The many lives of Zar Room whiteboards

There’s a certain nook in the Zar Room of Crerar science library usually blocked from view by whiteboards that are often covered in interesting writing. I’ve found “Fight for survival PhD“, a confession of low-grade panic (with a helpful suggestion), linear algebra gone wrong, plans for a policy memo.

Recently, though, I found it covered in Chinese– then covered again in different Chinese, and then with the addition of what appears to be Persian. Unable to read either myself, I enlisted the help of the amazing typographer Muiz Anwar, the awesome programmer/designer/independent scholar of Chinese Peter Behr, the immensely cool grad student/photographer/knitter Lauren Osborne and the very talented artist Matthew Felix Sun. Sometimes it takes a village to write a blog post.

Spring and miscellanea

March 4, 2010

春江水暖鸭先知 is a Song dynasty line by Su Shi. “when the brook thaws in spring, the duck is first to know.”

悠悠我心 is a fragment from a well known couplet, meaning something along the lines of ‘lingering in my heart.’ (alt. translation ‘relaxed my heart’)

Red hat

Red revolution

Green hat, and a symbol of the cuckold; general rude phrase.

Literary graffiti

March 5, 2010

Whiteboard 1: A beautiful woman


Peter explains: “This is a poem by the Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi 白居易. It is supposedly about female beauty. Line by line, it goes roughly like:

Trim an inch* and the whole becomes too short,
Add an inch and the whole becomes too long.
Her face needs no vermillion to be like flowers,
Her skin needs no powder to be like frost;
Colors as beautiful as anything under heaven,
And a heart like a gentleman among ladies.

(Translation by Matthew and Peter)

Matthew comments, “[The last line] seems to say that this woman has a heart like that of man, a misogynist point of view. People have made fun of the first two lines – is she tall or short? The poet wanted to have both ways.”

Whiteboard 2: Military ode

Matthew says, “The first relates to history of Han Chinese fighting off nomadic invaders and the second expresses sentiment that in China the militant heroes are of the things past and people are being too soft. Both are quite ‘heroic’ in tone but also nationalistic.”

Peter adds, “On cursory inspection this is an old ballad. ‘a guest came from the east, and told me of matters in Jianghu,’ etc. normally, though, it seems that the fictional locale of Jianghu (江湖) is usually replaced with Shenyang (沈阳), and this version has other minor variations from this example I found.”


There is/are a guest/guests from the east
Telling me affairs of adventures
Listening to guest(s)’s gossip, I sneered
Facing monkish lamp alone, I could not sleep
Near ten cups of wine finished, my heart grew colder
Flipped weapon in front of a gold beaker
Chirping insects’ sound hovering low, while the stars and moon are fading
Noble spirit collides parapets
In the past when middle land [meaning Han China] was covered by invasion signs of wolf-dung smokes
Paladins resolutely propped up the House of Han people
Asking the universe: How many good heads?
The crazy knife beheads ninety-nine thousands
The blood of those nomadic northern Hu bandits, dyed red the country, in one whole piece

(Translation by Matthew)

Whiteboard 3: Just plain depressing


Come to this, Taishi [a title of an ancient high ranking office holder] became silent as well
Looking up at the sky, a long sigh
There were heroes in the past five thousand years
Whenever there were grievances, they relied on swords
Marched ten steps and slaughter hundred
Washed out the unjustness and gloom
In today’s peaceful world, martial arts disappeared
Nine prefecture [China] don’t hear the movement of storm and thunder
Feelings only suitable for trivial life
Poison in honey is the route to become heroes
Night after night rotten banquet and entertainment
Inside tassel canopy, lie the drunken masses
Thousands years heroes achievements, not worth a penny
Both Zhuanzhu and Niezheng [ancient heroes who assassinated tyrant and autocrat] can be sneered at, thus calculated the wise
Looking at River Yi [Another great hero assassin, Jingke who acrossed River Yi to try to kill the tyrant King of Qin, who became the 'First Emperor' of China] by the bank of River Yi, River Yi murmured and aspiration sank
Instrument string broken [also means the death of wife] and no more old friends

(Translation by Matthew)

A Persian pick-me-up

March 10, 2010

The literary Chinese took up only three of the four whiteboards. The fourth whiteboard remained blank for days, until I came in to find it covered in what seems to be Persian. Lauren helped pick out the Arabic loanwords for me, and Muiz took a stab at the rest (with the caveat that he wasn’t sure about some of the possibly-Persian words). Regardless, it’s a turn for the cheerier after the previous Chinese whiteboard:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Bismillah, Ir Rahman, Ir Raheem
In The Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful

…ءان شاء االله نجاح
InshAllah najah…
God willing, the success of the…

…هرهاي ماريا افراح…
…H(a)rhay Maria Afrah…
…(???) Maria enjoy…


“God willing, enjoy the success of (?) Maria and Greg”

A few days later, everything was erased and replaced by a few notes for a problem set.

And this quarter, the room is reserved for a virtual anatomy course, and remains locked and empty almost all the time.

* In the original, ‘fen’ (=1/100 chi, 1 chi = 1/3 meter)

Add new comment