Everything about this place is soaked into the deepest layers of my skin. The porn-laden alleyways I walk through, garbage piled up to the sky, the pervasive smell of curry and fried samosas, the way the building is the same gritty shade of gray no matter how bright or rainy it is outside, the smiling South Asian man from whom I buy my morning chai, the strange people on the rickety elevators, illegal phones, illegal money, illegal drugs, endless hope.
T. taught me a new Chinese idiom today, one that is rooted back to the Warring States period of China.
卧薪尝胆 means, literally, to “sleep on straw and taste gall.” The King of the Yue empire, after losing the war to the King of Wu, slept on a bed of straw and hung a piece of gallbladder (which is very bitter in taste) from the ceiling to lick before his meals so as to remind himself of the bitterness of defeat and win over Wu the next time around, gaining his revenge.
The idiom now means to self-impose hardships so as to stiffen one’s resolve to do something, a principle that more people of our generation should strive to live by, one that I certainly try to on a regular basis. So often do young people seek out what is the most comfortable, the easiest, the most enjoyable, forgetting that with comfort comes complacency, and with that, decay.
Sometimes, the only way to battle that which we want to avoid is to remind ourselves constantly of the alternative, as the King of Wu did. There’s enough consumerist, hedonistic, mindless decay in modern-day society without my adding to it.
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.”
Today, I witnessed silently and helplessly as a woman, with one hand in a bandage/cast and her small son gripping the other, desperately and furtively told the caseworker that she didn’t want to go home with her husband. She spoke in hushed and frightened tones while her husband looked on angrily through the window. I won’t forget the expression on her face anytime soon. Or the one on his.
In the past few days, black rain has been incessant. A hailstorm hit Hong Kong and shattered the roof of a shopping mall, which subsequently flooded. Less than a week of respite, and then a long winter melded into typhoon season.
In the past few days, I have also acquired:
1) A plane ticket to Malaysia
2) A cafetière
3) Rekindled frustration for the PRC
4) (Even more) Heightened frustration for institutions
5) The workload of four concurrent school projects and a sense of careless nonchalance in regards to this particular workload (see #4), and, regarding all other things,
6) A heightened sense of urgency, as it is April, which is, indeed, the cruelest month, if for no other reason than the fact that it is one month closer to the next.