Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beginning Life's Third Act

Blogging and writing are my preferred activities in Life's Third Act, as Jane Fonda so eloquently described it. For me it began when I retired; I needed something to keep myself from insanity or senility. I actually tried calculus first. That was a truly insane idea. Then I thought: I am Chinese but know next to nothing about China, its language, history or literature. Truth be told, I knew more about The Gilgamish Epic and the "Second Ecumenical Council at Nicea" than about Confucius' Analects or The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I resolved to correct this and to succeed in the third attempt in my life to learn Mandarin--after all, new technologies had developed since my last failed attempt in 1985.

But "learn Mandarin" books like all learn this or that books are inherently boring, especially the exercises. So I tried to translate real books, starting with Lao She's "Tea House," which I eventually adapted into Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, a Play. There is more about this on another page of this blog. My next translation project was The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and selections from it, retold, formed the Battle of Chibi and there's more about that on another page of this blog as well.

My attempt to "study up" on Chinese history and literature was not "scientific." I had always wanted to read Marco Polo but had never gotten around to doing so, hence I started out with that. But I was curious about what modern historians thought about his Travels, so I read up on those too, SOME of them anyway as these studies constitute almost an academic specialty. One observation struck me--Polo did not mention tea. Rereading the Travels confirmed this. My findings I have recorded in "Is it tea or chai?" as well as "Did Marco Polo go to China?"

There were other excursions, usually taken when something piqued my curiosity or disbelief. A historian claimed that a particular Chinese deity was a complete invention and that piqued my interest because I remembered my grandparents speaking about the deity in worshipful tones; hence "Toa Peh Kong." Another historian referred to Gibbon as 'the greatest historian," so I resolved to finish The Decline and Fall (started two or three times over the last thirty years) and determine for myself in "Reading Gibbon in the twenty-first century."

This memoir of my Third Act is not complete nor is the act itself over. It's just that I prefer these things to golf or fishing.

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