“How are you” and “have you eaten yet?”

July 18th, 2009 by xgz

One of the standard Chinese greetings is 吃了吗 or “have you eaten yet.” It has been such a natural part of the culture, that when I was in China and was greeted this way, the reply was always an automatic 吃了 (yes) or 没呢 (no). It never crossed my mind how strange such a greeting would seem, since the person asking almost definitely is not interested in the information whether I have eaten or not. Westerners have written about this greeting and interpreted this as evidence that food is of primary concern in the Chinese culture. Read the rest of this entry »

How do you say “Restaurant” in English?

June 11th, 2009 by Mei

There are numerous pictures of hilarious translations, but this one is hard to beat …

Where Angels Fear to Tread: Falun Gong!

May 1st, 2009 by Lara

So what on earth is Falun Gong and why is the PRC so dead against them? F.G. have a fairly sizeable presence in Singapore; some months ago I found a book in our mailbox telling me that the Chinese Communist Party’s days were numbered and that the Party was about to implode, which was apparently pretty standard Falun Gong stuff. And now and then they set up posters near train stations and pass out pamphlets telling everyone that the CCP is engaging in all kinds of horrors, most specifically and spectacularly organ harvesting from unwilling donors.

They seem like a bunch of crazies – very well-funded crazies. Do they have links with organized Buddhism? Are they just meditators gone a little gaga? What’s their real agenda, and why does the Chinese government take them seriously?

Tibet: Panchen Lama book summary

April 27th, 2009 by Lara

Hello. I’m currently editing a scholarly book that will soon be published on the history of Tibet and China in the 1920s and 30s. I have lots to say about it from a translation point of view, since it was based on Chinese and Tibetan sources, written in French, translated into a Gallic English, and then passed on to me. But I think it might be handy if I just give you a summary of the action in the book. It’s written by F. Jagou, and will be published by Silkworm Press later this year as a project of the Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient. Please read the book once it’s available; it’s great to actually have some facts to work with:
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From Sasu’s blog: My Tibetan Friend, and Tibetan Affairs

April 18th, 2009 by Mei

This translation was motivated by a rather inconspicuous comment a good friend of mine made in her blog. She watched the 2009 Chinese New Year Gala on TV in a friend’s house, and made various observations about the gala, in her usual humorous style. I was all itching to leave some comments of my own on her blog, when the last sentence of her article jumped to my eyes – it was an off-hand remark: “… at least three hours in, no mention of Tibet; but then you’re only supposed to think happy thoughts during Chinese New Year.”

It was an innocent remark that nevertheless stung, as if a dear friend suddenly started to joke about my family problems in a party. She was of course not the first one of my friends who talked about Tibet, since the issue has practically become a fashion statement in the west. But taking a side in someone else’s family dispute is one thing, joking about it like enjoying a comic show is another. I was so put off by the comment that for a couple of months I couldn’t find a way to talk to her. Read the rest of this entry »

A Grateful Nod to Asiapac

March 6th, 2009 by Lara

I’ve found it difficult to get a handle on Chinese culture unless I bug my Chinese friends with more questions than they probably feel like answering, gracious though they invariably are. If you’re not brought up knowing about the Brotherhood of the Peach Orchard or the Monkey King, the Hungry Ghost Festival or the number of different names a Chinese person can have, it’s hard to find someone with the English and the patience to explain this stuff to a beginner.

So I’m extremely happy to have found a Singaporean publisher, called Asiapac, which makes it its business to explain Chinese culture to non-natives!!!!! They do lots of stuff in short graphic novel form, from summarizing 5000 years of literature to explaining why Chinese culture is so fixated on calligraphy or boys (as opposed to girls). Here are some sample titles I bought:
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Kung-Fu Panda – the Mulan of 2008

March 3rd, 2009 by Lara

It seems that every ten years or so animators realize that there’s a market for Chinese-themed feature-length cartoons. Mulan took the U.S. by storm in 1997 (Mulan II less so later), and now we’ve got Kung-Fu Panda. Which I like – it’s visually and stylistically very interesting, has lots of jokes about Hong Kong kung-fu movies in it, and of course Jack Black is the voice of the Fat Panda. And anything Mr. Black does is worth a look.

