book: On China

Kissinger’s On China tops all other books that I have ever read about China, whether it was a non-fiction or a fiction, whether it was written by Chinese, American, or Chinese-American. My view on this, though not authoritative, has some validities. For after all, I have lived 45% of my life in China and the other 55% here in the West.

The book provided no earth-shaking views of any kind, rather it showed Kissinger’s deep understanding of China. What is an understanding? It is knowing, the knowledge of something that transcends the barriers of language. Kissinger articulated complex, subtle and delicate topics at such an ease, that one was made to feel as if s/he was visiting an old friend. Every word was something one already knew, but only now being spoken out aloud. It was ingenious.

Apparently New York Times disagrees. But by googling to see what others thought of the book, I came across the news that Kissinger is in China today. How coincidental? I snipped his picture today and in 1971 from the web. He is now 90 years old.

Misc

translations of the same content

Which one do you like better? Let me give you a hit, the three translations were done in 1890s, 1950s and 1970s.

ONE

‘It so happens that an opportunity of helping you has just presented itself,’ said Ru-hai. ‘Since my poor wife passed on, my mother-in-law in the capital has been worried about the little girl having no one to look after her, and has already sent some of her folk here by barge to fetch her away. The only reason she has so far not gone is that she has not been quite recovered from her illness. I was, however, only just now thinking that the moment to send her had arrived. And as I have still done nothing to repay you for your kindness in tutoring her for me, you may be sure that now this opportunity has presented itself I shall do my very best to help you.

‘As a matter of fact, I have already made a few arrangements. I have written this letter here entrusting my brother-in-law with your affair, explaining my indebtedness to you and urging him to see it properly settled. I have also made it quite clear in my letter that any expenses which may be involved are to be taken care of; so you have nothing to worry about on that account.’

Yu-can made an elaborate bow to his patron and thanked him profusely. He then ventured a question.

‘I am afraid I do not know what your relation’s position is at the capital. Might it not be a little embarrassing for a person in my situation to thrust himself upon him?’

Ru-hai laughed. ‘You need have no anxiety on that score. My brothers-in-law in the capital are your own kinsmen. They are grandsons of the former Duke of Rong-guo.

TWO

“Providence and good fortune are both alike propitious!” exclaimed Ju-hai. “After the death of my wife, my mother-in-law, whose residence is in the capital, was so very solicitous on my daughter’s account, for having no one to depend upon, that she despatched, at an early period, boats with men and women servants to come and fetch her. But my child was at the time not quite over her illness, and that is why she has not yet started. I was, this very moment, cogitating to send my daughter to the capital. And in view of the obligation, under which I am to you for the instruction you have heretofore conferred upon her, remaining as yet unrequited, there is no reason why, when such an opportunity as this presents itself, I should not do my utmost to find means to make proper acknowledgment. I have already, in anticipation, given the matter my attention, and written a letter of recommendation to my brother-in-law, urging him to put everything right for you, in order that I may, to a certain extent, be able to give effect to my modest wishes. As for any outlay that may prove necessary, I have given proper explanation, in the letter to my brother-in-law, so that you, my brother, need not trouble yourself by giving way to much anxiety.”

As Yü-ts’un bowed and expressed his appreciation in most profuse language,—

“Pray,” he asked, “where does your honoured brother-in-law reside? and what is his official capacity? But I fear I’m too coarse in my manner, and could not presume to obtrude myself in his presence.”

Ju-hai smiled. “And yet,” he remarked, “this brother-in-law of mine is after all of one and the same family as your worthy self, for he is the grandson of the Duke Jung.

THREE

Ju-hai said: ‘It has just happened at the right time. Because my wife has died, my mother-in-law at her home in the Capital keeps thinking of my little daughter with no one else by her on whom to lean. She has already sent boats with men and women to take her there. As my little daughter has not completely recovered I have not yet set off on the journey. I was just at this moment thinking about escorting her into the Capital. As I have not so far recompensed you for the favour you have bestowed in acting as her tutor, now that I meet this opportunity how can I but exert myself to the utmost to find a way of rewarding you? I have already thought about it and I have written a letter of recommendation and entrusted the matter to my wife’s elder brother for him to see it carried out. Thus I can give some slight expression to my humble sincerity. As for your expenses, I have written clearly about them in my letter to my brother-in-law. do not trouble to think any more about them.’

Yü-ts’un at once bowed low and, thanking him again and again, also enquired: ‘I do not know what office His Excellency your honourable kinsman occupies. This late-born is only afraid that I have a rustic appearance and do not dare to go in and call on him’.

Ju-hai smiled and said: ‘With respect to my humble kinsman, he belongs after all to the same clan as your honourable self. He is the duke of Jung’s grandson.

