Category Archives: China

Day 35: A good day at the gym

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I had a very good workout at the gym today. I feel tired and drained out. I love it. I have only been warming up and doing Abs routines.

Unfortunately, four months of home stay has affected my stomach significantly. I have a big belly now and am rightfully ashamed of it.

It’s funny how hard it is to get a good body but so easy to lose it. I’m very excited about singapore. And for all the wrong reasons. I am thinking food, chinese and the people.

I also had a good time with AJ today. We chatted over chilli chicken and porotta. Both were good.

I need to plan out my time to decide how I am going to manage the rest of my time here and get my goals done. This is vital.

I am now in the stage that Covey pointed out – I am very busy but not very effective. It’s the wrong forest people.

 

 

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Day 28: Chinese blood Souffle (India Vs China)

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Sorry for the rather inappropriate title. But I have been feeling rather disgusted with myself all day today – having been left at the doorstep of the 1911 revolution yesterday, I woke myself up into the bloody turmoil that was twentieth century China.

Perhaps it is the result of gorging up a four thousand year old civilization in one gulp – or perhaps my texts focus on the bloody more than usual – or perhaps Chinese history is indeed written with blood! There seems to be a revolution every few years or so. In each revolution people die in the thousands. Blood, gun boats and war! The last part of Chinese history (the period from the Revolution in 1911 to Now) is so messy that I haven’t honestly understood the entire thing yet.

I can’t help draw a comparison with India – India and China are both old. Both were subjected to very poor treatment during the Colonial period. Lots and lots of people in both the nations. Both emerging countries. Oh yes, and both of them eat rice.

Compared to China, India has not enjoyed the same level of unity  – for the major part, ‘China proper‘ was under the same authority expect for intermittent periods here and there. Some Chinese emperors seem to have had the foresight to impose a common language and currency system over China long time back. There seems to have been greater migration of people within China. This is all the more remarkable given the huge size of China.

India on the other hand was jigsaw puzzle until a century ago – nearly 400 principalities and over 2000 languages. In it’s entire history, which is as old as that of China, the whole of India has NEVER  under one ruler. Ashoka came the closest – but even he did not include the three southern most states. The later dynasties – the Guptas, Mughals, Marathas etc ruled over large territories but never comprehensive enough to be called an aAll – Indian empire. There has never been nor is there now a single unifying language for all the people. Hindi and English come the closest – but is by no means as pervasive as Mandarin in mainland China. It is also interesting to ask if the people everywhere identified themselves as Indians before Independence or the movement towards independence.

I really don’t believe that they did.

Now of course, with Hindsight, a common century of colonial oppression, millenia of shared culture and religion, languages that sound similar, food with related tastes, same superstitions and the Kamasutra it’s very tempting to think that Indians always identified as such – as part of the large Indian subcontinent but essentially the siblings of the same womb. Today, the railways, a common mode of entertainment aka Bollywood, cricket and national politics have created a far ranging feeling of unity among Indians than all those factors mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph.

Whenever this question is raised – namely the feeling of Indianness and it’s origin – people pick out the bunch of factors mentioned above (culture, religion, language etc). But to them I ask – what about Europe? Europe is smaller than India in size, it’s people have migrated and intermarried with each other for generations. They have the same history – it’s impossible to separate out the history of any one people from that of the entire continent. The European languages are all as related as the languages of the Devanagiri script (the languages of Sankritic origin). Religion, philosophy and politics have always been intermingled. Yet, Europe is a collection of Nations while India is one nation – How did things come about like this? How did India- much older, much more diverse and far less developed, manage to bring all it’s varied people under one common umbrella whereas Europe went the other way around?

And equally interestingly, how did China manage to circumvent the challenge to disintegrate, though there was enormous pressure to do so – but manage to remain consolidated not in the near proximity of the century but remarkably through most of it’s millenium old history?

I have always been drawn by this comparison of India and Europe – but never quite understood how these change in the local policies came about – perhaps European national consciousness rose too soon and too strongly in a competitive economic and military environment so that the nations chose to differ. In India the strain of colonial oppression forced people to look at each other for support and it was easier to forge a national alliance than to declare four hundred separate nations.

