Monthly Archives: June 2013

Lin Yutang

“If a man be sensible and one fine morning, while he is lying in bed, counts at the tips of his fingers how many things in life truly will give him enjoyment, invariably he will find food is the first one.” – The Importance of Living

Lin Yutang (1895 – 1976) is one of the very first Chinese writers that I admire through reading his book THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING. The charm of the book is in its simplicity, the enjoyment of the small things in life. I have since bought many copies of the book and have given them all away to my friends.

Very often, we live our busy life, going through the hustles of the day, be it spending it on meeting after meeting or busy creating stuffs, we forget how to live and what are the important things in life. Of course, one needs to work but not at the expense of living. Articles like the enjoyment of lying in bed, on food, on culture and even on how to choose a good son in law are such a good read, it always refreshes the mind.

He has written many books, and translated many as well. For example, here is one very nice paragraph about library from his book WITH LOVE & IRONY:

“Books should never be classified. To classify them is a science, but not to classify them is an art. Your five-foot book shelf should be a little universe in itself. This effect is achieved by letting a book of poems incline on a scientific paper, and allowing a detective story to keep company with a volume of Guyau. So arranged, the five-foot shelf becomes a rich shelf, intriguing your fancy. On the other hand, if the shelf is occupied by a set of Ssema Kuang’s Mirror of History, then in moments when you do not feel inclined to look into the Mirror of History, the shelf can have no meaning for you, and it becomes a poor shelf, bare to the bones. Every one knows that women’s charm lies in their mystery and elusiveness, and old cities like Paris and Vienna are so interesting because after staying there for ten years, you never quite know what may turn up in the narrow alley. That same thing is true of a library. There should be that mystery and elusiveness which comes from the fact that you are never quite sure what you have hidden on that particular shelf some months or years ago.”

Lin Yutang’s many writings exudes this kind of romanticism and nonchalant way to life. Rigidity, bureaucracy is thrown out of the window. This is one person that can write a book and call it THE PLEASURE OF A NON-CONFORMIST. His romantic and sensitive being makes his translation of SIX CHAPTERS OF A FLOATING LIFE such a great pleasure to read.

On the trip to Taiwan, we went to pay respects to him at his old home in Yangmingshan. It is a modest place but overlooking a great scenery. The architectural style is predominantly Chinese but given that Dr. Lin is such a cross cultural person, there are hints of western architecture and design here and there, especially hints of Spanish designs.

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The above is the shot of the house from the gate entrance. Simple house with a nice garden, Dr. Lin is walking his talk.

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This is a shot of one of his bookcases. The books collected is a melting pot of east and west philosophy, literature, travel, all sorts of books. Confucius and Lao Tzu lives there peacefully with Nietzsche and Plato while Shakespeare and Goethe aren’t lonely in the company of their eastern counterparts.

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One of Dr. Lin’s big project in his life, besides writing and translating books and dictionaries, is to build a typewriter that can type Chinese characters. He went into serious financial difficulties trying to do so. This typewriter in his house is on his writing desk overlooking the garden.

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This picture of Dr. Lin and his dear wife decorates one wall of the cafe at the back of the house which serves really good tea. It is very relaxing, just like a chapter from his book The Importance of Living.

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Dr. Lin’s final resting place, overlooking the beautiful scenery below.

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