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Re: Some late questions

Posted by Smokey Stover on January 15, 2004

In Reply to: Some late questions posted by sphinx on January 14, 2004

: : : : : : : : : : : Hi folks,
: : : : : : : : : : : Here is a piece of reading material for you to help me with. As New Year is around the corner and the task is a bit too huge, you may well not hurry in working them out.
: : : : : : : : : : : I'll sincerely appreciate any help you come up with!

: : : : : : : : : : : Here are the difficult sentences I'm confused with:
: : : : : : : : : : : 1.She is the red rose of the family and I am the green thorn.
: : : : : : : : : : : (Why she say so?
: : : : : : : : : : : How would you describe the relationship between the two sisters?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 2.There is something about it, a wistful, dandelion, orchidlike kind of beauty that feels like notes in a chord being played separately, finger by finger, harmonizing back and forth.
: : : : : : : : : : : (What kind of "beauty" it is when it is connected with dandelion and orchid?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 3.It always felt like cool satin when I yanked it, her head jerking backward, mimicking the motion of my arm.
: : : : : : : : : : : (Could you explain Linh's actions in plain English? Jerking? Mimicking?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 4....his breath whistles through the evenness of his teeth as the cover grazes the dark honey of his skin.
: : : : : : : : : : : (What does the "cover" refer to here?
: : : : : : : : : : : And could you explain "dark honey"? What about honey-color skin?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 5...I want to spend quality time with you, my darling sister. Get up, you piece of mutton.
: : : : : : : : : : : (Quality time?
: : : : : : : : : : : and what does "you piece of mutton" mean?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 6."...He can't give me anything, just himself. And he doesn't even know that I'm using him. Damn it!..."
: : : : : : : : : : : (Why Linh was "using him"?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 7."He's so perfect for me, just perfect. It's like he stepped out of my story and came to life. We speak the same language and share the same past. Everything. "
: : : : : : : : : : : (How to explain "It's like he stepped out of my story and came to life."?
: : : : : : : : : : : Does Linh really love Thanh? )

: : : : : : : : : : : 7."...And Mom and Dad, they've done so much for us. Now they think they've won the lottery from God for being good all their life."
: : : : : : : : : : : (What was Mom and Dad's attitude towards Linh's marriage according to this sentence? Who the chose should be Linh's husband?)

: : : : : : : : : : : 8.What is Rain music? What is significant about the use of rain in the title, as well as at the end of the story?

: : : : : : : : : : : MAny thanks!

: : : : : : : : : : : BTW, now another year is coming near, and I'd say to all your kind folks here that, I've really learned a awful lot in English language on this forum since I struck this gold mine! Thank you for your help! I wish I'd continue to have the pleasure of enjoying your generous help here next year!

: : : : : : : : : : : May your New Year begin with joy!

: : : : : : : : : : 1. She is the red rose of the family and I am the green thorn. (Why she say so? How would you describe the relationship between the two sisters?)

: : : : : : : : : : She is saying that her sister is their parents' favorite - their perfect daughter. They expect great things from her sister. Her sister is the rose and she is just a thorn. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 2.There is something about it, a wistful, dandelion, orchidlike kind of beauty that feels like notes in a chord being played separately, finger by finger, harmonizing back and forth.
: : : : : : : : : : (What kind of "beauty" it is when it is connected with dandelion and orchid?)

: : : : : : : : : : I don't know what this sentence means. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 3.It always felt like cool satin when I yanked it, her head jerking backward, mimicking the motion of my arm. (Could you explain Linh's actions in plain English? Jerking? Mimicking?)

: : : : : : : : : : When she pulled her sister's hair, the hair felt like cool satin. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 4....his breath whistles through the evenness of his teeth as the cover grazes the dark honey of his skin. (What does the "cover" refer to here?
: : : : : : : : : : And could you explain "dark honey"? What about honey-color skin?)

: : : : : : : : : : Cover means bed cover, quilt, coverlet. Honey-colored skin is tanned a warm, golden shade. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 5...I want to spend quality time with you, my darling sister. Get up, you piece of mutton.
: : : : : : : : : : (Quality time? and what does "you piece of mutton" mean?)

: : : : : : : : : : Quality time - a relatively short period of time (quality not quantity) when she is going to focus her attention on being with her sister and enjoying her company. Piece of mutton - maybe meaning her sister is older, mutton and not a young lamb? She is teasing her sister. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 6."...He can't give me anything, just himself. And he doesn't even know that I'm using him. Damn it!..." (Why Linh was "using him"?)

