It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. – Tales of two Cities
I keep trying to beam to my older gen as I recite it in my head like a Rosary almost, last two weeks of my life. This is my sincere eulogy to Grandpa and a spontaneous drama senseless spazz all-in-one.
I spent last two weeks mourning the death of Grandpa. He was my only surviving Grandpa I married into, the only person I know whom had NEVER showed a whiff of foul mood nor gloom when his family is around, he would make the wittiest joke, play on words humming the cantopop with befitting cheesy lyrics over being the first in line after a long wait NOT getting eggtarts his offsprings are still giggling too after some 30 odd years. He had a perpetual smile on his face, ranging from a wide grin over every dumb dirty jokes his silly grandsons would say, to a chuckle when I scratch that sweet spot for him, smiling from the bottom of our heart is the best reaction of a man God has gifted us, he said. Family gathered, everyone of us at our most vulnerable, gone forever are the usual yearly Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year/Grandparents Anniversary whirlwind of crazily joyous neverending months of family reunions heightened with nothing but merry and cheers…emotions ran havoc, nerves raw, overtly sensitive about…each own feelings of grief, sorrow, longing, regrets, exacerbating into hurt and raw outbursts with no outlet but towards our closest kin. Words said without filters, ‘damage is done.’ as Aunt1 bluntly ended a venting to me on Aunt3.
A drama one should never have to sit through, first hand: Mominlaw and her siblings silently feuding over insurmountable petty misunderstandings…sensibilities stretched bare, exhaustive from missing a Father they have known for 60+ years of their lives.
‘Three years… is not normal. She needs help.’ Absofkingluting, as Aunt’s closest family should be most embracing to her and stop any criticizing of how she should be mourning her father, when the onslaught of her afresh the grief of losing her husband in a devastating battle with cancer three years ago. Or how anyone should mourn while be sensitive and considerate to everyone else when we are out of cares to give, consumed by nothing but…grief. We all see ourselves from Our own point of view and thus regard everything concerning amplified than it is. Our pain hurts more vividly first hand, our feelings are more vulnerable and needed more attention.
It is peculiar when we are actively in uncontrollable emotional pain, we lose our humility first. Humility in the sense of ignorant to our self-servicing, the world is never centering around us, yet we egomaniacally trust ourselves as somehow omnipowerful even with guilt and grief. The guilt of not doing enough, doing too much, never doubting our action would have alter outcomes, to the extreme of life-altering, feeling guilty aggravating Grandpa’s condition as an nonagenarian living with the myriads of health problem…stripping him of simplest human existence, a tear at a time as if witnessing naturally falling drop of water taken back by the windowsill during rain in rewind. Spending time with Grandpa in his end days was witnessing human life completing the full circle… reverting to a ‘dust-less’ existence of what we are born with entering this world, gaining a soul and all the dear ones and love, leaving our mark but unable to take a speck of worldly posession, any ‘skills’ earned with us as we part this world. We are nothing, nothing without the love and care, then our parents, now his offspring. We were but a dough of flesh, not truly survivable, where a dearest soul grew out of, hopefully.
The grief admittedly triggers what I do not want to part with, life as it is, I lost that extra nudge of feeling good being a filial grandchild, the few times a year I am brought to happiest tears from the cutest humor, most romantic odes of affection towards Grandma waxing from Grandpa’s mouth in deep dementia. It could be watching a tedious episode of potboiler Empress Ki, dragging on some typical MarySue dilemma even a dozing off Grandpa had enough of it and had to comment, geez I am much better at it with half my brain literally intact,
‘I made the best choice in life, picked the best wife the first instant my eyes set on her. ‘ Grandpa, a smug sparkle in his eyes, gloating in his best taste and foresight and happiness, staring at Grandma the clarity and tenderness always
‘…Why not me. I could have done more.’ That, is my full of verve, forever the amazon optimistic proactive Aunt. The most common thing said when everyone is trying to comfort her is stop the ‘absurd’ guilt of blaming herself of not doing enough when hit by the worst of ‘fate’. She blamed herself not having last meal with her Dad the night before, not picking up clues he had difficulty breathing or choking on mucus which was a regular occurance as he lost the muscle mass to cough up, not being by his side ‘helping’ his last moments. We assume all of us would ask the obvious why me, why my dear one…not my superhumanly capable aunt. We keep preaching she has been through more than anyone deserves and she did million folds what we thought ever possible taking care of Uncle at home the years he was palliative with his advancing brain cancer but it did not bring her any comfort, it heightened her own guilt of being a cause he is not by her side, she could have should have done another million and million folds of anything just so he would still be by her side. It was under a lot of talking with Father, her faith and the gain of her closer to God that help her realizing she lacks humbleness thus begins her coping. Being grief-striken, Aunt, this constant of my life is not as easily available, trapped in a distanced, nuanced numbness she has frankly admitted she will perhaps never be truly happy again. She is better in the sense she is actively living life to the fullest, traveling, visiting friends and family, ballroom dancing, zumba-fu the day of the vigil, then the next day of funeral mass and wake , she will chatter enthusiastically the awesome of going to a GEM (canto popstarlet) concert, quite happy, happy enough yes, but she has accepted and is coping with never being the same, she said. We cope with never having our coolest Aunt back, that in itself is self-servicing. Her existence, in any shape or form should not be for other’s enjoyment. When our feelings are freshly hurt (by her distancing), there is a gushing open wound, unmanageable pain, but how we react to the pain is our own reaction, the cause of suffering. She is part of family, and family is part of us all, irreplaceable.
