Tag Archives: spiritual

The “Dry” Relations in Chinese Culture

I remember one time long ago, Mother introduced her best friend as my “Gan-ma”, and insisted for me to address Auntie Huang by that title. That was a bit weird because I had been accustomed to call her “Auntie Huang.”

Another time, well into my adulthood, my older brother introduced a woman friend to me as my “Gan-jie” (older sister)… That was even weirder because I never met, even heard of her before… And I thought why on earth did he need a younger sister? What am I, chopped liver? (In a hind sight, she turned out to be a great pal on Facebook, lol…)

So what is “Gan” exactly?

“Gan” (乾) by its literal meaning is “dry.” With that, for the sake of explanation, blood relation is “wet.” When the word “Gan” is placed in front of an immediate family title, for example, Gan-ba, Gan-ma, etc., would make the set of words become “Father or Mother ‘without blood relations.'” The closest English usage translates these words to Godfather or Godmother.

However, the Chinese do not get a Gan-ba or a Gan-ma by getting baptized. Instead, they go through a ritual…

I remember witnessing my brother’s friend becoming my mother’s Gan-son. We had a tea offering ritual, and my brother was the Moderator of Ceremony. Mother was sitting in her chair, with a huge grin on her face throughout the entire event. The new son knelt down and offered her a cup of tea. Then the MC chanted “一鞠躬…” (Yi-ju-gong…) The new son, following the MC’s cue, knocked his head once on the floor, facing Mother. MC then chanted again, “再鞠躬… 三鞠躬…” (Zai-ju-gong… San-ju-gong…) as the new son continued to knock his head two more times, before the ritual would be over.

The tea offering ritual signifies promises to each other. The deep bow or head-knocking ritual was added here because it was for a Gan-mother-and-child relation. Head knocking ritual is the utmost respect one can pay to his/her elders, or to a person of higher ranking or generation. For Gan-sibling formation, therefore, for example, the head knocking may be omitted by choice.

Once the ritual was through, two people formed a spiritual tie, and promised to regard each other as if they were related by blood. By witnessing the ceremony, I was comfortable enough to call the new son “Gan-ge” (older brother.) As for my other Gan relatives, I never verified nor witnessed the the Gan formations with Auntie Huang, nor with Gan-jie. Perhaps that’s why, deep down, I never recognized them in the way I was told.

The Gan Relation often interestingly satisfies an individual’s missing part in his/her circle. For example, I knew Auntie Huang didn’t have a daughter, which was likely why I became her “Gan-daughter”, I felt weird calling her “Gan-ma” because I already have a mom… So that didn’t stick.

In short: The Chinese would always have a way to complicate their lives, in the name of simplifying their lives.

From the break room.

Charlie Hebdo

In light of the horrific murder at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine based in Paris, I came across an article about some leaked emails that uncovered Al Jazeera’s internal editorial debate amongst their staff. The composers of this email chain expressed their opinions, which are very different from each other, because of their diverse ethnicities around the world. These emails certainly highlighted differences of their belief systems, as they reflected upon the Charlie Hebdo incident–a cultural clash to a violent extreme…

Everyone knows that Asian cultures are more repressed, compared to the western ones. But, on the flip side, the disciplines were there based on respect and thoughtfulness. We Asians were taught to respect others before we get respected. Any criticism must be expressed carefully, sometimes using ancient phrases, expressions, metaphors, and/or humor, to keep it subtle. Otherwise it can be easily perceived as insults.

In Asian cultures, insult is the perhaps the biggest form of disrespect, equating bullying, and often times worse than physical assault, because of the psychological effect it can cause someone. There are many stories where one would rather die, commit suicide, than to be insulted, in order to protect his/her honor, or dignity.

In countries that champion freedom of speech and expressions, unfortunately, their laws also protect insults.

While Pope Francis condemned the murders, he warned against insults. He also said, with freedom, comes greater responsibility–He is totally right–The responsibility to protect and respect other people’s rights and space.

We have the right to bear arms, doesn’t mean we can go around killing other people…

We have the freedom of speech and expression, doesn’t mean we can go around hurting other people.

Words and expressions of criticism, if not careful, can be easily perceived as insults. And hurtful insults can escalate into another world war! Because, like murder, it can pierce a heart.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, I would never ever make a drawing or write words like that. Because, for one, religion is people’s spiritual lives. Secondly, satire is often taken out of context, therefore become untruthful and perhaps insulting. If there’s an issue that I must criticize, I would carefully and thoughtfully craft the criticism in a way that wouldn’t insult others. It’s very hard to do… But doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, for the sake of peace.

That’s just me… So…

I condemn the heinous killing. But I am not Charlie. 

Leaked Aljazeera internal emails

A Story of a Jade Bangle

Every piece of jade is unique. The Chinese believe that jade have their own spiritual callings. With an artisan’s crafty hands, the beauty and characteristics of a piece of authentic jade can be revealed. A piece of jade jewelry, made especially to be worn by humans, are not to be pursued. Due to its own spiritual calling, it would make its way to its destined owner.

Mother acquired the jade many years prior to moving to California in the spring of 2005. Before she moved, I went to her house often, helping her pack the house and accept whatever she didn’t want to move with her.

During one of those days, with her house full of cardboard boxes everywhere, she came to me and said, “This, I bought for you…” as she held up in front of me a bright red satin silk pouch. She unbuckled the brass snap button of the red pouch, adorned with golden threaded embroidery… A circular ring of pale green slid out and emerged in front of my eyes…

I recognized it’s a jade. It looked commonplace under the light. I appreciated her gesture, and knowing I wouldn’t see her often soon, I wanted to put it on right there and then. The unforgiving stone didn’t budge my big stiff hand… It was painful!

Mother saw the struggle, smiled and said, “It’s not time yet… Just keep it.” She put the bangle back into the pouch and handed it to me.

Years gone by. I started a creative and design business. Recession came. Time was tough and life was hard. Constently tried to reinvent and get by… I thought of Mother often–Her ways, her cooking, her words of wisdom…

One day I went through my drawers and rediscovered the red satin silk pouch. I couldn’t remember what it was until I felt the 2.5″ ring it contained. I opened the pouch and recalled the moment when Mother presented this. I held the bangle against the light and discovered the never before seen complexity within this simple ring of pale green, composed of smoky beige clouds and little dark green clusters of veins scattered throughout inside this perfectly round, crafted and polished wrist bangle.

I felt comfortable with it. It’s not stunning, not impressive. It didn’t look expensive. But it has its subtle and natural beauty that is honestly what it is… It made me feel close to home… Close to Mother…

Holding it with my right hand, without much thought, I gathered my left hand fingertips and put it through the bangle. I naturally slid it toward the wrist, slowly… Then, without really knowing what I was doing, the jade made it past my knuckles and landed on my wrist in no time… Without any pain.

Suddenly I realized that I was wearing it. “Oh no, can I take it of?” I thought, and tried to pull it out. But it was stuck! I was experiencing the same pain and struggle I felt when I tried to put it on the first time… Now it’s not letting me taking it off!

I’ve been living with the jade bangle ever since. In the beginning, it took me some time to adjust to the clunky noise it would make, every time I rest my left hand on a hard surface. But, as I hear the subtle banging noise, it’d always remind me of Mother, as if she was here with me — Because she wears a jade bangle too, and it’s the same noise she would make.

Day after day, the warm thought of Mother helped me I grow very comfortable with the jade. The noise has become a part of my life. The jade itself has become a part of me, my being, and an inspiration of Mother’s wisdom.