MRT Poetry: Chen Ke-hua’s ‘Night’ 捷運詩句:陳克華的「夜」

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Another day, another opportunity to lean over someone to take a photo of the poem on the MRT behind them. This one’s by Chen Ke-hua and I thought it was pretty appropriate for this humid summer night.

夜     Night

沸騰之夜,     The Simmering Night,

將她最燙的一塊皮膚     Lays the most scalding piece of its skin

貼在我頰上。     Against my cheek.

我疼出淚來,說:不,     I cry tears of pain and say, “No”,

這不是我最需要溫暖的位置。     This isn’t where I’m most in need of warmth.

Chen was born in 1961 and was born in Hualien in Taiwan, although his family were originally from Wenshang in Shandong. After graduating from Taipei Medical University he started his career in medicine. In 1997 he studied at the Harvard Medical School, returning to Taiwan in 2000. He now works at the Department of Ophthalmology of Taipei Veterans General Hospital and as an assistant professor at the medical school of National Yang Ming University. As well as his medical career, he’s also a poet, an author, a painter and a photographer.

Attempts to Author the Sunflower Student Movement

Was waiting for a friend at a bookshop and was flicking through a few titles when I saw these volumes about the Sunflower Student Movement. The first one I picked up was this:

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The cover looked OK, but my heart sank a little when I saw that the dedication was to Benedict Anderson… and sank even more when the opening sentence featured Marx…

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How very politics student circa 1989. I guess that’s why they called it a student movement. The chapters are each written by different people, but it seems quite dense in style and heavy with academic aspirations as opposed to aiming for readability. That said my friend arrived before I was able to get any kind of measure of it.

There were another two as well, and they seemed a little more aimed at the general reader:

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Anyone had a read of them or would recommend?

I also read a chapter of Luo Yu-chia’s (羅毓嘉) new book You’re my stove light in dark days (天黑的日子你是爐火). It was a little bit too much navel gazing for my taste, discussing his romance with a Hong Kong man. As Luo is a gay rights advocate the Hong Kong man’s unwillingness to adopt a gay identity is challenging for him. The chapter I read showed him attempting to justify the lack of recognition with humour and by insisting that non verbal markers like wanting Luo to be well fed shows affection where words do not. The romance wasn’t very engaging for me, and I didn’t find the Hong Kong guy very likeable as Luo sees him.

A Review of Li Ang’s ‘Everyone Chews on Sugarcane by the Side of the Road’ 李昂的《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》書評

lubianWarning: there is adult content in this post.

This is Li Ang’s much anticipated follow up to her 1997 book Everybody sticks it in the Beigang Incense Burner (《北港香爐人人插》), which I’ve yet to read. At first glance it is an irreverent look at the misogynistic self-aggrandizement that characterizes the generation of democracy campaigners who rose to fame after being imprisoned in the martial law era in Taiwan, some of whom later formed the Democratic Progressive Party and went into government under former president Chen Shui-bian. The book also deals with the symptomatic nature of the way the February 28 incident and the White Terror continue to manifest themselves in the political arena. Although this might seem a rather obscure or outdated theme, it can give us an insight into the background of the political mindset in today’s Taiwan, particularly in light of the recent Sunflower Movement and the problems in governance that it has highlighted. The attempt to smear the participants of the Sunflower Movement in March and April as violent rioters, for example, is reminiscent of the Kuomintang’s rhetoric against democracy protesters during the 1980s and 1990s that features in the book.

The book centres around the life of Chen Junying (陳俊英) from his youth as a dissident during the Martial Law era, to his slow drift into irrelevance as a retired politician living in the US in his later years. Li Ang goes to great pains in the introduction, stating several times that the character isn’t based on any one person in particular – her protestations are so frequent however that it’s almost as if she’s prompting us to take this denial with a pinch of salt.

Chen feels owed by Taiwanese society and Taiwanese women in particular and he has a mantra that recurs throughout the book which rationalizes his misogynistic behavior:

(My translation) He was forever the one being let down, it wasn’t just the Taiwanese people who owed him, didn’t Taiwanese women owe him too‽ So it was natural for him to sleep with a good number of women when he came out of jail.

The book can be read as a satire up to a point and parts of it are quite funny, recalling the satirical bite of Wang Chen-ho’s Rose, Rose, I Love You /玫瑰玫瑰我愛你》, like the protagonist’s assumption that he will ejaculate more than other men because of the years he spent in prison, and because he thinks so much of his own masculinity:

(My Translation) She discovered that Chen Junying was excessively liberal with toilet paper after making love. When he climaxed, he didn’t leave that much ejaculate in her (his sperm wasn’t particularly greater in volume than other men, nor did it smell fishier), and not much of it would drip out of her vagina after they’d finished, so one or two sheets of toilet paper would have been enough to absorb it all. He would grab a handful of tissue from the box, however, and pass her a pile, watching her as she meticulously wiped herself clean of any trace until all of the tissue was used up.

