I thought I’d write an update. April was all about the A-Z Challenge, and I’m not sure where May went so …
Actually, April wasn’t just about the challenge. There was my birthday, of course, and at the end of the month, my best friend (who is Singaporean and lives in Singapore) and I met in Melaka and seriously overdosed on chendol, and other delicious food, but mainly on chendol, which was just so yum. That was pretty much a food holiday.
About a week after that, I-Shan and I went to Singapore so she could attend a Troye Sivan concert. We didn’t do much else.
Then at the end of May, Ekath, I-Shan and I went to Koh Samui in Thailand for a four-night stay. But, right before that, I went to check out the Thean Hou Temple in Seputeh, Kuala Lumpur. Apart from my interest in Daoist temples, I’d just been reading about Mazu (the patron goddess of seafarers) who is often conflated with Thean Hou (the Queen of Heaven). The temple is identified as a Mazu temple, but I don’t think it is as, apart from her headdress, there’s nothing to indicate that the Goddess there is Mazu. Most significantly, her usual two ‘bodyguards’ are no where to be seen in the temple. Nevertheless, I enjoyed exploring the place. It’s so beautiful even if the lanterns are all plastic, ugh.
At this temple there is a small garden dedicated to the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
And round the back I found something that made me really happy: The Twenty-Four Filial Exemplars! The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars, also translated as The Twenty-four Paragons of Filial Piety, is a classic text of Confucian filial piety written by Guo Jujing during the Yuan dynasty ([1260–1368). The text features twenty-four extremely filial children (twenty-three sons and one daughter-in-law) who Chinese children everywhere are expected to regard as role models.
I’d heard some of the stories before, from my mother, who was not trying to teach me how to be a filial child. I think she found the stories as strange as I did.
The one I remember best is of the son who takes off most of his clothes during bedtime and then sleeps near his parents in the hope that mosquitoes will bite him instead of his beloved old folk.
The story that is perhaps the most bizarre is of Madam Tang, who breastfeeds her ailing, toothless mother-in-law for years as the old woman can’t take solids. The mother-in-law even takes precedence over Madam Tang’s own children who are only fed after Madam Tang senior has had her fill!
By the way, every level of Daoist hell has the most painful punishments for unfilial behaviour, including being sawn in two and de-boweled.
If you want to avoid being punished in the most vile ways imaginable, the following chaps might be able to teach you a thing or two about being a good child … (I’ve captioned the pictures with the story of each filial son.)
The future Emperor Shun (2233 BCE-2184 BCE) was mistreated by his father and stepmother, but continued to be a devoted son. His reward was being chosen by Emperor Yao as Emperor.
Liu Heng (Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty, 202 BCE – 6 July 157 BCE) took great care of his mother, Empress Dowager Bo. When she was ill, he took on nursing duties and would taste any medicine that was served to her to ensure that it was not harmful.
Zeng Shen who later became Zengzi, a Confucian scholar and philosopher, was born to a poor family. Once, when he was out gathering firewood, some visitors came to his home. His mother, feeling anxious, bit her finger and hoped her son would sense something and come home quickly. True enough, Zeng Shen felt a sharp pain in his heart. Fearing that something bad had happened to his beloved mother, he hurried home. Impressed, the guests praised him for his filial piety. Zengzi is revered as one of the Four Sages of Confucianism.
Min Sun (536–c. 487 BC) was also known as Ziqian and was one of the most prominent disciples of Confucius. He was mistreated by his stepmother and when his father eventually found out and wanted to throw her out of their home, the boy said, ‘If she stays, only I suffer. But if you send her away, my brothers and I will suffer.’ The stepmother was so touched that she regretted her actions and never mistreated Min again.
Zhong You (542–480 bc), commonly known by his courtesy names Zilu and Jilu, was one of the best known and most faithful disciples of Confucius. His family was poor and when he was young, he often had to travel in search of employment and food. Whenever he could, the boy would carry a sack of rice home to feed his parents, while he would eat only wild vegetables. Many years later, when his parents had died and Zhong You was an important and wealthy official in the Chu state, he would recall his past and lament the fact that he would never again carry rice for his parents.
Tan Zi’s elderly parents were losing their sense of sight and believed that doe’s milk could cure them. Upon hearing that, Tan Zi covered himself with deer skin and got close to a doe to obtain its milk. He repeated the process every day. Once, a hunter mistook him for a real deer and almost killed him, but Tan Zi revealed himself and explained the situation to the hunter.
