The Sanchon Hunjang
(usually clicking on the photos yields an enlarged version)



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Choose death 1

On September 10, 1910, in response to the Japanese annexation of Korea, Chosŏn scholar Maech'ŏn Hwang Hyŏn penned four verses of "Poems 詩 on Ending 絶 Life 命 절명수" and a final statement 유서, then committed suicide by opium overdose.

亂離滾到白頭年, Mid confusion and dificulty, I rushed into my white-haired years;
幾合捐生却末然. Several times I decided to end my life, but still in the end, remain here.
今日眞成無可奈, This day truly things have changed, there is nothing that can be done;
輝輝風燭照蒼天. Buffetted by the wind, a dazzling candle illuminates the blue heavens.

妖氛掩峠帝星移, Bewitching vapors cover the peak--the emperor's star has shifted;
九闕沈沈晝漏遲. The nine-layered gates of the palace are deep, daylight spills in slowly,
詔勅從今無復有, Royal proclaimations and edicts from now will not be had again;
琳琅一紙淚千絲. A bejeweled page: a thousand streams of tears.

☞ 「妖氛掩峠」, 一曰: 「妖氛唵翳」Bewitching vapors cover and screen.

鳥獸哀鳴海岳嚬, Birds and beasts sadly cry, seas and marchmounts grimace,
槿花世界已沈淪. The generation of the Rose of Sharon has already sunk.
秋燈掩卷懷千古, Under an autumn lamp, I close the scrolls and consider times of old--
難作人間識字人. It is difficult to be a man of letters in the world of man.

曾無支廈半椽功, I have never had even half of a hall's rafter worth of merit
只是成仁不是忠. I've only achieved humaneness, not loyalty.
止竟僅能追尹穀, In the end I'm only able to follow Yĭn Gŭ,
當時愧不躡陳東. At the same time ashamed not to have measured up to Chén Dōng.§

*) Yĭn Gŭ: A scholar/statesman of the Song Dynasty who was killed along with his family when the Mongolians invaded.
§) Chén Dōng: A scholar/statesman of the Song Dynasty who submitted a note of reomonstrance to the emperor that the state needed more discipline, thereby incurring the wrath of the emperor and leading to his own execution.

"나는 사실 죽을 의무가 없다. 난 국가의 봉록을 먹는 신하였던 적이 없다. 나의 죽음은 다만 인(仁)을 이루고자 할 뿐 충(忠)은 아니다. 그러나 나라가 선비 기르기 오백년인데, 나라가 망하는 날 한 사람 죽는 자 없다면 어찌 통탄스럽지 않으랴. 내 위로는 하늘이 내린 도리를 저버리지 않았고, 아래로는 평소 읽었던 책을 저버리지 않는다면, 어둠 속에 길이 잠들어서도 참으로 통쾌함을 느끼리라.

In fact, I have no duty to die. I have never been a government official, subsisting off of a salary from the state. My death is only to accomplish humanity 仁, it is not out of loyalty 忠. However, the state has been raising up scholars for 500 years. Would it not be lamentable if not even one person died on the day that the state fell into ruin? Provided I did not act contrary to the way that heaven above bestowed, or act in violation of the books below, that I habitually read, my consolation will be that I feel truly pleased, though I fall into a long slumber in the dark."

Unfortunately the Sanchon Hunjang could not find the 한문 original of his 유서.



The never exhausted flower

Koreans call their national flower 무궁화. That's the without being 無 all-used-up 窮 flower 花, because the blooms last for a long time. If you look 무궁화 up in your Korean-English dictionary, you are likely to find that this bush and flower combination is called "rose of Sharon." In the US, it is true "rose of Sharon" refers to the plant called Hibiscus syriacus.

In the UK, however, this same appelation is applied to the flower Hypericum calycinum.

So it's clearly best to define your terms before launching into any long speeches on the rose of Sharon.

Either way, who is Sharon? Why are people naming different flowers after her? And what is her problem that she doesn't seem to know what a real rose looks like? The name was borrowed from the Song of Songs in the Old Testament. Because the 무궁 flower was thought to have come from Syria and, thus, could well have been the object of Solomon's song, which isn't specified very clearly in the first place.

