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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Fat Big Panda in Chengdu


Once upon a time, a French priest visited a farmer in Chengdu and found a black and white fur of a bear-like animal. As he has never seen that kind of animal, he asked the farmer. The farmer said it was a Fat ("pan" in Chinese) and Big ("da" in Chinese) bear. The priest then spread the word, from there on the bear is called Panda (Fat Big).

Pandas are fat because of their laid back lifestyle, and they eat a lot. Every day a panda eats around 25 kg of bamboos, which is about a quarter of its weight. Why they eat so much bamboo? It is because bamboo has very little nutritional element, so in order to meet the energy needs, pandas must eat a lot of them. Not surprisingly they poo a lot too.

Pandas, million years ago, used to eat meat, they were carnivores, however during the evolution process, they switched to bamboo. It seems that they could not survive competing to search for meat with other more aggressive animals in the wilderness. Not every type of bamboo they can eat, only several types, and they like especially the young soothes.  As they eat bamboos a lot, the ecosystem they live must have plenty of bamboos that they can eat, a slight distortion to the ecosystem, flood, earth quake, fire etc. can quickly deplete the bamboos. This means the pandas must migrate to some other place to find food.

Pandas really look lazy, they spend a lot of time on their back eating bamboo, if not eating they are sleeping. Except for the cubs which are quite playful with each others. At this young age, the cubs like to play, run, climb trees, but as they turned into adult, they become solitaire.  The adult pandas like to live alone in their own compound, eating , wandering and sleeping alone in their compound. So solitaire, it is even very hard to get them mating. There is a very short mating period of a few days in a year.  And it is not easy to make them mating, if failed they have to wait for the next year, probably with a different partner. Thus it makes it hard to grow the population of this already endangered species.

Therefore, the China Government opened the Panda Breeding Base in Chengdu to breed pandas in captive, through scientific research of the pandas mating behaviour and in vitro fertilization. This way the they managed to increase the population of pandas from around 800 in in 1970s to around 1,800 currently.

In this Panda Breeding Base there are a few panda cubs displayed for tourists. The queu during peak seasons is very long as there are too many people wanting to watch and photograph the pandas. Although there are quite many spots to watch pandas, the spot for watching the cubs are the favourite. Tourists used to be allowed to hug cubs for photography, by donating around RMB 1,800 for a few minutes hugging. But nowadays it is no more allowed to avoid the spread of epidemic to the panda cubs due to the contact. It seems that certain virus or bacteria which are not harmful to human can be harmful to pandas.

Pandas have bad sight, only a few meters, so they cannot see the crowd. Flash lights are not allowed to be used when photographing pandas to avoid harm to their eyes. Pandas rely on their smell, and they have good geographical memory by marking their territory with their poo or urine. That is how the pandas maintain their solitary confinement, they wouldn't enter a place that does not smell like them.

Pandas are also sensitive to parasites in their fur which can even cause death to the pandas. In nature, muds and soils cover their fur to protect them from these parasites. That’s why the panda furs here in China look a bit brownish rather than pure white, especially the back part including the tail. Beware that panda tails are always white, not black as appears on some panda dolls in the souvenir shops.

Beware also that the panda furs in Singapore zoo look relatively clean white, so it seems the pandas here has artificially clean appearance. Like anything else artificial in Singapore, so is the habitat of the panda compound. The compound is air-conditioned, the plants are decorated and arranged for the convenience of tourists. But it is really nice and convenient to watch.

For China , the black and white colour of pandas is a symbol of Yin and Yang concept, the balance of positive and negative, high and low, hot and cold, mountain and river, modern and traditional. This balance of Yin and Yang is reflected in the peaceful and cute appearance of the panda, becomes a symbol of peace and harmony for China. China promotes peace and harmony by sending several young pandas on load to foreign countries. The pandas however remain to belong to China, including their offspring born in foreign country. So practically there is no pandas living in the nature outside China, and those living in captives belong to China. This way Panda is a unique symbol of China, both biologically and culturally.

The pandas living in captives will not survive in the wilderness, as they become too protected and pampered by human. They are not trained to look for food themselves, they are hard to mate and have babies. In captives the babies are taken care of by human, given milk and medical assistance for the babies to grow. Otherwise the babies rarely survive, and the mother does not know breed babies. In nature, if the mother gives birth of two babies, she will take one and abandoned the other one, as if she knows that only one can survive.

The human assistance seems now a necessity for pandas survival, although they have survived millions of years. Perhaps if living in nature with depleted bamboos, they have to change their diet once more.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

An Interview with Vincent


On that day, taking the slow train, I followed Vincent’s path from Paris to Arles in Southern France, searching for the light, colours and warmth of the Provence.