In the same vein, Chen takes a very chauvinistic attitude during sex, as, despite being reviled as a dissident by many women in his youth, he still finds time to grumble about the only girl who is willing to get together with him, and treats her with scorn, viewing her status as the product of a “mixed marriage” between a mainland soldier and an aborigine as below his – with a lot of his fellow dissidents using the phrase 「無魚蝦也好」 (bô hî, hê mā ho – If there’s no fish, you can make do with shrimp) to  tease him Continue reading

What I’m reading 我在讀什麼?

I have been jumping from book to book lately, so going to post what I’m reviewing next in the hope that this will put a little pressure on me to stick with one all the way through. I started I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, but not overly impressed by what I’ve read so far – a tired story about a Chinese dissident rocker who is seeking asylum in the UK that right now is seeming a little bit pretentious, somewhere between an Amy Tan novel and Ma Jian’s Red Dust, except not as edgy, equipped with dullish references to the Beat generation (((((Kerouac’s overrated))))) and China’s misty poets – but going to give it a chance, because I completely misjudged Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and ended up loving it – so going to put it on the back-burner, and I am currently nose-deep in the long-awaited counterpart to Li Ang’s (李昂) 1997 work 《北港香爐人人插》 (Everyone sticks it in the Beigang incense burner) called 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road). The new book, published this year deals with men and power, whereas the previous book dealt with women and power. I haven’t read the previous book, but have heard interesting things about the author. I’m also interested to see if the “restricted to ages 18 and over” label stuck on the front is actually warranted, or is just a marketing technique.

 

The other books I’m lining up are 《馬橋詞典》 (A Dictionary of Maqiao in English) by Han Shaogong (韓少功), recommended to me by Chris Peacock, so looking forward to it.

I’m also going to give Yu Hua a second chance after the average but disappointing 《活著》 (To Live).

maqiaoyuhuaGot any recommendations? Reading any books that you are enjoying? Or read these books and want to have your say, comment below and I’ll get back to you.

I’ve also got a review of A Touch of Sin by Jia Zhangke in the pipeline, it’s a great film.

‘The Pretty Boy from Hanoi’ by Roan Ching-yue 阮慶岳的〈河內美麗男〉

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Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. This is a short story taken from City of Tears (哭泣哭泣城 kuqi kuqi cheng, 2002) by Roan Ching-yue (阮慶岳) , an architect and professor based in Taipei.

Can I still be heart-broken

He arrived in Hanoi in the afternoon. He didn’t know what to do, so he just wandered around the busy districts and the little alleys near Hoan Kiem Lake, buying a few things for the sake of it, then an old opera house building towering at the end of the street drew him over; there were people queuing up to buy tickets at the booth, he approached and asked a woman what was going on, she said it was an event celebrating the fortieth anniversary of something, and that there was an opera performance from Paris, she said it would be really good and that he shouldn’t miss it.

There was still some time remaining after he’d bought the ticket, and after turning a few corners he came across a beer garden where he sat down to order a drink; there were a few western patrons scattered throughout the bar, mostly in couples or in groups, he was sitting alone, feeling a strange unsettling feeling of not knowing where to direct his gaze. He was still unable to convince himself that he was already here in Hanoi, or indeed of the reasons why he had come, it didn’t seem that this was the course his life should be running, but he really sitting here now, it was strange but inescapable.

The sky darkened suddenly, he paid the bill and then made his way gradually back to the opera house. Along the road there were young pedlars, one of them wouldn’t go away and followed him through a few alleys, a beggar woman urged her daughter, who couldn’t have been older than three or four years old, to hold on tight to his trouser leg; this all made him rather uncomfortable, he had a french opera to enjoy, if only these people, the onslaught of which he was helpless against, would stop appearing in front of him, in the square in front of the opera house he could still see the young policeman standing at attention, indifferently looking on without seeing, he even began to feel resentment against the Vietnamese government for allowing these two completely different worlds to coexist, such inappropriate neighbours with no way to avoid clashing. Continue reading

Review: The Man With Compound Eyes – Chapter 1 《複眼人》第一章

Been planning several posts, but have been a little busy lately so apologies for the blogging hiatus, though I’ve got a translation of a short story by Roan Ching-yue (阮慶岳) and a review of the amazing Thoughts from Tribeca (《瓊美卡隨想錄》) by Mu Xin (木心) in the works . I’ve decided to review the next book chapter by chapter, so that there will be more regular content on the blog, and so I can give enough weight to each chapter as the story develops.