I’m wondering what the next Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks Chinese theme will be – any guesses? The Monkey King (although Forbidden Kingdom treated that, it was not an animated feature)? Stories about hungry ghosts or kitchen gods? Water Margins/ Outlaws of the Marsh might work; Story of the Stone (Red Chamber) – I doubt it. A Zhuge Liang bio-pic!

Cheesy Chinese-y movie – The Mummy III: The Golden Emperor

January 22nd, 2009 by Lara

I saw this recently on a plane, and although its release was carefully timed to coincide with the run-up to the Beijing Olympics (and thus exploit international interest and audience for Things Chinese), I liked it. Partly because I like Brendan Fraser, who doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously – at least not in these sorts of roles – and partly because it was a pretty nice mishmash of what the average westerner thinks of when they think of China: Terra cotta warriors, Great Wall, Jet Li, determined Communists in the late 1940s, kung fu. Of course, they don’t usually associate these things with mummies coming to life to destroy western values, but maybe that’s a good thing.

Anyway, this was an amazingly ridiculous movie, so a good thing to watch when you’re stuck in a flying can for ten hours – not so compelling that you wish the picture and dialogue were clearer, but sufficiently fun and with enough fights and explosions to divert you from thinking about the sneezing woman right behind you and the germs she’s sending your way.

Red Cliff – the movie vs. the book

January 18th, 2009 by Lara

The big-budget movie of the Battle of Red Cliff was so cumbersome that it was split into two thrilling installments. One was released last July just before the Beijing Olympics, and the other is now out in theaters, at least here in Singapore. Part I starts with the rescue of Liu Bei’s son, Ah Dou, defeats the forces of Cao Cao in the Eight Trigrams formation, and stops with Sun Quan’s paltry navy lined up across the river from Cao Cao’s enormous array of ships. I haven’t seen Part II yet, but we all know how it ends.

Although I am a newcomer to Three Kingdoms, even I could see the main lines of change from text to movie. Some of it is welcome, from a modern point of view – more girls, preferably swinging swords, are needed in any action film, and Sun Quan’s sister gets a bigger role. His mom, none, nor any old people save perhaps for Liu Bei and Cao Cao, who looks remarkably well preserved. Maybe I would, too if I were running China with a lot of resources behind me.
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Three Kingdoms Chapter 37

September 30th, 2008 by Mei and Lara

In the last chapter, we learned that Liu Bei had started to enjoy a few military victories against Cao Cao’s powerful army, thanks to his new advisor Xu Shu. But then Cao Cao kidnapped Xu Shu’s mother in the hope of luring Xu Shu to his camp. Cheng Yu, one of Cao’s advisors, managed to forge the old lady’s handwriting, and using it he sent a letter to Xu Shu requesting a reunion. Filial son that he was, Xu Shu felt compelled to rush to his mother’s side. But realizing that this would leave Liu Bei without an advisor, before his departure Xu Shu recommended that Liu Bei recruit his friend Zhuge Liang as his replacement.

Chapter 37 (podcast)
Liu Bei needed a genius, Crouching Dragon would be best;
Visiting Zhuge’s straw hut three times, he passed the sincerity test.

So Xu Shu rode day and night to the capital city, Xuchang. Cao Cao sent his whole council of advisors to greet him, including the famous Xun Yu and Cheng Yu. Xu Shu first went to visit Cao Cao in the Prime Minister’s mansion. Cao Cao probed him, “You are a wise and talented man. Why did you demean yourself by serving Liu Bei?” Xu Shu answered, “War drove me from my home when I was a child, and I’ve been blown about by the winds of fate ever since. I wound up in Xinye, where I happened to meet Liu Bei, and we became friends. But now that you’ve brought my mother here, I have come to take care of her.” Cao Cao replied,”It will definitely be more convenient for you to fulfill your filial duty while you’re here with us. And perhaps I could also have the good fortune to hear your sage advice.” Xu Shu thanked him courteously, and then left, in a hurry to reunite with his mother.
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