Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Fauna (5)

Ao (pronounced ou as in ouch) 

Physical Description:

A massive turtle 

Special Properties:

None  

Lore:

When Nu Wa mended the hole in the sky, she was said to have broken off the four legs of an Ao to mark the furthest point in the four directions. There are also a legend of there being three mountains where the divine dwell in that are borne on the back of an Ao. 

In the main room of the Imperial Palace in the periods stretching from the Tang Dynasty to the Song Dynasty, there are stone sculptures of a Dragon and an Ao place on the central stone block that acts as a step up to the throne. All scholars who passed the test to become an official of the Court will line up in a queue under this stone block. Only the one who passed the Court Official test with the highest score had the honour of standing in the position facing the head of the Ao figurine. From this, the Chines idiom (one of the special 4 Character phrases) for describing the champion in any endeavour “Be in the sole view of the Ao’s Head” is born. 


Spin turtle

Physical Description:

A turtle with the head of a bird, the beak of an eagle and the tail of a snake

Special Properties:

Its call is akin to wood being split open. Holding onto it can improve hearing in water and facilitate travel to watery depths. 

Lore:

Fabled animal local to a strange body of water 

Translation Quirk:

Besides the bit about its call being akin to wood being split open, the entire section of Special Properties could be mis-interpretation on my behalf. While I’m confident about some linkage between holding onto it (or wearing if I’m translating the text in a literal sense) and improved hearing (the literal translation would be “make one not deaf”), I’m not at all sure about the travelling in watery depth bit. 


Chong Ming Bird 

Physical Description:

A bird that looks like a chicken but it has two pupils in each eye.  

Special Properties:

Its call is like that of a Phoenix and it has strength. It can fight with large beasts like tigers and wolves. 

Translation Quirks

This bird is probably named for having two pupils to each eye. Chong in Chinese means repeat or double. Ming means bright. 


Yin Yuan 

Physical Description:

A duck-sized bird with a bee-like shape 

Special Properties:

Its sting will kill other birds and beasts as well as withering plants.   

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (12)- Zhongli Chun (Zhong Wu Yan)

Who is she:

  • One of the Four Greatest Uglies 
  • Wife to the Lord of the Kingdom of Qi in the period of the Warring States 
  • The actual historical figure’s name is Zhongli Chun but in dramas and movies she more often go by the name of the Zhong Wu Yan

Notable Life Events:

  • Still unmarried at the age of 40
  • Requested an audience with the lord of Qi and convinced him of the four dangers the kingdom of Qi faced and this gesture touched the Lord so much that he made her his wife so that she could act as a mirror for him 

Why is she remarkable:

  • There was an extensive description of her ugliness but I was not convinced that it was not made up because her story had been adapted for Chinese opera: apparently she was almost bald, with dark skin, has an abnormally large head, a sunken forehead, sunken eyes, large nostrils, a lump in her throat that is larger than an adam’s apple and a belly as large as a pregnant woman (though she was a virgin). 
  • Although female repression started much later in Chinese history and her era was before there was such a thing as an Emperor in ancient China, I still think it was remarkable that she was able to request an audience with the Lord of her state and then convince him of her views

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

Hard to really see into her personality but just based on what she did, she sounded like a woman of initiative. 

English Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhongli_Chun

Most memorable Aunts/Female Mentors

Relative to the male mage/mentor figure which always often comes with a vice in the realm of smoking or being a womaniser I prefer aunts/female mentors, most of them stern but also tender (sometimes all at once but most of the time underneath). And somehow I’ve had aunt figures pop up in my own fiction twice now (one for that Genghis Khan story that’s RIPed and again now for the WIP). So in this post, I’m going to nominate my own personal favourite aunts/female mentors, not in any order as per usual:

  • Polgara or Aunt Pol (Belgariad/Mallorean by David Eddings)- she might be the first I encountered and I think her physical description does stand out, having a single streak of white hair among otherwise black(?) hair. I know she has dark hair but can’t remember whether it’s actually black. 
  • Rosethorn (the Circle Universe by Tamora Pierce)- I like her by herself but also her dynamics with Briar, the street urchin turned mage.  
  • Sephrenia (Elenium/Tamuli by David Eddings)- I remember her to be much like Aunt Pol, the same sort of sharp tongue but I guess less of a mentor than someone to be consulted. I almost forgot about her until I started writing up this post and then suddenly I couldn’t remember so many aunts as I thought there were. I did like her when I was reading the series. 

