Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Xiaoguang's Tea Tray

My friend just switched to a new larger tea tray.  His old one was bamboo, and beginning to split apart.  His new one is also bamboo, but it is laminated under high pressure with lots of adhesive and a good topcoat of laminate or something similar.  On the left hand side of the tea tray is found the design pictured here .  I had looked at it a few times until I noticed something wrong.  The legend in the upper right hand corner reads as followed (re transcribed from up-down, right-left to left-right, up-down)

I translated the poem, and have arranged it as the artist has above

On the mountain road, the small hut
is refined, travelers
are few. The er-
hu's song
instead of a RA

The use of one English word strikes me so funny here.  At first I didn't understand that the five English letters were one word.   The free verse is beautiful, but what is the English word doing hanging off the end making it almost impossible for English speakers or Chinese speakers to get a full understanding without help unless they speak at least a little of the other language?  Who came up with this? I like how the author made such a simple legend into a poem and a thing of beauty as much through the wording, simplicity and arrangement as through the scene described.  Then, it seems the author becomes a little bit evil... was he thinking that most people who bought this would never really read the whole thing?  Was it a jibe at the complacency of humans to add this bit of a foreign language just to make the customer work for this little gem?  If so, he certainly provided me with some entertainment. My only answer to the question is that this is a haiku, and it works out to the proper number of syllables in Japanese when the English for radio is added.  Unfortunately I don't speak Japanese, so I have no good way of testing this hypothesis.  It works out to 13 syllables in Chinese(including the English), and looks like free verse, although very short.


yumcha said...

Illuminating and entertaining! I'm so happy I found your blog. I must add your link to my page.
I think the Japanese Katakana version of "radio" is three syllables.

Will said...

Please add a link, I'd be honored.
If "radio" has three syllables in Japanese and English (and Chinese: 收音机) I guess my theory is wrong.