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.
Homemade breakfast before my first urban bike ride on a lazy, sunny Sunday through the crowded, noisy streets of Hong Kong. It was exhilarating seeing the city from the seat of a beautiful and sleek racing bike. We rode with the crazy traffic on the highways, up mountains, through the suburbs of Kowloon City, into tunnels, down back alleys, into neighborhoods from the early afternoon into the dusk. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take pictures, but the bottom postcard that I purchased at the art fair at which we took a pitstop resembles what we biked through.
The weather has warmed up slowly, and the weekends are beginning to get shorter and shorter. There no longer seems to be a clear delineation between working days and resting days. Ah, the languorous springtime.
In the seven or so months I’ve been in the center, today marks the first day I witnessed firsthand one of the asylum seekers, also an incredible woman I’ve been close with, receiving news that she and her family received recognized refugee status by the UNHCR.
It would be impossible to describe the feeling I had as I screamed and hugged and jumped up and down with her. It would also be impossible to describe the feeling I had watching other asylum seekers talk about it, obvious traces of dejection, anxiety, and envy in their voices. Many had been here for much longer periods of time, stuck in the same limbo, waiting and praying every day for the same good, but improbable, news.
Talk about your heart being ripped apart by joy and grief at the same time….