Chinese New Year tradition - Hokkien and Sugarcanes

Nic's mother told me a rather interesting story about the Hokkien people (she's Hakka though).

Traditionally, the Hokkien people (and this includes a large swathe of the Taiwanese) celebrate the 9th Day of Chinese New Year (the Jade Emperor's birthday) in a much larger way than the other Chinese dialect groups in Singapore. Celebrations start at the stroke of midnight on the morning of the 9th day of Chinese New Year and continue till 7 am. The festivities are observed in this manner: an altar of three tiers is set up with the sugarcane and other offertories in the top tier for the Emperor and the lower tiers holding the wines and other sacrifices (roast pig etc) for the lower deities. The household then kneels three times and kowtows nine times towards the altar.

According to the Hokkien folklore in Singapore, the use of sugarcane dates back to their time on the Mainland where the Hokkien people (from the Fujian province) were spared on the night of the 8th when they fled from Japanese pirates / raiding parties by hiding in the Sugarcane fields (emerging safe and sound on the Emperor's birthday) (read more here). Some accounts of this have been garbled and attribute this event to the invasion of the Japanese in WWII, but the tradition predates this. The use of sugarcane may have also come about because the Hokkien word for sugarcane (kam chia) sounds quite close to the Hokkien word for 'Thank you' (kam sia).

The Hokkien language is one of the Min Nan languages spoken in the south of China (part of the even larger Min language family). The actual Hokkien language has, in itself, a large number of dialects, making the Min Chinese language family one of the most dialect-aly diverse groups within the Chinese language. Wikipedia has a pretty great map of the distribution of the seven to ten language families (called 'varieties'):

Map of Sinitic Languages

"Map of sinitic languages cropped-en" by Map_of_sinitic_languages-en.svg: Wu Yue (original); Gohu1er (SVG)derivative work: Kanguole (talk) - Map_of_sinitic_languages-en.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

'Gurgle' Exhibition Preview 1: Clement

So I've been working on an exhibition of my digital art for about a year and a bit. The working title of the exhibition is 'Gurgle' and it's going to be about the story of Icarus, taking the story a little past the point where his wings of wax have melted and he's falling into the sea.

I want to do a series of portraits that starts with these two-dimensional satellite caricatures (like the one above) based on these incredible images that have been sourced from Wikimedia Commons and NASA-released public domain photos. Imagine this: you're up in the air and everything is stylised and flat —  urban hieroglyphs and landscaped features. You just make out hints of people you knew; people that you've read about;  a person you've spoken to briefly on a quiet evening on a tram to nowhere. But you're so far away and so caught up in your own journey that they're almost half-glimpsed in the landscape. And then these portraits advance and you go from being in-flight to this sudden crash  — a single portrait, fragmented:

The idea with the image above (featuring Nic) is a depiction of the sea as this splintering of the water surface, shattering in a series of glassy layers that stack-down beneath the waves. At the time I was conceptualising this, I was caught by the idea that if you were to fall from a great height into water, it'd be like smashing into concrete. But after researching it a little, it would've been more accurate to depict it as a glass of milk smashing into concrete... it appears that the falling body acts like a fluid because the forces that bind the body together become much smaller during the crash than the force pulling / pummeling the body into the water (check out the analysis here  there's an interesting little tidbit about the Reynolds number...). But I went with the original idea of the fragments  for me it has that added dimension of speaking to the imagery of pieces of your life flashing by in bits, this kaleidoscope of memories that spark as you plunge down into the sea.

And that's where I take the story a bit further. How about you don't die as you're consumed by the sea. Instead, you're broken and dreaming and what follows is captured in a series of ethereal underwater portraits that permit you entry into their world. And you're caught in a new journey, following in the footsteps of Jacques Cousteau (only you're missing the Yellow Submarine that inspired that Beatles Song: the Anorep I)...

... or so my story of Icarus goes. Anyway, the funny this is that after I posted the second image that I'd created for the 'Gurgle' series (featuring my sister):

one of my secondary schoolmates, Josh, now the enfant terrible of the vibrant Singaporean literary community, reached out to see if we could collaborate on a post-apocalyptic story of Singapore after it gets swamped by this massive tidal wave in a post-climate change world. I was hooked by the story  Josh is truly an amazing writer  and we've spent the better part of the year working on the images with Adam, an illustrator from Malaysia.

Anyway, back to the first image above. It's of Clement, one of my mates from secondary school and godfather to my son, and is primarily based on two pictures: one, a picture that we took up in Killcare, in a gorgeous restaurant up in Central Coast of New South Wales. The second is an image tweeted by the astronaut Scott Kelly  taken as the International Space Station swung past Australia. When I'd completed the portrait, what struck me was how it kinda reminded me of Neil Gaiman's 'The Corinthian' from the Sandman series. And I thought (shamelessly): how cool is that?

Y'see, the Corinthian has three mouths  one where you'd normally find a mouth, and two where the eye sockets are, often disguising itself with sunglasses. And the Corinthian has the uncanny ability to see the memories of others  albeit through a horrendously violent method: it eats the eyes of its quarry using the two mouths in its eye sockets, and picks up their visual memories through its new eyes. I know it sounds terribly disturbing  but what a brilliant character. One of the most memorable creatures in the Sandman series.

Anyway, I think I shall make Clement the first portrait of 'Gurgle'  the Matre D' who invites you in, walks you to your table, then sits you down to consume the visual diary of Icarus. Anyone want wine with that? I'm thinking... a Tempranillo...

bon appetit.