torsdag, december 23, 2010

Thoughts of a Snowman

-25º this evening! Guess I'd better go under Hibernation Mode during the holidays. Zzzzzzzz

When I first read H. C. Andersen's The Little Match Girl story at 7, I remember I couldn't understand why it's important for the girl to strike one match after another to keep the vision of her grandmother alive, and how it's possible for someone to die staying outdoors without a shelter for just one night. But now it's the opposite: I think it's only sensible that children's books contain more truth than what adults would 'seriously' read everyday. At some certain point of my life I felt I stopped growing any more. Or in the words of Thomas Hardy, "every spirit upon earth seemed fervorless as I", he wrote in his New Years Day poem The Darkling Thrush, originally titled By the Century's Deathbed. That's why I appreciate Andersen's fairy tales more and more even as I'm no longer a child - the stories are not just wise, they really read like a blessing if your heart is receptive enough for the messages.

All of a sudden, I thought about the night before Christmas Day when I departed for the Holy Land ten years ago. Life was then like an uncharted sea voyage, full of nervousness but also fun and longings. Only the sweet dreams and didn't wish to wake up again too soon. So, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! :-)

onsdag, december 22, 2010

Christmas market

Traditional Swedish Christmas market (Gammeldags julmarknad) in the historical city of Sigtuna last Sunday.

söndag, december 12, 2010


I have never adequately understood the shopping obsession in Sweden. What amazes me is how relentless this has thrust into the common social life, yet without awareness: to stay in tune with the ever-changing whims of the superfluously correct apparently gets the best of the locals here. When Christmas holiday season is drawing near, you could safely bet the formidable marketing force is now in high gear everywhere in the capital city.

Guess how stunned I was when I saw this clothes brand in Åhléns. Or what better name to summarize the kind of the consumer society we are living in? Merde!

Did you get it? "We are the superlative conspiracy".

fredag, december 03, 2010

Let there be light ...

This year the winter has started with unusual coldness in Europe. Just this week, the temperature in Stockholm fell to -20 degrees. Outside of my humble abode a string of snowstorms almost shrouded everything visible. If only I could undergo a special type of metamorphosis and become some other animal - while under the hibernation mode, I'm able to withdraw myself in a long long slumber. And when I finally wake up, it's spring time already. Hmm, I grew weary of winter over the years, it appears.

Well, I guess at this juncture my mind might be stuck in something that has to do with the Nordic light - I can sense it has been waning by strength day by day, seemingly all gone by December. Only after a long winter it returns again. How I'm going to miss it in the coming dark months!

In late March of 2007, hoping to rediscover Sweden in a different light than before, I traveled to southern part of the country, first to Varberg, then to Malmö, and finally Karlskrona. Back then, spring's first hint was palpable in the air, as evidenced by the very profusion of the light almost all of a sudden in the open air. My eyes could see it, and my soul was singing the tune: "jag tackar dig, du vårens ljus, för glädjen som du gav." It gave me a kind of joy I could feel from within. I really felt reborn during that period. Let there be light again, soon. I so wish, now.

onsdag, november 10, 2010

A myth called Prague

"Franz Kafka was born into a myth called Prague."

"Imagine a childhood where the I is an enigma and the community is entelechy. A home laid siege to by dead brothers, distant sisters, cold governesses and a caustic cook. A world seen through a veil of fear and guilt..."

These were introductory words that greeted me as a visitor to Franz Kafka Museum in the Czech capital of Prague. The past life of a restless soul, restored in this space to full immediacy and actuality, at once appeared vivid and came to seep into my inner consciousness when I was promptly struck by Kafka's perceived hypersensitive temperament at display here. By his own admission: in this city, every breath was felt to be uncertain. Again, what an actuality for me as well. Upon reading this line from his notebook: "a cage went in search of a bird", I started to wonder if I were in truth a butterfly who forgot my previous life?

I don't think I'll ever know.

Family letter handwritten by Kafka to his father:

onsdag, november 03, 2010

Deuxième printemps

"L'automne est un deuxième printemps où chaque feuille est une fleur." J'avoue que je n'en connaissais pas la source, ni l'auteur, mais j'ai toujours adoré cette citation. Après des recherches rapides sur le net, on peut constater qu'elle est partout attribuée à Albert Camus. Si c'est vrai, dans son écrit Camus me paraît être un vrai poète.

söndag, oktober 24, 2010


上個星期在布拉格去看一位捷克朋友。 他告訴我最近他在看李白的詩集, 而且異常喜歡的說。 當時聽到的時候不禁暗暗稱奇, 于是友人介紹了翻譯李白的那位捷克人的故事。 據說譯者只是位廚師, 很典型的一位波希米亞的放浪者。 此公愛好旅遊, 後來自學了漢語。 既然他能夠讀李白, 我猜他的中文水平想來一定不差吧。

