General

From World Cup to Vonnegut

These days, it is virtually impossible to have a conversation or a meal without hearing about the World Cup. The fever has spread to everyone. Nations are reporting losses in billions and trillions and still counting. People got hurt, some lost jobs while others quitted, work patterns changed, relations changed, some won or lost on bets, some got arrested for being involved in bets in the wrong place and most people lost sleeps. It does appear that the world is just one soccer ball. It would have been nice if Israel and Palestine stopped killing each other or India and Pakistan paused to sharpen their soccer skills instead of their mind-unnerving rhetoric. If only the world could be just one level playing field.

Rosita has actually broadened her soccer vocabulary and become rather update with the latest scores; and in Macau, while celebrating the Rotary Club of Macau’s 55th anniversary, we had a crash course on world flags as their members treated us to a rendition of pom-pom routines, almost in a professional manner, as a cheerful and very happy Gloria Chan looked on.

I felt rather sick after China-Brazil match, not because of the results or the performance of the China players, but because of the commentaries of some Hong Kong characters with their heartless, tasteless, aimless, evil, disparaging and totally uncalled-for remarks about our National Team. It was apparently a live programme on TV and broadcast to millions of viewers. I broke into it halfway and could have taken it out of context, but I found what I heard totally unacceptable. As a Chinese, we should be proud of our China Team for having gone thus far and for having played so hard and so well against a world-class soccer team. I have yet to hear any person of any nationality speaking ill of his own national team, regardless of where he is and regardless of how badly the team had performed. The assumption must be that the players would put in their best for the country and for the sport. These Hong Kong people must be different and one of its kind. So much for the efforts of those promoting civic education in Hong Kong. I felt better after reading the banner headline this morning, “China beaten but not bowed” and what Bora Milutinovic said, “You need to understand who we were playing and who we are and where Asian Football is today.”

It was refreshing that my young friend Harry had not written to me on anything about the World Cup. Not yet. His last communication with me two days ago was actually on a literary subject, more specifically on a novelist Kurt Vonnegut.

Harry told me that he had been reading several novels by Kurt Vonnegut, which in a way has thrown out of the window the one book one author theory. He noticed that in two of his books, Vonnegut made cross-references to characters in his own books, albeit in a fleeting manner. As both books are independent and free standing works, Harry found it interesting in the sense that the author appeared to be making an inside joke for a limited audience and possibly for himself mostly. Granted that some of his readers could pick up the intended or unintended figments or filaments, it is likely that such references were mainly intended for the author’s own amusement or gratification. Harry went on to suggest that the process whereby an author develops his characters in novels could be a function of the author’s talents to create such characters in different novels.

Well, I suppose Harry was talking about Kurt Vonnegut Jr. from Indianapolis who served in the US Air Force in the last World War and who was best known for Slaughterhouse Five which he wrote in 1969 based on his experiences as a prisoner-of-war at the destruction of Dresden in 1945. This novelist has written quite a few major works, including some plays, essays and an autobiography.

I wonder whether Harry has read Cha Liangrong’s martial arts serials. Cha had said he started writing when he was very young, first for the fees, but later out of interest. His works are full of cross-references to one another and to historical episodes or anecdotes. I have heard that some universities have run courses on his works, but I am not sure. Of more interest to me is that Harry has highlighted at least one difference between writing novels and writing essays. Both genres can be self-contained works on their own, but these days I have seen increasingly more cross-references in essays. One supposes that authors who are free from censorship are men and women who write primarily because they want to write and in a manner and fashion they like or think best to present what they want to present. On the other hand, there is J K Rowling, for example, who is keeping the world in suspense by publishing her fifth book in the series late, but at the same time has told the world that she has written the last chapter of the seventh book, involving deaths and disappointments. Of all recent authors, Rowling must have excelled in cross-referencing.

I watched “Rotary and You” broadcast tonight in between doing this letter. I have mixed feelings and I wonder whether our image in the District or in Hong Kong will be enhanced as a result, and the extent to which it would be.

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