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. 

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- September 2021


Blue Moon Rising by Simon R. Green

I came to this book via the second book in this series with a completely different set of cast and I think I prefer the next book better because it’s more my cup of tea in term of the genre blending in fantasy with mystery (I actually thought of re-reading it to test whether I will like it as much as the very time). I do think I like it overall with its cliche-bending start and an overall light, clipping pace though the ending felt a little set up for lack of a better word. So I recommend this as great light reading if that’s your cup of tea.

Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden

The portrayal of Griminir and the lore around the kaunr are all excellent but because I personally don’t feel for Disa at all, I feel like this is being diluted by her having such a large role in the book. I’m also not personally enamoured of prophecies but I’ve got nothing to complain about for this book. Overall, a solid book. And I’m still intending to read book 3, hoping for a satisfying conclusion to the Griminir trilogy. 

Children of the Black Sun trilogy by Jo Spurrier 

I was intrigued by the blurb of book 1 so I picked this up but I had no intention of necessarily following this series (those days were gone). Book 1 was solid but I wasn’t particularly into the characters. However, it was set up as that you simply had to go on to the next book. So I did that and I got into the characters more. Now, here I had a choice, there wasn’t a real compulsion for me to follow the series to its conclusion so I went and read the blurb for the third book and that decided me. Overall, I would say this is a trilogy where the stakes for characters kept on escalating (I mean, most series do but I think this one does this visibly for me). 

This trilogy contains a bit of disturbing stuff to do with torture (including rape) but there wasn’t actually anything graphic, just stuff mentioned in passing. That didn’t bother me even though I mostly read adult fantasy without these, just putting it up here as FYI for everyone. 

The Sarantine Mosaic duology by Guy Kavriel Kay

I had wanted to read Fionavar Tapestry but it was only available in audiobook format which I have not converted to since I always imagine I might have difficulty with understanding (I had listened to part of a short story on audio with little problem given the slow pace of word enunciation but I remain in doubt about a full length work, could be personal bias also, I much prefer reading words as opposed to listening). Anyway, long story short, this series is what I had picked up instead. 

I am currently reading book 1 so a full review is pending in December. Hard to say much about it at this point. 


Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

This book has got all the elements I like about a thriller- a fast pace, plot driven, frequent twists and character stakes that you can get behind. I was actually drawn in because I was curious about Da Vinci Code but I thought I would test the water with this. Now that I know what I’m in, I will definitely go on to the others of this series.

Da Vinci’s Code by Dan Brown

I was not actually feeling a little trepidation about this book when I realised it started a brand new female character alongside Robert Langdon- I had a deja vu of this being turned into a Hollywood film series where in each film he ‘hooks up’ with a different girl. I was happy that the book was primarily about the ‘case’ rather than personal relationships but (spoiler alert: it did eventually head towards the direction I feared). 

Anyway, this book still does not disappoint if a fast pace, riddles and twists are your game in mystery. 

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 8

I walked up on Estella and Aurora right as Estella was calling out for H squared. “Where is he? I need him to fix up the panel on the bridge so we can pinpoint which part of the alarm has been set off. Or have you two found that out already?” I asked the two of them. 

Estella got the blank-faced look that told me she was using her special power of sensing. “I think Hue’s in here somewhere, or the plant is afraid.” She finally told us hesitantly, succeeding by a “HUE!”

“I don’t think the plant has emotions?” Aurora then gave a shrug of I don’t know. 

“I can fit in there! I’ll get Hue, don’t worry!” Guppy yelled and threw herself into a small hole on the wall. Was that a hole that just opened up somehow? I was confused by what the kiddo said. Then there was a muffled cry. I told the others and Aurora assumed it was Guppy whereas Estella and me thought that it sounded more like H squared. At any rate, I led the way into the Aurora-enlarged opening that Guppy jumped into, Aurora followed me and Estella brought up the rear. 

“Once we retake the ship, Aurora, work on a device to electrify the hull, it should keep them away for good.” Estella was saying at the back. 

