Before I did farming work, the only ducks I knew were just the ‘live’ white ones, the glossy crispy roasted ones, and the brown braised ones. I was very proud of the fact that I have seen ‘live’ ones. We hardly (or never) see them in waddling around in urban Singapore . I remember when we first brought the ducks and geese (didn’t manage the swans, unfortunately) into the petting farm at the back of the island, I really could not tell which were ducks and which were geese. I only knew the sizes were different, and as long as they were not walking side by side, there was hardly any room for comparison. It’s terrible, but apparently quite entertaining for my colleagues then. I’d always get very excited by animals when we cycled around the villages, and somehow, the genius in me had a knack for getting the animals wrong. 😮 horrifying!
I also remember in much earlier days when I first started working on projects in the Canton area, I was extremely suspicious of all the food the bureau was feeding me. After a while, they just figured to identify everything on my plate before I ate anything. One funny one was goose meat. I only ate duck, so I was very uncomfortable when they offered me goose. We hardly have goose at the usual food places back home. But goose was supposedly the better quality food than duck (I didn’t know all these, getting me to eat just the common chicken was already not an easy task. Weird, I know). Then the Chinese painstakingly explained to me that goose is not swan. Hahahaha. Goose is 鹅, pronounced “er“; while swan is 天鹅, pronounced “tian-er“, literally sky-goose. So I ended up patronisingly eating some. Eventually, after years of living in China, I learnt to appreciate this “new” meat, and it tastes better than duck indeed.
The picture I put up today is a sketch of a pair of mandarin ducks I drew for a best friend’s wedding card a dozen years ago. The beauty of these ducks are their colours, but I guess having them in black and white brings out the interesting patterns which would be otherwise overshadowed by their gorgeous attractive colours. These ducks are synonymous with love, romance, devotion, affection, fidelity and marriage. The Chinese word is 鸳鸯, pronounced “yuanyang” and the metaphor is so strong that it stands on its own without any reference to the animal origin. For example, that pair of lovers = 那对鸳鸯 and people won’t even think of mandarin ducks, but just purely “that pair of lovers”.
For example in this (super duper old) music video below, the 鸳鸯蝴蝶 could have literally translated to Mandarin Ducks – Butterflies, but its actual meaning is simply the loving pair of butterflies (Butterfly Lovers is an old famous Chinese story akin to Romeo & Juliet). You can read the truer (more correct) interpretation and meaning of this song on this Chinesetolearn website. Chinese characters are very interesting, they carry a lot of meanings. (E.g. duck is 鸭, pronounced “ya“. Can you spot all the 鸟 component in all these characters? 鸟 means bird, and is pronounced “niao“! Interesting, right?!)
Anyway, enjoy the video below. Someone has already (very literally) translated the meaning of the song. It is a Chinese classic, not exactly my taste in music, but the (original Chinese) lyrics were very well-written.