Friday, February 11, 2011

Formality and Affection

“Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.” I Sam 29:41

David bowed down before his friend three times, with his face to the ground, after he found out what Jonathan had done for him. There was no reason for David to be so formal in his expression of gratitude to his friend; it was nonetheless necessary for him to do, considering Jonathan was still the son of Saul, and was the next in line to the throne.

Formality is necessary in all relationships, which is something we often neglect. Politeness is needed even if it’s not necessary. We Chinese often commend couples that treat each other with respect by telling them that they honor their spouses as if they were guests (相敬如賓.)

Don’t we sometimes treat our guests a lot better than we do our spouses? I am afraid so. I believe many marital problems can be avoided if we treat our spouses as if they are our honored guests. There is definitely a place for formality and decorum in all our intimate relationships.

What David did could have embarrassed Jonathan since he didn’t expect a gesture like that, but he appreciated it just the same and they were able to be more spontaneous in their expression of love to each other after all the formalities were out of the way. Formality is something that makes affection possible. Form and content are equally important in all relationships, for form defines a clear boundary for any given relationship by which unbridled affection should abide.

Even though they kissed each other and wept uncontrollably, what they were doing was still within the boundary of decorum since it was acceptable for male friends to do so during that age and no one would mistake male affection for something other than just that. It was common for Chinese girls to hold hands in public in my time and no one would have done a double take, but I rarely see that these days, which is a shame since we seem to have lost the freedom of showing affection to our friends physically.

Pure friendship among males seems to have become a lost art and we are a lot worse off without it. The form of this particular kind of love has become so vague that we abandon the precious content altogether for fear of being misunderstood or misconstrued. We can hardly keep ourselves from making a verdict when we see two men holding hands or kissing each other in public, can we?

A true friend who can find?

Perhaps we should restore the form of friendship before we can truly appreciate the content. There was not any pretence and constraint in David and Jonathan’s friendship, yet they did have formality and spontaneity. They were free to express their love and affection for each other and no one would be appalled by their lavishness in showing their love for another male or consider it weird. When the form is clearly defined, we can be liberal in storing up the contents.

Friday, January 7, 2011


“He will play when the evil spirit from God comes on you, and you will feel better.” I Sam 16:16

“When I sit in the dark all alone, a single note beautifully played does bring comfort to my heart,” said one renowned musician.

I don’t know music, but I do appreciate music and know it does a lot of things, including healing.

Playing music to a plant can even enhance its growth. Is it really so? I have my doubts, but experiments have been done and might have proved me wrong.

Being a young Bohemian, I pretended to like classical music and often went to classical music concerts with my friends, but I remember getting quite impatient listening to Beethoven and couldn’t wait for it to end.

I have passed the age of trying to do things to impress people, so I can truly say that I listen to music for the sake of listening and do get some pleasure out of it. But the joy of listening is often short-lived, since I know very little music and I can’t always keep the beat when I sing. I do have a reasonably good baritone voice, yet it’s not refined for lack of proper training.

How did this verse bring up such an outburst of thought and emotion within me? I have no idea. I guess music and I have never gotten along, just like math and I have never been friends, and any attempts to reconcile the two in the past have always ended in dismal failures.

Was it the music David played that soothed Saul’s aching heart when he was afflicted by a demonic spirit, or was it really the musician that made the difference? I believe it was the musician that did the magic.

Many people in Israel could probably play the lyre equally well, but only David had the power in his fingers to cast out demons from the king and bring peace to his soul.

Many people can play music, but only a few special ones can cause music to do something magical and unique. It took a man after God’s own heart to play the lyre to cast out demons and bring healing to Saul.

Artists must have hearts. Only a few exceptional ones can make the vital connection between their art and their audience’s hearts when they perform. When music speaks, it primarily speaks to the listeners’ hearts.

David's heart was filled to the brim with the love of God; therefore he was able to cast out demons with his music. I guess this is way too much to ask musicians to do nowadays. I believe an artist’ primary responsibility is to build a bridge that connects time with eternity, physics with metaphysics, and enables laymen to travel across the known to the unknown, the concrete to the abstract, which is the point when healing takes places and life happens.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Race

It appeared innocent enough, really. I might have been joking when I challenged Sahar to a race, but surprisingly, she agreed to it. The stage was set.

I have lost more than a step since I turned fifty and offer absolutely no competition against men my age or younger in a foot race, so I started to find young girls to race and my success rate was amazingly high.
Last time I defeated a girl about forty-five years my junior rather soundly. I was pumped.

So let the trash talk begin.

“Hey, look at this,” I unrolled my trouser and showed Sahar my firm and well-defined leg muscle.

“I am sure you will win,” Kathy assured me repeatedly. I figured she was the one who knew my speed and strength the best.

I made a mistake by playing three on three on the basketball court and exhausted about fifty percent of my energy before the race, but I was still quite confident. The boys and I drove to the Tech campus to race.

Sahar did a perfect cartwheel when she was warming up and my heart sank. It wasn’t a good sign. I had great difficulty learning to cartwheels as a little boy.

I chose Rob to be the judge of the race, which was my fatal mistake. I thought blood was thicker than water, but this turned out not to be the case at all. Romantic love ruled over parental affection. He was hardly an impartial judge, as he became a moving finish line, sidestepping gradually to his future wife while I bit the dust in the first race.

“Not fair! Do over,” I yelled.

