Today you’re going to get a triple treat to celebrate the week’s rather odd blend of holidays and holy days. Feb. 14 was Valentine’s Day, coinciding with Ash Wednesday. I didn’t get to go out that night so I don’t know if people actually went dating with the ash cross on their forehead.
Then there’s the Chinese New Year today, actually a lunar new year celebrated in a number of countries, which made Feb. 14 a kind of lunar valentine. This frenzy over Chinese New Year in the Philippines is fairly recent, and I suspect it comes in part from the interest in “good luck practices,” from charms being sold on sidewalks to P3,000 tickets to listen to feng shui experts advising where to invest, how to arrange furniture, good luck colors for clothes, etc.
Let me be more old-fashioned Chinese today (read: matipid or thrifty), and share a very economical way, almost free, to bring in good luck for the year ahead.
I was pleasantly surprised to see tarps all along Quezon Avenue and into the Quezon Memorial Circle that were probably put up by the city government. At the center is a stylized depiction of a dog, 2018 having been designated as the Year of the Earth Dog.
You can impress your friends by pointing out the tarp and explaining the Chinese characters. On the top is si ji ping an, which means “peace through the four seasons.” We don’t have four seasons in the Philippines although sometimes I joke about having them: cool, hot, rainy, not so rainy.
More complicated are the four Chinese characters below the figure of the dog, which read: wu fu lin men, or “may five blessings come to your door” (meaning your home). I have seen those characters before, but never really thought what the five blessings might be.
So I googled and found that the blessings are longevity (shou), prosperity (fu, different from the fu that means good fortune), good health (kang ning), a good death (kao zhong ming) and love of virtue (xiu hao de).
But take note that the five blessings come as a bundle. The way it’s explained, what you want to have are all five together because they feed into each other. For example, longevity wouldn’t be a blessing if it were a long life marked by poverty, or poor health. Neither would you want to have a life of affluence but with poor health, especially if you live in the Philippines where healthcare is mostly paid out of your pocket rather than through the government or health maintenance organizations.
The third blessing needs elaboration: kang ning, which is more than good health. Ning suggests composure and calm, so good health is one that is marked by comfort and equanimity.
The fourth blessing, a good death, also needs elaboration. It is different from longevity. A good death is to die from natural causes and not from violence, or an illness that is protracted and causes much suffering. The formula for the five blessings suggests that a long life might be marred by a difficult death. Again, in the Philippine setting, we can very well relate. You might have a long life, with good health, but in come illnesses like severe hypertension or diabetes which affect you both physically and mentally, and which deplete your savings, making you even more anxious. A good death becomes difficult, given all that.
The fifth blessing, love of virtue, is sometimes translated as love of morality. The Chinese say that this is the most important of the five blessings because if you have it, the other four should come naturally. That’s food for thought. My interpretation is that being morally upright makes you appreciate whatever you have. Longevity, good health, prosperity, and a good death can be relative, and take many forms.
Now for the tipid tip. You don’t need to buy a five blessings charm for your home. I’m not sure if you can do a selfie of the Quezon City tarps because they’re suspended quite high, but take a photo of a tarp anyway and you have it with you all the time in your phone. Share with friends, with your translation, whether you can read Chinese or not.
The second treat for today is one I got last Tuesday when the UP Diliman Confucius Institute teamed up with the UP Chinese Students Association for a cultural program that brought partner institutions which have been benefiting from our Chinese-language teachers: the Bureau of Immigration, Foreign Service Institute, University of Makati, Mabalacat City College, and City College of Angeles (CCA).
It was a treat to hear the UP Tsinoy and Tsinay student emcees hosting in three languages, but the best treat came from a CCA choral group singing one of the most popular Chinese love songs in history. See the Valentine connection? The English translation sounds mysterious, but here it is: Yuèliàng Dàibiao Wo de Xin, or “The moon represents my heart.” The song has a plaintive, almost sticky, tune that has made it popular outside China, with versions from Bon Jovi to Kenny G (saxophone), and even the Greek Nana Mouskouri who recorded her version in her 70s.
The song was made popular by Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng in the late 1970s and is said to have been the first “bourgeois” love song to be allowed into China, which was then just opening up to the world. Teng died in 1995, aged only 42, a victim of an asthmatic attack. But she is still remembered for her songs, especially this one about the moon.
The title may sound strange, but it actually resonates among Filipinos. The moon represents love from a distance, something many Filipinos have to live with given how the diaspora has separated countless couples. The song recalls sweet memories of times together, and reaffirms deep love.
The moon is eclipsed in the CCA translation, but retains the pledges of eternal love: Ang pagmamahalan na walang hanggan alay ko sa yo kailan man.
Wishing you all a sixth blessing: May you find someone to sing with, about the moon and hearts. Oh, if you already have someone, may that someone (or “someones,” and I mean family and friends) share the five good fortunes I mentioned.
The last treat is another free language lesson. Please, please avoid greeting Tsinoy friends with kung hei fat choy. That’s Cantonese, which is hardly spoken in the Philippines. Most ethnic Chinese here have their roots in Fujian and use Minnan. Here’s a simple way to greet: Giong hi, which means “wishing you happiness.” It can also mean “congratulations” or “best wishes,” so it’s multipurpose, useful any time (four seasons), anywhere.
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