I’m afraid that Day Four isn’t anything mind-blowingly exciting in the Chinese calendar. It is a day when the corporate “spring dinners” kick off and business returns to normal. All the firecrackers have been exploded and dumplings eaten and sadly everyone (who has been celebrating) has to return to reality. I’m painting the picture rather bleakly right now but it is actually the opposite. It’s the start of the New Year so everyone is returning with re-energised and full of New Year spirit. Plus, it is a day when the gods return which means that a lot of families decorate shrines with good food and prosperous wishes as offerings for the gods. The ‘Kitchen God’ is the most important on this day. According to folklore he is sent away on the 23rd day of the previous year, and greeted back on the 4th day of the new year. There is a saying used: 送神早，接神迟 (sòngshénzǎo, jiéshéndào) which means “send off early, welcome back late”.
My next interviewee always has boundless energy regardless of the time of year and she is one of my ‘china inspirations’. My choice of the day is Lu Yang, my Chinese teacher for this year.
When I presented the hōngbáo to her, Lu Yang laughed and told me that it is something that she should give to me. The tradition is that the adults give the children and single young adults envelopes to wish them prosperity and luck in all they do. I replied saying that this was my “new tradition” in wanting to share the same good wishes without having the confines of the Chinese tradition. In every envelope there are two Chinese sweets: white rabbits. They are like milky chewy sweets that are very popular in China. Lu Yang was impressed that I had put two because that is seen as a very lucky number is China and is why many of the decorations have two fish on them. The pair represent the the balance, good health, luck etc.
Once I explained my intention of this ‘adventure’, I asked her for her advice. I’m excited to say that she gave me a Chinese idiom. She told me that it was a conclusion of her life and other peoples.
The pinyin pronunciation is:nŭlì shì tiāncài
努力 – to work hard
是 – is
天才 – genius
Lu Yang explained that ‘nŭlì’ has a few meanings. The first and most well-known is that it means ‘hard-working’. The second is that you work out how to work better and improve your situation around you. The third is that you look outwards to alternative methods and try completely new things related to what you’re doing so you can see all sides of something. This was quite enlightening because, especially when we’re studying or working, we can hit walls and stumble across problems that we have to work with. It’s also quite common that when we are faced with a challenge, the method that worked before is now out-dated and doesn’t fit the demand for what is needed to be done. Lu Yang also mentioned that with this saying shows us that being intelligent isn’t what counts. It is beneficial to have a talent because it helps the first half of the journey easier however if someone doesn’t continue to develop their skills, push further to learn new approaches and techniques and that’s the key to success.
And, in fact, it is worth remembering that even when we have spent so many hours trying to work hard and feeling that we haven’t made any progress… the fact that you’ve worked will bring results when you least expect it. If you have an aim, whether it’s do the ‘Couch to 5k challenge’, ‘stop eating sugar’, ‘study harder for the next exams’, as long as you adopt the positive attitude that 努力 (nŭlì) implies… Any arduous or seemingly impossible challenge is achievable. Therefore, whether you’ve ever been a runner or not no longer matters. If you’re a greedy chocoholic, it’s attainable to cut down the amount you eat. From a language student’s point of view, repetitively learning words and reading articles everyday will one day no longer be a struggle. It’ll become natural.
Thus, the meaning of 天才 (tiāncài), in this context, isn’t to have talent or have an affinity for a particular sport or subject. It means that you are a genius for putting in the time and effort to become what you want to be and do what you want to do.
I hope I’m conveying how much I love this saying even though I feel like I am blabbing and philosophising much more than needed.
We managed to spend an hour and a half talking, predominantly (and ashamedly) in English, but I did speak in Chinese for a bit! She asked me what my favourite advice would be in return and I responded. Then we discussed people, life and other quite profound meanings to how one lives their life. Lu Yang is the perfect example of someone who does what she loves and putting up with teaching us lazy students. (I am joking with the lazy) and sees the value in everyone. She is a forward person who cuts to the chase which sometimes can be quite confronting to British students but in saying that, what she does say is true and she does it to motivate and encourage us to be 努力(hard-working). So that we strive and achieve way more than we would sat on our backsides working when we felt like it.
I left the meeting with a smile on my face. It’s biased because Chinese was involved and any chance I speak it, I am overcome with happiness. However it was a conversation of value, and I feel the advice she has shared I something I hope to add to my repertoire too.
What do you think?
Lots of love,