: : : : : : : : : : As near as I can tell, Linh planned to marry another man but she continued to see David. She was enjoying David's company, etc., even though she knows they have no future. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 7."He's so perfect for me, just perfect. It's like he stepped out of my story and came to life. We speak the same language and share the same past. Everything. " (How to explain "It's like he stepped out of my story and came to life."?
: : : : : : : : : : Does Linh really love Thanh? )

: : : : : : : : : : She says Thanh "stepped out of my story" and at first I thought maybe she means he was her Prince, straight out of a fairytale or a young girl's daydream of romance. But after reading this passage and the conflict between her feelings for David and Thanh, I think it means that if someone were to look at her life (her story) that Thanh would be exactly the kind of husband she should have - same race, same culture, etc. Thanh fits the pattern of her life. Does she love Thanh? Maybe. But she has these romantic feelings for the outsider - David. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 7."...And Mom and Dad, they've done so much for us. Now they think they've won the lottery from God for being good all their life."
: : : : : : : : : : (What was Mom and Dad's attitude towards Linh's marriage according to this sentence? Who the chose should be Linh's husband?)

: : : : : : : : : : I would think her parents would expect her to marry Thanh - a man from the same culture, etc., who would be a good father. Thanh is someone dependable and safe. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : 8. What is Rain music? What is significant about the use of rain in the title, as well as at the end of the story?

: : : : : : : : : : I don't know. I'm not too good on symbolism. David played music that he called rain music. Maybe it relates to the fact that rain on the roof can be soothing if you're safe inside a house. But rain also can mean danger, it's storming, etc. (ESC)

: : : : : : : : : : http://www.globaled.org/vietnamandcambodia/lessons/v_lesson_03_reading.php

: : : : : : : : ESC's comments are by and large on the button. But may I add a few comments of my own?
: : : : : : : : The novice author describes a very common dilemma for young Asian-American women. Their parents see their children as extensions of their own culture, preserved in a new land. The children, especially the females, are endlessly taught to be obedient and respectful of their parents, who clearly wish the daughters to marry young men of the same culture. In this case, Linh has not told her parents about David. This was probably wise, but may have made it harder to buck their wishes when it comes to Thanh, the Prince Charming straight out of the parents' fairy tale.
: : : : : : : : I believe it is the younger sister, the story-teller or author, who sees herself as the thorn while Linh is the rose. She loves Linh, brushing her hair as one act of love among many. Calling your sister a piece of mutton is doubtless, as ESC says, a form of teasing. Mutton is not the first thing any American would think of, as it is not often eaten in the U.S.
: : : : : : : : I suspect that the side-by-side images of dandelions and orchids may have its origin in the author's small acquaintance with American flowers and their names. Dandelions are a ubiquitous and mostly despised North American flower; and while most orchids are native to only a few places in the U.S., some varieties are fairly common in Vietnam.
: : : : : : : : Rain music. David is a pianist, and so characterizes what may have been some moody improvisation. The author sees that as a motif in the story. Sun and joy have been dimmed out for Linh by the rain of necessity, her need to please her parents. She does not need to be coerced, of course. The parents long ago planted the seeds for a rich harvest of guilt. The rain on the windshield forces the rhythm of the windshield wiper, and provides its own music-of a gloomy sort. Or so I read it. (SS)
: : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : :

: : : : : : : 3.Could you explain "her head jerking backward, mimicking the motion of my arm. "? What was she doing?
: : : : : : As she was jerking her sister's hair, her hair-pulling arm went backward and the sister's head jerked backward also.
: : : : : :
: : : : : : : 4.And could you explain "dark honey"?
: : : : : : From Merriam-Webster online:
: : : : : : Main Entry: 1hon·ey
: : : : : : Pronunciation: 'h&-nE
: : : : : : Function: noun
: : : : : : Inflected Form(s): plural honeys
: : : : : : Etymology: Middle English hony, from Old English hunig; akin to Old High German honag honey, Latin canicae bran
: : : : : : Date: before 12th century
: : : : : : 1 a : a sweet viscid material elaborated out of the nectar of flowers in the honey sac of various bees b : a sweet fluid resembling honey that is collected or elaborated by various insects
: : : : : : 2 a : a loved one : SWEETHEART, DEAR b : a superlative example
: : : : : : 3 : the quality or state of being sweet : SWEETNESS

: : : : : : His skin color was like or the same shade as dark honey.

: : : : : : : 6."...He can't give me anything, just himself. And he doesn't even know that I'm using him. Damn it!..."
: : : : : : : (I don't understand why Linh was "using him"?)

