The Meaning of “Life is like chemistry ( 人生 很化學 )” by Hing Cheung Tse
In the 2013 BHJS Canada Alumni banquet, Mr. Albert Yam specifically quizzed his old (and senile) chemistry teacher and asked, “What is the meaning of the Cantonese phrase, 人生 很化學?” Since I did not remember some of the references in the Bible, I told the alumni that I forgot the answer.
Here I will attempt to answer the question from different perspectives. Those 鴻儒 among the BHJS alumni, please forgive me if you disagree with my answers.
First, the commonly accepted meaning of人生 很化學 among the Hong Kong Cantonese should be “life is delicate, changeable, and easily broken.” The origin of this meaning probably came from the term“化學 公 仔”. Those of us senior citizens who grew up in the early 1950s in Hong Kong may remember there were many plastic dolls and toys from Japan at that time. In the early 1950s, the Japanese toy manufacturers had not learned statistical process control techniques from Dr. W. Edwards Deming yet. Thus, these plastic Japanese dolls were not durable and were easily broken. They were called化學 公 仔. Then, 化學 became an adjective for being “not durable and easily broken.” (Even today, my Mom will say that all my chemistry degrees are 很化學).
Second, from a strict chemistry perspective, 人生 很化學 means life has many chemical changes (aging, blood/cell chemistry, etc.) and physical changes (appearance, white hair, BMI, waist line, etc.); and life can degrade and has an expiration day. Life also follows the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Entropy (chaos and changes) continuously increases in life. The older the person is, the faster /the more the changes are.
Third, from the Christianity perspective, Jesus’ teaching talked about changes in life. For example, “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another. Every one will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:2) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth; where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 6:19) “But whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servants and the one who wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:42)
I would like to suggest that we do not view人生 很化學 in a negative way but think about it as written in Matthew 6:19 and practice the BHJS motto, “ 非以役人， 乃役於人”.
Hing Cheung Tse
Easter Sunday, 2013