Please scroll down for the English translation!
我屋企露台種著一樖小小嘅檸檬樹，記得有一次幫佢淋水時，喺葉面見到好多雀仔嘅便便，諗住用水沖走佢哋，但冲唔走，再望真啲，原來唔係鳥糞，係一條條嘅蟲蟲 — 蝴蝶嘅幼蟲，見到咁特別，即刻上網揾資料，原來係一種鳳蝶嘅幼蟲，扮成便便，避開敵人嘅目光，真聰明。同時心諗：蝴蝶果然係完全變態嘅動物，好難想像咁肉酸嘅蟲蟲，會化成蛹，再搖身一變，變成一隻姿態優雅嘅蝴蝶！
Frogscript ● Butterflies
by Evette Kwok
I really love butterflies — and I hate them with a passion, too. Every time I go out hiking I get plenty of opportunities to cross paths with them and, not being in the least bit shy, they always come and say hello, sometimes just one keeping its appointment with me, sometimes a number of them, making their appearance one after the other, and sometimes a whole cloud of them will gather together for a meal on a flowering tree — at such times I really am so terribly fond of them.
Whenever I take out my camera, however, to take a beauty snap of my butterflies, they never stand still: there they are, clear as the nose on my face, collecting flower-nectar, but when I get close enough to be able to take a photo, they fly off, dancing back and forth right in front of me — not venturing too far away — before settling down again for some more nectar. Again, I go over to them, but as soon as they catch sight of me, off they flit again. Are they doing this on purpose just to tease me or do they want to play hide-and-seek with me? Some butterflies that keep fluttering their wings even when they settle to sip nectar, making it almost impossible to take a beautiful shot of them. But then sometimes it occurs to me that I wouldn’t like it much either if someone tried to take a photo of me while I was eating.
I had no special feelings about butterflies when I was small: our teachers taught us that bees were industrious insects, working every day to gather nectar so that they would have enough food to get through the Winter. Butterflies were quite the opposite, spending their days dressing up, fooling around, not bothering about work and, when Winter came, the lot of them all starved to death. Although our teachers had drummed into us the importance of industriousness, this left me with a misunderstanding of the poor old butterflies that lasted for many years.
Butterflies do not live very long lives. Depending on the species, some can live for several months, while others only survive for a couple of weeks. Imagine: what on earth would a creature do if it only lived for a mere two weeks? Butterflies choose to carry out their God-given duty and procreate. Most of the time, when we think that butterflies are just fooling around and chasing one another they are actually doing so in order to find a partner and to mate.
I’m not sure why, but butterflies give me the feeling that they are proud and beautiful women, dressed up in the most lovely clothes, possessors of tapering, slender bodies, and blessed with gorgeous wings as well. At the same time, however, I have the feeling they are rather weak creatures, with perhaps too many natural enemies, including frogs, lizards, spiders as well as praying mantises ― actually there are too many to count ― ad this fact probably puts butterflies right down the very bottom of the food-chain.
This being the case, butterflies have to have ways of protecting themselves. Some are camouflaged with protective colouring and look like dead leaves, thus enabling them to escape the notice of their predators. Some enjoy acting in dramatic ways or disguising themselves, with large eye-spots on their wings that fool their enemies into thinking that they are larger animals not to be approached.
On my balcony I keep a small lemon tree. Once, when I was watering it I remember seeing bird-droppings on many of the leaves and I tried to wash them away with water, but without success. When I looked a bit more closely, I realized that they were caterpillars ― butterfly caterpillars ― and since they looked so distinctive, I looked them up on the internet and found that they were the caterpillars of a kind of swallowtail butterfly that disguised themselves as bird-droppings to escape the notice of their enemies. How smart is that?! At the same time it occurred to me that butterflies were certainly perverse creatures, and that it was hard to imagine that such ugly grubs could become chrysalises, then change their identities again and transform into elegant butterflies!
Butterfly caterpillars are actually very fussy in their eating habits and if a plant doesn’t happen to suit their tastes, they prefer to starve to death rather than eat it. They are only able to eat [the leaves] of their host plant and it is for this reason that butterflies lay their eggs on such plants so that their larvae will have something to eat as soon as they hatch out.
In the West, they have Romeo and Juliet, while here in China we have the story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. Both are tales of sacrifice caused by the social structures of their day, tragedies of death for love. But an extra layer of desolate beauty is added to the story of Liang and Zhu when, after their deaths, they are eventually turned into beautiful butterflies that flit and float in the realm of human beings, and from this point on butterflies to a greater or lesser extent become symbols in Chinese culture of the desire for romance and the quest for freedom. Human life is ultimately limited like that of butterflies, and when we ask how butterflies spend their short lives we are also asking ourselves what we should do with our time on earth.
Translated by Simon Patton