Archive for the 'Myths Legends Fables & Folklores' Category

Holland Water – Hor Lan Shui

Have you ever wonder why the Cantonese usually called soft drinks as “Holland Water” (Ho Lan Shui, 荷兰水) in the past?

I remember Victor had a related post  on this in his blog, and he mentioned something like “originated from a Hokkien who while entertaining a visiting guest, called out to someone in the house to ‘hor lan chui’ which means ‘serve the guest water’ ” which Chun See dismissed it as plain nonsense. Of course there are some that think “Hor Lan Shu” was first produced or invented in Holland…

Credit : 现代快报

Here is a bit of the history on soft drinks. It all depends on how you look at soft drinks – “non carbonated water” or “carbonated water”.

The first soft drinks to be marketed appeared in 1676 (17th century) which is a mixture of water and lemon juice sweetened with honey. The company “Compagnie de Limonadiers” was formed in Paris and granted a monopoly for the sale of its products. Vendors carried tanks on their backs from which they dispensed cups of lemonade. This is the first version of “non carbonated” soft drinks.

Soft drinks are also referred to as carbonated drinks that are non-achoholic and thus the term “soft drinks” is employed in opposition to “hard”, i.e. drinks with high alcoholic content by volume. In 1767, Dr.Joseph Priestley (an Englishmen) invented the first drinkable man made glass of carbonated water.

Dr.Joseph Priestley

His invention was meant as a cure for scurvy (a kind of disease caused by lack of vitamin C) for the crew in James Cook’s second voyage to the South Seas.

Dr.Priestley did not exploit the commercial potential of this carbonated soft drinks, but Johann Jacob Schweppe, a German-born jeweller but amateur scientist, did in 1770 (late 18th century).

Johann Jacob Schweppe

J.J. Schweppe moved his business to London in 1792 but was not successful and failed in 1795. OK, so much for the history of soft drinks.

In fact this post is a bit related to my previous post on “Holland or Netherlands“. Remember I mentioned about The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) established in 1602, and was granted a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. The Dutch East India Company beat all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Of course Holland was not the first to trade in China, in the 13th and 14th centuries, a number of Europeans mainly Christian missionaries sought to penetrate China. One of the famous one was Marco Polo then, but all these had little permanent effect on the East-West trade.

Marco Polo

The Portuguese succeeded in finding new sea route for a cheaper and easier access to South and East Asia goods. The first Portuguese ships reached Canton on the southern coasts of China in 1516. By 1557, they gained a permanent base in China at Macau. But the Portuguese maritime supremacy still lose out to the Holland in the 17th century. This posed a serious challenge to Portugal with the establishment of Dutch East India Company.

Below shows the Dutch East India Fleet in 1599;

Credit : National Maritime Museum, London

The Dutch East India Company colonies or outposts were also established in Canton, China and Taiwan (1624 – 1662). But in 1662, Zheng Chenggong expelled the Dutch from Taiwan. By 1669, the Dutch East India Company was the richest private company in history, with a huge fleet of merchant ships and warships, tens of thousands of employees. They were confined to trade only in Canton and Macau from the 16th century to 18th century.

Below shows ships off Canton circa 1847-1856;

Credit : National Maritime Museum, London

By the 18th Century, the number of merchants who came to China increased. As you remembered, the soft drinks were already commercialised during this period and were brought into China via Canton by the Holland merchants.

So the people in Canton termed such soft drinks as “Hor Lan Shui” (荷兰水).

Below shows selling of Mint drink “薄荷水” passing off as “Hor Lan Shui” in China;

This “Hor Lan Shui” (荷兰水) was mentioned in a 1876 book titled “沪游杂记” in Shanghai.

The book “沪游杂记”;

Along with soft drinks, potatoes and snow peas were also brought into Canton by the Holland merchants.

Thus the word “荷兰薯” for potatoes and “荷兰豆” for snow peas. It was a common practice to term the products or goods from the countries that brought them in – in this case Holland.

But now, are there potatoes and snow peas really from Holland? Guess….But when someone said you “饱死荷兰豆” (literally translate – full until die snow peas) it means you are really stupid and silly. When someone said something silly and stupid, we said “饱死” to ourselves in cantonese. As to how “荷兰豆” also means stupid and silly, it is actually translated into “Holland Bean” which means “好伦笨” in Cantonese tone and that “伦” is rather vulgar in Cantonese. So “好伦笨” also means “very stupid”. In full, “饱死荷兰豆” means you are silly and stupid. This phrase was very popular in the 80s but not so now.

Now do you think that we Cantonese really like to relate a lot of things to Holland? Before I end, just to let you know that the Cantonese also called playing cards as “荷兰牌”, why?