You would not find a more awful photoshop dummie than me, and hours after the sad news broke, I took up working on Grandpa’s portrait. Pixels are blurred some more by tears and I find strength to continue at times… with Grandpa smiling in the photo. I smiled back at him smiling at me from the screen, feeling better, instantaneously. Crying is still in bouts of hysterical and Hubs came hugging me and putting a bouquet of white tissues under my face, shielding tears and phlegm from his precious gaming keyboard of course while I pooped up an hour of work by him unintentionally moving my hand on mouse and I ended up chasing him, pinching, beating the shit out of him furious, with him screaming like a little girl. I fixated on a pixel at a time, a visually tiny compartmentalization of grief, and it soothes me. I zoomed out to take in Grandpa’s entire smile, and it tings my sorrow with a calming…happiness, reacting to what we dread the most in life, missing a dearly departed.
A few days ago, hours after we just drove home 8 long hours in the most hideous torrents of ugliest hail, hugs and kisses and some sweetest smiles of sisters of decades shocked me most pleasantly as I facetime the cute older gen we were home ‘safe and sound’, worried sick, literally feeling queasy of I can’t take family drama no more please God have some mercy as I clicked dial. Immediately I reacted, recording them being kissy, touchy and feely, hysterically funny abusing the silly family pug with duck pillows like what I imagined them as little girls…next time they lose their shit, that WILL save me hours on social media faking horribly as lousiest chicken soup writer. Grandma in greatest mood asking my opinion of picking out a silk scarf for a symphony orchestra they are heading out to, from the dozens she got from her handsomest grandchildren (her words), and picked Hubs’, whom she joked was gifted to her randomly by a pretty boy too 小鮮肉/youngfreshmeat for her, giggling at herself. Grandpa, a most prolific editor/writer/screenwriter/film critic with literally close to a hundred pen names would LURVE to pen such script in his implish glee.
Days back home, I am refusing to unpack, and I bite when hubs try to, hollered at him if he could not find underwear I do not even want to hear a drawer opening and closing, all i had the practicality for was ordered new pairs next day shipping. Let me mourn, with my messy shrine of reminders, belongings holding me up presentable as I paid my respects touching Grandpa looking as if he was just asleep, with a smile on his face.
And the days of bereavement home alone, I spent entirely on marathoning a drama: Of Monks and Masters/ 侠僧探案传奇. Any other past years, drama watching would be too obvious my comfort. Not 2015. This is my BEST of 2015 meaning zilch because I could not remember watching anything passionately as irrevocably worthy. I made ~20 blog posts last year, when I could not imagine any volume less of nonsense weekly a few years ago, useless mourning I have lost a venue dumping whatever to my heart’s desire. Dearly departed is the emo crazy drama addict fangirl, futile holding on what’s gone. I am no longer an addict, which is good when I do not waste my time irrationally craving the next high; horrible when I need a nostalgic comfort. I still have opinions, 99% caustic, on what I watched, no one should hear about on what they are crazily loving. But hear me out, at this trying time.
