Power And Dollar

My Grandma’s Smiles


When I first met Sandra in a webinar, I found a strange sense of familiarity.  Her hair was getting sandy, but I could not quite tell if she were 60’s or 50’s.  She wears her hair to her ears.  She gave me a sense that she was quite sharp.

A colleague of mine requested a meeting with her department and it turned out she was to meet us at her desk.  I led my colleague for it.  I finally understood what was playing my mind.

She is in a very comfortable pair of jeans, some kind of unmemorable tee shirts, and very fitting sneakers.  She looks as if she is ready to actually play some sports.

Her cubicle is at a corner.  So, “a corner office without having to earn it with blood on your hands” I said to her.  She took the “corner office” part as a complement.  There are small desk calendar pages stuck on the wall with jokes about women and science.  She has a calendar from El Pronto.  This is a very very crowded cubicle: full of ornaments and decorations.  She must like Mexican food and probably a Spanish aficionado.  My guess is probably right again.  She got numerous little ornaments that are in Spanish.  I think that picture of hers with a child is very likely to be one of those adopt-a-child program where the donor commits a monthly donation in exchange for a closer relationship with the child.  She could be a girl from anywhere from Mexico to Chile.

This is probably her husband.  Both of them look like educated hippies.  A map of the bus is on the wall.  Some bicycle toys on her shelves.  I bet they do not own a car and ride bicycles to work.  So her clothing makes good sense.  Some technical reference books that, by book jackets, should have been printed earlier than 1980, probably mid 70’s.  This field has evolved a lot since the emergence of cheap computing powers.  They have to be her college textbooks rather than some specialty reference books.  That will work out that she was born in the late 50’s.  So, she is more like the age of Kevin Arnold’s sister rather than Kevin himself.  Thinking of the attitudes toward women pursuing science at that time, she must have had a strong will at least back then.

This cubicle is full of pictures of cats, dogs, Spanish decorations, chocolates, magnets, a picture of a Hispanic girl:  everything but a hint of her own children.

She speaks in a very soft and comfortable voice.  I let my partner do all the talking and keep searching her face and her cubicle because I still cannot shake what of her that gives me that strange sense of familiarity.  I lean on her wall and a full lot of magnets fall.  I am so embarrassed and I quickly pick them up.  I look right into her eyes and apologized.  She friendly smiles and tells me: “many people do that.  Don’t worry.”  Her eyes finally reveal the secret.  She got my grandmother’s eyes.

Her eyes are tired but forever optimistic and radiate benevolence.  Her cheek and chin are exactly my grandma’s when she smiles, a very sweet grandmother kind of smile.  Probably part of the ageing process, her cheeks are running thin which makes her chin sharper than it actually is.  Yes, she got my grandma’s hair too.  She certainly was a brunette but her hair is actually grey or white rather than sandy.  The hair is thin, probably soft.  I remember the day when I left home and she was already 82, she just started using her hair dye and I noticed her white hair.  She is definitely petite, maybe 5’2”?  Her small frame may mislead you to think she is weak.  Her forever optimistic eyes tell you that she is stronger than you think.  If she were born in the late 50’s and she is about the sister of Kevin Arnold, then she is not showing her opinion about war and peace in her cubicle.  But then, my grandma never showed her opinion or even emotions about any of the warlords rampaging around her nor my grandfather’s hometowns in the 20’s and 30’s, Japanese or Communists in the 40’s.  Throughout all that time, she was the talk of the town, starting from who her groom to be and who actually was, to her travelling after marriage, to how she managed to maintain her life style during the 40’s.