The journey is a feast for the eyes, seeing picturesque villages, and cities and towns, colourful landscapes. Vincent loves this place, the landscape, the light, and the people.

The first step for him was finding a house and setting up a studio here. He found that in a small yellow house on No. 2 Place Lamartine for 15 francs per month.

I found the yellow house with the green shutters, which Vincent shared with Paul to produce their paintings.

When I met Vincent, he looked fresh and glowing, it seemed the nourishing light under the sun of Arles had done well to him.




Interviewer:

We notice that your paintings nowadays are bright, colourful, and cheerful, quite a departure from the dark gloomy paintings you produced a few years ago.


Vincent:

Yes indeed the fresh air here in Arles has influenced the way I look at life, at people, the nature, the bright sun, the beautiful landscapes, the curling wheat fields, the shuddering sunflowers, the wavy blue sky, they are all captured in my paintings. See my yellow house, my bedroom blue and green, the sky blue, the sunflowers golden yellows, the red apples, those are fascinating me.

Thanks to Theo, my younger brother, who suggested me to move here to Arles to do my paintings. He gave me a good suggestion.


Interviewer:

So you have left behind the dark gloomy period of Borinage?


Vincent:

Although I have left Borinage, the place is special to me. The paintings I did there are dark and gloomy, but those are the reflection of the real life of the coal miners. The dark colours reflect the coal mines, reflect the poor people, the suffering, the hunger the struggle of the coal miners in their daily life. They walk in the darkness, in the centre of the earth, in the black coal mines.

These mines are an imposing sight, 300 metres underground, into which daily descend groups of working men, worthy of our respect and our sympathies. The miner is a special Borinage type, for him daylight does not exist, and except on Sunday he never sees the sunshine.

He works laboriously by a lamp whose light is pale and dim, in a narrow tunnel, his body bent double and sometimes he is obliged to crawl along; he works to extract from the bowels of the earth that mineral substance of which we know the great utility; he works in the midst of thousands of ever-recurring dangers.

One day, the miners returning home in the evening towards dusk in the white snow were a singular sight. These people are quite black when they emerge into the daylight from the dark mines, looking just like chimney sweeps.

Their dwellings are usually small and should really be called huts; they lie scattered along the sunken roads, in the woods and on the slopes of the hills. Here and there one can still see moss-covered roofs, and in the evening a friendly light shines through the small-paned windows.


Interviewer:

I see, one of the most striking paintings you made is the “Potato Eaters”. The peasants eating in a dark and gloomy room, their face and hands dark and rough expressing their hard life.


Vincent:

It is a painting that will do well in gold - of that I am certain. But it would do just as well on a wall papered in a deep shade of ripe corn. I've tried to bring out the idea that these people eating potatoes by the light of their lamp have dug the earth with the self-same hands they are now putting into the dish, and it thus suggests manual labour and - a meal honestly earned. I wanted to convey a picture of a way of life quite different from ours, from that of civilized people.So the last thing I would want is for people to admire or approve of it without knowing why.

I've held the threads of the fabric in my hands all winter long and searched for the definitive pattern - and although it is now a fabric of rough and coarse appearance, the threads have none the less been chosen with care and according to certain rules. And it might just turn out to be a genuine peasant painting. I know that it is. But anyone who prefers to have his peasants looking namby-pamby had best suit himself.

Personally, I am convinced that in the long run one gets better results from painting them in all their coarseness than from introducing a conventional sweetness. A peasant girl, in her patched and dusty blue skirt and bodice which have acquired the most delicate shades from the weather, wind and sun, is better looking - in my opinion - than a lady. But if she dons a lady's clothes, then her authenticity is gone. A peasant in his fustian clothes out in the fields is better looking than when he goes to church on Sunday in a kind of gentleman's coat.

And similarly, in my opinion, it would be wrong to give a painting of peasant life a conventional polish. If a peasant painting smells of bacon, smoke, potato steam, fine - that's not unhealthy - if a stable reeks of manure - all right, that's what a stable is all about - if a field has the smell of ripe corn or potatoes or of guano and manure - that's properly healthy, especially for city dwellers. Such pictures might prove helpful to them. But a painting of peasant life should not be perfumed.


Interviewer:

A Pair of Shoes is another painting that is very impressive that fascinated Heidegger, a famous philosopher. Even without hearing his interpretation, the painting really tells a lot of stories about the worn out shoes, neglected, damp, cold and lonely.