“Brilliant notion.” Aurora replied. 

I had climbed into the hole but it was not quite adult sized. My limbs felt more like useless appendages that got tangled up by the foliage and I could only push and shove my way through marginally. 

“I think we need to clear away some of the vines here first.” Aurora said in my ear. 

“Good idea.” I set to work with the hedge clippers. Thankfully, Estella was such an avid gardener that she had insisted spending some of our old spoils on a pair of hedge clippers that responded to voice. Else I was not sure how I was even supposed to work with it in such cramped quarters.  

I made some headway with the clippers before the vines fought back, slashing at me with tips that glinted like metal. I was going to loose a volley on the plant life when Aurora yelled for me to hold them back. I let loose. The first energy bolt sent the vines into a panic but no real damage, the second hit and then the last one combusted. There was a big whoosh and then fire spread throughout the plants. Smoke came out and the temperature rose a notch but we were now far enough away. 

Once things had quieted down again, Aurora gave me an eager grin while revving her buzz saw which she was apparently busy electrifying as I let loose my volley. “Now all we need is one of those lumber jack shanty songs. Now plan Sam, you shoot our way forward, I’ll watch your back?” 

I nodded and shot a few of the vines still strung about the room but the space was mostly clear. The vines looked and acted like normal vines again. “Looks like the spray did most of the work.” 

Aurora nodded “Yeah, thankfully, let’s see if we can find Hue and Guppy in this wilted salad.”

“They’re near the center of the room as far as I can tell.” Estella told us, pausing often as she said it. 

“Why the hesitation?” I asked her. 

“The plant gives off this weird mental static, like the sound of rain on a rooftop, makes it hard to hear things clearly. So it’s either them, or the plant itself.” She shook her head. “I’m not really sure to be honest.

“Right. Wait and see, I guess. Did I tell you about the plant circuit?”

“The what?” Estella gave me her “I dunno know what you are talking about” look. 

“The plants were crawling all over everything in here, not just the circuits.” Aurora clearly interpreted what I said differently. I didn’t jump in to correct here, she would work it out soon. “Or did they avoid those?”

“I crawled into the vent to get to the bridge. Once I got there I saw these plant tentacles forming themselves into one big circuit in the room. I didn’t like that somehow and I decided to break it.” 

“The way they take over the machine parts I almost wonder if…” Aurora’s voice trailed off.

“Out with it Aurora.” Estella gave her a mildly impatient look.

“It’s stupid,” Aurora sighed, “But the ship is made with alien bits and that garden right? Maybe the alien bits are trying to use the plants to upgrade the ship? Make it better somehow? It explains why there’s a clearing here and it landed us in the middle of it.”

I shrugged. “Unless you can find a way to talk to the alien sentience, we don’t know what’s going on. I’m not keen on the idea though. Who knows what the ship would take it into its head to do besides flying us to unknown destinations?”

“So you’re suggesting we what? Let it run crazy through our ship? See if it doesn’t rip it down to the frame and leave us stranded?” Estella shook her head.

“Like I said it’s stupid. I’m not real eager to let our home turn into some garden freak show.” Aurora agreed. 

“One of these days we should find out what the alien part does exactly.” I told the two of them. 

“Agreed,” Estella started poking the center of the machinery, “Guppy? Hue? You in there?!”


“I think he’s over here!” Aurora called out, cut away vines from a machinery that was just a solid box wedged between the floor and ceiling with various panels and instruments attached to it. Some of the panels were being propped open by vine snippets and wires were exposed. In fact, this was pretty much a repeat of what I saw on the bridge. 

Estella knelt down and started pulling off panels. 

“Why do they keep taking people? I mean Carnivorous plants usually put them in pools of digestive goo don’t they?” Aurora looked over at Estella for confirmation.

“Some,” Estella nodded, “But they could just as easily take them to let them die, and decompose into fertilizer.”

