Monday, July 17, 2017

It's Not About The Bowls

Singapore writer You Jin (real name Tham Yew Chin) is an author whose many works I've read. I was initially forced to read them in order to gain some sort of fluency in Chinese in high school. Then I learnt to pick out the titles preferred and found many gems in her published writings. One of my favorite compilation of short stories of hers is 《我心中有盏灯》(1991) or loosely translated into 'I Have A Light In My Heart'.

It was with a bit of glee when I spotted You Jin's (尤今、真名谭幼今) new book at the bookshop. Haven't read her works in a while. 尤今新出版的《亲爱的碗》(2016)。I suppose you could translate it into 'Dearest Bowls' or 'Precious Bowls'. Categorized under five themes, there're 60 short stories within which have been previously and separately published. I haven't read any. I had no illusions that the stories talk about food per se. These are stories about life experiences and tales. That's a metaphorical bowl.


The only thing, the opening theme of ‘第一辑:种瓜得瓜’ with 11 stories felt like a lecture in parenting and how to ensure your children live up to your expectations. Zzzzzzzzz. The stories are about her children, how proud she is of them, and of the way she raised them, the strong bond between them or her friends' warm relationship with their children. Perhaps it could be an important matter to her to open the book with this theme. I'm not averse to stories like that, but I'm certainly not very interested in reading such thoughts.

The stories in the subsequent themes fared much better with me. Travel tales and little snippets of life that sometimes mention the children but without the accompanying unwanted 'nuggets of wisdom'. The fifth and final theme in this collection kinda looks at nostalgia, ‘第五辑:旧欢如梦’. The first story is eponymously titled 《旧欢如梦》, tells of how dependent writers today are on their computers instead of their pens, to the extent that they've forgotten how to write the more complicated Chinese characters that hold many strokes.

最近,与文化界友人茶叙,谈到历史人物范蠡时,有人问起 “蠡” 字怎么写,大家面面相觑,居然都写不出来;后来,靠着平板电脑解决了问题。接着,更惊人的事发生了- 有人刻意要求这些日日与文字 “肌肤相亲” 的人在纸上写出一些普通的词汇,如 “喷嚏”、“桀骜”、“蠹虫”、“饕餮”、“邋遢” 等等,他们蹙眉而写,出现在纸上的字,不是少了一划,便是缺了一撇,美丽的方块字,全都成了可怜兮兮的瘸子了! 
嘿,这不就是典型的电脑 “后遗症” 吗?以前,大家何曾如此狼狈过啊!一笔在手,万千词汇,呼之便来,每个字从钢笔流出来时,都是 “四肢健全” 的。 

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