…excerpt from Chapter 3 of Dream of the Red Chamber

ONE: David Hawkes, 1974
TWO: H. Bencraft Joly, 1981
THREE: G. W. Bonsall, 1950s

Only the first one is not a free book, but I’m somehow drawn to the last one more than the first.

visual vs conceptual

Scan 1151When you read a book, do you imagine the scene as if you are drawing a picture in your mind? How does the character look? Do you see the folds on the skirt, know where the window is in the room, and notice the color of the drapery? Quite a few visual people told me that was how they read, one of whom was my oil painting teacher. I asked them to describe their dreams. Their dreams were all in vivid colors and with copious details.

But that is not at all how I read.

When I read, I’m in the scene, but only in a conceptual way. I do not ever picture a character’s face. Most of the time, the movies or TV shows made from my favorite books disappoint me, as the physical images of the characters cannot match up to my abstractly imagined ones. How can any face, no matter how handsome or beautiful, compete against the intangible concepts of say, integrity or bravery, of the character?

And I dream conceptually too.

A couple of days ago I dreamed of waking around a corner and all-a-sudden the Colosseum appeared in front of me. That scene should be very visual, right? But if you ask me what I have dreamed when I woke up, I’d tell you that I had a dream about Rome, without mentioning the Colosseum. If you then ask me whether my dream had color, I would say yes. Because I would have looked back to the scene of the dream and focused on the “picture”, and my mind would then paint the Colosseum with yellowish beige. Was the “I” in the dream in color? No, because there was no physical “I”. Even though there was an “I” in the dream who turned the street corner, but no physical body that had turned, only a conceptual one. And therefore the “I” in my dream had no color.

Does any of this make sense? Is there anybody out there who can relate to this?

book planning (3)

Maybe re-read Dream of the Red Chamber is not enough. Maybe I should read the translated versions as well. A masterpiece such as this, just like Shakespeare, is considered to be one of the greatest works in all the history of literature. No one would dare to tarnish the integrity of the work through bad translation, and therefore the translated prose ought to represent the best way to express certain ideas and sentiments of that era in English. And THAT, is exactly what I’m looking for.

There are three translated versions according to Ms. Wikipedia:
A Dream of Red Mansions by the Chinese scholars Gladys Yang and Yang Hsien-yi (Beijing: Foreign Language Press, three volumes, 1978–1980).
A Story of the Stone by David Hawkes (first 80 chapters) and John Minford (next 40 chapters) in 5 volumes and 2,480 pages. (Penguin Classics, 1973-1980)
Red Chamber Dream by B.S. Bonsall in the 1950s.

I want to read at least 2 of them.

I’m excited now after being idle for two days that I’m making a plan for my book. I will give the credit to my friend A.K. When she called today she talked in such a way that her words went straight to my heart. I felt comforted, but that was still not enough for me to get up and face the world. But then we talked about my novel and she made me a plan. She asked: “How long it would take you to finish reading the book?” And I thought, I haven’t even bought the books yet, and I still have 10 books unfinished. But after some negotiation, it was decided that I would deliver the draft manuscript of my book in 7 installments to her starting in May, so that we could finish the project by the year-end.

I’m so grateful to have her push me and set a deadline for me. She is going to be my work-out buddy, except the “work-out” is writing my book. Now I really have to get off my butt and do something. Because I must finish reading the translation of the book, as well as finish my rough draft by end of April in order for me to get into editing mode in May and deliver the pieces!

Author’s note: Part (1) and (2) are backdated posts, not because I had a busy day. In fact, I was definitely not busy. But I did not want to do anything at all and did not want to leave home. When will I get out of this rut??? Saw this article called getting out of a rut and working on a passion on tiny buddha and it might just be the medicine I need at the moment.

book planning (2)

I was somewhat inspired as I was reading another Chinese online novel yesterday. With these online books, it is customary for the author to sometime write an “author’s note” at the beginning or the end of a chapter. And in this very popular online book, the author wrote at the end of chapter 149, translated to the following:

“Let’s talk about the upcoming publishing of my book.

Actually it was like this. When I first started to write, I inquired with some seasoned online writers and my conclusion was that this type of online novels were basically not published as paperback books due to low economic benefit for the publisher: too many words, too tedious details, and no quick climax like movies. I also researched carefully and found this was true.

Giving up the thought of publishing, I wrote very happily, on any topics that I had any interests and without restrictions. If I could make some pocket-money also, that would be icing on the cake. My thoughts at the time was just that and only that.

Unexpectedly, I got all of you who supported me, and my online novel rankings slowly climbed up to the top. I want to sincerely thank everyone. The existence of you, the online reader, is the reason there are still hard-working writers to write these stories.

But I’ve digressed. Back to publishing, this time it was the publisher who sought me out…”

The book I was reading was a long one with 200+ chapters, and was finished only last November. It has 1,226,076 readers according to Baidu.com.

The author must have been a Dream of the Red Chamber fan and had some flare of classical elegance in her writing. I must have read the Dream of the Red Chamber too young, because although I know the story, I don’t have any attachment to the book. Maybe it is time to read it again? Even Chairman Mao had read the book at least four times.