Haha why is it known as  “荷兰牌”, I really don’t know – do you?


What my father wrote;

“He who pays the piper calls the tune.”


What I Learnt About Tomb Sweeping Day

I’ve taken over my father’s role on Tomb Sweeping Day for the past 3 years since my father’s health deteriorated. As both my wife and I are free-thinkers, we do not know much about those traditional practice when it comes to tomb sweeping day. I didn’t pick up much knowledge from my parents as they are free-thinkers too! I’ve been doing a simplified version on tomb sweeping day since then and just buy a package of ‘everything’ and some oranges as offerings to my ancestors. Maybe that’s why I’m not being blessed by them haha.

I remembered when I first bought those packages  (shown below) for offerings to my ancestors, I thought it was as simple as pick. pay, go, pray and burn. But the auntie selling it told me that I must do some ‘situational writing’ on the package so that my ancestors can receive our offerings. She asked me for details like the dates of offering, names of ancestors, our relationship to them. etc. I was taken aback as I knew nothing about it. I told her I will be back with more infos. Since then, I will get every infos ready before buying those packages as they provide ‘situational writing’ services free on our behalf.

As usual this year when I wanted to buy those simplified packages for offerings, I thought my wife had brought the infos needed for me and she thought I had it myself…so end up we didn’t bring along the infos which include my ancestors’ names. So can’t be help, the names portion were left blank for me to fill it in.

Let’s take a look at the yellow strip of paper pasted on the package. This is where we write the infos on it;

Hmm, those were not my handwriting (mine not so nice lah). They were written by the provision shop owner where I bought the packages from.

Now let’s examine what infos are required and how to write on the yellow strip of paper;

On the top right hand side, you see the words “陰府” (yin fu). Below it is where we write who we want the package to be ‘delivered’ to. Of course “陰府” here simply means the addressee in hell, hades or whatever term you called it. As this is Green package, so it’s meant for female and in this case for my Great Grandmother. Now I remember the term  “紅男綠女” (hóng nán lǜ nǚ) means men wear red while women wear green.

The first word to write is “先” meaning 先人(xiān rén) or 祖先(zǔ xiān) both mean ancestor. Next is “曾祖母” (zēng zǔ mǔ), who is my Paternal Great Grandmother. You may refer to here for the various terms relationship. Next we usually write the name of the ‘person’ receiving the package or addressee’s name. In this case my Paternal Great Grandmother may not have a name of her own, so we addressed her as “姚邵” (yáo shào) which is a combination of the husband’s family surname and the wife’s family surname. It was understood that women in the past do not have a name of their own and have adopted this manner of addressing them. Since my Paternal Great Grandmother was married into the “姚” (yáo) family, my family surname, we write it as “姚門” (yáo mén). Next will be her own surname “邵” (which is her family’s surname), and written as “邵氏” (shào shì). The “氏” (shì) here can also be simply means surname or clan’s name. The term “姓氏” (surname origin) origin is rather complicated and I’ll blog about it separately in future. So here I addressed my Paternal Great Grandmother as “姚門邵氏”. Note : In olden times, some women, mainly poor ones, do not have personal names and are simply called by their family surname names suffixed with shi (氏); after they are married, the husband’s surname is added before the maiden name.

 After this we write “夫人” (fū ren) denoting “madam”. Below this we find the term “收” (shōu) means “receive”.

You can check this on the tomb itself, here below is what’s inscribed on my Paternal Great Grandmother’s tomb;

You may take a look at the various tombs during the next tomb sweeping day. You may see many were written in this manner too.

Next take a look at how we write when the ancestor’s name is known, here my Paternal Grandmother. Probably during the Grandmother era, most woman already had their own names, so it will be written differently from the previous one.  My Paternal Grandmother name is “容运通” (róng yùn tōng), so this is how we write;

Everything is the same except after the surname, I wrote the name of my Grandmother. So you see “容氏” (róng shì), my Grandmother’s surname, followed by her name “运通” (yùn tōng).

So how do we write for the male ones, here in this case my Grandfather;

Since it’s for my Grandfather, it’s a Red package.

Here I wrote “祖父” (zǔ fù) since it’s for my Paternal Grandfather. Since our family surname is “姚” , I wrote “姚府” (yáo fǔ) meaning “Yao Mansion”. Note since it’s for man, we don’t write “門” (mén) or  “氏” (shì). After the “府” ( fǔ), we immediately write the name “豪秋” (háo qiū) followed by “君” meaning “gentleman”. My Paternal Grandfather name was “姚豪秋”. This can be seen on the tomb itself;

The only slight difference is “公” (gōng) was written on the tomb instead of “府” (fǔ). Probaby the word “公” (gōng) is more personal on tomb.

