One of the Eight Beauties of Qin Huai, essentially eight prominent prostitutes of the late Ming era (Qin Huai is the name of a river in Nanjing, it was a red light district back then with brothels operating on boats) famed for poetry, painting and beauty 
  • A highly patriotic woman 

Notable Life Events:

  • Born as Yang Ai in 1618 and adopted by a renowned prostitute at the age of 10 
  • Married to Qian Qian Yi, a government official who was chief of a prominent political faction in late Ming, and continually influenced/forced him towards patriotic acts in the Ming-Qing dynasty swap-over
  • Urged her husband to commit suicide by drowing with her after the Ming government was completely run over and refused to leave Nanjing with her husband when he agreed to become a government official in the Qing dynasty. Consequently, he resigned his position after half a year
  • Encouraged her husband to get into contact with remaining Ming rebels as well as financially sponsoring these rebels
  • Died at the age of 46, straight after her husband’s death, when his relatives and neighbours wanted to rob them. By hanging herself, she successfully drove off the robbers 

Why is she remarkable:

  • Historically, it was her patriotic acts that softened the impression towards her husband Qian Qian Yi who otherwise had a mixed reputation (due to his ‘defection’ to the Qing dynasty)
  • Perhaps it was her identity as a prostitute, but I think she was the only woman in this series so far for whom there is concrete evidence that actually decided who she was going to marry, at least in adulthood (she was the concubine to another government official before she married Qian Qian Yi, when she was 14). For example, there were records of how she dressed in men’s clothing in order to meet Qian Qian Yi before their marriage. 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

I think of all the women I’ve blogged in this series so far, she is the one for which I have the most complete sense of. She has clear ideals and other than selected periods of her life, she is very much in control of her own life. 

Tales of Inspiration (3)

Today I’m going to talk about the inspiration underlying my current WIP. 

I’ve alluded to this before: for many years, I was an active member at a website where you can submit what I call articles in prose on world meta: all the different aspects that make up a world. It was there that I first came up with my fantasy ancient China setting. I had a whole folder of ideas on the setting: some fairly well-formed, others bare snippets. 

It was some time back in 2016; I wanted to start a novel project but was totally out of ideas. Nothing jumped out at me from my idea journal so I flicked through that folder for my setting. And ah ha, straight away I was excited by a document titled cave nomads and that became the setting for my WIP. 

As for the plot, to be honest, for the life of me, I could not remember how they came to me in any details. It felt like they dropped down on me from the sky. But as far as I could make out reading over my early notes, I think they must have been a by-product of me thinking about the history of the cave nomad society and their Chinese roots.

So far, this is all about internal processing. Where’s the external impetus part of this formula that I’ve going on in this serial post? Well, I arrived at the cave nomad concept because I was just randomly thinking about nomads and different terrain types one day. I believe I had a short spell of fascination with nomads as a result of some of my previous attempts at novels and short stories that featured nomads. 

And that’s all for today. Check back in next week for a brand new post under my Remarkable Women in ancient China series.