“How did you remain optimistic after what you had gone through?” went to my lips and I suddenly realized she is Sandra and not grandma.  So I changed my sentence to something else since it was way too late for me to simply to eat what I had in mouth.  She answered in her own pace.  She comfortably crosses her legs with the technical questions my partner thrown at her.  Now the name “Jane Austen” came into my head all of a sudden.  As I am telling Jane Austen to go away, she twirls back and says: “she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”  Sandra is a little reserved, or private or even timid, indifferent to this world while my grandma gave a sense of royalty without a kingdom and servants.  My grandma’s privacy is “you have not earned the privilege to know.”  Her indifference is “I saw, I came, I survived.”  Her benevolence to strangers is “I love you because I want to earn your loyalty” while her benevolence to familiar is “I love you all sinful or not, you are all my children.”

Does she have all these cats and dogs to save her regrets of not having children?  I was thinking “Sandra, you can always visit my children. My wife tells me I am not a qualified father anyway.”  But you know, I have my regrets too.  My grandma was 90 years old when her time came.  I was the only one on her mind in her last days.  I could not make it to see her.  She dragged on herself for two days to wait for me.  I never got to say goodbye.  She spent the most time with me of all her more than a dozen grandchildren and I did not say goodbye, nor attend her funeral.  In fact, the time she spent raising me probably is the best time of her life after the war.  She got her affluent and comfortable lifestyle back.  Of course time had changed so much that she did not have servants, plural by the way, like her old days.  However, money was no longer a constraint on her expenses.  Of course, she had changed so much from her wild days that she never spent much anymore.  She could have appreciated a sense of fame from my father, her last of seven sons, just like she had from her father the kingpin of gambling, then from her husband THE benevolent tycoon who never evicts tenants from farmlands, then from herself for spending money all over the province and gambling to earn her living through the war.  I was not even able to afford her one minute to say one word for her last moment.

I was cruel and impious.  One can apologize for his wrongs to his victims and one can compensate for wrongs.  But one cannot apologize to the dead and one cannot compensate for the dead.  It took me a long time to understand what it is like to wish someone away and be happy for them, just like she was happy for me that I was grown and longing for my return for one last time.  In fact, she willed all these for me.  Yet, I did not let her see how happy I was.  I did not let her know what made me so proud.  Would she have understood what or how?  Probably not.  But she simply wanted to see that I was so she could close her last chapter.

She dragged herself for two full days for this chapter.  She dragged herself to the last moment when she gave up all hope, gave up all the joyful memory, deliberately removed her mask for there is no hope to hope for, nothing would be good enough to exchange for one last glance of her last grandchild, the most promising grandchild of the most accomplished child.  Why could I not return as simple and as good as a goodbye for someone I would never meet again, for someone who has been longing for my good, and for her eternal, or even internal, peace?  It was a simple dying wish and I squashed it like a pesty fly as if it did not even register in my mind.

Sandra, I know I cannot re-do something like this.  I know I cannot apologize, recover or compensate for my sin.  Even a confession would not work.  But will you want to play with my children some time if you like kids these days?  Or if you want adult kids, will you want to spend time with me and my wife?  If you like travelling so much, you must have stories and you probably like other people’s travelling stories.  We are well travelled people as well.  Will you want to come and visit us?  Sandra, I fear to open myself up.  I did that, crossed a boundary and lost a friend.  I sinfully, cruelly and irrecoverably lost my grandmother.  So, instead of talking to you, can you instead work here for a few more years, stay close to my department so that I can see more of my grandmother more often?


October 14, 2015 Posted by | Current Events | Leave a comment


2013.11.01 (921字)

過了好半天才回答了另一個「為什麼我們要這樣拿棋」的問題。正是我要回去談談棋理,又來另外一個童聲可稚的問題:「為什麼我們要黑棋先手?我們為什麼不讓白棋先走?」 我正要說白棋王和黑棋王傳說的標準教科書答案的時候,我改變了主意了還明知故問: 「為什麼要白棋先走?」 「國際象棋是白棋先走。」 「為什麼國際象棋是白棋先走,而不是黑棋?」 「不知道。」於是,我開始了: 「 那白象徵什麼?那黑是什麼意思?」跟着是預期的沉默,「那黑色讓你想起了什麼來了?」我可樂了- 終於輪到我來問問題了。