“不過,” 我的朋友話題一轉, “不知道爲什麽總是這麽巧, 我每次一打開那本詩集, 就是那首李白感傷喪子之痛的詩, 每次我也因此會很傷感, 無法讀下去。 現在我都不敢翻那本書了。”

很好奇他說的到底是哪首李白的詩。 在網上查了半天, 還是不是很確定。 不過說道李白, 我一直很喜歡他的這首詞的開頭這一句:


即使在這座千塔之城的視野裏去想象, 蒼茫悲壯的畫面感可也呼之欲出阿。 所謂“傷心碧”, 指的是山色轉深。 讀李白的文字, 我總覺得他對光線似乎有某種特別的敏感。 而且不只是象比如“床前明月光”這樣的明寫, 他真正卓然不群的地方是從他對生命本體的關懷可以看出李白其實是一位偉大的人道主義者。 當他馳騁在自己想象空間裏, 絕不止于爲一個外在的唯美景象所拘泥, 有點象莊子, 但是在實質的精神層面, 又可以說他更人性化, 所以李白能發出“腸斷非關隴頭水,淚下不爲雍門琴”這樣的感歎。 當然這只是我個人對李白的理解, 不一定對, 我之所以這樣想也許是受了我最近看過的一部日本電影《幻之光》的影響。

題外附上一張照片, 這是我的這位捷克朋友打開當天的當地報紙, 指著我看一篇有關中國總理溫家寶訪問希臘的報道。

torsdag, september 30, 2010


子日: 「學而不思則罔,思而不學則殆。」
(Learning without thought is labor lost, thought without learning is perilous.)
- Confucius

"Denken ohne Erfahrung ist leer, Erfahrung ohne Denken ist blind."
(Theory without experience is mere intellectual play, experience without theory is blind.)
- Immanuel Kant

söndag, september 26, 2010

Välfärdens personligheter

Professor Karl Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987) brukade brottas med samhällsvetenskapens "objektivitetsproblem" och således skulle sägas vilja ta in olika icke-ekonomiska orsakssamband i sin ekonomiska analys. Tänk på ideologisk debatt om välfärden i vår tid. Visst är god ekonomi en förutsättning för att säkra god välfärd, å andra sidan anses välfärden i sig skapa arbete och hjälpa ekonomin åt rätt håll. Om frågan ställs så här: "varför gavs väljarna uppfattningen att högerblocket skulle kunna, i dagens läge, förvalta välfärdssaten bättre?" Eller, i stort sett, "har folkviljan varit missförstådd under de senaste åren i Sverige?" Jag låtsas inte vara snabb med bra svar, men tycker dock att, för att tillföra den aktuella diskussionen kring välfärdspolitiken riktiga perspektiv, kan man sannerligen dra nytta av en insiktsfull historieskrivning i den här boken:

Är svensken människa? Gemenskap och oberoende i det moderna Sverige

fredag, september 10, 2010

Encounter with "Alfred Nobel"

As paradoxical as it may sound, reading a biography of Alfred Nobel, perhaps the most famous Swede to the outside world, does not immediately conduce to conjuring up an image of his being particularly Swedish in our minds. Nobel was undoubtedly an internationalist. Never married, and childless, he spent a large part of his life abroad, in Russia, France, and Italy mostly. Indeed the Prize bearing his name founded in his last testament symbolized the international ideals of this man. Since these ideals transcend all national borders, for a long time I've been wondering how they were received in his native land. When, this summer, I visited the mansion of Björkborn in Sweden where Nobel lived during his final years, I finally got the chance to present the question to our guide at Nobel's Swedish home.

-"Not too well, I must say."

After he stunned me by suddenly standing up from the dinner table when the doorkeeper just welcomed me in (I initially thought this guide was a wax figure as he appeared almost a Nobel look-alike), his answer came as a second surprise. "At first, the King, the Royal Academy, as well as Karolinska Institute, all hesitated." They did not want to have anything to do with the Nobel Prize; but gradually, taking a long-term view, they started to realize the instituted prize, the first truly international Prize, would eventually prove to be a pride for this country. Or, in my unqualified thoughts, precisely because it's so international, it becomes very Swedish.

Although, an interesting historical anecdote may serve as a counter note when ideals meet the reality. There arose a dispute between Sweden and France shortly after Nobel's death with regard to executing Nobel's testament. Since Nobel often visited his Paris home towards the end of his life, the French government deemed France as Nobel's home land. The French court overseeing the case differed and opined that where the man had his horses should his home be located. It turned out that Nobel had at the time several Russian stallions in his Björkborn mansion, so this place was decisive for legally ratifying Nobel's last will in Sweden and subsequently bringing his grand vision to fruition.