“This looks exactly like the bridge looks now.” I commented as I went around the machinery towards the direction Aurora said H squared was in. Sure enough, a bulbous plant thingy was pinning both H squared and Guppy on the other side. I rushed forwards towards them. “Mmmmmm…” They had vines muffling their mouths so could do little except murmur. 

I shot the thing, blasting a big hole in the bulbous part of the plant body. Green goo that smelled of compost exploded out of there and sprayed around in a big circle. Luckily for me, I was out of range this time. 

The vines released their captives and started its death throes. I went forward to check that H squared and Guppy was okay. 

“Are you two okay?” Aurora spoke my thoughts.

“I am covered in goo.” Guppy spoke each word with a capital letter enunciation. “It smells gross!” Next to her, H squared slumped into an almost-fetal position on the floor. 

“Did that thing do anything else besides trying to muffle your calls for help?” I asked the two of them. 

Mother-hen Aurora rushed over to Guppy, “Come on, let’s go get you cleaned up again.” 

“It just held me. It didn’t do anything else.”Guppy made this “I’m exasperated with the world” face as she wiped goo out of her hair. 

Estella had knelt down next to H squared and was murmuring something to him. I joined them. “Did that plant thing do anything else to you?”

He looked up at me. “Me?” He looked confused and mumbled something about the ship. I took that as meaning he’s unharmed.

“Good thinking Sam, thankfully they don’t seem to be the type to plant seeds in people.” Aurora took Guppy by the hand, leading her off towards the showers. “Once we get cleaned up, I’ll set to work on electrifying the hull and getting a biofuel converter running.”

“It just looked unreal to me, seeing the two of them pinned by a plant.”

“This whole situation has been unreal,” Estella noted, “I never imagined plants could be smart enough to cannibalize a ship. Sam, can you look after Hue? I want to go give the garden a thorough look over and purge it of anything similar to the plants on this rock.”

“Sure thing. H squared, come, I will escort you to the bridge so you can get rid of the plant-machine fusing there.” He just gave me a blank look. 

“You will know what I mean when you see it.” I got him to the bridge where I left him happily doing the repairs and then joined the other two gals after having a little Sam-special break at the lounge. They were at the fuel converters. “How’s it going?” I asked as I popped my head in. 

“Pretty good,” Aurora gestured to the converter proudly. “This will keep us fueled easily from here on, we just need to feed it garbage, anything compostable really.”

“Maybe route the toilets into it?” Estella suggested.

Aurora gave her a narrow eyed look. “That’s a messy idea, if you want to volunteer to relay the pipes I won’t stop you, but I’m not real eager to try it, one wrong move in your in deep crap, literally.”

Estella quickly shook her head. “Forget I mentioned it, unless Hue feels like doing it.”

“How’s Hue?” Aurora asked me. 

“He’s happy doing his repair at the bridge.”

“How long before we’re airborne?” Estella asked. 

“As soon as Hue finishes fixing whatever the plant broke, until then the electric hull should keep us plenty safe. Rations aren’t so great, but I can probably rig a bio processor to turn the plants into edible paste if need be.” Aurora said. 

Plant paste? Eek! “We should forage for game, perhaps in the jungle, armed with the weedkiller.” I said. 

“Does that mean I get to go look for more firefly goo?” Guppy looked hopeful. 

“Sure, just give me a bit here to make the fuel converter and electro plating permanent so they don’t fall apart when I leave the ship, okay?”

“I kind of doubt there’s any game left in a forest this hostile, but it can’t hurt to look, could be something adapted to make the plants ignore it.” Estella nodded to me. “I can try to make more weedkiller but I’m about out of ingredients, maybe Aurora can make some kind of sonic repulsor?”

“Possibly?” Aurora shrugged. “Let’s just hunt at night, the plants are dormant then, which is probably when any wildlife will be out and about anyway. We can use the glow goo Guppy found to light the way.”

“Yes!” Guppy gave her enthusiastic approval of the plan, which we all joined in. 

