Sunday, September 7, 2008

Madame Duck-chopper and her trusty blade

Half the world these days seems sold on Chinese martial-arts films, in which people clad in flowing robes flit about like sparrows and cross blades with balletic grace. But for some real skill, there's always our neighbourhood roast and braised duck seller.

With some of Mum's relatives coming round for Sunday lunch, she again visited the stall this morning for a fat braised duck. And not for the first time, her breath was taken away by the speed and artistry with which the sweet-natured proprietor transformed a whole bird into delicious, bite-sized hunks of flesh. There was visual poetry in the way she wielded her cleaver in economical motions, varying force and angle as she manoeuvred the diminishing duck around her wooden chopping board to slice off chunks for further processing.

Yet after several deep bows of admiration, it must be said the display would have been a lot less impressive had she not had the right tool to employ. Suppose she had to hand only a blunt paring knife. Chances are the stylish slicing motions would have to be replaced by laboured sawing interludes. Bone and sinew might cause embarrassing hiccoughs, jagged shreds of meat might occasionally be hacked off, disrupting the ceaseless production of smooth-edged medallions.

The fact that even the best artisan is limited by the tools available for his use applies to our child-raising efforts. As Sonny approaches a level of intelligence that allows him to interact with us, our skill in engaging and teaching him will certainly make a difference to his intellectual progress. The experience and ability of his infant care teachers will be another crucial determinant. Yet, equally, much will also surely depend on the resources that can be brought to bear for the task. Imagine the care centre stripped of board, radio, charts and all other learning aids. The teachers would likely be left floundering. Let's take another example: In our recent encounter with Sonny's bright-spark older cousin, we were struck by a high-tech, kid-friendly musical instrument that he was learning to manipulate. You could carry a tune with its keys, but the device could also play back pre-recorded tunes and even politely announce that it was shutting down. The employment of the right toy-tools would no doubt improve the odds of happy days that also yield steady maturity gains.

The root insight of this meditation, of course, isn't that we should go and clean out the local Toys 'R' Us in a pursuit of high-tech gewgaws. It is simply that we should not hesitate to learn - through conversation, reading and trial and error - what tools can maximise and magnify our efforts to keep our young fella healthy, happy and half-way intelligent. We can't all be master duck-slicers, but it's easier to do a half-decent job of carving when you at least have a sharp knife.

2 Comments:

Enchanted By Scraps said...

I have a relative (fairly young some more) who thinks that toys are the bane of a young child. It stifles their need to explore the natural world around them and gets them fixated on having toys and more toys. As a result, this child has no toys to speak of and if well meaning relatives and friends give them educational toys and the like, they are told, politely, that they do not allow their child to play with them and would we kindly take it back with us when we leave. Jeez....
and I always tot that toys were for children.....

Cloudsters said...

Toy-fanaticism! What a novel concept. Seriously, though, 'primitive' toys should be fine, right? Suppose the child were playing with cutlery from the kitchen. If that's acceptable, then why not a toy set to play house with?