Quote of the Day: Religious Beliefs of the Early Visayans

Most of the Visayans neither knew or believed in an afterlife. They thought that this life was all and even today after sixty years of preaching, I am unable to say that they have even a faint belief in an afterlife or in heaven or hell. What the most intelligent among them used to say was that they believed that the soul was born and died nine times and after dying nine times it became so small that it could be buried in a coffin the size of a grain of rice. They said that the body after burial became water at night and during the daytime lived alongside the soul.

— Quote from Fr. Alcina, the principal authority on the life and customs of the early Visayans, in History of Negros by Angel Martinez Cuesta, O.A.R. (Manila, 1980)

Overcoming Time: A Zhang Dai Essay on Food

This is a curious holiday season. Son seems more reclusive than self ever remembers him being. He is polite, but he keeps to himself more. Now he is in the garage, working out some secret stress on the punching bag hubby hung from the garage ceiling, over a decade ago.

In the meantime, self is continuing to read the Lydia Davis translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, and, alas, self is finding Proust’s “architectonic sentences” to be more akin to impenetrable thickets (especially after dinner, when her mind is sluggish). Just now, self finds herself staring numbly at the following: “Perhaps the immobility of the things around us is imposed on them by our certainty that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our mind confronting them.” Now, when self reads a sentence like that, she feels very thick indeed.

For relief, self has been turning to Phil Kafalas’ In Limpid Dream: Nostalgia and Zhang Dai’s Reminiscences of the Ming. Zhang Dai, like Proust, is also concerned with the overcoming of time. But he goes about it in a completely different way. Here is an excerpt from a Zhang Dai essay on eating crabs. It’s a recreation of what Kafalas calls “the perfect gustatory moment.” Bear in mind, dear blog reader, that the below piece was written in China in the late 1640s :

The foods that, without additional salt or vinegar, are complete in the five flavors are: sea clams and river crabs. River crabs grow fat with the coming of the tenth month, along with the rice and millet. Their shells are big as plates and swell up; the purple pincers are as big as fists, and the meat as you pull it out from the little legs is shiny like millipedes. Peel back the shell and the fat is heaped up like jade unguent and amber chips, all clinging together, so sweet and rich that even the eight precious flavors could not match it.

As soon as the tenth month came, I and my friends and brothers would establish a crab club and arrange to meet after noon to boil crabs and eat them, six apiece. Being afraid they would get cold and stale, we would boil them in batches. To go with it we had fat salted duck, cow milk junket, wined sea clams like amber, cabbage boiled in duck broth until it was like jade slabs, and for fruits, late-season oranges and chestnuts and water chestnuts. To drink we had a jade pot of ice; for vegetables, Bingkeng bamboo shoots; for rice, new Yuhang white; for a mouth rinse, Orchid Snow tea.

Thinking of it now, it truly seems like Heaven’s kitchen and immortals’ offerings: drinking till merry, eating till stuffed — fortune beyond asking.

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