Remarkable Women in Ancient China (10)- Wen Xiu

Who is she:

  • Once concubine to the Last Emperor of China Puyi, otherwise known as Consort Shu or the Good-hearted Consort

Notable Life Events:

  • Born on 20th of December, 1909, to a Mongolian family that was part of the Manchurian Eight Flag army 
  • Entered Puyi’s Court at the age of 12 as Consort Shu (it was said that Puyi had randomly chosen her when he was asked to choose his empress- he had abdicated then but they allowed him to keep his title as emperor- but it was decided by the court that Wen Xiu did not have the good looks and family wealth fit to be an empress so she became a concubine instead) 
  • Left one day from where she was living with Puyi and the Empress to start suing for a divorce after nine years of marriage to Puyi. Most of her own family (except for her sister) frowned upon this action. This was known as the Revolution of the Knife Consort and occurred in 1931. The divorce was finalised upon the condition that she would never remarry. Later, in the same year, Puyi tried to save face by denouncing all her titles. 
  • Eventually remarried to a soldier of the Natinonalist party in 1947 until her death in 1953, when she died of a stroke 

Why is she remarkable:

  • The first woman to actively seek a divorce with an emperor (and get it)
  • The only consort of the emperor in Chinese history who had ever taken up a teaching position (it was her first job after the divorce but she had to leave the job when her identity as Puyi’s ex-concubine was exposed) 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

It’s clear that Wen Xiu is a woman who has a clear mind of what she wants and can act decisively to pursue it. It was said that one of the driving factors behind the divorce was that she tried to influence Puyi to break from the Japanese who only propped him up as a figurehead to no avail. 

English reference on her:

Adventures Abroad the Chen Xing- Chapter 7

Full darkness had fallen, with only starlight pointing the way for wayward travellers. I could see the outline of the crater’s edge in a rough circle around the top of the forest and lights from the Xing. My peripheral vision caught flashes of light far away- a reddish firefly sort of glow, but when I turned towards that direction there’s only darkness. I figured it was too late to go back and with the space suit I had on, camping out was totally feasible. 

Some scuffling came from below and then Estella’s voice, “Sam!”

“I’m up here, couldn’t see much. Some dim light in the distance. I’ve marked the direction so we can explore in the morning.” I hollered down my report. 

“We can barely hear you!” Aurora shouted back. “Are you stuck?”

“No, I’m fine. I will camp up here for the night.”

Estella and Aurora made some exchanges between them. I couldn’t decipher the actual content with the wind blowing so loud. 

“…we should head back to the ship before dawn.” I heard Aurora call up. 

“Sam, are there things I can stab up there!?” Guppy’s squeak cut in. 

“No, nothing to stab up here. I can barely see anything. I thought it would be a good idea to climb up here so I can see better…”

“But I wanna see.”

More talking that I couldn’t hear, I assumed the gals were trying to dissuade Guppy of climbing up. Though, knowing the kid, it probably wouldn’t work. 

“All right, kiddo, I will climb down. You, hush and don’t move.” I resigned myself to do the sensible thing. I’ve always known that children would be trouble; you have to act all sensible around them. 

“Guppy’s coming up to see, then you can both climb back down together.” Estella shouted up. 

It did not take long for the kid to come up. “Hmm… looks like I underestimated you.” I gave Guppy an appreciative nod.

“Ooh, that’s pretty. Sam, why did you stop? They’re beautiful.” Guppy went over the edge and out of sight. Her voice got fainter towards the end, as if she was moving away. 

“Crap, the kid has gone off. I better go after her.” I told the other two gals. 

When I tried to climb over, a bout of dizziness hit me and I had to drop back down. It felt like there was no air right over the lip of the edge.

“Oh, I’m totally bringing some of this back to the ship. Sam! Where are you? You need to see this.” Guppy’s voice came to my ears. 

“Crap, something is going on here. If you don’t hear me again in 1 minute, climb up here and go off towards the direction with the light.” I shouted down below before attempting to get down on Guppy’s side again. 

