Photography: The Meaning of 平 (Píng)

平. A simple, symmetrical word. Pronounced píng, it means “balance”.

Today marks the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year calendar, triggering the age-old tradition and flurry of visiting of the Elders, extended family, and sometimes friends. I’d start the day by visiting my grandmother, handing her a pair of oranges and wishing her good health and other blessings, followed by spending the rest of the day with my immediate family and relatives moving from house to house.

Over the years, the list of places to visit has gotten shorter and shorter that now for most people, it’s practically a cheatsheet of one-stop-multiple-hits (i.e. where everyone just agrees to congregate at one place). As the Elders move on, some of the tradition is lost and the generations no longer see value in (and in fact, dread) meeting people they mostly only see once a year. As a kid, it was all fine and dandy receiving hong baos (red packets containing money), but as we moved beyond childhood, we realised that we now have to make small talk with relatives, deal with never-ending questions about non-existent boyfriends and girlfriends, much less marriage, and have to actually appear interested in whatever conversations there are over the span of many hours.

But 平 – this simple, balanced, symmetrical word, has far deeper meaning in the Chinese language when used in conjunction with other words, and which possibly unlocks the secrets of the essence of harmony; if I were to attempt to string its range of meanings together into a mosiac, it is akin to a beautiful 平旦 (dawn) where everything is 平顺 (smooth-sailing), 公平 (fair; there is equality), and where there is 康平 (good health) and the ones you love are 平安 (safe).

This Lunar New Year, I wish you the same balance and harmony in the many aspects of life in which 平 remains relevant and rings true. As conveyed in the clean, simple strokes of the character itself, perhaps we could realise that, indeed, achieving a balance is far simpler than we think. And perhaps, we would also find 喜 (yet another word resonating in symmetry and balance; pronounced , meaning “happiness”) in the process, just as I had a few hours ago tossing yu sheng (an oriental salad) and cheering the full suite of blessings with my family in a team effort to fondly usher in the new year over reunion dinner.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Symmetry.”

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