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Beethoven is a Blanket

Poster of Jung Cha-sik (Ji Soo) in 2016 Korean drama special Page Turner

“It was like spraying water onto a blanket-clad child.

Fretting that she might have a hard time, I stinted on water for myself and sprinkled it on her.
But the cotton blanket absorbed the water and weighed her down.
How painful it must have been for her tiny shoulders to bear such weight!
Yet I did not even know this and kept spraying.

The blanket loved for its dryness and softness became an abominable object.
The mother suffered because of her thirst.
The child suffered because of her heavy shoulders.

I will give you the piano for free. Do not touch your fund. And do not tie your life to your child’s. The burden will snuff out his life.
A mother should not turn a child’s dream into a nightmare.”

Page Turner

Colorful piano in star writer Park Hye-ryun's 2016 Korean drama special Page Turner

Soju in a Wine Glass                                                               The Drama

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Weaving Poetry, Beauty and Meaning

Huang Juxiang

Huang Juxiang (lit. fragrance of yellow chrysanthemums), Yamamoto Yueniang’s Peranakan mother and look-alike

Enveloped in a mesmerizing atmosphere with a light touch of folk magic, Southeast Asian drama The Little Nyonya traces the story of its fairylike, Japanese-Peranakan heroine Yamamoto Yueniang from the 1930s to the present day. Its origins, however, began much earlier. Since the 10th century, millions of people from the southern coasts of China had been migrating to the Malay Archipelago, most of them seeking economic opportunities and better living conditions. However, these migrants were largely male as travel restrictions, financial constraints and lack of feminine independence in the patriarchal Chinese society discouraged women from joining the men for a long time. As a result, many early male migrants married local women and their offspring came to be known as Peranakan, a Malay and Indonesian word for locally born people of mixed Malay and foreign ancestry, or Baba-Nyonya. A term with Persian and Hindi-Urdu roots, baba refers to a male Peranakan Chinese (there are also Peranakans of Indian and Portuguese descent), whereas nyonya, a combination of a Chinese dialect word for young lady (nyo) and a Javanese word for madame or concubine (nyai), is the female equivalent.

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A Headful of Mountain Flowers

Poem embroidered on a silk handkerchief in 2004 Hong Kong TVB palace drama War and Beauty

The most boorish and mercenary character in Hong Kong drama War and Beauty is also its greatest romantic.

Eager to leave poverty behind and make a name for himself in the dog-eat-cat world of 19th-century Qing China, delivery agent Kong Wu has no qualms leaving a group of defenseless girls to the mercy of ruthless thugs so that he can complete his job. Yet when he discovers a silk handkerchief embroidered with a poem inside a second-hand battle garment possibly donated by the palace, he develops feelings for its creator even though he does not know her. Continue reading

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Simoleon Physiology

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1.

“Metaphors are powerful. No matter how subtle and sophisticated we would like to believe we are in our thinking, basic visual or tactile images create the very foundations of our thought. Compared to clockwork images of economies, the metaphor of ‘the economy as a beating heart’ seems to be particularly apt. The heart has a particular physical structure (valves and chambers) and regularity of functioning. Imagining the economy as a heart recognizes that it also has structures (institutions) and regularities, which is not different from imagining it as a machine. But because the heart is a living, vital organ, additional highly relevant insights flow from this metaphor.

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Necessity and Sufficiency

Poster of Jang Dan-bi (Kim Seul-gi) and Lee Do / King Sejong (Yoon Doo-joon) in the rain 2015 Naver Korean web drama / MBC drama special Splish Splash Love / Splash Splash Love / Pongdang Pongdang Love

Even the most fervent critic of metaphysics must have pondered from time to time: what is the meaning of my existence to this world?

Feeling hopeless about her prospects in grades-obsessed South Korea on the day of the college entrance examination, mathematically challenged highschooler Jang Dan-bi jumps into a rain puddle transporting her to a drought-stricken Joseon, where Sejong the Great (King Sejong) and his ministers are praying for a timely, much-needed rain, also called “danbi” in Korean. Now in the 15th century, when modern multiplication tables are unheard of, her mediocre mathematics skills take on heightened importance as she teaches mathematics enthusiast King Sejong rudimentary arithmetic and science. Along the way, she befriends a man she identifies as Jang Yeong-sil, an actual historical figure credited for the invention of multiple meteorological and astronomical devices, and inadvertently takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of Joseon technological advances.

But the message Splish Splash Love conveyed to high school seniors, who received their examination results the week before the first broadcast, went deeper than that.  Continue reading

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Tagorean Victory

Wei Jiasen (George Hu). Mars / Zhuang Junnan (Jiro Wang) and Chem Momo (Raine Yang) in 2009 Taiwanese idol drama ToGetHer 愛就宅一起

If Taiwanese drama ToGetHer could be compared to a dish, it would likely be a hearty cheese and tomato sandwich topped with a soft and silky sunny-side up egg—nothing profound or elegant, but enviably more efficient than a typical philosophical tome at brightening up a wintry morning. All the same, this is not an ordinary sandwich, but one which yolk carries a small dash of the flavor of the sublime sun worshiped by the silence of a tiny flower’s purity under Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s pen.