If you have your own favourite aunt/female mentor to nominate, let me know in comments.

I want to say I was here…

The jump-off line is from I want to say by Natalie Goldberg. I got bored half way and started recording what actually happened (the paragraph about the runny nose). But I really like the ending sections of this piece that came after that. 

I want to say I was here. Here or there, it doesn’t matter. Not to me. I’m not much interested with surroundings, with the external world. Rather, I turn inwards. It is always what’s inside that holds my attention. I’m self absorbed in that way. Though I never thought of describing myself as self absorbed before. But come to think of it, it might be apt. It might be. 

I want to say I was here. Here and now. Time is probably more important to me. Or maybe it isn’t. Part of being a routine person is that often as not, one day blends into the next and the next after that. I started recording five things for every day that passed in my life, as a self love thing or just self acknowledgment. Not like a diary which I could never stick to. But five things- thoughts or observations- I could capture, especially with my timesheet that I use to account for how I spend my waking hours, down to half hour slots. In truth, I cheat a little sometimes by only spending 15 minutes on a writing related task and the rest of the half hour on FB games and online novels. But it turned out to be a good prompt for 5 F 2day. That’s what this daily note taking is called. 5 for today, for yourself. 

I want to say I was here. I’ve been having a runny nose as I write, now. Hay Fever. 

I want to say I was here. Here on Earth. Suspended in the galaxy, within the solar system. 

I want to say I was here. A speck of dust in history, across its span that stretches back from darkness, from nothingness into the light, into eternity. A speck of dust but I’ve been here. Now.

Adventures aboard the Chen Xing- Chapter 12

We landed back at the Frontier in record time. Estella parked us near the factory. Guppy was getting anxious, fearing of being nabbed by her old gang. 

“As long as you stay at one of our sides the entire time you’ll be safe.”  Aurora  promised her.

“Can I cut off their legs if they try?”

Aurora chuckled. “Sure, just not on the ship, I don’t want to have to clean it up.”

“When we split up I’ll head to the market with Aurora and Guppy and buy the meats for our BBQ and restock the ship.” Estella had our day plan all worked out. 

“Um, you mean after Sam collects our payment from Roland’s boss, we need money to pay for it.” Aurora reminds her.

“Oh right,” She nodded, “After Sam tracks down the doc, unless you want our help with that?” She looked over at me.

“I will go to Old Scorby for tips first and then hit up some of my barhopping group.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

When we got to the factory, Roland was standing outside. He waved at us but frowned when he saw Guppy. “You haven’t drowned that rat yet? Well, nevermind, I see you came back to get yer payment. I must say, the boss was mighty tickled with yer man’s repair job. He’s been wonderin where ya all went ta.”

“Where’s the boss? We are here to collect our payment.” I went over and clapped him on the shoulder.

“I got yer money here. Even threw in a little bonus on account of how much trouble ya saved him with the board back at HQ. He says the converter is running better’n before it were wrecked.”

“Give him our thanks.” I took the money off him and passed it to Estella. Aurora and Guppy were whispering to each other and Guppy’s giggles made him frown again. 

“Boss wants ya all ta know that he’s good for a bounty on that old friend a yers what got all the kids riled up and messin with our stuff. An extra 5k on top a whatever they’re offerin fer him already.”

“We are working on it. Tell him that.”

“Will do. He’ll be happy ’bout it”

“See you around then.” I waved and walked off.

“Ya all need ta hitch a ride back inta town? I can take ya there, pick ya up later on near shift’s end.” Roland offered.