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On the recommendation of Dan Bloom, I started reading the original Chinese version of The Man with Compound Eyes —《複眼人》— by Wu Ming-Yi (吳明益) which has just been published in English translation. I realized later that I’d actually perused another book by the author in a bookshop in Taipei, a short story collection called The magician on the footbridge (《天橋上的魔術師》) , it had looked good but I hadn’t any money on me that day so I couldn’t buy it, and I promptly forgot about it.

The first chapter is divided into three parts. After the first fragment in which the Han Chinese sounding Li Rongxiang (李榮祥) is caught up in what I assumed was an earthquake, comes the second chapter, which tells the story of an island people. The story, seemed to incorporate adapted and more exaggerated, sexed up versions of Taiwanese aboriginal customs (like those of the Amis/Pancah) and those of other Pacific cultures – like women choosing their sexual partners by tickling them in some tribes, which is portrayed in the story through the series of sexual encounters the protagonist is compelled to go through in the bushes with women from the tribe while he searches for the girl he really likes before his departure from the island, as all second sons must depart the island when they come of age – related in a casual tone but in an anthropological register, which reminded me somewhat of the issues raised about the Han portrayal of aboriginal culture brought up in this essay by Huang Yuqian and about the private vs public duality of the famous anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski in the film Savage Memory which I watched recently at the Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival. Given the controversy over representation and exploitation of aboriginal people that has surfaced in the past – including that surrounding one of the curator’s of the ethnographic film festival Professor Hu Taili, when she shot a documentary in Orchid Island and was accused by the locals of exploitation despite the clearly sensitive approach her film takes (see a review of it here) – I thought it was interesting that an ethnically Han Taiwanese author would choose to take this approach in describing what is clearly a fantastical parallel to Orchid Island. Following these two parts there is another shift in time and space. Alice, who lives in H county, which seems to be more or less synonymous with Taidong county, is grief stricken and planning her suicide after the disappearance of her Dutch boyfriend and his son in an earthquake while they were mountain climbing. The calm way in which she went about planning her own death reminded me of the Singaporean film 15 in which a young Singaporean goes on a tour round the city to see if he can find a non-cliche building to jump off, so that his suicide can be cool. The character Alice brought up several points which I thought were interesting. The first was her criticism of academia in Taiwan, which she criticizes as overly bureaucratic and she criticizes academics as overly business minded. As I have first hand experience of studying a literature degree in Taiwan I recognized this character as similar to some of the people I’ve met during my studies, as she’s almost a caricature of the typical Taiwanese young woman who wants to write but is sucked in by depression and blames everything around her for her own problems. Not that academia doesn’t have its problems – the sheer amount of work involved means that reading is always hard to fit in to your schedule, and lots of professors in Taiwan seem more interested in how much grant money they can get rather than having any passion for scholarship itself.

The second issue was the idea of development in Taiwan. She mentions that the city has changed and developed into an urban sprawl – which reminded me of a ted talk i saw but can not locate, about a guy who had originally been protesting the construction of the Suhua highway, but who discovered that he was being called a traitor by the local people who saw the highway as bringing much needed development to the region.  The same dilemma is thrown up in the book when after hearing Alice’s complaints at the development being inauthentic, her colleague replies: 「照妳這麼說,那真的應該是什麼樣子?」(According to your logic then what should it really look like?). I felt this was an interesting way to introduce doubt towards the unreliable narrator, as the controversy over urban renewal projects in Taiwan often have two sides encapsulated by this statement. When discussing this issue with aboriginal students in Taiwan I came across two different points of view, some being in favour of economic development which can help the people in terms of earning enough to survive, though it erodes traditional culture, the other favoured cultural heritage but at the cost of many people’s livelihoods.

The Sound of a Falling Angel in the Night – Lolita Hu 夜裡天使墮落的聲音——胡晴舫

Image Lolita Hu (胡晴舫) was born in Taipei and graduated from the Foreign Languages Department of National Taiwan University and went on to get her masters in the Theatre Department of The University of Wisconsin. In 1999 she moved to Hong Kong. She writes cultural criticism as well as short stories and essays. Her works have been published in the media in Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. She currently lives in Tokyo.

Dim light is cast by the dragon-head-shaped wall lights, the pulse of electro shakes the entire space, comfy sofas divide the room into different nooks and crannies for people to drink in, pink nylon and muslin hang from the ceiling to the floor, prints of hundreds of bored faces are faintly discernible upon it. It could only be the hottest spot in Beijing this weekend.

Every three months a new nightclub appears in Beijing, and everybody trips over themselves to go there. The nightclub will normally be in a hutong, a dilapidated courtyard style house or a factory that’s about to be demolished. The same people every time scurry along to explore the new bar, they spout their cigarette smoke while telling you in lofty tones how the music in this new place is cool. After three months have passed, if it’s not that the style of the music has changed, or that the building which houses the club has suddenly been demolished by the city government, then it’s that it loses popularity for no particular reason whatsoever. Another bar opens, it’s also housed in an old factory, a hutong, or a traditional courtyard style house, wherever it may be, it always sounds incredibly cool.