Coming back to the starting topic – I might be completely wrong here – but Indian history seems far less bloody than that of China. Of course, there was no final all out clash like the Sun Yat Sen and PLA,  thanks to Gandhi, but even before that, it appears as if the Indian people are less aggressive than the Chinese.

This is definitely not the impression that I have now – almost all of my Chinese friends are some of the nicest people that I know – and I have seen more than my fair share of crude aggressive Indians. Also, some parts of India have had more blood shed than the rest – we in the South are traditionally more peaceful than the north – leading one of my northern friends to remark that we were making sculpture and writing poetry while they were busy defending the country (it’s no fault of ours that most of the older invaders came through the northern plains – however, it could equally be said that the Europeans came from the south via sea and we did a  poor job of fighting them off 😉 )

But my heart goes out to my fellow China men – the strangest flower does bloom in the farthest deserts.

 

Day 27: The Crippled Tree by Hans Suyin (China)

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I have been reading Han Suyin‘s The Crippled Tree – a delightful account of her eurasian family during the tumultuous years of the last century. I have always wanted to read an account of China written by Chinese themselves, but for some reason has never been able to find a suitable text. Han Suyin represents a rather different brand of Chinese – her father is a “returned student” who married a Belgian woman. Han Suyin speaks French and Mandarin proficiently. Her Chinese family is a landed gentry in Szechuan (currently Sichuan) province of China. Whenever I read a book,  a stage comes when the books becomes too interesting. Then no effort is required to focus on the book, every moment is awake and the whole story is vivid in my mind’s eye as if I myself was there. Then, I cannot stop from reading the book – it’s almost a punishment. I read and read and then read some more.

The books is now old, having been published in 1965. However, the details are intricate and we get a rare glimpse of China from within China itself. I have been very curious about China for sometime now. Perhaps it is because of the large number of Chinese students at my University. I learned Chinese for like a month and a half during which my confidence in learning languages (which had been pretty high until then) took a deep blow. Chinese is just damn hard. There is nothing you can relate to – usually when you learn something, you can say things like – “that word is like ‘Blanch’ in English but with a ‘v’ sound at the beginning..” but Mandarin is so differen!  Sounds and vowels are very alien to the uninitiated with having to do gymnastics with our tongue just to pronounce them. Think “rui” for rain..( By the way, Pindin does not phonetically represent chinese pronunciation making it unbearably difficult to remember these words)

But then the Country began to fascinate me, more so when I discovered that I knew next to nothing about China – given that my knowledge of world history is not so archaic, I simply wanted to update the oriental section of my personal library as well.

Today, drawn by the book and it’s numerous references to Sun Yat Sen, the Hakka, Szechuan, Manchu’s, Taipeng, Returned Student etc, I plunged into the abyss that is Internet and was lost for a considerable number of hours. Having begun with Sun Yat Sen, I found myself at “Chinese Cuisine” of which there are four major styles – the Cantonese, Szechuan, Huandong and Hunan. I never knew that China had the next best thing to a meritocracy for centuries and a gentry class…or that ancestor worship was(is) very common in China. That the Chinese travelled far and wide to gain knowledge (and hence “returned students”). How much Confucianism played a role in setting the social mores of this class and how bloody Chinese history seems to be when compared to Indian history and in particular the history of the more tranquil South India.

A few months back, when the China fever was setting in, I happened to read Amitav Ghosh‘s The River of Smoke, which is the sequel to his Sea of Poppies. The new book is set in Canton (now Guangdong) province of China. This book is as fascinating as the first one and I’m sooo waiting for the third book.

The River of Smoke set my China fever on fire, it provided a massive visual to Canton and how life there was like before the Opium wars. I’m always drawn by food and apparently so is Amitav Ghosh- there is almost exquisite account of food from those times, no doubt greatly researched. I won’t be surprised if Amitav Ghosh hasn’t tried making all of them just to be able to write about them authentically.

China is fascinating but is a too giant of a country – more complex and varied than India. I get the feeling that Indians can be understood – in that if you know an Indian enough, you can predict their thoughts to a certain extent – but China eludes any kind of generalization. Maybe I’m wrong.

I remember a quote attached to Napoleon Bonaparte in The River of Smoke – “When China awakens all the world will tremble”. I will go to China and learn Mandarin – one day.

One day….