Watch the man himself narrating the story:

A virtual tour of Björkborns herrgård -

Favorite fish soup

In Swedish, using the letter W instead of V is considered as an archaism. However, some old names, yet still commonly used today, contain just the letter W instead of V, suggesting their Germanic linguistic origins. For instance, in probably the best-preserved Swedish medieval town, Visby of Gotland, take a promenade along the cobblestone-covered streets, you might spot "Hotel Wisby", "Wisby cheese shop", etc. That's hardly surprising given the city's past link to the German Hanseatic League in history. Another example: Wasa flatbread originally was one particular product called Vasaknäcke, but on the package cover it's marketed as "Wasa"; the company had been even renamed to Wasabröd AB. Anyway, it's Wasa Knäckebröd (in Sweden) or Wasa Knaeckebrot (in Germany), not that much different in spelling.

Not meant as a serious comparison of version Swedish versus version German, fish soup, I imagine, might offer an interesting perspective. In the following photo, can you guess which is Swedish made fish soup, which is German made? :)

Soutenons les Roms

The Gypsies... sorry for my rant.. silence is killing me. There's something really insidious about the way how the Gypsies have been treated throughout history. They perished in the German Nazi concentration camps because they were considered as sub-human - extermination was the way to force them out of sight for good. What do we hear about the Gypsies nowadays if they are talked about at all in the media? I'm not pretending I'm knowledgeable enough about those big social issues. But still.. Gypsies are a special case considering that they never have had their own country; few interest groups would help defend their rights and plead their cause if they were mistreated in the host country. You can't just tell them "go back to India" and expect their wandering caravans will head for the East. When I visited one local Roma family, guess what, I saw they settled down in a modern apartment, just like you and me. The younger son studies industrial engineering at KTH while the older son already works as a self-employed IT consultant. So no, they are not all thieves and beggars, not even accordion and violin players bent on entertaining you for an unseemly purpose.

All of us who hate to see the Gypsies are being kicked around like a football, please, Soutenons les Roms !

lördag, juli 24, 2010


Värmland speaks to me so much more than Småland, just like Selma Lagerlöf touched my heart in a way Astrid Lindgren didn't. Not just the cultural landscape of Värmland we normally talk about in Sweden, but there's something perhaps more personal, I don't know what, like, about this little country road through the forest leading to Selma's Mårbacka home that I find just lofty. Then, all of sudden, I started to think about one of Gustaf Fröding's poems which contains these lines:

"Den drömmen, som aldrig besannats,
som dröm var den vacker att få,
för den, som ur Eden förbannats,
är Eden ett Eden ändå."

— Gralstänk

Does it sound odd, thoughts fly out of mind in mid-air?

söndag, april 25, 2010


四月, 殘酷的四月走到結尾, 冰雪消融, 萬物復蘇。 一季輪回重生的開幕。 高原曠野上我對自己說, 記憶的包袱也許是時候將它拋諸腦後。 去爬山的衝動再次被喚起。 通往山頭的小脛消失在不遠前的濃霧裡, 週遭不見人煙。 峰回路轉後, 視野突然間開闊起來, 前方一望無際。 極目遠眺江河入海處 - 乃瞻天地黯然, 宇宙荒蕪; 雖然恣意吾心, 俯仰之間, 又為陳蹟。



- 《九歌》

"九歌"是傳說中的一種遠古歌曲的名稱。 戰國時楚人屈原根據民間祭神樂歌加工改作而成《楚辭·九歌》篇。

請聽冰島國漁夫 Steindór Andersen 的這段吟唱: (文字是史上維京時代流傳下來的北歐古聖歌, 音樂則是冰島樂隊 Sigur Rós 的配樂。)

Úr mansöng 1. rímu.(ferskeytt)

"Fjöll í austri fagurblá
freista dalabarnsins.
Ungur fylgir æskuþrá
upp til jökulhjarnsins.

Sveimað heimahögum frá
hef ég vors á degi,
víða stíða þræddi þá
þunga hraunavegi.

Heiðin breiða hugumkær
hvetur viljann ofar.
Leiðin seiðir, fráum fær,
fögrum sýnum lofar.

Gangan sækist öruggt enn
urðarróti móti.
Einatt hlutu heiðamenn
höggvinn fót á grjóti.

Hver, sem ofar á að ná,
einskis metið getur
þótt í fangið fái sá
fjúk og hretið betur.

Anda heitum yndi nóg
unaðsreitir geyma.
Seinna leitar þráin þó
þinna sveita heima."

måndag, april 05, 2010

tisdag, mars 02, 2010

"Johnny Cash was a friend of mine"

Over the course of an acquaintance spanning several decades a Swedish fan, who went by the name Lars, had been a life friend of Johnny Cash until the Man in Black passed away in 2003. Years ago, out of his own personal collection Lars organized a small memorial show here at a Hard Rock cafe in Stockholm, where a large number of documentary photographs, clothing, accessories, personal items were on display.