: : : : : : She is using him because she doesn't intend to continue with the romance. He doesn't know that there is another man that she plans to marry.

: : : : : : : And what is the main idea of the story? Can we say that, we cannot have everything you want? Why?

: : : : : : I am not good at this either. The narrator is torn between pleasing her parents and marrying Thanh and pleasing herself and continuing the romance with David. She must choose between her happiness and her parents' happiness.

: : : : : : Will she be the "good daughter" (like her sister) and choose the man her parents want her to marry?

: : : : : SS here, again. I don't know exactly what Sphinx brings to this story by way of lnaguage experience and ethnic or cultural background, but I think I can say that the author is not trying to write a "morality play," or a fable with a moral, a la Aesop. She is presumably presenting a memoir of her sister's encounter with romantic reality. Before proceeding in that vein, we must not get sidetracked by little sister's self-characterization as a thorn complared to her sister's rose. What she means is that her sister, Linh, is very pretty, while she, the narrator, is not. She does not suggest that this is an any way an important theme. The novice narrator wishes to be a bit poetic, to use some figurative language like dark honey. It suggests attractive skin contrasting in color with that of her sister--she insists on emphasizing David's non-Vietnamese qualities. Linh may very well think she is "using" David. This very reserved and shy girl has been seeing David for five years, enjoying the pleasure and comfort of being with him and being entertained by him without inviting him to get improper, or letting him get anywhere near the honey. When she finally lets him kiss her she reports that to her sister as a major, and somewhat traumatic, event, for it has forced the issue. (Remember when Buffy slept with Angel?) Little sister does not know what else went on, only what Linh chooses to tell. And these are two very reserved girls. As for Linh's apparent choice of Thanh, neither little sister nor Linh paints this as something necessarily regrettable, but certainly belonging to a poignant moment. The phrase "rain music" is a bit short on the music end, but plainly suggests a very somber, if impersonal, atmosphere surrounding the end of their picnic. I don't think that the "main idea" of the story is how or what Linh chooses, but rather the fact that there is a profound choice being made almost casually. I think the point, for the narrator, is also how she and Linh interact in this delicate situation. One more comment: combing or brushing your sister's full head of thick Vienamese hair is going to result in a certain amount of jerking the head around, in synchronicity with the motion of the stroking arm. If there are still difficulties of interpretation, remember that the author is a somewhat inexperienced writer. And even with a skilled writer, a few opaque passages are not necessarily the kiss of death. (SS)

: : : : 1."My mother and father have polished her until she shines. She graduated summa cum laude from the College of Chemistry at Cal and double majored in Ethnic Studies. However, my parents don't count the latter. "

: : : : What does "polished her until she shines" mean?
: : : : And why the parents "don't count the latter"?

: : : : 2.And could you explain it clearer that how did Linh's desire conflict with patents' wishes?
: : : : Why did she say "And Mom and Dad, they've done so much for us. Now they think they've won the lottery from God for being good all their life."?
: : : : Was she going to obey his parents?

: : : SS: 1. Linh is the bright ornament of Mom and Dad's household, and of their lives. They want her to excel, visibly, in every way, and have advised, implored, helped Linh in every possible respect to achieve this goal (their goal, not necessarily Linh's). Now she has the proof of her excellence--graduating summa in a hard major, and looking pretty. They don't care about Ethnic Studies because they bring no prestige, they do not raise Linh's image nor her price (the latter does not mean literally price in money). 2. "Explain more clearly how Linh's desires conflict with those of her parents." Linh's parents want her not only to excel in everything useful, but to marry a nice Vietnamese boy who will ensure that their tight cultural world will remain intact. Linh knows what her parents want, but has not always been sure what she wants. If we take the narrators words at face value, Linh has enjoyed David's company for five years without having her emotional equilibrium seriously jarred until David kisses her. This is what starts this whole story. Linh is momentarily thrown off center. She discovers that she has a libido, even if she won't say so out loud. Apparently, from what she tells her sister, she immediately does the calculus. If she continues to see David she does not know what will happen. Will her life go out of control? Will David want to marry her? Or she him? Her world is spinning. She knows what her parents want. They know nothing of David, but see that their oldest daughter has succeeded in everything else, and the perfect Prince Charming is at hand, offering his life (modestly and quietly) to Linh. No wonder they think they've won God's lottery! Everything is coming up roses for them. BY deciding not to see David anymore, and to make Thanh her one and only, she apares both herself and her family much. She apares herself the risk of the great unknown. David is exciting, but life with him is unpredictable. it will not be a terrible thing to embrace a life with Thanh, for he is kind and considerate, apparently devoted, and full of good qualities. Her efforts to appreciate those qualities will give her a quiet life, emotionally, and will make her parents happy. It is not a question of obedience--not yet, anyway. They have demanded nothing, although they have made their desires clear. Actually, no one really appears in this story except the two sisters; the story is about them, and especially about Linh, not her parents, not David, not Thanh. They are provide the emotional fulcrum for Linh's present crisis. I should add that "Rain music" need not have a negative connotation. Falling rain provides a sonorous background to our thoughts. It can be soothing, and by its very monotony can soothe our inner turmoil.