If i was not too confident in my judgment having crazily high expectation of Nirvana in Fire, anticipating it for 18+ months and the subsequent cesspit of disappointments it served me, I would not go out of the way desperately seeking. I asked, poked around and Of Monks and Masters seems exactly my gorgeous cuppa cinematography wise, in a genre i am most futilely lenient towards: wuxia, the archaic lore of era past. I gave it an ep. Did it wow me thoroughly, not really. But it met my requirement with the most poetic camera work, flawlessly thoughtful frame to frame, a master of cinematography showing all his worth. Nothing offended me, especially not the writing, that is all I need when grieving how much NiF sucked in that alone. And why did a drama chingu like Timescout picked it out of my relentless nonsense this drama is what she wants to watch, when I did not read about her watching much C period dramas (not that much is worth her venturing), is beyond me, no way this will get subbed. I assumed this is a story about a naive, sheltered monk dragged into the evils of men with the detective work and unable to emerge from the entanglements of being a human and ignorantly without the agency to handle the angst. I guessed the angst must be him falling in love, losing his love, consumed by revenge and thus turn ‘dark’ per doctrine of Shaolin the Buddhist wuxia sect. This is still the predictable trajectory along with an ‘evil’ puissant Yasha/scary demigod sect conspiring against the imperial court and a dash of political intrigue humming throughout. But this is a jawdropping job of drama construction seamless a 9.5 ep of intriguing enough exposition not fully aware by us to a grandest explosive climatic ending. I was doubting it could turn extremely interesting and I was so very wrong. Timescout braved on, and in raves, her opinion aligning with weirdo!me often. While I had a hard time finishing a movie length 90+ min episode in one sitting, she did FIVE. Another day transpired, she FINISHED it speechless, rapturous. Needless to say that piqued my interest. But with life blindsiding me, all’s forgotten.
At the wake, random chitchatting over food and my older gen ladies out of the blue started spazzing about how extremely beautiful HuGe is and hence NiF is a must-see y’all, Broinlaw chatted to shallowme about how natural and refreshing and tastefully nuanced the costume and makeup and beautiful the ladies are in NiF…and still proud of self I held my caustic tongue numb and strong. Things work in weird ways, the serendipity/fate even how we meet and fall in love with a drama. Without the annoying instigating of anything NiF, my state of mind, nor the leisure, the mood to fall back to my guilty pleasures, I would not be here, preaching how unbeknownst drama is a form of faith, from a faithful, miraculously guiding me through how to cope with fresh grief.
A buddha statue never demands to be dripped in gold yet we impose our respect with what we consider lavish and reverenced on it. There is not a thing from the beginning. Where can dust collect?
But is dust, that is living with flaws and suffering…horrible/bad/toxic no good can attain from?
We start the tale set in mid Northern Song dynasty, a time of pacifist reforms, neo-Confucianism, cultural renaissance, obsessions of superstitions, myths and folklore, alongside a preference of Taoist infusion of Buddhism, brewing critiques of traditional Buddhism, remnants fr Tang dynasty as being too unattainable of a foreign origin when the more ‘down to earth’ ‘into the world’ Taoist approach with an intimacy to the Chinese cultural roots and own ancestry gained traction. Early emperors are intellectuals inspired with the rhetoric of diplomacy overruling military assertion, expanding the bureaucracy/scholarly gentry rule. It was a prosperous peaceful time under Emperor RenZong, also planting the seeds of its downfall in another few emperors. RenZong was the father of the two older Princes mentioned in story, one of which was this tale’s ruling emperor lit by shadows. The real legendary Justice Bao was a civil servant during RenZong’s reign. Imo the good Song emperors did rule with gradients of kindness, uprightness and humility, thus lacking shrewdness, caution against neighboring threats on the prowl, along with the inner turmoil of a culture of corruption festered by a overgrowing, domineering bureaucracy.
We meet our Hero Li ShaoBai/李少白, a Shaolin disciple/’monk’ not in the strictest sense, as a hermit, swindler stereotype of a word reader. He is a 俗家弟子, a ‘commoner’ disciple apprenticing under the revered ShaoLin Abbot, in this case one of the five greatest wuxia masters/leaders in the wulin/fraternity guild of martial artists who is like a father to him. Commoner disciples are allowed laxer liberties, ShaoBai has his hair/threads of entanglement of human sufferings intact, indulges in booze and meats which is a freedom oneself chooses to pay, dampening path to enlightenment in which asceticism, purest in heart, simplest in purpose is considered the only right Way Seeing Buddha.