Following the wood stairs I walked up to the second floor of Hard Rock. Fortunately I was the only visitor that day so the host had the chance to stay a bit chatty with me while presenting his exhibition. Though he appeared to me a bit reserved at first, but once he started talking, he really seemed to be a nice decent guy who knew well Cash and his family in the US. It was very interesting indeed to hear Lars narrate many of his stories and anecdotes - how he got to know one of the most influential musicians of last century and how the quintessential "father and son" relationship lasted throughout the years.

Something that just caught my eye, among the exhibited stuffs, was a hand drawing by Johnny Cash in his late life while he was terminally ill. Lars told me that it was a gift from Cash deeply cherished. Kind of surprising for me to see this artistic side of Johnny Cash. The creation itself didn't look overtly sophisticated, and yet, upon closer examination, you could feel unmistakeably a certain tension of the frailty as opposed to the strength for each stroke, as if in a perennial conflict between sorrow and redemption within the confines of human psyche.

"As sure as night is dark and day is light."

onsdag, februari 24, 2010

Varnhem to Stockholm

For the past several months I've been accustomed to awakening most of the nights at about 4 a.m. and getting up only to drink something. I always thought coffee was the culprit, but today, after picking up Mark Obama Ndesandjo's novel "Nairobi To Shenzhen" and spending the last hour reading along, I was just stunned.

"It was the angst that roused him from sleep." Ohhh, that drumbeat of unease has struck me lately, too. It's weird at such moments the mind tends to become so alert, hardly befuddled by the immediately precedent period of slumber. Memories "ebb and flow, enter and exit the consciousness". Talking about the verses from my own high school that suddenly leaped out of obscurity and are as clear to me now as yesterday, it's Thomas Gray's musing from year 1750:

"Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds:


Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way."

It's 6:10 in the morning now. Everything seems to have stopped.

My photo gallery of Sweden at Pbase:

lördag, februari 13, 2010


川端康成的《雪国》我在每天往返的火車上斷斷續續將它念完。 恰好這段時間北國的大雪一直接連不止地飄落著, 整個月份都被一種靜謐的氛圍籠罩, 好似時間又被拉回到聖誕那天, 就此停下腳步。 “穿過縣界長長的隧道, 便是雪國。 夜空下一片白茫茫, 火車在信號所前停了下來。” 每次我一翻開書, 就是開頭這一句。 透過車窗, 外面天空廣闊, 風中揚起一片片雪塵, 白色的樹林在身後流動。

離開家鄉來到這片土地是在一個年初, 記憶也總會在冬季的某一天突然蘇醒過來。 一層淡淡的煙灰, 帶著溫熱, 會從生命的某個角落徐徐升起, 時而隱沒, 時而顯現。

川端康成的世界裡, 也許一切最終都是徒勞的。 但是對于流亡者, 確是福音。 釋懷的春天, 就在冰雪融化後。

tisdag, februari 09, 2010


I hated boxes. There are still so many things in life that have the potential to box me in. Reading Oscar Niemeyer this evening makes me feel good. "It is not the right angle that attracts me. Nor the straight line, tough, inflexible, created by man. What attracts me is the free, sensual curve." I can safely say "ditto" to him! Well, if I could ever go back to my teen years and choose what to study in college, I think I'd definitely wish to become an architecture student with all those sweeping curves tangoing on my own design sketchbook for sure. Don't you love it? ;)

"God has no recent posts"

Humans do curious things and harbor curious thoughts. Just today I got pointed to a Facebook fan site called "Getting a text as soon as you pick up your phone and feeling like Jesus", under the page category "Other Business". Meh blah. Typically Facebookish, the system at times feels just like writing on sort of a dry-erase marker board. It easily ends up overly indulgent in its execution.

But I got to say, amidst the constant flow of those little snippets of mundane lives, there's a chance to take a deep breath once in a while - even in a virtual cyberspace. That's what gave me pause when I ran into this FB page:

The first thing I read there: "God is on Facebook". Woah. :) Some of us mortals might remain skeptical, but hey, see, computers could simply leave no doubt whatsoever. Immediately next follows a gentle Facebook reminder, that in order to connect with God, all you need to do is to sign up. Not complicated at all.

And the most stunning. What appears to be a machine-generated statement in the middle of the blank. Revealed as such.

"God has no recent posts"

Not since Kierkegaard have I ever read anything similarly profound as what was said there, or more accurately speaking, what's really been unsaid. Now comes the ONE.

Me definitely not a religious type. Just when the long holidays are drawing near, spirituality tends to ring in my little world.

I wonder if David Hartman was right when he quipped: "to say that God's thoughts are not human thoughts is only to admit the limits of human understanding".