Until it ceased publication in 2000, I used to read Asiaweek regularly. Published out of Kuala Lumpur and modeled on Time magazine , it gave me interesting insights into life in East Asia. I never missed reading the Proverb of the Week which was slotted in at the end of Letters to the Editor. Sometimes profound, sometimes funny, sometimes mystifying , rarely familiar, these proverbs were often the first thing that I turned to.
Proverbs are folk wisdom passed down through the ages and ,sometimes , it was easy to see the parallels with familiar English proverbs.
Dig the well before you are thirsty ( Chinese). A stitch in time saves nine . (English)
I really don’t think that one is a ‘copy ‘ of the other. These proverbs have been with us for a long time and the two cultures were very far apart geographically for one to have influenced the other.Human experience is the same the world over and the different societies must have arrived these conclusions independently.
Many of the proverbs were uniquely Asian , not only in thought but also in the way in which that thought was expressed. Some examples:
Pride and poverty are ill met, yet often seen together. (India)
A tiger leaves it’s skin when dead, but men live by their fame instead. (Malaysia)
Never kill an ox or thow away a piece of paper that has writing on it . (China)
Though he eats alone, he calls the whole village to help launch his boat. ( Vietnam)
Some ,frankly, made no sense to me but that did not make them any the less interesting.In fact, they gave me food for thought as I struggled to decipher their meaning.Two examples :
Every faultless person has seven peculiar habits. ( Japan). Really ? Why not six? Or eight ? Or none ?
The flight of a bird leaves no trace. ( Thailand ). So ?
Over the years, I’ve read many Asian proverbs and enjoyed them all but I think the one I enjoyed most was this Chinese proverb that I read in a travel book by Paul Theroux.
A peasant will have to stand on a hillside for a long time with his mouth open before a roast duck flies into it.
Meaningful, funny and, once heard, never forgotten.