Vincent:

It is good to love as many things as one can. … I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven toward these things with an irresistible momentum. …

Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream." To be spiritual is to have an abiding respect for the great mysteries of life and to see the fingerprints of the Divine in the most ordinary objects and things.


Interviewer:

Let’s talk about your portrait paintings. In there most of the persons are portrayed without smiling. Your doctor portrait looks like he is in despair, your self-portraits never smile as well.


Vincent (still not smiling):

Throughout art history, there are seldom self-portraits with smile, and I am not about to change the tradition. Dr. Gatchet looks like that as I think he is sicker than I am, but I have found true friend in him, something like another brother, so much do we resemble each other physically and also mentally.


Interviewer:

However you’re the portrait of your mother shows her smiling proudly.

Vincent:

I did the portrait of Mother for myself, from a black and white photograph. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory. She introduced me to art, herself an amateur artist. I shared some of my works I thought my mother would appreciate most, of flowers and natural settings.


Interviewer:

You painted several “Sunflower”, which people strongly identified with you. Your brother and Paul like it. The flowers look rustic but cheerful, the bright yellow seems to emanate happiness.


Vincent:

It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character, and takes on a richness the longer you look at it. Most of my pictures are after all almost a cry of anguish, although in the rustic sunflower they may symbolize gratitude.


Interviewer:

How is your relationship with Sien?


Vincent:

I met her in winter, she was pregnant, deserted by the man whose child she was carrying. A pregnant woman who walked the streets in the winter--she had her bread to earn, you'll know how. I took that woman on as a model and have worked with her all winter. I couldn't pay her a model's full daily wages, but I paid her rent all the same, and thus far, thank God, I have been able to save her and her child from hunger and cold by sharing my own bread with her.


Interviewer:

Perhaps, do you see her as Mary Magdalene?


Vincent:

I am genuinely attached to her and she to me - that she is my loyal helpmate, who goes everywhere with me - and who is becoming more indispensable to me by the day. She and I are two unhappy people who keep each other company and share a burden, and that is precisely why unhappiness is making way for happiness, and the unbearable is becoming bearable.

I was then just in the mood to be able to give her some practical support, which at the same time helped me stand fast. But gradually and slowly it became different between us - a real need of each other, so that she and I could not be separated - our lives became more and more united, and then it was love.


Interviewer:

In “Sorrow”, it seems your paint her in the natural appearance without any make-up.


Vincent:

She is slightly pock-marked, so she is no longer beautiful, but the lines of her figure are simple and not ungraceful. And she is useful to me just because she is no longer handsome, no longer young, no longer coquettish, no longer foolish. The feeling between Sien and me is real; it is no dream, it is reality. I think it is a great blessing that my thoughts and energy have found a fixed goal and a definite direction.


Interviewer:

How was the delivery of her baby?


Vincent:

Sien has had a very difficult delivery, but thank God has come out of it alive and with a particularly nice little boy as well. Her mother and little girl and I went there together - you can imagine how very anxious we were, not knowing what we should hear when we asked the orderlies in the hospital about her. And how tremendously glad we were when we heard: “Confined last night…but you mustn't talk to her for long...” I shall not easily forget that “you mustn't talk to her for long”; for it meant “you can still talk to her,” when it could easily have been, “you will never talk to her again.”

I was so happy to see her there, lying close to a window overlooking a garden full of sunshine and greenery, in a sort of drowsy state of exhaustion between sleeping and waking, and then she looked up and saw us all. She looked up and was so happy to see us exactly 12 hours after it had happened.


Interviewer:

So other than her, do you have many other girlfriends?


Vincent:

I tell you, I am not good from a clergyman's point of view. I know full well that, frankly speaking, prostitutes are bad, but I feel something human in them which prevents me from feeling the slightest scruple about associating with them; I see nothing very wrong in them. I haven't the slightest regret about any past or present association with them. If our society were pure and well regulated, yes, then they would be seducers; but now, in my opinion, one may often consider them more as sisters of charity.


Interviewer:

Then there is this girlfriend, whom you gave your cut-off ear, what on earth were you doing?


Vincent:

I think I was out of mind after my fight with Paul, I cannot remember really.

I took a razor and cut off a portion of my left ear. The police would find blood all over the house, with blood soaked rags in the studio and bloody handprints along the wall leading upstairs. They told that I took the ear and wrapped it in newspaper. With a hat pulled down over my wound, I, with ear in hand, left the house to go to a “maison de tolerance”, a brothel close to the house.

There I asked for a girl whom I gave the ear to. I don’t remember what I said, but she said I was saying “Guard this object carefully.”

