Before the entire world was occupied by the Europeans and calendars started to have a Year Zero (the birth of Christ) that only progressed forward, many civilisations, including that of China, marked time by their reigning kings, queens or emperors. For example, you wouldn’t say during the year 1796, Emperor Qianlong abdicated the throne in favour of his son. You would instead say, in the 60th year of Qianlong Emperor’s reign, he stepped down.
Now there are advantages and disadvantages to telling time by the reigning monarch but we won’t be discussing that here. Instead we look to the Chinese zodiac and how it still tells time in this very same manner, except the monarch is an animal and everyone who was born on that year.
In our “It is Only After Noon” notebook series, we feature one of the most amazing birds native to Singapore, the Sunbird.
Above is a Purple-throated Sunbird (Leptocoma Sperata) on a Yellow Saraca. Pardon us, you’ll have to imagine the bright colours. Just like one of the most loved birds in the world (the Hummingbird to whom many a poem and painting has been devoted to), Sunbirds also have colourful iridescent feathers and long thin bills to feed on nectar and to eat tiny spiders and insects. Although most prefer to perch on a stem while feeding at a flower, the smallest species of Sunbird can also beat its wings so fast that it is able to hover and feed at the same time.
The most common of our Sunbirds is the Olive-backedSunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) and the Brown-throatedSunbird (Anthreptes malacensis). We hope you will get to see many of the seven Sunbird species native to Singapore on your walks.
Ame ni mo Makezu by Miyazawa Kenji (1896-1933) translated by Noah S. Brannen
What’s a little rain, A little wind, a little snow, A little heat in summer, If you’re strong? All I ask is to grow to be A person Who doesn’t demand too much, Never loses his temper, Always wears a quiet smile, Eats his three bowls of rice a day, A little soup, a little vegetable, And forgets about himself. Let me look, let me listen, And never forget what I see and hear. From my hut in the grove by the field, When I hear from the East, There’s a child that’s sick, Let me go and nurse him to health. When I hear from the West There’s a weary farm woman, Let me go and carry her plantings. When I hear from the South There’s a man near death, Let me go and quieten his fears. And If there’s quarreling and feuding in the North, Let me help them to stop their bickering. In time of drought Let my tears wet the earth, And share the anxiety of all When the summer’s unseasonably cold. They may have no use for me, Or no word of praise for me, But at least I won’t get in the way.
Here is a sneak peek into the final stages of printing a notebook. On the left is the cover of “A Very Curio(u)s Cabinet” which we cheekily labeled as the “0” edition ofour footnotes™ brand because it is an individual notebook as opposed to a set.
Below you’ll see the “inside cover” which shows some portions that the outer cover does not. We had a lot of fun putting this together because there are a lot of Easter eggs everywhere for those who like to find little surprises in the details of things.
The hardest part in creating this notebook was definitely the artwork which took several days to conceptualise (what should we include, how can we leave that out, etc.) and then a couple of days to draw and then a couple more days to watercolour. We had to be really careful because there was no “undo” button on this artwork. Here, you see it after it has been digitised and edited and is now ready for printing.
As we worked on this notebook, we made sure that we stayed true to the system Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) devised to help us understand the natural world better. See if you can spot them on the cover when you get your copy.
Linnaeus specifically chose Latin as the language for his classification system because it was widely known at that time and did not belong to any one country. Since he was a botanist, he started his System Naturae in 1735 with plants, but by 1758, his work had classified 4,400 species of animals and 7,700 species of plants. Everyone, not just scientists, sent specimens to Linnaeus for inclusion as this was the first time that a proper, scientific way to document the plant and animal kingdom existed.
You must remember also that everyone was in a collecting mania at that time, filling their “Cabinets of Curiosity” with odd things from all over the world as more and more ships from Europe sailed to the Far East and discovered plants, animals and minerals that they had never encountered before. Some animals were in fact so strange as to be unbelievable (like the platypus). Their skepticism is warranted though because many unethical people sewed together the parts of different animals and pretended that they had found a new species.
Today, we don’t recommend collecting physical plants, animals or minerals anymore given how much we’ve already taken from the earth. Instead, we hope you enjoy collecting curiosities you find by putting them into your notebook instead. There is nothing like a simple (or complex) sketch with personal notes about what it is and how you were feeling that will enable you to enjoy your find in the “Cabinet of Your Mind” for many years to come.