I’m also thinking, since it is my first book, maybe I will publish one chapter each week online and make it free?

book planning (1)

As I click-through from blog to blog, I can’t help but to be in awe of my fellow bloggers. I especially admire and respect the ones who post daily.

There are photo blogs where every photo deserves a pause and a closer look. Having played with Canon 5D and lightroom myself, I appreciate how difficult it is to consistently produce high quality work. There are artists who post pictures of their art work each day, whether it is one-oil-painting-a-day or one-drawing-a-day or one-watercolor-landscape-a-day. Having done painting and drawing myself, I know I could not possibly commit to that, or I won’t be able to do anything else. Although secretly, I wish that I have chosen daily posting of photos or art work and not writing. Most bloggers are writers, who write prolifically and thought-provokingly. I don’t know how much time everyone is spending on writing their blogs, but I think they all write much faster than I can. I’m writing in the speed of a snail or slower.

My purpose of this blog is simple – I want to practice writing regularly so that I could go on and write stories that captivate people’s imagination just like the thousands of stories that have enraptured me. My struggle is whether I shall write in English or my native tongue Chinese. I have no experience in either. After I left China, I have not written anything other than Happy New Year or Happy Birthday on cards in Chinese. So needless to say writing in Chinese would be a huge challenge as well, but at least I won’t be a laughing-stock as at least I won’t be making stupid language mistakes. Writing in English is different. Although I have learned English as a second language in school back in China, I have not ever taken even one English literature class anywhere. I learned the language from listening and talking to people around me. My writing was limited to business emails and presentations and maybe once-a-year personal Christmas newsletters to family and friends.

But I have read great books from non-native speakers, namely Ann Rand, who came to America when she was already 20 years old. Therefore it is not impossible. Yet, there are three things against me, in addition to my somewhat non-distinguished innate language ability. 1) I don’t read nearly enough. I have listened to many audio books, but that’s very different from reading. 2) I cannot recite any great works in English. In Chinese traditional teaching, reciting the 300 poems from Tang Dynasty would be part of the beginner’s course work. 3) I don’t have much practice in writing.

If this blog is to solve problem #3, I need to solve #1 and #2 as well. And reading Chinese novels online 16 hours a day is not going to help my cause.

reminiscences

I feel numb. I’m having one of those escapism spells again, and now spend every waking hour either reading time-travel novels or listening to audio books. Only when I have to use my brain for something else, such as having a conversation with another human being, my mind would very briefly visit the reality. Even when I was eating, or brushing my teeth, I still had my iPad in front of me so I could continue with the story. I guess that’s why I like bath more than shower!

But then I laugh. Haven’t I always been like that? When I was in my 8th grade, I was multitasking one day, cooking rice and reading a novel at the same time. The electronic rice cooker did not exist then, and I had perfected the skill of making rice by overfilling the pot with water and filtering out the excess water after some boiling. That day I was happily stirring the rice with one hand, while holding a book on the other hand, cooking my famous rice dish. To get rid of the excess water, I had to put the book down on the counter. The book turned on its spine and opened itself up to occupy more of the counter space while I was lifting the pot and trying to put the pot on the counter. In order not to get the book dirty, I used one of my hands to push the book away. I certainly overestimated my strength, and the pot was too heavy for me to hold on with just one hand. So the accident happened. I dropped the pot and dumped the boiling rice mixture on my legs.

I remembered my parents’ anguish over my months of hospital stay, but I don’t remember the pain anymore. The reminiscence of the hospital days were more sweet than bitter, as I spent weeks doing nothing but eating, sleeping and reading. My new skin from waist to toe was raw pink for a long time, and I was able to skip all gym classes even though I was well enough to do anything.

When I was younger, I thought that all kids read non-textbooks under the quilt with a flashlight. And my first year college dormitory living proved me right. All of my 6 roommates did the same thing after the lights-out. But I don’t think anyone went as far as I did in order to read novels in the classroom. During elementary and junior/senior high school, the seating were determined in the beginning of each semester. For as far as I could remember, I always deliberately picked the wooden desk that had a gap or a hole in the middle. It wasn’t too hard to do, though sometimes I had to help the size or position of the opening with a small knife. During the class, I would pretend to listen to the instructors, but my hands would be flipping pages under the gap and my mind would be completely immersed in a novel. I don’t know how I was able to keep good grades. Just imagine what I could have become if I didn’t waste all my time in my dreamy fantasy land…~OT158AI001F

Anyway, I just found this picture of my elementary school class. No, unfortunately I am not the pretty girl in red with braids, smiling sweetly like a princess. I am the out-of-focus one on the right with glasses.

At least I’m adult now and I don’t need to hide under the quilt or dig a hole in a desk. If I want to stay up and read all night and can live with the panda eyes the next morning, it is my prerogative entirely.