In the digital age, how is humanity to save its own heart?

Plucking the hairs off pork belly skins teaches patience, perseverance and taking pride in one’s work. In the modern frenetic lives we live, how many of us are willing to slow down to learn those lessons?
People wearing face masks on the Bund along the Huangpu River look at the light show seen in the Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai on 2 November 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP)
People wearing face masks on the Bund along the Huangpu River look at the light show seen in the Lujiazui financial district in Shanghai on 2 November 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

This scene at the market reminded me of my mother, or rather, of all the mothers who lived in the era where life was slow and the immaculate was aspired to.   

Her reading glasses sat low on her nose as she held a piece of pork belly skin in her hands. With a pair of tweezers in her right hand, she plucked out the hairs on the skin ever so slowly and carefully, a strand at a time.

(Facebook/蔣勳)
An old woman patiently removing the hairs on a pork belly skin. (Facebook/蔣勳)

That’s right. Tasty, clean, and nutritious food in the past were all prepared like this — seriously, carefully and slowly.   

I’ve seen modern butchers burn off the hairs with a torch. Of course, the hair roots beneath the surface of the skin aren’t completely removed and end up in people’s stomachs.    

Everything in life is a lesson to be learnt. It is not only a practice of the hand, but also a practice of the heart.

Being meticulous, seeking the immaculate and taking one’s time are qualities that have gradually evaporated and become nothing but a myth. Amid the hustle and bustle of the market, few would have even noticed this sight. The young people probably wouldn’t have a clue of what was happening even if they saw it.

Now, it is all fast, urgent and slipshod — civilisation is unconsciously decaying and degenerating little by little in everyday life. Building a few hollow and soulless “cultural centres” does not save culture. 

A woman uses her mobile phone at a mall in Beijing on 18 August 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP)
A woman uses her mobile phone at a mall in Beijing on 18 August 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Tweezers are tools while plucking is an action. Civilisation has lost the ability to perform this action. The degeneration of the hand is also the deterioration of the mind, and the decaying of the heart.

When I was little, I helped my mother remove the hairs on pork belly skins as well. I learnt to focus and be patient, and acquired the skill of removing strands of hair from needle-like pores one at a time. Everything in life is to be treated with respect. Everything in life is a lesson to be learnt. It is not only a practice of the hand, but also a practice of the heart. These are not empty teachings.     

In the era of the mobile phone, how is humanity to save its own hands? How is humanity to rescue its own heart?

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