“You girls catch the ride if you want. I’m going in the opposite direction.” I told him and continued on my way. Scorsby’s area had lots of rundown buildings, many closed. Broken windows. Faces peering out from windows. In sum, one of these neighbourhoods where caution is your lifeline. But perhaps I’ve become too tough, at least in appearance. People looked more afraid of me than being threats themselves. Still, I mained my caution all the way until I arrived. It looked the same as it always had. A set of steps led up to a second floor entry with a flaking-red square sign that had a big yellow S in the middle. I walked up and opened the door. 

The office inside was dusty. Scorsby was sitting behind a beat up desk, flipping through some papers in a file. He looked  up as I came in and he smiled, showing his yellow, nicotine stained teeth. “Well, hey, Sam. Been a few. I think last time we met it was on that planet… what was it called? Barron’s or something? You ever catch that guy?”

“Yeah, busted his chops. I came here for two things. One, I heard there’s a bounty on Jake Camden. Put us down as being on his trail. Second, I need a lead to blackmarket doctors.”

“You always were always one to stick with a job till it got done.”

I nodded, waiting for the old boy to get to the information I needed. 

“Well… let me think. There’s a few here… I think Ol’ Terry oughta know enough to point you in the right direction. He’s got a little shop ’bout three blocks down from me. But you gotta promise me you won’t mess with his business. He’s a good guy, just fell on some hard times not his own fault”

“Sure, I know the street rules.”

“But… before you leave, I gotta ask you. Your ship, that beautiful hunk o’ trash you all ride in, it took off in a hurry some days back but then here you are. Where you been?”

“Nowhere special, just that junk asteroid nearby. But it’s got a secret that only we know.” I boosted. That’s what I do with the old boy. Friendly competition, let’s call it. 

“A secret you say? Well, I wouldn’t want to pry. Which direction now? How long did it take to get there? Must have been something interesting about it.”

“What do you mean that you don’t know about that junk asteroid? Everyone knows.” I asked him confusedly.

“Oh, well, there are a few asteroids not far from here. They’re out of the orbital zone, so no worries about hitting us here, but I heard from someone or other that there used to be some other moon or something out there that broke up eons ago.”

“Right, to be honest, we took a detour that we never meant to take. Anyway, that’s more what Estella worries about.”

“This one you found, it has anything special? Seems you were all gone for a spell.”

“We ran out of fuel and food so forced to stay there for a while. The place is plant paradise, not that friendly for a meat lover like me.”

“Oh, that sounds awful.” He patted his belly. “Doesn’t sound like a friendly place to me. Do some sightseeing while you were there? See anything interesting?”

“Well, some. Like a crater edge that doesn’t allow you to breathe. And giant bones all stacked in a room.”

“That sounds like a perilous place to hang out. Good thing you lot are so tough. Won’t find me in a place like that these days. I tend to stick to the safer places these days. I’ll leave that rough stuff to you youngsters”

“Leave it to us.” I winked off at Old Scorby. “Well, I’ll be off.”

“Sure, umm… before you go, I was just wondering. You said something about a plant paradise. Anything interesting about the plants themselves?”

“Well, quite a lot of them could fuse with machine parts. And Estella’s blood managed to mutate one into something else.”

“My, that’s something else. Glad you made it back ok. You think of anything else interesting about the place, feel free to drop by and let me know.”

I gave him a finger wave and walked out to find Old Terry. Three blocks down took me to a doorway tucked into a back alley. The door itself seemed crooked, as in it couldn’t be closed all the way. A classic ambush setup so I took some time to look over things. I didn’t spot anything so I moved in. Apparently the door wasn’t hanging like that due to disuse or anything, it looked like it was partially pulled from the hinges. Instead of entering through the door, I parkoured up to the second floor balcony. The door on that level was nailed shut with wooden boards but I busted them with my fist and pulled the door open. 

It smelled musty and moldy and there wasn’t much light. It appeared to be a bedroom. A mattress lay on the floor, as well as some boxes, food, clothing and a few empty bottles of vodka. I searched it briefly but only found more living necessities and medical books. I moved out into the hallway and I could hear some kind of noise coming up from a connecting staircase going down. I tried to peer down without being seen. Not much luck but it sounded like someone was crying or moaning down there. 

