Thanks to my renewed interest in reading.
Recently, I developed a penchant for Mandarin.
I grew up in an environment where half of my siblings were schooled in Mandarin. My dad hailed from China in the 1920s as a young immigrant. He was a teacher and I used to be intrigued by his Mandarin accent.
When I was young, I sat in his class sometimes as a kid while he taught in the now-defunct Mandarin Hakka clan school but the language never did catch my fancy.
Until I reach this retiring age.
As I delve into reading about some Chinese idioms and common phrases, I started to fall in love with the metaphors of these expressions of which I am elaborating only three.
They became very meaningful to me and I often applied them in my daily living.
Translated, this beautiful metaphor means we should try to bring charcoal to the snow and not add frost to the snow.
It sounds quite weird in English but the meaning is as follows ;
雪中送炭 – Bringing charcoal to the snow. In this scenario, the charcoal is brought to warm the snow and hence relieves the coldness.
In a difficult situation, it is to do something to alleviate somebody’s pain or discomfort.
For instance, if someone is in trouble and asks you for help, would you ignore or see if you can help? In my case, I will assess if it is within my capacity to assist. If not I could refer to someone who has the knowledge, resources, and willingness to help. By turning away, you are allowing the person to ‘freeze in the snow’, so to speak. Helping him is likened to bringing charcoal to his freezing state.
It would be most distressing to the person to launch into a lecture or a tirade against what he or she has or has not done. Because he has come to sought help in the first place.
If you bring charcoal to the snow ie you help in some way, you will see the relief, the smile, and the peace when the affected person is given hope and you feel happy and fulfilled in return.
In other words, do not bring frost to the snow 雪上加霜. This is putting frost on the snow, making it colder.
This is by nagging and scolding the person who is already distraught when he seeks help from you ie you are kicking a person who is already down.
In short, bring solutions and not add to the problems. I tried to apply this principle every day and found my peace of mind that I do not aggravate others. Even leaving a few words of kindness and encouragement is also a form of charcoal.
2 不要一口吃胖子 – Literal meaning is that ‘ Do not eat a fat person in one mouthful ‘
Again, it sounds awkward but this is one principle that already exists in the English lexicon. The English equivalent is “Do not bite off more than you can chew”.
However, I like the ‘fat person’ metaphor in Mandarin because it is more graphic and hence it sticks with me. It is my constant reminder to seek balance and not to overdo things.
For example, if I am overwhelmed by work, I would begin to space out my appointments so that the fewer patients have my undivided attention and the job gets done well even if it means less income.
My goal is to achieve 100% satisfaction in solving patients’ complaints.
Cramping a whole list of goals in a day is likened to eating up a fat person.
A classic eg; You want to hit 10,000 steps every day, have your diary of appointments back to back, close as many deals as possible and finish all your assignments by the end of the day and expect a full commitment for your family.
This puts a huge strain and stress on yourself and all the steps taken may be mediocre as there is a time crunch. Something or most of it will buckle. Maybe your sanity.
Spending excessively without saving at all is also a similar scenario. Landing yourself in a dire financial situation due to overspending is the result. Overeating is also like eating a fat person except you look like one.
The third Mandarin phrase of interest to me is 冰冻三尺非一日之寒。
Translated, it means three feet of ice does not form in a day. This idiom in English is known popularly as “ Rome was not built in a day”
This is another principle which I need to drum into my head every day.
Naturally impatient, I expected success but what I get is mediocrity sometimes either due to poor timing or due to being in a rush.
Everything takes time. Haste makes waste, it’s been proven.
To do a job or anything well, there are no shortcuts. We need to take action, understanding the basics, the structure, the intricacies of what makes anything tick.
Watch an apprentice work then compare his work to his master. The master has honed his skills for ages, probably made many mistakes, and corrected his ways until he arrives at the ultimate skill to produce his craft. He has reached the pink of perfection.
By the same token, when observing how someone is skillful at his job or anything else, we must remember that he must be an industrious, patient, and persistent person. The good news is that we all can become what we want to become given time and the tenacity to pursue our goals.
These three common expressions sound innocuous but they have helped me smoothen out my ice journey. Every time that I am caught in a sticky situation, I asked myself “Am I bringing charcoal to the snow or adding frost to the snow”? Am I eating a ‘fat man’. Do I know that “three feet of ice does not form in one day”?
By abiding by these are simple principles, I have largely stayed on course in my relationship with others, maintain balance in my life and stay calm in my pursuits.