In Chinese, many characters have the ‘wood’ (木) radical on its side. Aside from common words used for things made out of wood – chair (椅), bed (床), shelve (柜) for example – many of them are words for different sorts of trees, such as the pine (松), plum (梅), oak (橡 or 栎), and of course the subject for today, the cypress (柏).
A long lived tree relatively common in Sichuan, this conifer must have been quite a familiar sight to Du Fu 杜甫 when he lived in Chengdu as a refugee from the chaos in the north caused by the An-Shi Rebellion. (You can read more about this here.)
Before managing to escape, he was in truly hot water in Chang’an, former capital of the Tang Dynasty which had fallen to the rebels. This is because, as a previous minister in the Tang Court, he had submitted advice against An Lushan, warning against giving him enormous military authority over all Tang forces in the northeast. The advice was not heeded; the authority backfired horribly, and Du Fu nearly died for it.
In comparison to those days, living in peaceful Sichuan must have been a considerable relief. But Du Fu remained outside the mainstream of politics despite his ambitions, and instead became a poor, wandering poet. We are, of course, much the better for it.
A beautiful rendition of the poem, in the cursive calligraphic style. (Reads from up to down, right to left)
It is true, what they say – first you get something, and then you find a use for it. So now that the big black monster of an oven is sitting in the kitchen, it seems problematic not to use it for something. Cakes, well, they’re nice the first three times round. Sunday roast cuts can be difficult to obtain, and in any case potatoes aren’t a family staple and what’s cooking for if not the family?
So prawns it is. I like prawns – they are one of the few things Singapore has that you really need to look hard to find in London, big succulent white shrimp (not tiger prawns) that go brilliant coral rather than the equivocal pink that smaller shrimp grudgingly give when cooked. Once that centrepiece is in place, the rest is mostly playing by ear; suffice to say I was looking for something a little Thai.
The first attempt at this was problematic; trying to find the right time for cooking prawns in an oven turns out to be surprisingly difficult, and we ended with something edible but rather too dry. Here is the improved version, where the prawns kindly provide a nice rounded savour to the tartness of the limes, all in a handy liquid for drizzling on white rice or noodles.
A bit of pedantry here: some also call it the Lunar New Year, but the Chinese calendar isn’t exactly lunar. It’s lunisolar, which is why the months roughly line up with the Western (solar) months. A fully lunar calendar, like the Muslim one, will have its holidays wandering all over the place on a Western calendar because it goes by its own rhythms.
… what were we talking about again? OH YES. So it’s the day just before the Chinese New Year now, and how remiss it would be of me if I neglected to write something about the biggest day in the Chinese calendar. Here goes!
I’m used to a city that goes completely silent for Christmas – have become used to that after just two years. There’s something thrilling about knowing that, right after the craze of office parties and the great tinsel floods (and before the insanity of the Boxing Day sales) there is an eye of the storm where everything, everything, is closed.
So it’s a time for walking, under mostly iron-grey skies and in miserable weather; it’s a time when the streets are a lot quieter than the parks and gardens which haven’t got gates. Dogs and children need walking, no matter what day it is. The hills ring with laughter, and the malls are deathly silent, and even the public transport is not working…
Of course, Singapore doesn’t have that tradition. Trying to find a really quiet place is probably impossible in this insane hive, but one can try – it’s the places where people live, strangely, that are the calmest. No one is where they live, it seems; we are all where we buy, or work to earn the means to buy, or watch with a mind to buying. Is that wrong? Well, I suppose it’s normal.
Well, so the world – or at least a subset of the world that enjoys both 21st century amenities and 19th century sentiments about entitlement, social order and the way things should be, the lucky bastards – has been abuzz over the royal baby.
Except he’s no longer the royal baby, he’s George! Nice choice of name there given the rather colourful Georges that Britain’s had. (Incidentally, the character of George in Blackadder is real. There was a Prince Regent, whose father the King was indeed bonkers in his later years, and who was quite well known for being a party-goer. He did commission the Royal Pavilion in Brighton though, and that is a very nice building, so I guess it all balances out if you’re a prince, eh?)
It’s been a pretty heavy few days recently, which is ironic considering how well the weather’s been. But that’s how things, perhaps.
Am back now, though! Let’s start off with a heavy morning song. Stanko is an amazing trumpeter. Wonder how much of their stuff is improvised…
She’s been a long time coming, and many of us thought she wouldn’t be coming at all. But I think it’s safe to say Lady Summer’s finally upon us, in a spray of vaguely floral scents, lots of gorgeous flowers and adorably clumsy bees, and flies. Clouds and clouds of the damn things.
In short, FUCK YEAH. So here’s a bit of noise for that.