Laolaizi was a hermit who lived in the Chu state. He was known for being very filial to his parents. Even in middle age, he would dress in bright colours, play with toys, and behave in a childish manner to amuse his parents and keep them happy.
Dong Yong lost his mother at a young age so he lived with his father, who also died not long after. As he could not afford to give his father a proper funeral, Dong sold himself as a slave to a rich man, who paid for his father’s funeral. One day, he met a homeless woman and married her. She helped him weave 300 rolls of silk within a month. Dong sold the silk and used the money to buy his freedom. On the way back, the woman revealed that she was actually the Heavenly Emperor’s daughter, sent from Heaven to help Dong.
Ding Lan was orphaned at a young age, but he missed his parents so much that he carved wooden figurines in their likeness and treated them as if they were alive. One day, when Ding was out, his wife, out of curiosity, used a needle to prick one of the figurines. To her shock, the figurine started bleeding. When Ding returned home, he saw the figurine bleeding and tears flowing from its eyes, so he asked his wife what happened. After learning the truth, he was so angry that he divorced his wife and drove her away.
Shun’s mother died when he was young so his father remarried and had another son with Shun’s stepmother. Shun remained filial to his father, respected his stepmother and loved his half brother even though they tried to kill him. His filial piety moved the gods so they protected him from harm and made the animals help him in his daily farming chores.
Lu Ji (188–219), courtesy name Gongji, was a scholar and official serving under the warlord Sun Quan in the late Eastern Han dynasty of China. When Lu Ji was six years old, his father took him to visit the warlord Yuan Shu. Yuan treated them to mandarin oranges and the boy took two fruits and hid them in his sleeve. When Lu Ji and his father were preparing to leave, the oranges suddenly rolled out of his sleeve. Yuan laughed, ‘You came as a guest. Must you hide the host’s oranges when you’re leaving?’ Lu replied, ‘My mother likes mandarin oranges so I wanted to give them to her.’ Yuan was very impressed with Lu Ji’s filial piety.
Guo Ju lived with his mother, wife and son. He was known for being very filial to his mother. However, his family was poor and it was hard to keep everyone clothed and fed. One day, when times were particularly hard, Guo and his wife decided to bury their son alive, so that they would have one less mouth to feed. They felt that while they could have another child, Guo’s mother was irreplaceable. While Guo was digging his son’s grave, he discovered a pile of gold and a note which said that the gold was a gift to him from Heaven. With the gold, Guo was able to provide for his whole family.
Huang Xiang lost his mother when he was nine years old and from then on, he was raised by his father and was very close to him During summer, Huang fanned his father’s pillow to cool it so that his father would sleep comfortably at night. In winter, he wrapped himself with his father’s blanket to warm it.
Cai Shun and his widowed mother were very poor and ate mulberries to survive. One day, while Cai Shun was out gathering mulberries, he encountered Chimei rebels, who asked him why he had separated the black mulberries from the red ones. The boy replied that the black ones (which tasted sweet) were for his mother while the red ones (which tasted sour) were for himself. The rebels were impressed by his filial piety and gave him some rice and a cow’s hoof.
Jiang Shi and his wife lived a long way from the river. However, because Jiang’s mother enjoyed drinking water from the river and eating river fish, the couple gladly traveled to the river every day to collect water and catch fish for the old woman. One day, when Jiang was unwell, his wife went to the river by herself. However, she was late getting home because of bad weather. When she finally arrived, Jiang angrily drove her away thinking that she did not respect his mother enough, His wife took shelter with neighbours and stayed up all night weaving clothes for her mother-in-law. The next day, the neighbours delivered the clothes and explained what had happened. The old lady then ordered her son to bring his wife home. When JIang’s wife arrived home, a fountain suddenly burst out in front of the house and the water from it tasted exactly like the water from the river. Furthermore, two carp leapt out of the fountain and this repeated every day henceforth. From then on, Jiang and his wife were spared the long journey to and from the river.
When she was alive, Wang Pou’s mother had always been afraid of the sound of thunder. After she died, whenever Wang heard thunder, he would rush to her grave to hug her tombstone and comfort her.
Madam Tang breastfed her mother-in-law for years as the old woman had lost all her teeth and was unable to eat solids. Madam Tang’s filial piety was repaid by the subsequent generations as she was cared for as kindly, by her children and grandchildren, as she had cared for her mother-in-law.
