Sunday, November 07, 2010

石悅《明朝那些事兒》 (Shi Yue: Those Ming Dynasty Stuff)

Sometimes I feel embarrassed by my ignorance of China, which is less than an hour away. There are some household names that I am completely unaware of. An recent example is 石悅 (Shi Yue) and his bestseller 《明朝那些事兒》(Those Ming Dynasty Stuff).

A few things about Those Ming Dynasty Stuff:
  • First published in 2006;
  • Over 5 million copies sold in 3 years;
  • Best-selling history book ever;
  • One of the 30 best-selling books since 1949;
  • Winner of Best History Book Award;
  • Has been translated into English, Japanese and Korean.
Those Ming Dynasty Stuff is a seven-volume set about the history of Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) by 石悅, Shi Yue. One may tend to think that Shi is a wise old historian at one of the major universities. Wrong.  Shi, who was trained in law, is a custom officer.  He wrote the first volume of Those Ming Dynasty Stuff when he was 26 and completed the seventh and last volume just before he reached 30.

There is an interview of Shi by CCTV, which is quite interesting.  How on earth would a 7-year-old pick up the "24 Histories" (二十四史) and start reading? (By the way, the "24 Histories" is not an ordinary book of history. The whole set contains 3213 volumes and about 40 million words, written in traditional classical form.)  Why should such a young person, who also enjoy video games and comic books, sometimes talk like someone who has lived many lives? Was he a historian in his previous life? 

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Secret for a Long Life - the Violin

Many violinists are able to play at advanced age (Ivry Gitlis, Ida Haendel and Nathan Milstein to name a few). Here is a video of Ida Haendel playing Bloch - Nigun at the age of 81. Absolutely unbelievably amazing. You have to watch the video to believe it. (Embedding is disabled at the request of the owner of the video so you have to click on the link to view it.) Violin making also appears to be a good sports to maintain one's physical and mental health. Stradivarius was still making violins at 90 when his contemporaries lived an average life of 50 something. Is violin playing/making the answer to aging? Probably, but one has to avoid travelling too much to let the magic work. A number of top violinists actually died in train (David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan for examples) or in a plane crash (Ginette Neveu, who won the Wieniawski Violin Competition at the age of 15 over 180 contestants, including David Oistrakh the Great, who finished second).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Eye Candy for Girls

The ladies in my office are always calm and quiet.  But they go crazy this morning over a young, brave and good looking fresh graduate from the police training school who rescued a tourist from the sea.  Link here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I wish I were there

There are thousands of historical moments that I wish I were there to witness. One is the performance by the "children orchestra" in 1939.

From Nathan Milstein's From Russia to the West:

"Toscanini's legendary temperament, well known to the musicians and the public, exploded once in my presence in a very funny way.  In New York in 1939, a benefit was held for the Chatham Square Music School. The star attraction of the program was the "children's orchestra", as it was advertised. The orchestra's violinists included Heifetz, Adolf Busch, Oskar Shumsky, and me, and I remember that one of the violists was William Primrose. The cellists included Emmanuel Feuermann, Piatigorsky, and Alfred Wallenstein.

All eighteen or twenty of us "children" came out onstage in shorts, even Busch, a big, red-faced man who was almost fifty then, yet looked younger than the rest of us.

The conductor of our "children's orchestra" was none other than Toscanini.  We played Ferdinard Rie's "Perpertuum mobile." Heifetz said before the performance, "Let's surprise the maestro! He'll be keeping a strict beat, as usual. But we'll start an incredible acceleration. Let's see how Toscanini reacts."

The maestro came out to his "children's orchestra" in a long, old-fashioned coat, like a school teacher. He began conducting and we followed Heifetz's plan and played faster and faster. Toscanini could not understand what was going on! He was so angry that he dropped his baton and ran off!

The "children's orchestra" was a great success; the audience loved it and thought that the trick with the tempo had been planned that way. The maestro, however, was furious and would not come out for a bow. Instead Wanda [Toscanini's daughter] came out, dressed in a man's suit (she had borrowed my pin-striped pants) and with a hat in her hand. She even twirled a drawn mustache, as if she were the maestro. The audience was certain that this too was part of the grand design and went wild."

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