I took a big gulp of air first and charged up over the edge. I felt my lungs about to burst up like a torn sack and my skin felt all wrong. The world was spinning in front of my eyes. In the midst, I saw a lot of small reddish flickering lights. I staggered forward a few steps before I felt like I was about to tip sideways. I held still, hoping that I wouldn’t fall over. 

“Hey, Sam, you don’t look so good.” I saw Guppy coming close, but her face was distorted like in a funhouse mirror. 

“Hmm, maybe you should go back. Here, take my hand, I’ll help you.” I groped for her hand, which appeared in multiples, all overlaid with each other. Then a small hand took mine and led me back over. 

Not sure how long passed- 15 minutes?- I felt normal again. Guppy was looking at me with huge eyes, looking worried. “You ok, Sam?”

“There’s something with this edge. I couldn’t breathe whenever I go near it.”

“Can’t breathe? But it’s totally fine!”

“I don’t know, it’s getting late now. We better go down so Aurora and Estella aren’t worried. Come on, kiddo.”

“Ok. Then I can show them what I found. Look.” Guppy held out a hand smeared in a glowing reddish goo. I stooped to take a closer look. I decided it was some kind of bioluminescent algae, something in Estella’s expertise. 

“Aurora! Estella! I can’t wait to show you.” She shouted before eagerly climbing down. 

“Show us what?” Aurora called up.

“Look! It’s beautiful.” The glowing reddish goo has spread to Guppy’s arms, cheeks and hair. She danced around in the dark, hopping and making a light show. 

“You just bathed.” I laughed at Aurora’s groan, not that she could hear it. 

“I’m a glowfish!”

Estella chuckled. “You look like a thousand fireflies flying in formation!”

“I’m a space firefly!” Guppy danced around even more. 

“I wonder if this stuff will make good plant repellent?” “Find anything interesting up there?” Estella and Aurora spoke at the same time. 

“Um… no. Just lots of this stuff. And rocks. That’s it.”

“I couldn’t breathe whenever I was near the edge.” I pulled a long face at the thought that I performed worse than a child. “Guppy is fine though.”

“Oh, yeah, Sam got sick up there. You ok now, Sam. I was really worried.”

“Really?” Aurora eyed Guppy curiously, “Sam, feel like climbing back up there, covering yourself in the goo and seeing if you can breathe?”

“Don’t go alone, Sam. I don’t want you to get sick again.”

“It’s probably because Guppy is shorter so is closer to the ground where the breathable air is.” Estella pointed out.

“I’m okay now.'” I bent down to Guppy’s eye level to tell her. “Hmm… I don’t like goo normally but it might be worthwhile to try that.”

“I’ll go with her. Just in case.” Estella said. 

Guppy reached up her fingers and smeared goo on my nose, then giggled. I tickled her under the chin.

“Hey! That’s cheating.” Guppy squealed with delight. 

Aurora grinned from ear to ear, “I’ll stay down here with the firefly.” 

“Yeah, I’ll stay here and play space firefly with Aurora.” Guppy smeared goo on Aurora and ran off giggling. Aurora went after her and the two left a trail of laughter. 

Me and Estella exchanged a smile and went up to the edge. “By the way, Sam, next time you run off, can you leave us an arrow drawn in the dirt or something? We nearly didn’t find your trail.”

“All right.” I smiled sheepishly.

We both gooed up and tried to go over. The same as before. I tried to push through and didn’t even make it as far as before. I knew when to call in a defeat and retreated back to the safety of the ledge. 

Me and Estella looked at each other. We speculated over how Guppy could do it before climbing back down to join Aurora and Guppy. 

“And that’s what I would do if I were a space firefly captain.” We heard Guppy telling Aurora as we got to the bottom.

“You’ll make a natural leader when you get older.” Aurora told her before turning to us.. “How’d it go?”

“Goo tactic didn’t work.” I concluded. 

“Aww, you didn’t get to play with the goo?”

“A pity,” Aurora nodded thoughtfully.

Guppy looked bummed. “I wanted more goo.”

“Staying close to the ground didn’t either, no idea how Guppy can breathe up there.”