Wang Xiang (185–269), courtesy name Xiuzheng, was an official who lived through the late Eastern Han dynasty (25–220), the Three Kingdoms period (220–280), and the early Western Jin dynasty (265–316) of China. He served among the highest positions in the government, including Minister of Works (司空) and Grand Commandant (太尉) in the Cao Wei state during the Three Kingdoms period, and Grand Protector (太保) during the Western Jin dynasty. Wang Xiang’s stepmother disliked him and often spoke ill of him to his father who, by and by, stopped loving his own son. However, Wang still remained filial to them and he personally took care of them while they were sick. Once, during winter, Wang’s stepmother suddenly had a craving for carp. Wang travelled to the frozen river, undressed, and laid on the icy surface. The ice thawed and Wang was able to catch two carp for his stepmother.
Wu Meng’s family was poor and could not afford mosquito nets. During summer nights, the boy would strip himself and sit near his parents’ bed to allow mosquitoes to suck his blood in the hope that they would not bother his parents.
When Yang Xiang was 14, he once went to harvest crops with his farmer father. A tiger suddenly appeared and attacked Yamg Xiang’s father, whereupon the boy jumped onto the beast and attempted to strangle it with his bare hands. The tiger released his father and ran away.
Meng Zong lived with his widowed mother. Once, when she was ill, the physician suggested that she drink soup made from fresh bamboo shoots. However, it was then winter and there were no bamboo shoots. In desperation, Meng went to the bamboo forest alone and cried. Just then, he heard a loud noise and saw bamboo shoots sprouting out of the ground. He was so happy that he collected them, went home and made soup for his mother. She recovered from her illness after drinking the soup.
Yu Qianlou was appointed as the magistrate of Chanling County. One day, after he held office for less than ten days, he suddenly had a feeling that something had happened at home. He immediately resigned and went home where he found his father seriously ill. The physician told him that the way to check how his father was doing was to taste his faeces. If the waste tasted bitter, it meant that his father was fine. Yu tasted his father’s faeces and found that it tasted sweet. Worried, he prayed to the gods and expressed his willingness to die in his father’s place. However, his father passed away several days later, and Yu Qianlouwas inconsolable for three years.
When Zhu Shouchang was seven years old, his mother, who was his father’s concubine was driven away from the house by the man’s first wife. Zhu Shouchang eventually became a government official. He had grown up missing his mother and hoped to reunite with her despite not having seen her for over fifty years. When he received clues of her whereabouts, Zhu Shouchang gave up his career, travelled far in search of his mother, and vowed never to give up looking for her. Mother and son were eventually reunited, by which time, she was in her seventies.
Huang Tingjian (1045–1105) was a Chinese artist, scholar, government official, and poet of the Song dynasty. He is predominantly known as a calligrapher, and is also admired for his painting and poetry. He was one of the Four Masters of the Song Dynasty. So devoted was Huang Tingjian to his mother that he took care of her personally even after he had become a government official, and to the extent that he would wash her bedpan himself each day.
On 30th May, we left for Koh Samui. I can’t speak for Ekath and I-Shan, but I loved being by the sea and doing next to nothing but swim and eat and sleep and read. Koh Samui has totally changed since I was there in 1995. It now has malls. Well, of course it does. And it’s super expensive getting round — a 13-minute Grab ride costs RM40! I was quite happy lying on a deckchair on the beach though. I want to go back on my own so I don’t feel guilty about whether the children are having a good time.
One of the highlights was meeting a family of pigs on a small island that we stopped at after a snorkelling trip. The snorkelling was amazing too, but the pigs were a million times better. After I met them, I decided I would stop eating pork. And then when I got back to KL, I thought I’d just go the whole hog (haaaahahaaa) and stop eating meat. I’ve been wanting to go vegetarian for a while now, and I guess the only way to do so is to just do it. So I’m vegetarian now, but I don’t think I’ll ever be vegan. I like milk too much.
On 7th June, Priya, Phek Chin and I drove to George Town. It was a do-nothing getaway and the highlight was definitely a mixologist friend coming to the hostel we were at and making us cocktails, some of which I named after BTS songs. (Haha, yeah, I actually like BTS’s music now, and am no longer just listening to it for I-Shan’s sake.) The lowpoint of the trip was the drive back: We left the island at half-twelve and didn’t get back to KL til about 11 P.M. Ouch.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two and a half months or so, apart from the usual reading and editing and household chores. Also, procrastinating, let’s not forget that!