Dreams of White Tiles . . .


Golden Years

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 7:21 pm

It’s unusual I actually do anything I say I’m going to, but I’ve just read a novel by Wang Xiaobo.

I’m quite impressed by this, as it’s usually the case that I get halfway through Chinese novels and then just give up. I tried 活着 (filmed as To Live) but found it really quite dull. I gave up around the part it seemed the guy’s life couldn’t get any worse (although that describes most of the book.) I’m entirely sure this is due to my failure to understand / appreciate the book, but that didn’t make it any more interesting.

Wang Xiaobo’s 黄金时代 (Golden Years) though, kept me reading. One of the things I liked about it is that at around 30,000 characters, it’s quite short. Brevity is a virtue in all writing, and in Chinese writing I find it a positive blessing. It gives me less opportunity to give up.

Probably the single largest factor in my finding Wang Xiaobo readable is that he is funny. The images and phrases reflect the absurdity of the time – the book tells the tale of Wang Er, a twenty-one year old Beijinger sent to Yunnan during the Cultural Revolution – bringing us both a laugh and a touch of the surreal. He does this right from the start . . .

One day she came down from the mountains, to talk with me about how she wasn’t a slut.

I’ve often thought that the Chinese sense of humor, once you get past crosstalk and into day-to-day banter, is very similar to the British. I think this is particularly true here.

All the needles in our clinic were losing their plating, and some were even hooked and would pull chunks of my flesh out. My waist wound up scarred, like I’d been peppered with grapeshot. And so I thought of Chen Qingyang, the medic with the 15th production team – she was a Beijing University Medical School graduate, and could presumably tell the difference between a needle and a hook.

Our narrator – the lanky, horny Wang Er – is eminently likeable as he copes as best he can with the the randomness of the Cultural Revolution and women.

My not existing was great for the leaders, as it would prove that one of their young intellectuals hadn’t been beaten. And as for myself, existing or existing didn’t really matter.


“Hey! Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Of course. Could I get you to move over a bit? I need to get some light to see how it all works.”
There was a huge clap, like thunder by my ear. She’d slapped me. I jumped up, grabbed my clothes and ran.

Towards the end of the book Wang Er and Chen Qingyang are struggled against and forced to write self-criticisms. Although even this is approached with humor – the leaders slaver over their self-criticisms of their sexual misdemeanors – it is worth remembering that this did really happen – it is not just comedy, it’s history, and it wasn’t a little bit funny.

It is frustrating that when reading literature in a foreign language, you can’t be sure you’ve understood everything. I think I did a fairly good job with this novel though, and I’m going to continue with Wang Xiaobo, as there’s plenty of stuff to read and he seems to have been kind enough not to write anything too long. I’m delighted to have found a Chinese author I can both understand and enjoy.


Unemployed Once More

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 5:53 pm

Three weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do for months, and left my job. Even though I was only working mornings, the constant stream of English translations of contracts, government documents and highly-classified intelligence material other stuff which I was meant to mould into more readable English had been getting ever more depressing, especially as in most cases I was confident I could have done a better job if they’d just let me translate the document in the first place.

And, now? I’m not sure as of yet. After about three years of well-paid work here in Beijing, there’s a financial buffer which means I don’t need to rush back into work. There are still about 30,000 Chinese words I don’t know, so some time studying might be wise. I’ve got various ideas for developing and expanding my small suite of websites, but I’m kind of tiring of HTML, FTP and ATS and I’m inclined to stick with what I’ve got rather than go looking for any more work. Anyone who pays attention will have noticed I have a tendency to only half finish projects anyway. However, as the sites expand they offer their own income opportunities, so who knows . . .

Travel is another possibility. There are large chunks of China I haven’t investigated yet, not to mention every other part of Asia. My recent trip to Guilin has got my hungry for some more wandering down there, and with a bit of luck I’ll have an apartment down there shortly – at half the price of my Beijing place for twice the space, I figured I might as well get myself a base for a Southern Tour – I’d hope to spend at least three or four months of the next six down there, and I have friends in Guilin who could make use of the place while I am not there, not to mention friends not in Guilin eager for cheap holidays.

I won’t be completely idle on the work front. It looks like there’ll be a fair amount of freelance translation coming in, which is good as that’s what I actually want to be doing right now, plus there are at least three internet projects and a couple of other things I might get involved in. If I’m not careful I might wind up busier than I was when I had a job.

Should be an enjoyable half year.


Up and Running Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 5:42 pm

After a few days wrestling with databases and hosting companies, both of which are complex and temperamental things, all sites that need to be online are online. Chinese-forums.com seems to be running perfectly, though activity levels are low – not suprisingly, as the site was unavailable for almost a week and seems to have taken a pretty big hit in the search engine rankings. It’ll recover. Apologies to those who left comments on here – they went to the moderation queue, and I only saw then 10 minutes ago.


Chinese-forums.com Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — Roddy @ 8:56 am

Chinese-forums.com has been down for the last week, and will probably be down for a few more days. This has also knocked out Signese.com. NewsinChinese.com is also gone, but that wasn’t updating anyway – work is in progress on NiC, though not by me.

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