Guppy looked back and forth at all of us. “Whatcha talkin about breathin?”

“Um…” Aurora gave Estella and me a blank look.

“How do I describe it? Whenever I go over the edge, I get dizzy, I feel like there is no air, you know?” I tried to explain to Guppy. 

“Oh… Yeah, I forget sometimes…” Guppy had her head hung down while she played with a rock with her toe. 

“What do you forget?” I prompted her. 

“Please don’t make fun of me.”

“Go on, we won’t, I promise.” Estella encouraged her. I nodded. 

Her voice had gotten so low that it was almost a whisper. “Well, I don’t need ta breathe. Knife boy got mad at me once because he held my head under water and I didn’t get scared or anything. All the other kids made fun of me, called me a freak, so I don’t talk about it.”

“Oh, that’s just your magic talent.” Aurora told  her with a cheerful smile.

“But they like it when it makes me a number one scout.” Guppy puffed her chest out with pride. “Magic?” She looked confused. 

“See, you do have a special ability! Like we talked about before, your special talent, like mine is building machines and Estella’s is feeling people’s emotions.”

Tears start forming in her eyes. “But… But I’m not special. Everybody knows it.”

“As far as talents go, that’s a really neat one.” Estella agreed.

“You’re special in our eyes. You’re part of our crew, right? That makes you special even if nothing else does.” Aurora told Guppy. Guppy’s lips started quivering and she looked like she wanted to bolt. 

“Come on, kiddo. Tears are.. well, you only cry when you are happy.” I turned away to avoid looking at Guppy crying; I never liked the sight of tears, it gave me a queer feeling. 

“It’s okay, being special is a good thing,” Aurora reminded her, taking her gently by the hand.

“Um technically…” Estella pretended to point out awkwardly. “Guppy having a talent makes her normal, like everyone else, not having one would make her special, so she’s right, she’s not special.”

Aurora played along, pausing a while before saying. “Well.. There you have it then, Guppy, having a talent makes you not special.”

Guppy squeezed Aurora’s hand and wiped away her tears with the other hand, making her face glow more. “Aurora? When we get back, can I have more cake?”

“Sure, we still have some red velvet.” She promised Guppy, nodding to me and Estella. “Let’s hurry back before Hue eats it, okay?”

I nodded and turned to walk off in the ship’s direction. We made it back easily. Somehow the number of plants hanging outside the ship seemed to have gone down. Abroad the Xing, Aurora wrestled Guppy into a bath before finally rewarding her with cake. 

“I’m not sure if she’s a natural at being a mother, or just improvises really, really well.” Estella observed with a giggle.

I shrugged. “That’s one new experience I never ever want to try, motherhood.”

“After I get some sleep I’ll get started on that bio-fuel converter.” Aurora concluded the sentence with a yawn.

“You and me both, Sam.” Estella punctuated the sentence with an empathetic nod. “Excellent, I’ll do some test digging to see why the plants never overran the clearing, and when it’s dark we can harvest some plants for the converter to turn into fuel. Wasn’t there some lights you said you saw up top, Sam?”

“Yes, they were the same colour as the goo, actually.”

“Oh, well that answers that.” Estella nodded. “Can you give me a hand tomorrow digging a few test holes, Aurora and me are curious why the plants never overgrew the clearing, and are thinking maybe there’s something interesting under it, ruins or whatnot.”

With the plan for tomorrow all set, we all went to bed. 


An alarm went off when I was still in sleep. I jumped up from the bed and donned my battle gear before going off towards the bridge to investigate the alarm. The bridge door won’t open again; I caught a wisp of green hair in my peripheral vision that veered off towards Engineering- Estella. I decided to take the old approach of vent crawling. Not that I loved crawling but someone had to get rid of those pesky plant creatures. 