I tried to make as little noise as I could as I carefully moved down the staircase. But it wash hopeless. It was one of these old creaky stairs so I gave up my attempt at stealth. “Whoever’s down there crying, I’m not here to hurt you. If you are Old Terry, I came from Scorby.” There was a cry and a grunt in reply. I prepared for a potential hostage situation as I continued descending. 

“Hellll…”

It was dark but my Eagle Eyes helped and plus, a little light was coming in through the crooked door. The room has been converted into an operating room, with two beds and a number of old machines. Lots of doctor tools that looked torn for use. 

A bulky man was lying on the floor near the door. He was lying in a pool of liquid and not moving at all. And he was basically blocking the door. I heard a grunt coming from my left and saw a man slumped against the wall when I turned.  

He had his hands clenched around his abdomen. “Hellll… meeee…”

“Any of you Old Terry? Where has he gone?”

“Meee… Terr… Helll…”

I went over to him and started doing basic First-Aid. “Tell me what to do.” I patched him up all right, that is, he was not going to die on me just yet. 

“I need to ask you some quick questions. You able to hold on long enough for that and who should I bring you to?”

He passed out. 

Chinese Lore- A Selection of Mythical Flora (5)

Qi

Physical Description:

A tree that looks like populus with red patterns, with tree sap the colour of blood and does not bear fruits.

Special Properties:

Coating a horse with its tree sap can tame it.


Di Wu

Physical Description:

A barbed tree whose leaves are shaped like peppers and bears red fruits.

Special Properties:

Consuming it can ward against evil.


Gu Rong

Physical Description:

A plant with a stem similar to the Chinese bellflower, bears black flowers but no fruits.

Special Properties:

Consuming it makes you infertile.


Mi Gu

Physical Description:

A tree that looks like paper mulberry but has dark patterns and shines.

Special Properties:

Carrying it on your person means that you will never lose directions.

You have permission to change…

The jump-off line is from You will be changed by Jeanette Encinias. I’ve never written a love letter to myself before but I feel like this piece is it: 

You have permission to change. Go ahead. Embrace it. You know you’re ready. 

You have permission to change. Take it slow. One step at a time. It’s okay to look back, to see how far you’ve come. But don’t go back. Ever. You don’t want to anyway. 

You have permission to change. To grow into who you really are. Into who you really could be. Go on. You can do it, girl. 

You have permission to change. Not anyone else’s. Not the world’s. Your own. That’s what you’ve realised. You didn’t need any permission from none other than yourself. And now you’ve got it. So go. Go with my blessing, girl. 

You have permission to change, girl. Somehow you have blundered through the other end of life to reach where you are now. You are changing. Changing the way you want to change. Not the world wants you to or others want you to. But changing just for yourself, changing according to your own wishes. Yes, the world will accommodate you. No worries now. Go ahead. Break out of the cocoon and become a butterfly. Unfurl your wings and fly. Fly to your destination and then keep flying, to the next one. 

You have permission to change. Change, the wildcard. But it’s so exciting. So embrace it, girl. You know the choice is with you. So seize it. Seize it, girl. It is the key that will unlock you, the golden key that unlocks you. Let you peel back yourself, layer by layer like an onion, to see your core. Go on, girl. Your life has just begun. Live it. Love it. 

I love you, my girl. If I could go back in time to meet you, I would embrace you and tell you how proud I am of what you are. Who you were. Yours truly, your older self. 

TBR for 2022

This year I’m setting a reading goal of 20 and I will also have an unofficial stretch goal of 26 for the alphabet. 

