The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: japanese

Illusory Flowers

hana&chouI don’t know how to paint. I just hack away with pencil and brush and call it ‘fauvism’. I never took art classes, learnt how to correctly apply shades and lighting to colours. In the end, I just lighten where I think light should be and darken where I think darkness should be.

I made this painting (acrylic on canvas) a while ago, with an aim to create beauty from my mind. I think of the two most beautiful things in my head: butterflies and flowers.

There is beauty in budding, blooming, and withering. The idea of growth, blossom and death fascinates me, and perhaps in part inspired by the lyrics of one of my favourite songs.

狂い咲き命を燃やす 揺れながら
The life that blooms off-season burns as it trembles

お前は夢見る
You are dreaming

この世界は美しいと この胸に
This is world is beautiful  in my heart

きっと咲いてる
It is surely blooming

True, the lyrics don’t make much sense, but the beauty of the image in which they conjure is something I’ve enjoyed for a long time, and it has helped me see beauty in many things, because things are surely blooming. It’s been a source of optimism for me, to see beauty amidst blight. Even if things are ugly on the outside, you can always count on the world to be beautiful in your heart.

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Orientalism vs Occidentalism: Circus Edition

I’ve been unicycling and spinning various stuff for about 10 years now, probably. I’ve spun in Singapore, and I’ve spun around the United States. I’ve seen buskers in the Czech Republic and in Germany as wells. One thing that always struck out to me was how similar Asian performers are with one another, but markedly different from Western performers, who are similar amongst themselves.

Let me show you two videos from the Olympics of unicycling, UNICON.

The above two videos show the winners of UNICON 16, Kazuhiro Shimoyama (Japan) and Janna Wohlfarth (Germany), of the Freestyle Expert category, Male and Female respectively. Notice the vast difference? Shimoyama does a lot of pirouettes, and is generally a lot more dance-attuned and rhythm-attuned to the music that’s playing. Wohlfarth, aside from the Marge outfit and the Simpsons soundtrack, looks more like a showcase of all the nifty skills she’s learnt.

And that actually quite sums up the difference between Western and Eastern performing. If you think I’m generalising, here‘s a link to the performance of Haruka Sato and Ryohei Matsuda (Japan), Pairs Expert, where Sato also came in second for Freestyle Expert, Female. And to compare, here‘s Philipp Henstrosa (Switzerland), who came in fourth in the Expert, Male category in UNICON 16, but this video is from UNICON 15. You’d see that the generalisations I made still pertain.

Such similarities transcend unicycles. Having been in New York for a while, other (Western) spinners never fail to be amazed by my movements, even though the tricks I’m doing are relatively simple. I can’t do a stand-up wheel walk or do a unispin or a flip; I can’t even do a hyperloop on a poi, but I do move my body a lot, and always in reaction to the music that’s playing. To me, music sense is very important to me, because it shows the audience how your mind and body interprets its surrounding and the music to the best of the limitations imposed by the props one is using and of one’s body.

In the spinning world, such a dichotomy is one of ‘Tech’ and ‘Flow’. ‘Tech’ is the pursuit of technical skills, the equivalent of stunts or tricks. They usually have a name, like “Rubenstein’s Revenge” or “Reverse Wheelwalk” or the ilk. Tech spinners tend be grounded on the spot and they let their skills speak for themselves. ‘Flow’ is simply movement. They don’t even have to be graceful and fluid; popping and locking while performing is a form of flow. It is the natural progression of the body as applied to the prop that gives flow its meaning. You can’t name ‘flow moves’, else it would be named something like “Hip-wiggly-thing-as-I-round-my-shoulders”. Less cool-sounding than tech moves.

Also fundamental difference, you can teach tech, but you can’t really teach flow.

I mean I do wish I were actually more skilled in tech. I always tell people “Nah, I just go flow simply because I’m bad at tech.” Which is not completely incorrect; my tech skills are very limited. But I do wonder why it seems almost racial that Eastern spinners tend towards flow (even if it’s crazy, mind-blowingly hard Japanese flow) whereas Westerners tend towards hard skills. I’m sure there are tons of tech-versed people who are trying to marry tech and flow, but the number who succeed, well. I’m not so sure.

Don’t cry

When I was in primary four (fourth grade), I took part in a haiku competition on Children’s Day. It was also World Haiku Day or something, and everyone in school had a chance to participate. I submitted three, complete with drawings to go with them. One was about a spider, one was about a pig, and I can’t remember what the last one was.

I actually won something. I won a set of colouring pencils from Japan, with a Mickey Mouse motif. I was also given a book on haiku from children around the world. As a kid, I looked at the pictures more than I looked at the poems from children who were my age.

As I grew up, I would revisit the book every now and then. I also did something that I would never have done as a kid, and that was read the foreword and introduction. It was in Japanese, but there were translations. The foreword said to the effect of  “Haiku by children are always the most precious things. They say things as they see them, and that is surely the true essence of haiku.” (I don’t have the book with me right now, I’m just writing from memory.

And that is quite true. If you look at haiku these days, people think as long as you keep the 5/7/5 syllable (or mora, in Japanese) structure, you basically have a haiku.

threadlesshaikuThe above is a t-shirt design from this online store Threadless. Haikus sometimes don’t make sense on sight, but like any poem, sometimes readers have to work at them to get them. This ‘haiku’ has nothing more to it than a buffoonery of what a haiku is. People sometimes think that because the structure of haiku is so simple, the only way to be smart and outstanding is to be clever with words.

But traditionally haiku is visual poetry for the mind. The words are unassuming, but in the images they conjure, they reflect, capture and convey some truth in the natural world. Let’s look at a famous example, Bashou’s “Old Pond”.

古池や蛙飛び込む水の音

From Wikipedia, it translates as: An old pond, a frog leaps in, water’s sound. All of them simple images but powerful.

The haiku book I had said children see these images best. Have we as adults lost this ability forever, to see the natural with simplicity of mind and words? Maybe if we try hard enough, we might realise that perhaps what seem lost to time is merely buried and forgotten, but a good shovel and with some arm work, we might possible recover it.

mushiatsuiIt’s humid

I dropped my ice cream!

Don’t cry