Sure enough, the first thing I saw in the vents was a bunch of tentacles stretching through it. Taking out my hedge clippers, I took a swipe at them. The clippers made a gash along one of the vines but didn’t cut all the way through. It twitched and another vine shot out at me. I wrestled with the vine and was put slightly off balance. I took another swing at the vines and this time the tool snipped right through one of the vines and it fell twitching to the bottom of the vent. 

I wiped sweat off my brow. “That was close.” No more adventure with the vines until I got through the shaft to the bridge and was looking out through the vent exiting into the bridge. Apparently, they had gone a step ahead of me and were running rampant within the room. And with purpose, their layout didn’t look like plant growth as much as a circuit of some kind, connecting the various panels in the room. I didn’t like the look of that. I climbed out and took an experimental swipe at an important node- well, as far as I could tell, not that I’m an expert at this kind of stuff. I wondered how it would react when I provoked it like this. Perhaps it sensed my intention, it lashed out at me before my clippers got to it. I nearly tripped over some other vines trying to avoid the attack but it had to do better to change my mind. 

Apparently, where I hit happened to be one of its weak spots. The clippers shredded several vines and partially severed another. Some other intact vines twitched as well; the circuit impression sunk into my mind more. And apparently I did not completely break the circuit, perhaps damaged one of the important nodes. A vine took a swipe at my head. I could feel the coldness as it swished harmlessly over me when I danced out of the way, albeit a bit clumsily. The clippers took some getting used to.

I wasn’t liking the plant circuit business one bit so I took another go at it. The vines tried twitching out of the way of the clippers while some others blocked my way. Even with that, I managed to cut partly through another vine. That provoked a more aggressive response when it tried to grab my wrists and neck. By now, I had gotten in practice and easily got out of harm’s way. 

I sliced through another key vine. The other vines started twitching as if in a spasm. Some smoke rose and the creature began to retract into the vents and through some of the panels, leaving me amidst a room full of burst open panels, exposed wires, controls partially taken apart and the remnants of several vines sticking up here and there. I went over to the panel for alarms to pinpoint the section of the ship for which it was triggered but it was not working at all. Time for H squared so I headed on over to Engineering. 

The songs we could have been singing

This is a piece created from a prompt from Maya Stein’s Press Play. I truncated the last paragraph because it was too personal but I like the ending to this truncated piece as well. Enjoy: 

The songs we could have been singing, the dances we could have danced, the words we could have spoken… how long do they stay with us, or do they fade away eventually like everything else? 

The songs we could have been singing when we were happy, when we were sad, when we were angry… Why did we not sing them? Because we couldn’t sing, or because we were not alone and we did not want to be heard singing? 

The songs we could have been singing, the tears we could have shed. Could not but did not. 

The songs we could have been singing, could have sung… I don’t remember any actually because singing isn’t my thing. I cannot get the notes right if there are no instruments to set the tune for me, I can’t sing. But I like songs, or I like lyrics and the stories they tell. I collect lyrics. 

TBR for the rest of this year

Apparently I’m down to the last 4 slots of my 20 books quota but somehow I get the feeling I might do another set of extensions out. I’m now reading book 2 of a fantasy trilogy by an Australian author and the Twilight of the Gods by Scott Oden, at the same time. I’ve also got the Da Vinci Code next up after this. I’ve been alternating between fantasy and mystery for a while now. 

Beyond that, I was actually thinking of picking up Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders or Rain Wilds but there did not seem to be electronic copies for them at my local library. And now that I’m on a roll with ebooks, I actually prefer them, especially since Mum’s been extra-cautious about foreign objects brought into the home. The last paper copy I read this year until Twilight of Gods was Cloud Atlas and Mum put it out in the laundry for like a whole day and sprayed Dittol on it or something and the same treatment was given to Twilight of Gods of course. Anyway, since my assigned readings are all done this year, I figured I’ve earned the right to prioritise ebooks for the rest of this year unless there’re books that I really am dying to read. Such as The Twilight of the Gods which I ordered last year and it’s finally arrived so I was automatically put down as having reserved it. The state I’m living in- Victoria in Australia, was in lockdown which was just lifted on Tuesday the 27th of July so I got a phone call to say I had gotten an automatic extension on it until after the lockdown was lifted. And I was getting tempted by Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy, as of two days ago.