I’m actually starting the new year with Robin Hobb’s Liveship traders series and I’m waiting for book 3 of Raymond E. Feist’s Firemane Saga to come out. For Oriental fantasy, I had previously said I would read Poppy War but I think now I would be reading Across the Nightingale Floor instead just because it is in electronic form. I’ve heard of a new series by Tamora Pierce on Numair that I might or might not read. Out of her Tortall Universe, the only series I liked were Beka Cooper and Immortal. I might also pick up her Trickster series (I read book 1 before but not book 2, I remember book 1 to be okay, better than either of her female knight series, personally speaking). I also think I will pick up more Guy Gavriel Kay since I like his general style. A friend had recommended the Xanth series that I might pick up to have a look. But other than that, I’m taking fantasy recommendations in comments. 

For mystery, I’ve decided to let the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series go. I’m still undecided as to whether I want to continue pursuing the Robert Langdon series- I kinda mind the Hollywood vibe of how in each book he has romances with a different woman while pursuing a case. I might go back to Agatha Christie. I’m not much in the mood for James Patterson and Alex Cross either. On the other hand, I decided to try some of Stephen King’s mysteries. Other than that, I will keep doing the random blurb reading of mystery novels that I started at the end of last year. But again, I’m happy to take suggestions from comments. *hint hint*

My Broadening Horizon reads for this year will be:

  • Horror- it was between Stephen King’s Carrie or the Little Stranger by Sarah Waters but now I think I will read Stephen King’s Children of the Corn instead
  • Western Historical Fiction- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Ron Hansen

My Craft/Curiosity reads will be:

  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison. I have been studying the omniscient POV with Under Heaven (and then I realised it was actually 3rd person limited but with an omniscient narrator voice) and so I’m studying this novel next for omniscient. The deciding factor is that my local library has a copy in electronic form 
  • The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell. This is just from a random browse of what my local library stocks on ebooks. Says it is a noir fantasy thriller (I’ve read noir thriller and fantasy mystery before but noir fantasy thriller I assumed is something different) so will give it a try. 

Writing Plan for 2022

Trying to gauge progress has been hard for me because I’ve been inching along but I’m okay with that, it’s part of my progress. But I do have something I feel worthy to report: I’ve tallied it up and I’ve only got 34 chapters out of a total of 70 remaining. In other words, I’ve got over the halfway mark towards a first draft. 

My priority for 2022 is to finish a draft 0.82 which incorporates my findings from circling to the hidden protagonist in book 1 as well as an all-round cycling between my two protagonists for book 1. From experience that usually wraps up before June. Then I will distract myself with my next tentative project, the book 1 of which finally has a tentative name: Grace in Falling. I’m still wrangling with my first foray into dropping fantasy into actual history and I think it’s been hampering my attempt to get close to the story for this book because my protagonist is currently swamped under the historical events I’ve shoved into the book. So I might try to see how I can break free from the constraint of history and go back to my preferred playground in fantasy in the next round of outlining in between my WIP drafts. 

Not sure where I’m going further than that but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- December 2021

A side note but COVID is really pro-reading. So I’ve trumped my revised reading goal of 20 books by 9 books this year which is definitely a first since I created a goodreads profile back in 20116. Anyway, below is all the fiction I’ve read since September, grouped by the genre as per usual. 

Fantasy: 

The Sarantine Mosaic duology by Guy Gavriel Kay

Overall, I do like the duology. The story is in line with GGK’s story of an epic story where you feel multiple characters’ stories unfold all at the same time and intersect. Personally, I feel like this is the personal story of a mosaicist who learned to live again after his loves all passed away while he was pulled into the historical events so much bigger than himself. And the answer GGK seemed to offer to the question of how do you live if your love passed away seems to say that you start by finding something you love to do. That’s pretty much my own response so I like that. I also like the ending even though I did not quite see it coming. 

So if you enjoy epic fantasy or just epic stories or you have an interest in the East Roman/Byzantium empire, I would definitely recommend this. 

The Firemane trilogy by Raymond E. Feist

I had previously said that I’m done with his Midkemian books but I could not resist jumping back in when I realised that he had finally written a brand new series in another world. And while I label this as a trilogy, book 3 has not come out yet so I’ve just finished books 1 and 2. 