I was neck and neck with Sahar the second time, even though my opponent seemed to have jumped the gun and had a considerable head start. Again I lost by a nose, even though Rob kept moving to Sahar’s side and I had to fight for my position by nudging her a little bit as we got close to the finish line, which by the way was Rob’s out-stretched arms toward his fiancée.

I lost both races, and was accused of being a cheater and sore loser.

It was hardly worth it, since at the end I found out I wasn’t as formidable a runner as I had envisioned myself to be and, sadly, I also discovered that I was a big loser as far as competing for Rob’s love was concerned. I could have won had he been more impartial. It was indeed a double-whammy for me and I became rather depressed for the following two days.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

For my Fifty-eighth




For my fifty-eighth

He is not gradually growing old.
Just gradually being forgotten,
Like an empty beach with waves withdrawn,
Footprints all erased
And broken shells echoing no remembrance
Of things past.
A tattered old man he is,
A shadow left on the vacant scène,
Staring into blank space, seeking
A warm and dark shade
To shelter himself from recollection.

Until that day when
He will gradually forget himself:
That he once lived, loved,
Seemingly was loved,
And he will forget being forgotten;
By then he will not mind, perhaps,
Bidding final farewell to all memories.

Friday, June 25, 2010


“So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.” Ruth 2:3

I thought it would be a fun trip for me as a little boy to walk across the bay to the next village where people were harvesting peanuts, so I managed to talk my mother into letting me go with her to pick peanuts behind the harvesters. My mother didn’t usually do that, for we had our own peanut and rice farm and there was no need for us to pick up leftovers from other people’s fields. I suppose my mother and her neighbors had nothing to do during that particular afternoon and decided to venture out to the next village across the bay to gather some extra peanuts.

I have forgotten a lot of things about my childhood, but I can still recall vividly what happened during that afternoon. It was more a picnic or a field trip for us kids than anything else and we spent most of the time playing on the beach while my mother and her friends were trying to find some pennants buried under the sandy soil. I gather we weren’t all that welcomed by the owner and, with us being there, he made a point to tell his workers to not leave anything behind, and I had a feeling that we were being watched all the time. It probably wasn’t a particularly profitable trip, for as far as I can recall, it was the only time that my mother ever did that.

For a few seasons, my grandfather decided to grow sugarcane on our rice peddle, which provided us kids with an abundant source of sweets. It was specially exciting for us boys during harvest seasons, because grandpa gave us a job to guard the canes from being pulled out from the cow cart by kids from the village. So each one of us, with a sugar can in hand, walked behind the cart, chasing and keeping kids away from getting too close to the precious cargo.

There was nothing glorious or exciting about both jobs, come to think of it, for being a gleaner of pennants, I was looked down; and I looked down on others when I was trying to guard our sugarcane from being stolen. People in our village were just trying to scrape a simple living by doing what was necessary. Being a lad from a poor family, I wasn’t ashamed for being poor, for everyone was on the same boat and not until I went to Taipei as a teenage before I realized I was both poor and uncultured and started to learn to hide my true self and to assume a new identity.

At least it wasn’t a life and death issue for me to pick up leftover pennants from other people’s farm or to steal sugarcanes from behind loaded cow carts. We ate a lot of watering rice mixed with dried shredded sweet potatoes, which was enough to keep us alive. I developed a big tummy caused by malnutrition, but at least I survived to tell the tale. Life was more serious for Ruth and Naomi, though. It was no picnic for Ruth to glean barley behind harvesters, for her livelihood depended on it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Water Buffalo 水牛







才知道 離家是繞遠路回家
才知道 水牛無名就是有名。

Water Buffalo

Our water buffalo wasn’t a pet
Therefore had no name;
I do have a name,
Yet long to change into a buffalo.

Our water buffalo knew not how to look up
And his head was always bowed
His feet prints were deep
Witnessing the weight of his heavy living.

I often looked at the hills far away
And lifted my head to the clouds
Trying to paint a picture of my life
Dreaming about my future without a water buffalo on my side.

I have traveled farther and farther away from my past
Leaving many shallow footprints behind
And meet the boy on the water buffalo’s back
Only in my dreams and pensive recollection.

Tractors have taken the place of my water buffalo
What’s left in my fading childhood is only noise
The trails of cow carts are paved over with cement
I doubt I can ever find my way back.

With head lowly bowed in his usual posture,
Heavy-laden, the water buffalo continues to travel;
I have climbed many hills
And look beyond many clouds still;
Finally I have come to realize:
Leaving home is taking a long journey back
And the namelessness of the water buffalo is his name.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Beauty of Between



The Beauty of Between

Between warmth and heat,
Late spring and early summer,
Between cool and cold,
After autumn winter arrives;
Between morning dew and noon breeze,
Between dusk and darkness,
Between sleeping and waking,
Between hope and disappointment,
Between sour and ripe,
Between bitter and sweet,
Between life and death,
There is plenty of beauty.

There are dreams in hope then,
And the future makes present rejoice,
When Christmas bells ring in cold winter,
And you seek plum blossoms in the snow-covered earth,
And butterflies dance in your dreams at night,
You wake up glad when your bare feet touch the icy ground.
So much space of imagination lies between the two:
How glamorous are the trees before leaves fall,
When light green is envious youth,
Dark emerald is mourning for beauty lost.
Eventide is a backward glance cast by young Beatrice;
And the best time to dream is between half-awake and half-asleep
Between is the time when forgetfulness and remembrance meet,
Where destruction and erection reside;
Between journey and destination
There is plenty of beauty.