ShaoBai enjoys a dabble in the Red Dust/Buddhism’s view of the illusory materialistic world, a dream of suffering mortals should awaken from. Red Dust is literally painting the visual of the bustling life peddling on the dirt roads, chasing money, name, fortune, the entanglements of life, dust stirred up shrouding the air, forming a red tinted glow engrossing everyone as the sun set after a day of labor. He roams the monastery and the village, a rarest privilege skipping the well known tradition of the almost impossible challenge passing the 18 bronzemen safeguarding at the gate taking the descend, proving worthy to endure tribulations of the ordinary world. Curiously ShaoBai is exempt from the test, we are impressed with his capable wuxia skills off the bat, hinting on knowledge of many sacred wuxia mantras Shaolin Abbot will only pass on to the One. It is in hindsight very telling his adoptive father figure, the Abbot, entrusting ShaoBai to Detective Dee to exonerate any Shaolin’s involvement in the first mystery assigned thus luring, dragging him into the mortal world where the assailant, with ShaoBai being an early suspect, must possess a rare Shaolin wuxia skill in order to conduct a locked room murder.
Fortune telling on strangers with a word of his/her choice is far from an honorary vocation, it is simply ShaoBai’s means to immerse in human stories/sufferings of patrons from the confident emotional distance, professionalism of a promising enlightened Buddhist disciple. He is an orphan, with very little worldly possession to ‘gather dust’ thus cause suffering. A Chinese/Buddhist saying of enlightenment is 看破红尘, piercing through the red dust, google likes the translation of disillusioned. In a simple sense this is to be compassionate and nonjudgmental to everything and everyone, to forgive and forget so anguish, hatred, despair, your reaction towards the transient can not fester and thus free your soul to enlightenment. He would listen to life stories of strangers sating his passionate curiosity, assured he would be abstained from the human experience himself. He has bright fascination about the human condition as a bridge in between, asserting nuggets of Buddhist wisdom, honoring the dogma he is selectively abiding to, yet skirting around the realms as a maverick monk. But once he steps deeper into the Red Dust, trappings stick as friendships, comrades, a certain special lady enters his life. When it is shaping up a darker personal tale of his own he is merely a pawn in, set in motion by forces unknown, spiraling out of his control, he learns ‘too much’ firsthand about living, or the Buddhist view: living is suffering, but suffering has a reason, is impermanent, and intrinsic to being an ordinary man, wrung through nothing but the usual, treacherous way.
Detective Dee BaFang/狄八方 is sharply wading his way, his living, squarely in the Red Dust in his various crimson uniforms. Poised, cool, smart, experienced, successful and getting more so ascending the bureaucracy of civil service with each case. He introduces himself to us in a remark he is a man in his 40s, whom according to teachings of Confucius, ‘…an age when a man is able to judge right from wrong without vacillation. Yet my work in the investigative bureau requires doubting everything an instinct, a habit.’
At first glance I thought his name implies he is on the alert of ‘all 8 ordinates’ well-prepared of all the nefarious looming, now I am optimistically praying I could take a word play on his name as 敌八方 ‘able to fight it all’.
I assumed his relentless calls for ShaoBai’s aid is crucial, fresh keen eyes of a wise outsider breaking his old detective habits, but how little I expected, how glorious a mindfeast I am treated to. I bow to you, Writer.
As a monk, ShaoBai would have considered his greatest purpose in life in doing good, helping the needy, soothing human suffering a word, a man, a time, as fate arranges whomever passing by his word reader stall, while progressing leisurely on his path of enlightenment, leading a life agreeable enough with the Way of Buddha. At the end of this journey he has lived a full life like any tragic hero, he had loved, he had family, he has an unforeseeable role to play in society, in history he is forced into against his will. He laments the drowning, losing old ignorant self in the miasma of red dust, there is no way back unscathed but who can say definitively one could not still do good in darkness when it triggers a yearning of light even more desperate. From a trapped pawn, he might have awaken with all the chess pieces in his hand the Grandmaster, a new freedom as if fate is in his hands where he no longer has to question good or bad, evil or the Way.
This is the unique drama that spoilers of any kind will irrevocably ruin it, so not worth it for such rarity. I am up for any discussions in comments, I have lots to gush!