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Devotion

Xue Shao (Winston Chao) and Princess Taiping (Zhou Xun) in 2000 Chinese historical drama Da Ming Gong Ci / Daming Gong Ci

The Poets’ Camp

Prince Consort Xue Shao:
[Y]our mother (Empress Wu below) killed her to fulfill the romantic fantasy you conjured on a whim! Which was the same as killing me! […] [T]he day you and I married became my wife’s death anniversary. I once thought of giving you the cold shoulder to punish you for the wrong you did to the idea of love, tormenting your feelings to pay homage to her spirit. But I was wrong. You’re not the cold and selfish princess I imagined. On the contrary, you’re not willful, unreasonable or arrogant. Scarier still, you’re loyal. All these years, I kept fearing that I would grow irrevocably in love with you. Now, my fear has come true—Princess, I…I have fallen for you. I tried mustering all my willpower to resist it, but there was nothing I could do! The hatred in my heart was no defense against your purity and loyalty! Yet how can I develop romantic affection for you? […] What does that make of my vow to my wife? […]

Princess Taiping (shaken and learning the truth only now):
Please pardon my…my mother’s sins, on account of the fact that you now return my love…

Prince Consort Xue Shao (before thrusting a sword into his heart):
No, one can encounter happiness numerous times over the course of his life, but he can commit himself to only one thread of happiness among them.

 

The Pragmatists’ Camp

Empress Wu:
A person who has suffered misfortune usually has two choices: Live, so that he can rewrite a happy destiny and let others share his joy; die, such that his fate becomes more wretched and others are forcibly buried along with him. If a man tortures one woman for the sake of keeping another woman in loving memory, he cannot hold a candle to even the meanest womenfolk on earth, let alone be considered an honest individual.

 

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A Soldier Wearing a Ball and Chain

Yi Bang-won / King Taejong (Yoo Ah-in) in Jung Do Jeon / Jeong Do-jeon's cave in 2015 Korean historical drama / sageuk Six Flying Dragons

Eminent American judge and legal scholar Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once expressed the following disturbing opinion:

“If I were having a philosophical talk with a man I was going to have hanged (or electrocuted) I should say, I don’t doubt that your act was inevitable for you but to make it more avoidable by others we propose to sacrifice you to the common good. You may regard yourself as a soldier dying for your country if you like. But the law must keep its promises.”

Essentially, Justice Holmes believed that the importance of crime deterrence outweighs that of considerations about social circumstances which have led a person to go down a criminal path. Yet the idea of sacrificing a hapless individual to the common good runs contrary to modern notions of civil rights. This struggle between the individual and the masses is echoed in Six Flying Dragons, a historical drama about three fictional and three non-fictional personalities’ involvement in the establishment of the Joseon dynasty. In the dark times of the preceding late Goryeo dynasty, when many are already dying under oppressive politics, its characters wonder if their own political means are really worth more than the ends. As a 12-year-old boy, bright-eyed protagonist Yi Bang-won already had his own answer:

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Heaven in the Voices

Jeong Do-jeon (Kim Myung-min) in 2015 Korean historical drama / sageuk Six Flying Dragons

“War should not be waged by the rich, because it is the poor who make up the casualties,” bellows Jeong Do-jeon, the man who will become the founding prime minister and master architect of the new nation Joseon. Pointing at the Goryeo prime minister and his cronies seated comfortably under the tent, he continues, “War should not be decided on by the old, because it is the young who perish.”

One by one, the massive sea of common folks, scholars and ministers in the square joins him in the rally against diplomatic ties with the weakened Yuan regime, which the elites are pursuing for personal benefits despite the risk of antagonizing the mighty Ming empire that has replaced it in China. Fights break out between the two sides, as the prime minister lets his armed guards beat up even the weak and the old to shield the Yuan envoys secretly present. Watching on with tears in his eyes, Jeong leads a Goryeo-equivalent of the crowd anthem, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” in the film Les Miserables:

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Citrus Rhapsody

Writing the Way to Happiness Today, the book read by Ha No-ra (Choi Ji-woo) and featured in episode 14 of 2015 Korean drama Twenty Again 필사의 발견 오늘, 행복을 쓰다 : 아들러의 행복과 긍정 메시지 99

Is it ever too late to chase a dream?

Twenty Again juxtaposes its 38-year-old college freshman heroine’s regrets about her past passivity with some of her youthful schoolmates’ indifference to their hearts’ desires. While she does not think it possible at her age to pursue the dancing career she had wanted as a youth, they, sticking to dogmas and cold pragmatism for the larger part of the show, are not always objects of envy either. As the show nears its conclusion, it shares these lines from a book titled Writing the Way to Happiness Today:

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