I like the trilogy so far although the book doesn’t get into full swing until book 2. Book 1 was solid work, but it was mostly like a mere set-up. It has chapters in alternating points of view between two characters but it was not until the end of book 1 that these came together and I had full expectation that they won’t until book 2. Also, the publisher really needed to do better with proof-reading on book 1:  there was an all-round mix-up between the letters b and h. Specifically, every “but” had become “hut” and “be” become “he”. It became rather distracting. Book 2 was by comparison clean in that regard. And like I said, book 2 was where the story finally got into the swing and I felt like I’m in with the characters. Now, I have to declare here that I’m always slow with character empathy, so this isn’t something unique to this books. I also feel less engaging with the secondary POV character in this series but again that’s nothing new either. I felt the same way with Thomas in the Midkemia books- I was really not engaged with him, rather I was basically just vested in Pug, Arutha, Jimmy the Hand etc. 

Book 3 is tentatively scheduled to come out next year (fingers crossed for that, I don’t quite like waiting but I’m already going to have to wait now) so a full report on this trilogy next year. 

Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

I still found this a satisfying read but I did not like this standalone as much as the Sarantine Mosaics and the two novels based on ancient China (all right, I admit to personal bias there). I think I expected a story where three cultures meshed more to form a collective story but my actual experience from this book was that Alun seemed to be a more important character compared to Bern (in fact, because Bern appeared in the first chapter and did not come back until the fourth, I somehow did not remember his name and had to go back to the list of characters at the start of book to understand that’s who we are circling back to) and then the promised third culture had even of a lesser role. I was caught unprepared at around the second last chapter which in retrospect I would say was well set up for. But overall, I just was not finding the attraction of a well-woven tapestry of many perspectives that I was getting used to in Kay’s other books. Not that this element has been absent entirely but I just didn’t feel like this aspect that I had come to really appreciate about his work was executed as well as in the other books. The other noteworthy thing about this standalone is that it is sort of loosely related to the Sarantine Mosaics in that it is set in the same world and drops in the odd references to that series. 

Mystery

O Jersuleum by Laurie R. King 

It was okay but I’m getting slightly bored with this series as to doubt what I initially saw in it (I read the first two books years ago and decided that I wanted to follow the series before I promptly forgot the author and the series name and could not find it again from my local library. Then few years ago, someone mentioned the series in passing in one of my FB reading groups, that’s how I came across this again). So in this one Mary contributes one crucial insight right at the end but otherwise, she is still mostly complaining of discomforts and playing henchmen to Sherlock. That was not quite how I remembered it in the first two books. I wonder what happened to the dynamics between the duos- I reread this series from book 3 and I think it already wasn’t what I remembered. I now wonder if I was not initially drawn by the premise of the book which satisfied my craving for the continuation of the Sherlock Holmes stories and just dived in on that promise. I had also read the series slightly out of order in that I had also read one or two of the later books. My plan is to read The Murder of Mary Russell next because it was alluded to in one of the later books I had read and sounded like a book with higher danger/stakes. 

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King

As I expected, I felt much more engaged with this book. The Clarissa perspective is fresh and provides something I can sink into. I’m starting to suspect that I’m originally drawn into this series because I like the juxtaposition of old (Sherlock Holmes) and new (how the author took the original characters from Sherlock Holmes and had that veer off in a different direction). And after reading quite a substantial number of Mary Russell novels now (I checked my Goodreads, 8 of them by now), I’m feeling like the author has not always pulled off this combination. In this book, I feel she has done a solid enough job and I think I’m more satisfied by this book compared to many of the later ones or any book after the first two. 

The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda

I decided to forge into new territory so I just did a keyword search on mystery and limited to ebooks on my local library website. I picked this up for the blurb: a high school student raised up by a mum who had an obsession about staying safe and one day when the mum disappeared she had to deal with the past catching up. 

It’s got extremely short chapters and I did find the story engaging. There’s no space for me to pause and think about anything except reading on to find out what happens next. Overall, I think I like the author’s style: the short clipping pace and the plot-centric mystery.

Kill your brother by Jack Heath

This is good if you appreciate a fast paced thriller and plot twists. I do like it.