Friday, 30 August 2013

Chinese English calendar

I was rummaging through one of the drawers in the living room and came across a plastic bag, all carefully tied neatly and tucked into a corner. Curiosity got the better of me. What could be in there that my late aunt had been keeping away? In the last 100 days since her passing, I had begun checking all the nooks and crannies in the house in order to familiarise myself with her idiosyncratic ways. Here was one of them: storing away items until they become forgotten.

Well, this was what I found. Together with some old vacuum cleaner and electric equipment manuals and their (gasp!) warranty cards, there were these three books.

Aha, the amateur gambler in her, all right. Nobody her generation would be caught short without a guide book of the 4-D number interpretation. And she had TWO copies. Different copies, of course, but basically very similar, almost identical, content. Occasionally, she would dabble in them. Have heard her phone her friends and ask them to place bets on this or that number for her. But in all these years, there were only two or three instances when she'd tell me: "Okay, let's go for a small celebration today." In my opinion, very inefficient ROI. But I had let her continue with her little passtime as long as she did not bet big. As for me, I've no interest at all in this 4-D, 3-D, Big, Small, Magnum, Toto, Big Sweep, whatever... Despite too, my father's gambling habits when he was still alive.

But the one book among the three that really jolted my memory was this one: a thin collection of 120-year Chinese-English calendars from 1873 till 1992.

I had remember buying this book from a Chinese bookstore in Carnarvon Street, George Town in the early 80s. What made me walk into that Chinese bookstore, I didn't know, but this book jumped out at me. I didn't hesitate to buy it.

What was so interesting about this book was that it gave readers an easy guide to convert from a Chinese calendar into an English calendar, and vice-versa. And all the years from 1873 until 1992 were covered.

It was useful for my family and we could now determine exactly when our fore-fathers were born. For example, my mother used to write in her little blue 555 booklet dates like eighth moon 18th day followed by the year 1907, and we'd be scratching our heads. What was the equivalent in the English calendar? When exactly was this relative born, or die? This book told me that the equivalent date was 25 September 1907. Gee, back in the 70s and 80s, this was nothing short of fantastic. I tell you, we were quite popular among some of the relatives then!

Unfortunately, the book was good only up until 1992, That was when the pages ran out. And despite my occasional visits to Chinese bookstores, nobody seemed to sell any similar books any more. And it was not until about 10 years ago that I managed to get my hands onto a similar publication: Joey Yap's Ten Thousand Year Calendar.

When I consider these two books together, I actually marvel at how for centuries, the old Chinese scholars could work out the complicated system of Chinese luni-solar calendars based only on their observations and predictions of the universe around them, such as the annual trek of the sun across the sky, the movements of the planets, the positioning of the stars and the waxing and waning of the moon. Just by looking at these celestial bodies, the Chinese scholars could devise accurately the Chinese luni-solar calendars that we use until today. 


No comments: