Culture

In this elevated view, a man sits on a bench along the flags of the 'In America: Remember' public art installation near the Washington Monument on 19 September 2021 in Washington, DC, US. (Al Drago/Getty Images/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: Life and death are predestined, and wealth and poverty are heaven’s arrangement

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. Early last year as the pandemic started getting widespread in the US, he mused at the irony of the situation: the ancients were led by the nose by plagues and could only lift their prayers to the gods. Today, medical technology may be more advanced but a cunning coronavirus has once again brought populations into a tailspin. But even as fate plays tricks, politicians still spend their energy mulling over battling the pandemic without bringing down Wall Street. Are humans just cogs in the economy, and even a plague won’t change that?
Priests chant scriptures during a ceremony at a temple in Hong Kong on 21 August 2021, marking the Hungry Ghost Festival. (Bertha Wang/AFP)

Questions concerning mortality in early China [1 of 3]: The idea of the netherworld

What did the ancient Chinese think of the netherworld? Why did they take it for granted that there was an afterlife? In this three-part series, academic Poo Mu-chou takes a closer look at the myths and beliefs of death and after-death in Chinese culture. First, he explores the traditional conception of the netherworld. Was it a physical place, shaped in the earthly world’s image and likeness?
Visitors walk through a display of lanterns ahead of the mid-autumn festival at Wong Tai Sin temple in Hong Kong on 18 September 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The power of the individual during a pandemic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. When the virus was just starting to spread in Wuhan last year, he was in Shenzhen but managed to cross back to Hong Kong before the lockdowns. As he left the material life behind and got into the rhythm of staying at home, he sought solace in books, calligraphy and his beloved Kunqu opera. For all the things that are out of our hands, at least we have gained time for introspection, self-reflection and growth. That much is within our control.
This picture shows messages posted on windows by quarantined guests at a hotel in Hong Kong on 26 September 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The best antidote for surviving the pandemic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. There is hardly a stir in his Hong Kong home, but his mind whirs away as an ancient’s phrase here and a poet’s verse there gives meaning to the plight of the times. On this occasion, he muses about quack Covid remedies and a tipple salve recommended in jest. A new take on drowning one’s sorrows?
Feng Chia Night Market, Taiwan's biggest and most popular night market. (iStock)

Cultural historian: How I fled for my life in Taiwan’s Feng Chia Night Market

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai visited Taiwan’s famed Feng Chia Night Market during pre-pandemic days on hearing that it is a must-go attraction with cheap and delicious street food. He did find it teeming with food stalls and activity; the array was so dizzying in fact that he got a bit dizzy...
Hoo Ah Kay at Nam-sang Fa-un. (Photo: Kua Bak Lim/Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

Memories of South China: The enchanting garden that Whampoa built in Singapore

It is commonly thought that Singapore’s horticultural history dates back to the beginnings of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Actually, a little earlier in the mid-19th century, Singapore pioneer Hoo Ah Kay, known as “Whampoa” after his hometown in Canton, China, had built a Chinese garden in Serangoon Road. It was resplendent with flora and fauna, and even unusual animals and birds. This is the story of Whampoa Garden.
A hillside village in Songyang, Zhejiang province, pristine in appearance, has been “discovered”, and is increasingly becoming overwhelmed by luxury boutique hospitality projects.

Towards responsible rural tourism in China: Getting local communities involved

In part 2 of his reflections on the Chinese countryside, Egyptian-American architect Hisham Youssef asserts that local communities must be involved in the nation’s drive for rural rejuvenation. These can be projects that promote local culture and craft, rather than tourism per se. Perhaps through such efforts, the soul of these communities can be preserved and these rural gems can truly live on for generations to come.
An ancient town in Suzhou, China. (iStock)

Cultural historian: Could we have eaten this elusive perch of Lake Tai?

Gathering with contemporaries in Nan Shi Pi Ji, a Chinese garden in Suzhou, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is reminded of a rare perch found in the east side of Lake Tai called lugui (鲈鳜). This was the fish that Western Jin dynasty poet Zhang Han and other ancient literati craved when they were away from home. Served raw or in its modern rendition steamed, the delicacy is almost too good to eat. Did Cheng get a chance to taste it?
What colour is autumn's scent? (iStock)

Taiwanese art historian: What colour is the scent of autumn?

Strolling in the autumn light, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun remembers that his mother always requested for fabrics in the colour of “autumn’s scent”. If fragrance sets a mood, and that mood can be captured in a mood board, what would that scent look like? Perhaps at the very least, it’d be a rich, mellow shade of dust settling on the seasons.