Now take a look at how to write on the left side of the yellow strip;

On the top left side, you see the word “陽居” (yáng jū) simply means “people who reside on earth”. It’s actually refer to the sender, where we just write the relationship between the sender or the person who offer the package and the recipient. We start writing with the word “孝” (xiào) meaning “filial”. Doesn’t matter if one is not really, it’s just a standard “situation writing” format like we write letter. Next we put our relationship down with reference to the recipient. Since this package is for our (my wife and I) Paternal Great Grandmother (the first example), here we are known as “曾孫” (zēng sūn) meaning “Great Grandchildren”. After that we wrote “媳婦” (xí fù) and “男” (nán) side by side. So in full it means “Great Grandson and Daughter-in-law”. Below you see the word “合家” (hé jiā) meaning “and family”. The last word is “付” (fù) simply means “paid for” or more accurately known as the “sender”.

Now we left back the centre portion of the yellow strip;

This is meant to write the date of offerings or the date you go for your tomb sweeping day. This must be written in the Chinese Calendar format. If you do not own one you can just Google for it as shown here or here. Since the year 2010, which is Metal Tiger, we wrote “庚寅” (gēng yín) for the “年” (nián). This is followed by “三” (sān) “月” (yuè) meaning “the Third Month” and “初五” (chū wǔ) meaning “the fifth day of the month”. Remember we don’t write the date as 2010, April, 18 (though that was the date we went for tomb sweeping). but we wrote it in the Chinese Calendar way. Usually the year is the more difficult one where I need to check it out.

Though I’m a free-thinker, I still wish to maintain such Chinese culture practice even mine is a simplified version. So how elaborate is your tomb sweeping practice? Seen some even have lion dance and roasted pig as offerings.


What my father wrote;

“Better master one than engage with ten.”

Guess What Quiz No.3

The picture shows part of something. Guess what is that ‘something’? You have to tell me what is this ‘something’ call and what is it use for?


The correct answer is Tong Sheng 通勝, Chinese Almanac. I don’t know since when it was called Tong Sheng instead of Tong Shu. I remember it was known as Tong Shu 通書 especially by the Cantonese but maybe the word “Shu” sounds like “losing” so this word was changed to “Sheng” which means “win”.

My first encounter with this very thick book was when my godmother used it to check some auspicious dates. I was only about 9 or 10 years old then, and I was attracted by the pictures and drawing in it;

Frankly until now, I still do not understand all the drawings in it.

This ‘book’ has been around for many many years and the meaning of Tong Shu means “a book that knows all”. Some people may check with this book on what one should or should not do on each day. But usually the Chinese will use it to check for auspicious dates for wedding, opening ceremony for their businesses, etc.

Take a look at the thread binding used for this thick book;

And this thread is enough to hold this thick book together! I’m impressed. The first page of the book usually is the boy and a cow working on a farm;

We may use it to check our age or year of birth and also our Chinese horoscope. Example my year of birth is 1962, I was 24 years old (1985) and born in the year of tiger;

Oh this book even has diagrams of foetus in the womb;

It shows the foetus from 1st month to 9th month and how is the position like when delivering. On the left is the talisman for pregnant woman who have offended the ‘Foetus God’, I think.

The most interesting part of this book is the portion where one can learn English;

It has a few pages where people can learn how the English alphabets and also some English words like those shown above. As the book is written in Cantonese, so it is more accurate to read it in Cantonese instead of Chinese. Take a look at the word “Saturday” and the pronunication in Cantonese. If we will to read the English word using the Cantonese pronunication, it sounds really weird. The whole book content seems to be printed in just Black and Red ink;

If you think that this Chinese Almanac is meant for those people who are superstitious, you are wrong. It does contain some Scientific content too. One can learn about Eclipse of the Sun or Moon from it;

The Chinese Almanac has more than 2000 years of history and it’s good to at least browse through it and take a look at its contents. If you wish to know more, you can take a look here.


What My Father Wrote ;

Feather And Leaf In My Book

I wonder how many of you ever try or believed that by feeding a feather with pencil shavings, it will grow and reproduce. I did! When I was in primary school, my classmates and I used to keep those beautiful colored feathers in books and fed them with pencil shavings.

When I tell this to my primary 4 daughter, she wanted to try it. After 2 months, there is still no sight of a new born feather…I remember it did reproduce when I was in primary school or my eyesight something wrong…hehe.

Another thing I used to keep in my books is ‘落地生根’ (pronunced as LuòDìShēnɡGēn) or Bryophyllum pinnatum leaf. I used to tear a leaf off from my godmother pot of 落地生根. After some time, roots will grow from the leaf! To a primary school boy, this seem to be a miracle!

So what other things you keep in your books besides bookmarks?


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