「黑暗。」「如果你說黑色讓你想起黑暗,那白色像什麼?」 「光明」「 好了,你不覺得先手的話更容易贏嗎?」許多不同的「係」,「對」,「是」,「예」,「はい」應運而來。






[1] Sinister – Latin for both the direction of left and improper

[2] Dexter – δεξιτερός which later in Latin for both the direction of right and proper

[3]路加福音Luke 9:25

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Current Events | Leave a comment


2011.12.01 (2399字)






“我們慶祝冬至,”我告訴他們。 “這是一年之中黑夜最長的一天。這一天之後,黑暗退去,白昼延長。這一天是冬季的中間。因此,每一個人都回家團圓。”他們的臉告訴我,他們理解為一個嬰兒的出生。然後,我記得這次談話的要點 – 禮物,所以我說,“我們然後交換禮物”。孩子們歡呼相隨。







測量時間是一件不容易的事情,不僅因為時間是一個虛無縹緲的概念,並且需要製造不是一個而是多個相同的設備,隨著時間的推移還有維修,工程經驗,數學和除此以外,人的管理。平均分配一天成十二個抽象無實的單位容易嗎?是否一日十二份不科學呢?二十四份科學嗎?為什麼人要痴迷地用十二的倍數來測量時間而非十的倍數?十二非單是一年的月數,並且使用此數即包含日月陰陽於其中。人的一切文明活動:日出作,日入息,春耕秋收,孰未嘗受天象管轄?所以,人竭盡所能地以達到天人合一: 測、度、量時間只是這個想法的反映。為什麼日本以五行日月翻譯命名一個星期中的七日?難道希臘人的24(=12×2)個字母是巧合?還記得梵文有七對(七長七短)韻母嗎? 如果認為人總是想討好神靈,那麼我寧願補充,人總是想與天象保持一致,以好上承天運。




我們響往中庸是因為了解到“天人合一” 。古人認為成功的行動總是與天象一致。我們寧願環繞中心以類聚(合一),而不是以中心來群分。不可避免的是,一旦以中來分,一個社會,立即撕裂成二。如果我們希望生活在一個和諧的社會,就必須有凝聚力、包容力,那麼我們將不得不走中道、中庸。因此,午時正中均分地包容日麗中天的時分,子時正中均分地包容兩日之界,冬至正中均分地放在冬季正中。而不是以子夜來分兩日、冬至來分兩年。年雖是天運,新年却是俗立以別年。更何况要冬至、耶誕和新年三環相扣並置取的正是黑暗已盡、光明將至的意思:要人新的一年充滿希望。


如果不是因為朱熹的努力把佛教融入中國文化,唐武宗可能不是中國最後一個滅佛的皇帝。從白馬寺始,至朱熹止,中國花了超過一千年來整合佛教。如果不是因為如哲學家革利免等主動地將基督教與希臘哲學整合而成為羅馬社會的一部份,基督教能在短短的二百八十年(米蘭赦令)成為羅馬國教?中國整合佛教的時間是基督教整合希臘文化從而成為國教的三倍!這中間經歷了漢唐。試問中國又有幾個漢唐?又內耗了多少精力?將來是一齣基督教戰勝另一個政府的戲、中國再一次漢化異族宗教、抑或是又一場長達一千年政教相爭的戲碼?主持詮釋者, 可主宰以無意義的數字來代表一個星期的六日和以禮拜日來代表自己希望的訊息,或是真確無誤地剖視一星期七日的原義(如日本)。主持詮釋者,主宰受訊人。中國是既如以往的受訊人,或是新的詮釋者?


