Whispering Words

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Whispering Words
Wandering on Threads of Woven Starlight
Another suitcase in another hall
24 February 2004

Tonight I will be some forty thousand feet above the ocean. The words echo in my mind but find no purchase, no solid grounding.

I am tired, tired of always packing up and leaving, tired of the trips home, and then the return to another suitcase in another hall, another transient day in another impermanent place, while around me swirl the ghosts of the past, who never let go, and who remind you of where you’ve been and who you were, once.

I am tired of so many things, it seems. Tired of university apartments that never feel like a refuge but merely a temporary stopping point, a pitstop in the race towards graduation. Tired of meeting new flatmates and then having to figure out where they stand, and where you stand. Tired of dreams that give you hope only to die just when it seems they must bear fruit. Tired of being tired, even.

So what happens now?
Another suitcase in another hall
So what happens now?
Take your picture off another wall
Where am I going to?
You’ll get by, you always have before
Where am I going to?
Don’t ask anymore.

Where am I going to?

I cannot help but feel, at this moment, that I am stuck in limbo; no longer able to look upon my room as a refuge, and not yet able to call my new apartment in Sydney home. If I were, perhaps, more attuned to the fundamental impermanence of the world, if I were not so tightly attached to my goods and my belongings, to my hopes and my fears, to the ten thousand objects that define samsara for me, I would be at peace with this feeling of transience.

But I am not. And I am sad, and perhaps still a little afraid. Tomorrow will be time enough to slap myself for being so morose. Tomorrow will be time enough to pull myself together. I’ll laugh at myself over a cup of tea in my room, or while gazing up at the stars from my balcony.

Today, I am sad. Today I am nervous and afraid.

Posted in Delvings Comments (1)
Thinking of Li Bai at Heaven’s Edge
19 February 2004

Du Fu’s (杜甫) life took him through one of the most momentous occurrences of the Tang dynasty (唐代), the Anshi Rebellion (安史之乱). This poem, in its own way, shows the impact of that time on one of the most significant figures of Tang dynasty literature: Li Bai (李白).

天末怀李白
凉风起天末,君子意如何?
鸿雁几时到?江湖秋水多。
文章憎命达,魑魅喜人过。
应共冤魂语,投诗赠汨罗。

Tian Mo Huai Li Bai
Liang feng qi tian mo, jun zi yi ru he?
Hong yan ji shi dao? Jiang hu qiu shui duo.
Wen zhang zeng ming da, chi mei xi ren guo.
Ying gong yuan hun yu, tou shi zeng mi luo.

Thinking of Li Bai at Heaven’s Edge
Cold winds from heaven’s edge blow,
My friend, what are you thinking of?
When will the wild geese arrive?
In autumn the rivers and lakes overflow
You’ve skill with the brush, but fate’s unkind,
Hungry demons wait for the unwary traveller,
With a wronged spirit you ought to speak,
For him cast a poem into the Miluo River.

Yuan Hun (冤魂): A wronged spirit, or one that has been unjustly treated in life and therefore has unfinished business. In this context it refers both

Miluo River (汨罗): A river in Hunan Province (湖南省), most famous for being the river where the deeply wronged Chinese poet and minister, Qu Yuan (屈原) committed suicide. There’s actually a festival (solemn, not festive) that takes place in memory of this.

Du Fu, who was a friend to Li Bai (李白), wrote this poem when he heard the news that the emperor had sentenced Li Bai to death (later commuted to a sentence of exile) for participating in the Anshi Rebellion (安史之乱), or alternatively, An Lushan’s Rebellion. During that rebellion, Li Bai entered the service of one of the princelings who sought (and failed) to become the Son of Heaven. Needless to say, the scion of the House of Li who finally gained the throne was not amused, and Li Bai’s head ought to have been parted from his shoulders.

However — and this Lashlar takes as proof that having friends in high places is always important — Li Bai had enough friends in high places, who were not out of favour with His Imperial Majesty, to net him a commutation from a death sentence to exile. He was later pardoned in full, which further attest to either the magnimonious qualities of the emperor, or to the efficacy of friends in high places.

But we are making a tangential point here, and we should return to the subject at hand. We know all this, looking back on the past with our perfect vision. Du Fu, writing this poem at the time, knew only that one of his friends, and a fellow poet, was now an exile.

This poem, therefore, was an expression of Du Fu’s unhappiness, and his belief that Li Bai was undeserving of the sentence imposed upon him.

Posted in China Comments (0)
Whispering Words 3.0
17 February 2004

Whispering Words has gone through what can best be described as a complete transformation, both of the internal code — which probably no one except Lashlar’s inner geek really cares about — and the visible design that everyone sees when they visit Whispering Words.

This is, therefore, Whispering Words 3.0. A new version down to the very core.

Why did you do it?
Because I could? Because as a law student I didn’t have anything better to do?

I suppose the other answer — the more honest answer — is that Whispering Words 2.0 was not meant to last this long. It was beginning to show its age. There were areas where I had hacked together workarounds, elements that I had once thought would be cool but were no longer relevant. Editing the templates was an exercise in patience. It had to be cleaned up, or so my inner geek, who cares about such things — he being the one who does all that work — told me.

