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'Magandang buhay'.

Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo died last week, with English-language newspapers reporting his last words to his wife and family as 'Live on well.'

I was moved by the words and yet intrigued by what he actually said in Chinese, having a hunch that something might have been lost in translation. I checked the internet sites and found that my hunch was right. The Chinese words were 'hao hao sheng huo,' a term which resonates with some of our Filipino greetings... and aspirations.

For this connection to be made by Filipinos, we will need to know who Liu was, even if through a brief introduction.

I will admit that although Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 and was known as a writer, I had never read anything by him. And although I follow current affairs in China, I did not know that many of his writings were considered subversive by Chinese authorities, or that in 2009 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison, which he was still serving when he was diagnosed, just a month ago, as suffering from liver cancer.

His condition deteriorated quickly and international organizations and media called for his release so he could be treated overseas. He was granted medical parole and was treated in a hospital in Shenyang but died shortly after, at age 61. His death sparked protests, as well as tributes, throughout the world and now the call is for authorities to allow his wife, Liu Xia, to leave China.

I have since begun to read what Liu wrote, in Chinese (very, very slowly) as well as in English translation. The writings are mainly political, fitting the description of the South China Morning Post of him as a 'determined teller of inconvenient truths.'

Liu was fiercely against violence. He had flown back to China from the United States to join student protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, and was said to have convinced the students not to take up arms. There were differences between Liu and other Chinese dissidents: He was perceived at times as being too moderate, and too pro-western.

His speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, which had to be read by Liv Ullmann because he was already in prison, was quintessentially Liu, even with the title 'I have no enemies' - a sweeping description of the need to protect human rights. He wrote about resisting hatred: 'Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel moral struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy.'

His speech contained many personal thoughts, including his thanks to one of the correctional officers during his detention in 1996. He talked about how the officer's kindness and warmth made him feel optimistic about China's political progress. There is a long and moving paragraph about his wife, including a message for her: 'Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window ... allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart...'

Goodness, wellness

With Liu's writings as context, I felt even more moved by his 'Hao hao sheng huo' a wish as well as an admonition. The English translation 'Live on well' is a good one, but it runs the risk of diluting a stronger, yet gentle, message of living a good life, 'good' being multifaceted.

The key word is 'hao,' which you hear when people greet each other in Chinese. 'Ni hao' is often translated as 'hello' and 'ni hao ma?' as 'how are you?' - both translations coming close to massacres of the original meaning.

More accurately, 'ni hao' is 'you, well' and 'Ni hao ma?' is 'Are you well?'

'Hao' is wellness, but it can also be goodness. So 'hao hao sheng huo,' 'sheng huo' meaning 'life,' can mean 'live the good life,' as in a comfortable life, maybe even a luxurious life. But coming from Liu Xiaobo, it meant, I suspect, 'a good life,' and that can range from being good, doing good, to fighting for good, all ultimately converging in the concept of 'living on well.'

When I sent out a brief email to friends about 'hao hao sheng huo,' one of them wrote back and said it sounded like 'magandang buhay,' a greeting that is gaining popularity these days, replacing 'magandang araw' (good day) or similar greetings. I will admit that when I first began to receive that greeting in text messages I squirmed, feeling it was rather Pollyanish, a bit too New Age for me. Yes, there is a side to me that does not always look at the world, and people, with cheer and optimism.

In time, though, I would smile when receiving such text messages. I've always appreciated people who take a little extra time to add a 'magandang umaga' (good morning) to an SMS. Now I've accepted that if we have all kinds of maganda references to a day, as well as the English 'good morning' and 'good afternoon' and 'good evening' and 'good AM' and 'good PM' (including the 'good night' meant to say, okay, go to sleep na, no more texting), then why shouldn't we have a magandang buhay?

I'd like to think, too, that like the hao hao sheng huo, our magandang buhay might sometimes not just be one of material prosperity but of the fullness of goodness, a 'mabuting buhay,' a morally upright life for others.

An appeal: I got an email from a Filipina, currently living in Moldova, who came upon a column I did some time back about Filipinos in Europe where I cited data from the government mentioning there are 9 Filipinos in Moldova. She is hoping to meet these other Filipinos. If any of you readers have information about Filipinos there, do email me so I can pass on the information. Hoping for a magandang araw and magandang buhay for our Filipina there.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jul 19, 2017
Words:1144
Previous Article:His day in court.
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