難道只有我們慶祝的春節才重要,冬至不重要?尤其是其他人已在以其他名義慶祝冬至、傳達自己的符號、加強自己的烙印、延續自己的文化,中國為何在冬季缺席?是讓中國人的消費能力去維護、延續一個希臘化的基督教符號?基督教在一年最黑暗的時間,以一個新生嬰兒 – 總是希望最好的象徵 – 為世界提供了希望的訊息。在一年中最黑暗的時刻,中國有論述、傳達、延續任何自己的符號和價值、以貢獻於世界思想史之上?


修殿節 – Hanukkah,猶太教節日。

米蘭赦令 – 耶元 313年。

科學 – “可推理得之,可傳授之” 是亞里士多德的定義。與近代定義有別。

革利免 – 基督教早期神學家。常被稱為亞歷山太的革利免(Clement of Alexandria)。他將基督教信仰融合希臘哲學思想,使哲學思想成為基督教的思想工具。

冬至來分兩年 – 冬至後第三日的日照時間比冬至當日延長了第一分鐘。新年是置於耶穌出生滿七日後割禮之日。割禮的重要性與彌月相仿。

October 14, 2015 Posted by | Current Events | Leave a comment


2011.11.10 (1294字)

美國是一個多元文化的國家。印度的光明節剛過,美加的 萬聖節隨後便到。因為萬聖節越來越近,孩子們試穿自己的萬聖節服裝,幾乎成了最近這幾天的例行公事。今天,他們又在試穿自己的鬼怪萬聖節服裝時,突然問我:光明節是什麼呢?,這一刻令我恍然大悟: 我不僅要告訴孩子,還要告訴各位,关于光明節的事,還有萬聖節和我們-人的事。

不管萬聖節是從諸聖日或蓋爾的“夏季結束節” 演变而来,他們都传递着要我們尊敬離別的訊息。好好的準備這個節日之後,我們也就已經好好的準備渡過冬季的空虚和死寂。現在,我們當然喜歡這個節日 – 全因为怪异服裝和糖果的樂趣。有趣的是,充滿鬼怪的萬聖節讓兒童笑走了對漫長黑暗冬天的恐懼。看到有趣的鬼怪帶給我們渡過冬季的勇氣。



噢,奇怪嗎?似曾相識啊﹗朔望週期?久違了﹗也許只是我們再不常使用朔望。事實上,我們也做奇怪的事情。還記得復活節彩蛋嗎?復活節就像光明節一樣,相對於陽曆而言是同樣的飄忽,也一般的有序—— 復活節是每年中國農曆三月初一後的第一個星期日。為什麼要這麼奇怪的慶祝復活節?其實,人也並不總是使用陽曆的。剛剛定下復活節時,人們還在用希臘的陰陽合曆,就像中國人和印度人一般如出一轍。事實上,當時有更多的人使用五花八門的陰陽合曆。


是的,耶誕幾乎是一樣的。耶穌真的是在格列哥里曆的12月25日出生嗎?幾乎沒有任何人認同這日期是準確的。牛頓也認為耶誕是故意放在12月25日,因為一個冬至後三天的一天, 黑暗已經後退三天了的一天, 將更完美地傳遞一個由嬰兒給人帶來最積極的訊息,對未來充滿希望。

復活節是“周而复始, 万象更新” 的節日,因為它正是春天的時候。清明節也總是 4月5日。清明節提醒我們,時間長河和我們的血脉延绵不断。履行我們“思遠”的職責後,我們就可以“复始” 、“更新”了。


我們慶祝不同的節日,不是出於不同的原因。而是人類認識到,万物有时、物事有期 。古人明白到能夠順天應人,才能事半功倍,所以天運一時、地隨一候,而俗立一節、人作一事。這些現象地不分南北,時無远近;同樣的現象,對跨文明。節日獲得不同的彰顯,只是體現的人以不同的符號,表達相同的情感,和對天地的體會罷了。古人只是用節日來提出這些和“天人合一”的訊息,因為人,不論是前之古人,抑或是後之來者,都共享人性。

光明節—— Diwali 或譯屠妖節, 印度第一大節。



October 14, 2015 Posted by | Current Events | Leave a comment