I’m not quite sure what other books I will be reading for the rest of this year (the title turns out to be misleading that way, I admit I’m coming up short concerning posts about reading and a TBR list is just my go-to topic) . I have got a 2-page book list that I’ve curated since 2 years ago or something but I’m still largely operating on whims. I’ve ticked off maybe 3 or 4 books from that list so far. So all shall be revealed at my quarterly Book Discoveries posts. Stay tuned. 

Reeds speak to you of the natural world

This is still from the poem Starfish. And in fact, I took more from the original poem in the opening. “Reeds speak to you of the natural world. They sing, they whisper”- those are all from the original poem, except for punctuation. In fact, I quite like the whole phrase together and was going to take that as my prompt at first before I realised it’s going to deadend me because I’m working off so much imagery from another person so I truncated it. And I still liked the resulting piece. The interesting thing about it is that I’m not really a naturalist though I’m a brownie, which is half a greenie for those who don’t know. 

Reeds speak to you of the natural world. They sing, they whisper, they lament, they moan, they mourn. 

Reeds speak to you of the natural world. Yes, those reeds by the roadside, that you thought were weeds. They do that. Why do you think they do all that? Human encroachment, of course. We tend to think the wild encroach on us but we also encroach on the wild, no? Perhaps we are much more of an encroachment issue to the wild than the other way around. What do you think? 

The reeds whisper to you of the natural order. They whisper because they are tentative, timid, they don’t know whether you’ll listen or not. So they just want to dip their toes in a bit but no full commitments yet. This way they can pull back if they want. If they judge it right. 

The reeds whisper to you of the natural order. They sing. They sing in celebration, in joy. It is their ritual, their sacred ritual. 

Memorable Sleuths

For a change, I’m going to blog about my second genre in reading today. And here in this post I’m going to list out all of the sleuths that are memorable in my minds (I just can’t pick my favourite so I’m going with the bundles of them that stands out to me, in no inherent order):

  • Sherlock Holmes- Okay, I admit it’s not the character so much as how the stories were written. I have a taste for plot-driven mysteries which is exactly what the original stories were. 
  • Kinsey Millhone (Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series, I was actually going to read all of them and then I Googled her Z and found out I would never get to read it because the author had passed on)- quaint and socially reclusive, I can empathise with that. I think I lost sight of her in a bunch of the books but then she came in one of the ones at the end so I was kind of excited by that. 
  • Tommy and Tuppence (Agatha Christie’s Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries)- the classic dynamic duo of detectives and the only sleuths from Christie that I actually liked (actually, perhaps this statement doesn’t really stand now but it stood when I read the series. Then, I’ve only read her Poirot and other standalone books. Since then, I think I kind of liked Miss Marple but not to the extent that I liked Tommy and Tuppence). 
  • Mary Russell (Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes by Laurie R. King)- I was immediately taken by the premise when I encountered it and was determined to follow the series. But then after two books I had forgotten about the series altogether, resulting in an inability to track it when I remembered it once again. It was years down the track that I finally heard mention of it again in one of my FB reading groups. So far, I’m getting the feeling that the earlier books were written better, in terms of a quicker pace that suited me better. But I’ve got a long way to catch up so it might be just a not quite right impression. Anyway, I did like Mary quite a lot when I first encountered her. Like she really stood up on her own alongside Sherlock Holmes in the first book and Sherlock Holmes really stood up to his counterpart in the original. That’s why I was so eager to follow the series back then. 
  • Brother Cadfael (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters)- the classic father figure of sleuths and I just really liked the blend of mystery and medieval cloister life. 
  • Sister Fidelma (Sister Fidelma by Peter Tremayne)- I liked Fidelma well enough but I probably preferred the genre more compared to her. Those who’ve been following this blog know that I have a soft spot for genre-hybrids that blend any of my usual genres of fantasy, mystery or historical fiction.