In my last post, I recalled the Chinese version of Auld Lang Syne, commonly sung at graduation assemblies and funerals. Now, I’m going to share with you an original Chinese farewell song, elegantly written as a poem in 1915 by the charismatic and talented artist, LI Shutong 李叔同 (1880 to 1942), three years before he abandoned all worldly desires to become a Buddhist monk. This classical song with shared Chinese symbols is also often top choice for graduation assemblies.
Master Hong Yi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
LI Shutong, as Buddhist monk, is famously known as Master Hong Yi. The timeless appeal of this song, Farewell, has connected the Chinese people across the globe. The tune of the song is adapted from “Dreaming of Home and Mother,” composed by John Pond Ordway in 1868.
Please listen to this song, and try to picture in your mind the images of long pavilion as a departure place, gentle wind caressing the willow, Chinese flute faintly playing in the background, enchanting sunset, with a glass of murky wine in your hand (Jack Daniels would be lovely).
- 长亭外，古道边，芳草碧连天 Outside the long pavilion, near the ancient road, splendid grass connects to the sky.
- 晚风拂柳笛声残，夕阳山外山 Breezy evening wind caresses the willows. The sound of flute faltering, the setting sun sits beyond many a mountain.
- 天之涯，海之角，知交半零落 Friends have scattered to the reaches of heaven and the ends of the sea, with only very few left.
- 一瓢浊酒尽余欢，今宵别梦寒 Let’s enjoy this pot of murky wine to indulge ourselves in the remaining joy we have. Dreaming in the chilling night, I wave goodbye. Continue reading
Auld Lang Syne, the poem by Robert Burn written in 1788, has now become one of the symbols to embrace the new year. In Scotland in particular, this song about ‘old long since’, ‘old time past’ is sung when midnight strikes. Most people would also cross their arms when singing it, though the Queen preferred not to do so in 1999. No one knows exactly why arms have to be crossed and got pulled so uncomfortably, but again, it seems to be the ‘custom’ that most people just follow without questioning, just like people would respond with the silly horse riding dance once the music of Gangnam Style is played. It seems there’s something so spontaneous about Auld Lang Syne with arm-crossing.
Why crossing your arms when singing Auld Lang Syne?
I first learnt to sing the Chinese version of Auld Lang Syne when I was 12 years old. Our headmaster taught all Yr 6 students this song through the tannoy in our classroom. There are many Chinese versions of this renowned song, and the version, a popular and classic one, I was taught was called ‘Long Live Friendship.’ （友谊万岁).
The lyrics go: “Who would ever forget their good friends? Once you’ve parted, you’ll sure remember them fondly. Good friends will not be forgotten; friendship is as vast as the earth and sky. Let’s raise our glasses and sing in harmony; long live friendship.” Continue reading
I love Christmas as a religious and cultural event. To be honest, I even prefer it to the Chinese New Year.
1) Greetings: Peace vs Money
At Christmas time, the greetings are generally ‘Merry Christmas’ or a ‘Happy New Year.’ People also wish you joy, peace and harmony. However, one of the most common greetings for the Chinese New Year is 恭喜发财 － ‘gōngxǐ fācái’ (or in Cantonese, Gong Hei Fat Choi). It means ‘Wishing you Wealth’. Many more Chinese New Year expressions are related to ‘money and prosperity’. Many Chinese New Year songs are all about ‘gōngxǐ fācái’, and ‘the god of wealth has arrived’. Money is important and the concept of wealth is so ingrained in the Chinese psyche.
2) Atmosphere: Calmness vs Bustling with noise and excitement
I’ve experienced Christmas as a calm and peaceful festival. However, the Chinese New Year is always bustling with noise and excitement, in or outside of your house. There is an expression in Chinese called 热闹 rènào, which is impossible to translate into English, as there is no such concept in the English language. 热闹 rènào can be vaguely translated as ‘bustling with joy, noise and excitement; heat and boisterous’. Deborah Fallows, in her fabulous book, Dreaming in Chinese, described 热闹 rènào is ‘the default mode of Chinese social life’. The Chinese way of life is not about your personal space, it’s all about ‘togetherness’. If I try to use one word to summarise my Chinese New Year experiences, the word would be ‘noise’.
Fiddler on the Roof
I was surprised to see Fiddler on the Roof was shown on Channel 5 this afternoon (Thursday). This is my favourite musical and I dedicated the whole afternoon indulging in its joy, sorrow and self-deprecating humour. I cried, of course. How could you not? The emotions are so powerful. Watching the ending when the villagers and Tevya’s family leave Anatevka, it was utterly heart-breaking.
I first heard of the musical just over 20 years ago at university, as the young and charming Chinese professor in philosophy recommended it. I’ve watched the musical many times since, but the question of ‘what is tradition’ stays fresh ever.
How do you keep up with change? How deep is your love to your child? Is your love unconditional? What do you do when there’s a clash to your belief? When do you let go?
I’m so glad that I have watched such a poignant, thought provoking musical before the year ends. I grew up in a traditional hierarchical society and I have experienced clashing values and suppression. Now I’m living in the west and I’m acutely aware of cultural differences. This remarkable musical speaks to me, refreshes my mind and challenges me emotionally that no other musicals ever did.
I’ve been in England for 15 years now, yet there are still new things about Christmas I find each year. I thought I have known all I need to know about Christmas, yet there are always surprises. Here are some of the facts that I’ve gathered over the years:
1) Christmas List:
It’s a list-loving nation. People love their shopping list, Christmas to do list, and the most important list of all, is a Christmas card list. In Britain, there’s an expression that you’re either ‘on someone’s Christmas list’ or you get ‘crossed off’ someone’s Christmas list. If your distant relative hasn’t sent you a Christmas card for 2 consecutive years, do you still send him one — now that a second class stamp is worth 50p? Do you go the extra mile to send your old friend or foe a card?
The Christingle service is foreign to me. I’d never heard of it until two years ago. Last weekend, in our local Church of England, there was a candlelit Christingle service. Children were each given an orange and messages of peace and prayers were said. They passed on the candle flame and it was an extremely moving scene to observe how children were taught the message of peace in this simple ritual. Christingle was introduced by The Children’s Society in 1968 to the Church of England, and money is raised to support vulnerable children.
Christingle for Christmas: Symbolism of orange, red ribbon, dried fruits and lit candle.
- The orange – represents the world
- The red ribbon – indicates the love and blood of Christ
- The dried fruits and sweets – symbols of God’s creations
- The lit candle – symbolises Jesus, the light of the world