Thursday, 9 October 2008
I've always enjoyed the ancient Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times". I've loved the ambiguity of it... its the kind of statement that at first glance seems innocuous or even encouraging, but when you're not looking it comes back to bite you.
It seems doubtful that it actually was a Chinese curse, or if it is, it is like putting a phrase into babelfish or some other online translation site. You can translate it from Chinese to English but when you translate it back again, it looks nothing like the original.
If its not actually a Chinese curse, we have Robert F Kennedy to blame. He is credited with making the statement popular in South Africa, and possibly abroad. In a speech in Cape Town on 7 June, 1966, he said: There is a Chinese curse which says, 'May he live in interesting times'. Like it or not, we live in interesting times...
I like another story that came out of his visit: He saw the graffiti for the JFK gang and was touched by what he fondly believed were the frequent references to his brother!
When I was researching whether the curse actually exists I found this, even more sinister reference, on a site which was mainly in Chinese: "May you live in interesting times. May you get that which you prayed for. May you come to the attention of people in high places. May your friends always be at your back. And may your enemies be patient."
The same source pointed out that "interesting times" actually was the translation of the word for anarchy.
We're certainly living in interesting times in South Africa at the moment. I found an interesting take on the effects of Mbeki's ousting here and the transcript of Terror Lekota's speech about his "divorce from the ANC" is here
Who knows what the outcome will be? Anarchy and patient enemies? Hope not.
So why the picture of Lief Eriksson? Today is Lief Eriksson Day in the US (see, they don't just remember Columbus) and although he looks like a bit of a wally in this picture from Reportrait he certainly lived in interesting and often turbulent times.