* I picked up Vivien Sung's FIVE-FOLD HAPPINESS out of curiosity, not knowing exactly what to make of it. It was clearly a book about Chinese culture but it was hard to figure out what Ms. Sung's angle on it was. The angle, as it turned out, is a little oblique -- which, if you've ever worked closely with Chinese people, actually fits in a way since Chinese ways of thinking are somewhat at right angles to Western ways of thinking. Ms. Sung takes as her starting point five Chinese characters and their associated concepts -- luck, prosperity, longevity, happiness, and wealth -- and elaborates on these concepts through sets of related characters and concepts, illustrated by tales from Chinese folklore. Ms. Sung is an Australian who wanted to get in touch with her cultural roots and put together this book as a way of exploring it. The approach is informal and easily digested, if not always easily retained because it covers (in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of the characters of CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON leaping effortlessly from rooftop to rooftop) so much ground of an alien culture. It backs up the text with an interesting format, featuring the same text in both English and Chinese, and loaded down with classical Chinese woodcuts on multicolored paper and somewhat "artsy" pictures of Chinese cultural artifacts. It looks a bit like something you might find in an Asian import market. There's a goldmine of fascinating information in this little book (it looks a bit on the thick side but it's mostly pictures). Double use of the Chinese "happiness" character means "marital bliss", as do Mandarin ducks, which are apparently a solidly monogamous species. The image of two fat smiling children is a lucky image, and Chinese houses may have the images of two warriors on the front door, the "door gods" who protect the home. I've been tinkering with trying to learn Japanese and the Chinese characters were an interesting angle. I was also interested in learning that the "greeting cat" statue found in Japanese shops is a Chinese invention, and in borrowing the Chinese characters the Japanese also borrowed the superstition that "4" is an unlucky number. This is because the word "si" in Chinese means both "4" and "death", and the Japanese acquired both terms as "shi". In contrast, "6" is a lucky number -- "666" would get a positive reaction from a Chinese person but not from someone in a Christian culture. Even after finishing this book, it's a bit hard to categorize it. It's not a formal survey, it's just a bit of this and that, and someone who was after something substantial might not like this book at all. Me, I found it surprisingly entertaining. After I was done I felt that it might be fun to send a copy to Genndy Tarkovsky, the cartoonist behind the artful SAMURAI JACK series, a copy of this book and see what he could do with the collection of stories it contains. The stories cry out for animation and his style would do them perfect justice. Oh, and one little last thing -- fortune cookies are to no great surprise not really Chinese, they are a Chinese-American invention from the 1920s. Apparently originally they contained sayings from the teachings of Confucius.