Besides, I wanted to be able to make changes with just an edit of a template file (without the long process of rebuilding that Movable Type required) or a CSS file. That necessitated even more changes under the hood.

Worse still, it felt cluttered. There were too many things on the front page. I was beginning to discover the beauty of simple things, the elegance of a few well chosen graphics, and wanted a design that could reflect my private journey through pictures of Zen gardens and simple landscapes.

In the end, it was easier to pull off a complete redesign, re-using only the Chinese Coin that had become a kind of logo for this site, and even that one got a bit of a facelift.

What’s under the hood?
Glad you asked. This time around, all site content is controlled by the excellent Movable Type, stored as PHP variables, and displayed via Smarty.

Hey, Mom, it validates!
Lashlar’s inner geek cannot help but be gleeful at the validation of his code as XHTML 1.0 Strict, and as valid CSS. Why this should interest anyone is something Lashlar’s inner geek attempts to ignore.

Posted in Geeklog Comments (3)
The End of the World
13 February 2004

Absence, one must admit, probably does very little for one’s already pitifully low site traffic. Lashlar does not pretend to care. Instead, he has been very profitably engrossed in a number of rather amusing, perhaps somewhat annoying things, some of which he will reveal later. For now, however, it suffices to say that his energies have been spent in a few projects of personal interest and therefore journalling has taken second stage.

Lashlar promises also that content will begin to appear more frequently now that those personal projects are winding down and there is more to be said on a variety of topics.

For the nonce, this Flash movie The End of the World is damned amusing. Lashlar recommends it, if you have a few minutes of free time and some bandwidth to burn. [Lashlar would like to thank Richard for the link. Lashlar almost fell off his seat when watching it, it was so funny. -Ed.]

WTF, Mates?

Indeed.

Posted in Randomness Comments (3)
In the Mountains, an Autumn Night
8 February 2004

Wang Wei (王维) wrote a number of beautiful poems, but of those I have read so far, I think this is my favourite.

山居秋暝
空山新雨后,天气晚来秋。
明月松间照,清泉石上流。
竹喧归浣女,莲动下渔舟。
随意春芳歇,王孙自可留。

Shan Ju Qiu Ming
Kong shan xin yu hou, tian qi wan lai qiu.
Ming yue song jian zhao, qing quan shi shang liu.
Zhu xuan gui wan nu, lian dong xia yu zhou.
Sui yi chun fang xie, Wangsun zi ke liu.

In the Mountains, an Autumn Night
On lonely mounts still damp with the new fallen rain,
The night’s air brings with it autumn’s chill.
Threads of moonlight through pine boughs slip,
While crystal springs over stones flow.
The bamboo grove carries the sounds of washer-women,
And lotus leaves sway beneath fishermen’s boats.
What matters if springtime’s flown,
If you’ll tarry here, my noble prince.

Wang Wei was a committed Buddhist, a painter (although few of his paintings have survived the 1,200-1,300 years that separates his time from ours), and a calligrapher of some note, a poet, and also an official of the Tang court — and a fairly successful one, it must be noted. His generosity to Buddhist monasteries was sufficient, anyway, to get a mention, so I presume he must have had some access to private wealth. He apparently, according to some of the short biographies I have read, died in a Buddhist monastery.

This poem shows us something, perhaps, of the country retreats that many officials of the Tang (唐) court took, in order to escape the protocols that defined their existence within the court structure. They went away to refresh themselves, write poetry, paint, drink wine and otherwise indulge in their more… creative side. Or maybe they went out of the capital to get away from the latest folly of His Imperial Majesty, the Son of Heaven, or just to get a few days peace without some enterprising bureaucrat pestering them.

The mountain, unnamed in this poem, becomes symbolic of withdrawal, of retreat from the wider world of politics and imperial intrigues. Lonely and distant though the mountain may be (far away from the centres of imperial power, from the courts and the cities), there is still something worthwhile to see. The mountain is not lonely and silent; it resounds to the sounds of washer women and fishermen, to the tune of crystal springs laughing over the cool stones. Though spring has faded, that does not mean beauty has slipped away as well. There is a different kind of beauty to be seen in the crystal waters, the silver threads of moonlight threading through pine boughs. The mountain’s rhythms are entirely different from that of the court, yet it is still meaningful, still precious.

I like to think of Wang Wei, that early ‘Renaissance’ man, slipping away from the court to take long walks in the mountains, and writing down what he saw and what he felt. I like to think of how much still connects us: the same urge to pick up and go far away from the world of cities and protocols and the thousand and one rules of professional conduct and legal niceties that I am learning. Not forever, not for him and not for me, but for a brief span of time, so that I can remember the sound of wind in the branches, and the thunder of a waterfall, the caress of spray upon my face.

We are not really that different, though time and space separate us. And that is reason enough to be happy.

We would like to thank our very generous sponsors Charles Kingsland and Enda Mcveigh for their sustainable support to our association.

Posted in China Comments (0)
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