To speak the truth is easy and pleasant. — Mikhail Bulgakov
With a contemptuous, haughty look on his face, Lee Chong Wei has vehemently (clip above) denied the existence of a letter from Lin Dan, a denial that was neither easy nor pleasant.
Perhaps there never was a letter, or perhaps there was a letter and never sent. Or, perhaps there was a letter sent and everyone had seen it other than Lee Chong Wei. It doesn’t matter one way or the other; if Chong Wei insists there isn’t then there isn’t. This planet will continue to spin regardless.
There are two problems with his denial though. One, it is his spitting tone. Second is the way he analogizes to a reporter about the letter (in translation from Chong Wei’s bazaar Malay): “Do you think we are in love writing letters! Jeez!“
His obvious inference is that only people in love write letters, whether between genders or between men. There’s no other purpose that people write to each other.
Below are samples of letters, in poem form, written by Du Fu 杜甫 (712–770) and Li Bai 李白 (701–762) to each other and about each other.
Li Bai on Du Fu
(an unpolished English translation after that)
Drama at Old Fu
A mountain top snack comes with Du Fu
Bamboo hat shelters him from summer’s sun
Since the last we met, so thin he’s become
Yet, now or then, poetry agonizes him
Du Fu to Li Bai (no translation)
Both men were contemporaries living at the time of the flowering of Tang art and literature, both minor officials, Li Bai the elder and more prone to drink, Du Fu prone to poverty (one of his children died of starvation) because he has endless trouble keeping his job. Poetry was a staple of Tang literature and people write to each other for all sorts of reasons, often times as an exchange of gifts for a wedding, a departure, birth and deaths. Here is a comment about the two:
One very revealing part of the Tang legacy is the handful of poems that Li Bai and Du Fu wrote to each other. Poems about friendship or those exchanged between friends were a standard element of the Tang poetic canon. But the poems between Li Bai and Du Fu have an incredible poignancy as they say so much about how these two great poets saw themselves and each other. Just imagine, for example, how meaningful it would be if Shakespeare and John Donne happened to exchange a few personal sonnets. So in a way, we have been permitted a much more intimate glimpse into the hearts and minds of these Tang poets even at such great temporal and cultural remove than we have of the most renowned poets in our own tradition.
The two men were seldom talked about independent of each other. An Oxford bibliography introductory comment:
From the earliest moment of their pairing, which we can date to the Middle Tang writings of Han Yu and Bai Juyi, there developed what we can rightly call the “Li-Du debate,” the terms of which became so deeply ingrained in the critical discourse surrounding these two poets that almost any characterization of the one implicitly critiqued the other. Remarkably, no argument attempting to reverse the terms or discredit this practice has quite succeeded in dissolving the cultural ties that bind Li Bai and Du Fu.
No words, no man. Without words, humans cease to exist. Words from Lin Dan to Chong Wei would be perfectly normal. The Lin Dan letter had a lot of details, not in any personal, individual sense but speaks instead of a relationship at a deeply existential level. Nothing in it suggests gay or love, none at all.
Yet, why did Chong Wei bring it up? If there was no letter then it was simple enough to say so. After which Chong Wei might say he wish there was indeed such a letter — especially one so well written, and profound. He could just as well add, Lin-Lee is the post-modern Li-Du over a net. Anyone got a problem with that?
Instead, in his haughty tone, Chong Wei was simultaneously disdainful and snooty (in the clip, look out for that ugliness), all characteristic, and the exact replica, of some illiterate, fucked-up, old timer MCA businessman who thinks he knows the world better than everybody else. Where did Chong Wei learn his speech manners? In some Malaysian New Village? What had his father taught him? Or his mother? Where did he go to school? What did he learn in school?
Chong Wei, it’s time to hang up your racket and get an education, boy. Try English if hanzi baffles you. That way, you get to read more letters. You seem to know nothing, understand nothing, so that all you can do with your life, now coming to an early end, is to prance around a net smashing shuttlecocks. Your hands may be fast, but your brains … it works like your incredibly stupid tongue.
You should read more letters, towkay Lee, and learn from the Russians: they are masters with the truth. You…?
Last thing: Now that you’ve done your promotion of Najib Razak, why don’t you go back to your toys.
Lee Chong Wei logic: They (above and below) write letters to each other, so they must be gay.
Through the Snow
How are roads beaten through virgin snow? A man walks in front, sweating and swearing, barely able to place one foot in front of the other, constantly getting stuck in the deep, powdery snow. He walks a long way, leaving behind him a trail of uneven black pits. He gets tired, he lies down on the snow, he lights a cigarette, and a blue cloud of makhorka smoke spreads over the white shining snow. The man has already gone on further but the cloud still hangs where he rested – the air is almost motionless. Roads are always beaten on still days, so that human toil is not erased by the winds. The man chooses markers for himself in the snowy infinity: a cliff, a tall tree. He pilots his body through the snow, just as a helmsman steers a boat down a river, from headland to headland. Shoulder to shoulder, in a row, five or six men follow the man’s narrow and uncertain track. They walk beside this track, not along it. When they reach a predetermined spot, they turn round and walk back in the same manner, tramping down virgin snow, a place where man’s foot has never trodden. The road is opened. Along it can move people, strings of sleighs, tractors. If the others were to follow directly behind the first man, in his footsteps, they would create a narrow path, a trail that is visible but barely walkable, a string of holes more impassable than virgin snow. It’s the first man who has the hardest task; when he runs out of strength, someone else from that vanguard of five goes out in front. Every one of them, even the smallest, even the weakest, must tread on a little virgin snow – not in someone else’s footsteps. The people on the tractors and horses, however, will be not writers but readers.
Translated by Robert Chandler and Nathan Wilkinson