Everyone vies with one another to be the first to spread the news. Then, at the new bar you meet the same familiar faces who recommended the old bar to you so enthusiastically.

When someone mentions the old bar, it’s as if they’re talking about a has-been celebrity. It’s so passé, they say. I don’t even know why it was so popular in the first place, it’s only logical that it’s become as out of fashion as it should have been in the first place.

It’s Friday night at 2am at the hottest bar of this couple of months, situated in the Sanlitun area. She has drunk quite a lot, but she’s still quite sober. She came with a friend who had a song twenty years ago which was popular throughout the whole of Beijing but who never followed it up with any other songs, when meeting a stranger he would always say “I’m so-and-so, do you want to buy me a drink?’. She would stand next to her friend, then not long after that she would ditch him, and sit down next to an immaculately dressed foreigner.

Continue reading

About to Awaken / 將醒 by MuXin (木心)

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Mu Xin is the pen name for author, painter and poet, Sun Pu (孙璞). He came from a wealthy family in Zhejiang and was the nephew of the famous Chinese author Mao Dun (茅盾). After graduating from art school he became a teacher and later a professor. During the cultural revolution he was arrested and imprisoned. After being released from prison, he continued to work in fine art. In 1982 he migrated to the United States, where he continued to write and paint. He was the first 20th Century Chinese artist to be housed in the British Museum. In 2006 he returned to his hometown in China. He died in December of 2011 after having been admitted to hospital for a lung infection in October.

About to Awaken

Man just awoken from his dreams, is man at his most basic.

In that instant, man’s nature is neither good nor evil, it’s empty, weak, vaguely disconnected .

A hero’s failure, the deflowering of a beauty, all occur at such a moment. An instant on the blurry line between the conscious and the subconscious, an involuntary moment.

Man’s effusiveness, his distance, his magnanimity, his miserliness, are all deliberately acquired behaviour. Rudely awakened from one’s dreams, the pious or the villainous, the gentleman or the pleb, the loyal lover or the cad, they’re all more or less the same, after a little time passes, the differences become clear as day.

However, why is it that the masterful battle strategies, that strangely beautiful inspiration, often comes out of these instants at which one is neither awake nor asleep?

It’s the persisting presence of the dream, when the routine logic of the mind has yet to kick in; instinct, intuition take advantage of the opportunity, and man is able to exceed the limits imposed by habit – instinct, intuition, are the fundamental intelligence formed by tens of thousands of years of experience, lying dormant in the deepest recesses of our intellect, they surface only occasionally, making up for lost time with their brilliance.

That which is brilliant and majestic can be found to have been achieved by way of man’s instinct.

As if the gods had intervened to help, man actually helps himself – this without doubt is something to rejoice in. However, one mustn’t be too happy.

將醒

剛從睡夢中醒來的人,是「人之初」。

際此一瞬間,不是性本善也非性本惡,是空白、荏弱、軟性的脫節。

英雄的失策,美人的失貞,往往在此一瞬片刻。是意識和潛意識界線模糊的一瞬,身不由己的片刻。

人的寬厚、澆薄、慷慨、吝嗇,都是後天的刻意造作。從睡夢中倏然醒來時,義士惡徒君子小人多情種負心郎全差不多,稍過一會兒,區別就明明顯顯的了。

然而高妙的戰略,奇美的靈感,也往往出此將醒未醒的剎那之間,又何以故?

那是夢的殘象猶存,思維的習性尚未順理成章;本能、直覺正可乘機起作用,人超出了自己尋常的水平——本能、直覺,是歷千萬年之經驗而形成的微觀智慧,冥潛於靈性的最深層次,偶爾升上來,必是大有作為。

宏偉、精彩的事物,都是由人的本能直覺來成就的。

若有神助,其實是人的自助——這無疑是可喜的。不過不栗太高興。

(Translation by Conor Stuart/翻譯:蕭辰宇)

Translating Taiwan

I’ve been inTaiwan for a few years now and have been translating a variety of short stories and essays on an amateur basis. I hope to use this blog to post some of the translated work and some translations that I’ve done for fun. Would be happy to take submissions from other amateur translators with an interest in China or Taiwan.

我已經在台灣侍(呆) 了六年,對翻譯文學一直有興趣,也翻過幾篇短片小說、文章等等,因此創造這個部落格的目的便是po一些最近翻譯的或我覺得有趣的譯作給大家參考。我也歡迎對台灣或中國有興趣的讀者寄給我你們的翻譯作品,或在這邊合作。