After I recovered, I went back to see her. I was told there that things like that aren’t at all surprising around here. She had suffered from it and had fainted but had regained her composure. And what’s more, people say good things of her.


Interviewer:

Are you not worried that your paintings are not selling well?


Vincent:

You see the trouble is that the possibility of working depends on selling the work, for there are expenses - the more one works, the greater the expenses are (though the latter is not true in every respect). When one does not sell and has no other income, it is impossible to make the progress which would otherwise follow of its own accord.

I am thankful to Theo, my brother, who supports my life and my work. I owe a great debt to him, however, and if I continued in exactly the same way, it would grow worse and worse.

The respectable natives of this region asked me at least three times in one week by absolute strangers, “Why is it that you never sell your work?”

Maybe my paintings won’t sell in my lifetime, perhaps if they understand me then they can appreciate it more.


Interviewer:

Thank you so much Vincent for the interview, wish you all the best with your work and your health.


Vincent (with a handshake):

Adieu.


This is an imaginary interview in memory of Vincent Van Gogh.








Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An interview with Gabriel

That morning, a Sunday in August 2014 in the heat of Macondo, I had the privilege to interview Gabriel after a long wait.

It was not difficult to find the house by the bank of the river, as there were only a few houses. The house had a bright white colour, with his name marked at the front door.

Inside the house, I sit on a wooden chair near the window. I look around the room and saw that the chairs and other furniture were all marked by ink brush, with the names: chair, table, door, window and so on.

It seemed that the marks were inherited from the time of memory loss plague. The plague caused all inhabitants of Macondo to lose their memory easily. They forgot the names of all kind of things in their lives, even the names of most common things in daily life, like chair, table, door, window, such that they had to mark all of them in order to remember. The marks were left sticking on the furniture of this house.

When asked about it, Gabriel sighed and told:

“The plague caused everybody to lose their memory, old and young, colonels and soldiers, rich and poor, judges and prisoners, they all lost their memory. They were not able to remember even the names of common things in their daily life, such as table, chair, door, window, and so on.

Animals also had to be marked with its name: cow, dog, mule, on labels strapped around their necks, otherwise people could not remember their names. It was a strange plague that had never before been encountered in human history.

Nowadays too, when things do not function in accordance with their names, people would forget the names. When chairs are not used as chairs anymore, people would forget that it is a chair and would then forget that the name of that thing is chair. When doors cannot be opened anymore, it ceased to be named as door. When a river ran-out of water it ceases to be river. A home that is no more a peaceful place to stay, ceases to be named home. The names then would disappear and forgotten once they lose their meaning.

Also, when human do not function as per their names anymore, people would forget the names and use don’t use them anymore. Parents, teachers, writers who do not behave as parents, teachers, writers, would not be named the same anymore, and the name would lose its meaning and erased from human memory forever. When writers do not write interesting stories anymore, then the name writer would not be regarded as what it should be and then would slowly disappear and forgotten.

When journalists do not write the truth anymore, then the name journalist would lose its meaning, and the name would not be used anymore. Actually, in the beginning, names were created in relation to the objects. The name bears its relation with the object and assignes the object to function in accordance with its name. The name journalist obligates the person to write about the truth. If not, the person ceased to be named journalist. People would forget about him and read his writing no more. If all journalists write no more about the truth, then journalist would lose its meaning, and it slowly disappears from the world and becomes forgotten. Such is the plague threatening our time, the erasure of name from memory, as the reality does not resemble the name anymore, and the reality disappears with its name.”

I said:

“In One Hundred Years, it seems that the loss of memory plague had attacked back a few generations later. This time, the people in Macondo lost memory of a horrible thing that happened in the past. No one could remember the horrendous massacre at the train station. The history was completely forgotten, it was erased from reality. “



Gabriel:

“Yes, people didn’t remember at all that more than 3,000 people were massacred on that Friday in front of the train station. They were the banana company workers, women and children waiting for the train that was not coming. After a long wait since early morning till afternoon, obviously they became tired and frustrated when they heard rumour that the train would be delayed to the next day.

Afraid that the angry crowd would mix with the crowd of an ongoing strike of the banana company workers and would become violent, the army captain gave announcement for the crowd to disperse in five minutes. He had received the authorization from General Carlos to shoot to dispel the crowd. But no one moved, nobody thought that the army would shoot them.

One minute after the five minutes is over, fourteen machine guns really started shooting them. More than 3,000 of them were killed, the dead bodies were piled in a train, in the same way they transported bunches of banana in the train.

