“A Japenese Way of Looking”

I confess I am not an artist, but it doesn’t mean that I cannot experience a love of the aesthetic. And I find such importance and value in exploring these perspectives because it helps me to recover and experience the beauty that is ever present in our lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s through poetry, wine tasting, bird watching or photography—there are so many ways to experience, to zoom in, and elaborate on these small elements of life which add so much fullness to our humanity.

Recently I visited the Hague, Netherlands and took advantage of visiting the Van Gogh Museum before jumping on my plane back to Laos. There was a  whole exhibition dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh’s obsessive study into Japanese prints and how he took those elements into his own style of art.  I had never really thought much about the subject and composition of works. Truly, I had always thought it was VanGogh’s brush strokes that had defined him as an artist. But as he produced a painting a day, he worked diligently to incorporate this style into his own. And when you looked at Japenese prints and then turned your eye to VanGogh’s work, you could catch a glimpse of how he had achieved a “Japanese Way of Looking” in his portraits of the people and places within the south of France. However, what struck me the most was how strongly he felt that the Arles, France was “just like Japan” because of the light and color of the landscapes he saw there. He had only explored Japan through those prints–he had never heard its language, seen Mt. Fuji or tasted sushi– so I was so deeply amazed that he had made that strong connection just thinking about light and color depicted in those prints. VanGogh, in my mind, definitely had a unique way of seeing the world.

van gogh 2And it was this idea that I connected to the most and made me question whether I, in all my travels, had truly appreciated the perspectives and features of the places that I had been too. Yes, of course, I had “assimilated” the culture in the places I had lived abroad but had I truly appreciated them and studied them in the way like VanGogh did. As an expat, I had simply lived among the culture rather than steeped myself in, floating at the top of its surface, trying to maintain the integrity of my home culture rather than allowing my eyes to completely view a different context of life.

As I bring my first year of life in Laos to a close, it makes me deeply reflect how I might integrate VanGogh’s determination to view life through another lens. In the past, I had pursued awe but it has always been around me. It’s not trying to evade me. It is just my sight that needs to shift. It is as if my camera’s lens has been out of focus and if I turn my attention towards something connective like Van Gogh’s “light and color”, perhaps life can be less blurred from the “could haves” and “should haves” that blind me, seeing, not only people and nature in a whole new way, but the circumstances in life.

What a wonderful experiment this can be.

 

What’s its Name?

It probably shouldn’t surprise you that in a country of over 2 billion people, 32 babies are born a minute. In my China Love post, I’d like to take a moment to discuss names. Here in China, I dare say in Asia, there are quite a few customs that differ from the western world.

name

Here are a few interesting things I’ve learned about names in China:

  • When you write someone’s name, their surname or family name goes first. This has to do with identifying the clan you were born into, which was especially important during more ancient times. Name order confuses me all the time here, and even at school, they write western names this way.
  • In the past, girls weren’t really called by a name. When your parents yelled for you to come to supper, you were called “1st daughter”, “2nd daughter”, etc.. I’m not sure if this was due to infant mortality rates or that the previous attitudes about girl children were that they would become her husband’s “slave”–so what’s the point of naming someone who will inevitably not “belong” to you?
  • Unlike many western cultures, the Chinese do not take their father’s surname and often use their mother’s instead. Also, middle names are uncommon.

In a country that names their children, “great” (Zhang Wei), “brave” (Wang Yong)  and “glamorous” (Wang Yan), I  often wonder where they get their inspiration from when deciding their English names.

  • Chinese people often have an “English” name, which comes in handy since my pronunciation is quite poor. I don’t know how these names come about, but some are rather cute, like Apple, and others seem a bit odd (see above).
  • Just like people in other cultures give their children strange names, people here also have been known to name children after special events which would be translated into words such as Space Travel, Olympic Games or even the @ symbol.

Chinese names are meant to convey special meaning, with the given names often expressing the best of wishes on the new-born. Some imply the birthplace, birth time ornatural phenomenon, like Jing (Beijing), Chen (morning), Dong (winter) and Xue (snow); Some embody the hope of virtue, like Zhong (faithful), Yi (righteous), Li (courteous) andXin (reliable) while others express the wishes of life, like Jian (health), Shou (longevity), and Fu (happiness). Source: People’s Daily

I am just scratching the surface here, but just like most cultures, the history and etymology of names are simply fascinating.