Culture

Proverbs encapsulate profound life experiences and reveal a culture's thoughts and way of life. (iStock)

Proverbs and sayings: Understanding a culture's biases, thoughts and way of life

Proverbs and sayings are not just traditional phrases handed down from generation to generation, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. Dissected, they reveal a culture’s biases, thoughts and way of life. Understanding a country’s proverbs is understanding the people that use them.
Cicada songs fill the forest in the summertime. (iStock)

Cicada songs: Deathly silence of a summer’s day

Cicadas are peculiar creatures of nature. They spend years burrowing underground before they emerge from the undergrowth, make a racket, and return to dust just a short time later. Art historian Chiang Hsun reflects on life and death as he listens to the cicada’s chant on a hot summer’s day.
The delectable miantuo liuyuehuang dish. (Internet)

Remembering a mother’s beautiful smile and Suzhou's ‘Sixth Moon yellow’ crabs

Every autumn, what a treat it is to savour hairy crabs, or Chinese mitten crabs as they are also known. Better yet if you can catch that tiny window in late summer when the mignon “Sixth Moon yellow” crabs from Yangcheng Lake in China’s Jiangsu province are in season. Harvested when they are on the cusp of adulthood, these crustaceans’ sweetness and vitality are a spitting image of carefree summer days of our youth.
Czech author and illustrator Miroslav Šašek has captured sights and scenes of Hong Kong in the 1960s.

Czech illustrator Miroslav Šašek and his images of Hong Kong from the 1960s

In the 1960s, Czech author and illustrator Miroslav Šašek came to Hong Kong and captured the sights and scenes of that period in This is Hong Kong, one of the books in his “This is…” series of children’s picture books. Cup Media has recently published a Chinese version of the book, in a timely throwback to good old Hong Kong, before any of the current unrest took hold of the city.
How do the ancient Chinese drink tea? (iStock)

How to drink tea like an ancient Chinese

Smoked bean tea, ghee tea or jade porcelain ground tea, anyone? Cheng Pei-kai turns tea-drinking conventions on their head as he shows that in history, tea appreciation was not just the domain of the sophisticated or the elegant. Common folk throughout the dynasties found innovative ways to have a cuppa, often with more than a few surprises tossed in.
Barringtonia racemosa flowers. (Facebook/蔣勳)

What I Ching and the mangrove tree flowers tell us about life

Chiang Hsun contemplates the transience of life as he observes the fleeting lifespan of mangrove tree flowers found along the riverbanks of Southeast Asia, southern China and elsewhere. Every flower has its own place and purpose, but like life, its brilliance is extinguished all too fast. How can one discern the meaning of life then? Perhaps the three-thousand-year-old book of I Ching offers us some clues.
Television series The Empress of China starring Fan Bingbing as Wu Zetian. (Internet)

Tang dynasty's Wu Zetian: Was she a wise emperor or did she ruin the country?

A television series about Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history, has Cheng Pei-kai reflecting about the semantics (read: politics) involved in the title bestowed on this charismatic figure. Did she live up to her many labels, or even more powerfully yet, was she really a character that defied any labels? History refuses to make a definite call.
Taiwan's carabet cuisine represents Taiwan's nostalgic flavours and can be regarded as an intangible cultural heritage. (iStock)

Taiwan’s nostalgic flavours, the glitterati and the kamikaze

As a child, Cheng Pei-kai believed that cabaret cuisine was forbidden food, due to the unsavoury reputations of the cabarets and clubs that served it. In the present, tasting the last vestiges of cabaret cuisine in Taiwan only reminds him to treasure them as part of an intangible cultural heritage. In a time long past, high society and average Joes alike partied with abandon and in some cases, had their last hurrah.
Chiang's potted gloxinia is in full bloom. (蔣勳/Facebook)

A return to the physical body and the exuberance of the Tang dynasty

Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty presented her personal piece of clothing to Buddha as an offering. Taiwan art historian Chiang Hsun says this is a sign of that era's exuberance and confidence. Immersed in reverie, he admires his pot of gloxinias, which are as vibrant as the Empress's fiery red skirt.​