A child survivor who was saved by Jose came to tell the story of the massacre many years later, but no one believed him. They said there had not been any dead there. People didn’t remember and denied that it had happened, the history was completely buried, like the 3,000 dead people, thrown into the sea. Even Jose’s brother denied it, the official story was that the workers had left the station and returned home in groups peacefully….. ”

Gabriel paused and took a sip of his sugarless coffee, which reminds me that the Buendias also drank coffee without sugar.


And then I asked:

”In One Hundred Years the magical world merged with the real world, where did the idea came from?”



Gabriel:

“The story was written in magical reality phenomenon, in dreamlike happenings, but was made believable the way my grandmother used to tell her stories during my childhood. She told the stories about things that are magical, supernatural and fantastical with a straight face and tone, so it sounded completely natural. “


I said:

“One Hundred Years narration indeed sounds like the voice of a narrator of a Disney movie, a voice that made us believe and made us adsorbed in the story as if we were in the story. The story became a real world for the audience.”


Gabriel:

“A story is the perception of the writers of the world and in return the readers take their perception of the story, therefore it’s an interaction of the writers and readers of the reality. The story creates the world we perceived, reality is a reflection.

The magical world in a way is reflexion of our fantasies, wishes and anxieties of the world, through the interaction of the writer and readers the magical world in the story becomes reality. Through story-telling from generation to generation, it then becomes part of our life, part of our culture. ”


I said:

“In One Hundred Years, the deaths were tragic, the life was scandalous, reality was spiced in magical phenomenon, and superstitions became reality.”


Gabriel:

“People carry their hopes, anxiety, and beliefs from childhood to adulthood. The world of magic and dreams in the childhood world are their reality, it is the world which a child perceived. The world then is brought into the world of adulthood into a different perspective.

The story tells about the weak, the sorrowful and the strong, the yellow butterflies of Remedios the Beauty, the darkness of the time, the memory loss plague, the fortune telling magician, and the superstition became reality of the baby born with pig tail. Those are elements of our hopes, anxiety and beliefs, element of our world, our reality.”



I said:

“One Hundred Years with its thick plot, dramatic and scandalous story line, reminds me of telenovas which are very popular in this country, Latin America and even in the world, because telenovelas are full of intrigues, scandals, fighting, affair, parties and human sufferings.

 One Hundred Years also has many of these elements intertwined in the story, the tragedies passed on from generation to generation, the fantastical world, the surprises, the intrigues and affairs, they are all can make One Hundred Years a very interesting telenovela series.”


Gabriel:

”Indeed telenovelas are very popular as it becomes part of our live, part of our culture. People’s fantasies, wishes and anxieties formed our real life and they are reflected in telenovelas. People are interested in those intrigues, scandals, tragedy and affairs as they can relate to those in their world, it is inside their world. It becomes popular and becomes our world, our reality.”


I asked:

“So would you let One Hundred Years made into telenovela?”


Gabriel:

“Not really, telenovela and movies are visual world which would not be able represent the novel in full. Likewise a novel cannot always represent the visual world.”


I said:

” There are parts of the story that could be visually stunning and dramatic, like the yellow butterflies appearances ....”



Gabriel: 
” Yes, the butterflies of Meme and Mauricio …”



“And, the wedding of Aureliano and Remedios..”


“ And, the massacre at the train station, which reminds us of happenings in our reality ...”


“The day Sofia found the dead colonel, the scene with the vultures…”


“The accession of Remedios the beauty…”


“ The baby born with pig tail…”


Gabriel:

“ Those are fantastic to visualize, I can imagine, however some parts would be difficult, like the opening of the novel: Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”


I said:

”Also, when the colonel realized just before the firing that he should have asked to name his unborn child as Remedios if it is a girl….”


“And the guilty feeling of Amaranta of the death of Remedios….”


“The misery of Pietro when Rebecca wanted to marry Jose....”


“The misery of Pietro when Amaranta refused to marry him….”

 “Ursula lamenting the fate of her children…...”


“The dark days of the colonel after the war…”


“The One Hundred Years …………”


Saturday, March 30, 2013

An encounter with the Student of Checkhov



I told you coincidences freak me out. Including this one.
I had postponed the encounter from last week indifferently.
Today I encountered the Student of Checkhov.

It was the same prickling windy day, but not in the meadows, without  the hills, and there was no bonfire. it is in a differenct country, in a city where the tall German building never open its doors. How could it happened in such a place.

The Student told a story about a coincidence, a colusion of two random incidents to become a meaningful experience. Like, any birth of a human.
Like, any encounter.