: :
: : There are a number of good 'rain' songs - one of my favourites is on 'Quadrophrenia' by the who - there is a very moody place where Pete Townshend sings "Rain - rain on me - let it rain" I think it is immediately before '5-15' - also Hendrix did 'rainy day drift away' and all those folks who did 'MacArthur Park' knew a fair bit about the drippy stuff - anyway, enough of my yakkin'.

: : In my rather catholic music collection - I have some New-Agey stuff including an album of recorded rain to which somebody has added cello - I would guess that counts as 'rain music'. Dancers have the rain dance, so musicians can have 'rain music' - not music to invoke rain, but to evoke rain.

: 1."I kept thinking of his hands and fingers, seeing them fly over the ivory keys like Russian men dancing in their black fur hats..."
: ("Russian men dancing in their black fur hats", where did this figure of speech come from?)

: 2.What are "reflecting pools"?
: And "water dishes"?

: 3.And in "the flashing water of the stream", which part of speech does "flashing" belong to? What does it mean?

: 4."'But how do you feel about Thanh? How does he make you feel?'"
: (This question seems unnecessary to me!
: Since Linh's said "I love Thanh." previously, why does the author ask that?)

: Still appreciate all your help!

Sphinx: today's questions do not bring us closer to the heart of the story, or to the things that the narrator may know but won't tell us. However, here goes.
1. Russian men dancing in their black fur hats. One of the biggest events in the American calendar is the Christmas season, and one of the standard Christmas rituals is the performance of Tchaikivsky's Nutcracker ballet. If it is done by the local ballet company, with lots of local little boys and girls, it sometimes brings in enough money to keep the company going for another year. One of the episodes in it is "Troika," featuring three "Russian" men in black fur hats imitating a Cossack dance, in which, to lively music, they kick alternate booted legs straight out while remaining in a squat (sitting on their haunches) throughout, with their arms usually folded in front of them and their backs very straight. They sometimes wear swords, and usually a somewhat garish costume. Although a troika ordinarily means a three-horse team, it can also be used for a trio of almost anything. The real-life Cossacks belonged to tribes of non-Slavic peoples from the region north of the Black Sea, and were famous for riding horses, military prowess, and ruthlessness. They were also famous for their costumes and folkways, especially the male dancing. In the era of the Cold War, Russian folk dance troupes often toured the U.S. and Europe, and the Cossack "troika" was often their piece de resistance. It was admired inside Russia as well as outside. When, near the end of WWII, Russian and American forces met each other near the Elbe (?) River, they celebrated with toasts (lots of drinking) and with lots of singing, especially among the Russians. Dozens of Russian soldiers started doing the troika (although not in threes), which is an extremely difficult stunt.
2. Reflecting poos. There are natural bodies of water which reflect the scene behind them, like Reflection Lake near Mt. Rainier. But architects often place reflecting pools near fountains. These are pools of very still water which in the right light give very exact images of the scene behind them. The most famous reflecting pool is the one in the nation's capital, called the Reflecting Pool. Linh's eyes obviously can mirror the scene to those close enough to see.
Water dishes, in the story, are just bowls of water used by David (apparently an aesthete) as settings for floating flower blossoms.
3. Flashing water, what part of speech? Well, it's a present participle (verb with -ing attached) used to modify a noun. Correct answer: adjective.
4. How do you feel about Thanh? Yes, Linh says she loves him. And she loves her sister, and her mom and dad. Love can mean more than one thing. Thanh, besides being considerate and nice, is reliable and trustworthy. He is good in his studies, and will one day probably be a highly respected professional. Best of all, he may well be in love with Linh. What's not to like? On the other hand, it is very likely, from the story, that Linh also finds him very unexciting, if not actually boring, especially as compared to David. But Sphinx, this question was on the questionnaire that introduces the story. Did you not answer those questions? SS