But the 무궁화 flower didn't come from Syria.

It's from Asia.


Now that you've diligently studied your Chinese characters, undoubtedly you're ready to have a cocktail napkin conversation with the next Chinese person you run into who doesn't speak enough English or Korean for 의사소통. You can just whip out your Mont Blanc fountain pen and write
韓國 國花 = 無窮花.
中國 國花 = ?

in that nice penmanship you've practiced so hard on your napkin and you'll be having a deep conversation in no time, right?

NotSoFast, partner.

It turns out that there's a single character that means 무궁화. It looks like this 槿 and it's called '무궁화 근.' That's the character you'll want to write on your napkin, 'cause Chinese folk don't get '무궁화' any more than English-speakers get 'never ending flower' (Susie Younger's book by that title where she talks about her attempts to save Korean prostitutes, notwithstanding)

This character is not unknown in Korea: 박근혜's 근 is 무궁화 근, after all.

In days past, even manly men would take pennames like "Apricot 梅 Moon 月 Hall 堂," but flowers in men's names (or nicknames) is a practice that has waned. Probably since that whole 단종 thing rendered 김시습 a hopeless vagabond for the rest of his life. But I did meet a man in town not long ago. His name was a 외자: 槿, and he was very proud of it because of the patriotism represented.

Maybe flower names for men are coming back in. Is it time for the Sanchon Hunjang to take a more floral ? I'd better be sure and pick one that has a clear antecedent to avoid problems down the road. ^^



On old bonzes and old 부장s

The other day I was reading a blog by that 没有劍的, where he cited a short Buddhist verse:

菩提本无树, 明镜亦非台. 本来无一物, 何处惹尘埃?

I'm not sure why he chose PRC style simplified characters, here it is in complified characters:


I was intrigued by what I could only half understand. The Sanchon Hunjang knows extremely little Buddhist vocabulary and even less of Buddhist concepts, so I was looking up some of the words. In the process, I came across a story explaining the background of this verse.

Below is the Reader's Digest version. Anyone who wants to read the whole thing, please go here.

There was a great Buddhist Patriarch living at a temple in China. At this temple were many monks, and a certain monk who had been there the longest. This monk naturally assumed that he was next in line to succeed the Patriarch because he had paid his dues in working at the temple for years and years (hmmmm. Something coming to mind here about all of the 부장 at the Sanchon Hunjang's office all lined up to become executives. The senior 부장 naturally expect to be made vice presidents, without regard to their ability or lack of same, because they've paid their dues by working like slaves at the company for years).

The Patriarch decided that he wanted a meritocracy rather than rely on a potentially mediocre successor who had been around for ever. He decided on a method to assess ability. Each monk at the temple was to compose a poem and the Patriarch would use these poems to pick his successor.

The old 부장, er I mean monk ^^, struggled with whether he was actually expected to hand in a verse, or if this was just some formality to name him as successor. Finally he penned the following:

身是菩提樹 The body is the Bodhi tree,
心如明鏡臺 The heart is as the bright mirror stand.
時時勤拂拭 Constantly, diligently buff and polish,
勿使惹塵埃 So as not allow dust and dirt to adhere.

Charles Muller's online dictionary of Buddhist terms says that 菩提 (보제) is Chinese transliteration for the word bodhi, which is the name of the tree under which the Buddha obtained enlightenment as well as the ground where this happened, and thus as metonymy for enlightenment. The bit about the bright mirror and busily buffing it is also common imagery for improving yourself. I assume this means working toward enlightenment, however that is done.

The Patriarch saw this verse and couldn't help but notice that the monk was as close to seeing enlightenment as penguins are to seeing bikinis on their beaches. He was disappointed because enlightenment means recognizing that there is no division or distinction between the larger universe and the ego, but the monk's poem clearly has an ego slaving away to reach this goal.

One much younger monk, Hui Neng 혜능, wrote:

菩提本無樹 The Bodhi ground originally had no tree
明鏡亦非臺 The bright mirror also no stand.
本來無一物 Originally there was not one thing,
何處惹塵埃 To what place could dust and dirt adhere?

The original text doesn't mention it, but this younger monk was either intentionally correcting or ridiculing the older monk. There's no other way to explain the similarities in these verses.

When the patriarch saw this verse, he knew that he had found his successor, so he spirited 혜능 away lest the senior monk do him harm out of jealousy. The Patriarch taught the Diamond Sutra to 혜능, whereupon he attained enlightenment and became Patriarch n+1.

All of this appears to mean that the Sanchon Hunjang comes very close to enlightenment after 28 minutes on the stationary bike at the health club, when everything turns to oblivion and I really can't remember there being anything in the universe.



Another Chinese riddle

On the menu at 중경신선로 are some assorted 요리s, but the highlight we ordered was a heaping plate of 동파육. For the uninformed, here's what it looks like (for authenticity, graphic lifted from 중경신선로's page, linked above).

Of course 동파육 is named for that famous Song Dynasty statesman/philosopher/poet 소식 Su Shi (1037-1101). Su Shi liked to call himself 東坡居士 동파거사 and gorge himself on this pork dish that eventually took his name as its patron saint. He also spent a forced vacation on Hainan Island before it became a tropical resort paradise where businessmen go for 37 hole weekend rounds of golf.

In honor of the man who bequeathed 동파육 to us mortals, an entry on Su Shi (Anyone who wants to read a page with a bit more detail in modern Chinese about the following story, please look here).

During the reign of Emperor Shenzong 신종 of the Song (r. 1068-1086), there was a rivalry going with the Liao barbarians to the north of China. Once they sent an envoy to the Chinese court to demonstrate once and for all the cultural superiority of the Liao people. He threw down several difficult challenges of the form "here's a line of poetry, compose a parallel construction." The emperor and his court tried and tried but came up with nothing. Finally they called out their secret weapon: Su Shi. Su handily composed some parallel poetry to shut up the Liao envoy.

Then, when his composition caused the Liao envoy to stand dumbfounded for a moment, Su rushed in for the coup de grace. "Composing poetry is easy. But sometimes it's hard to see it." Then he grabbed a brush and proceeded to write the following:

☞ 亭: 정자 정, 景: 볕 경, 畫: 그림 화 (note that the part immediately above the line on the very bottom is sometimes written as 囚 instead of 曰, as you see it here), 老: 늙을 로, 拖: 끌 타, 笻: 대이름 공, 首: 머리 수, 雲: 구름 운, 暮:저물 모, 江: 물 강, 蘸: 담글 잠, 峯: 봉우리 봉

The Liao envoy spent some time looking at these mal-formed and twisted characters before he gave up. Su closed with the parting shot, if you can't even make out this poem, then you shouldn't open your mouth again on the topic (The Sanchon Hunjang is far too dim to take this subtle of a hint, that's why I continue to post here on poetry-related topics ^^). Then he gave the solution:

Long 長 pavilion 亭, short 短 sunrays 景: a picture 畫 without 無 man 人,
An old 老 big 大 sideways 横 drags 拖 his thin 瘦 bamboo 竹 staff 笻.
Turn 回 head 首, cut 斷 clouds 雲: a slanted 斜 sun 日 evening 暮,
Twisted 曲 river 江, upside down 倒 holds 蘸 to the side 側 mountain 山 peaks 峰.

Um, it's not great English, but I was just hoping to show what Su Shi had done with his funny writing to hint at the presence of unseen graphs. All together, he has compressed the following 28 characters into 12. For better understanding of the verse, as opposed to what he had done by writing it as above:

長亭短景無人畫,Long pavilion and short sunrays: a picture without people,
老大橫拖瘦竹笻. An old man drags his thin bamboo staff sideways.
回首斷雲斜日暮,He turns his head to see cleft clouds and the slanting rays of the evening sun,
曲江倒蘸側山峰. A twisting river holds the upside down image of mountain peaks from the side.

Very clever, Mr. Su. Now, if you don't mind, pass some more of that 동파육! ^^


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