This message is a hodge-podge of random things I’ve been thinking about since Christmas, during what has been a slightly boring month (but things will get exciting tomorrow).
1. Western New Year’s in the East. New Year’s here gets a little confusing. We were simultaneously ushering in 2003 (according to world standards), 92 (according to ROC standards – the official year here conforms to the ancient Chinese tradition of starting the count from 0 every time you change dynasties, rather than following the model of the Western Barbarians who started at 0 once and then foolishly just kept going, heedless of government changes. The current “dynasty” is the Republic of China, which began with the 1911 Revolution), and the Year of the Ram (according to Chinese standards). Actually the Year of the Ram does not officially begin until Feb. 1, but that didn’t prevent the event planners in Taipei from using an excess of ram and sheep graphics in broadcasting the New Year’s concerts.
My own celebration was fairly uneventful. I went out earlier in the evening, but due to a cold, the crowds, and mildly unpleasant weather, decided to count down at home. We watched the broadcasts of the celebrations downtown – musicians from all over the Chinese-speaking world were there – from Taiwan, of course, but also from the Mainland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the US (but only ABCs – American-born Chinese – who sing in Mandarin). There were three separate stages, each of which was broadcasted by a different television station, but the same stars appeared on all three, just in a different order (this strikes me as being typical of the Chinese sense of fairness).
The biggest name of the night was Tao Zhi (aka David Tao), who showed up on all three stages at one point or another. I find this fascinating as he is an ABC (or more accurately an ABT, since his parents are from Taiwan, but this nomenclature is not used by even the most ardent Taiwanese nationalist) who grew up in LA but re-migrated to become a Big Asian Pop Star. Actually, he’s pretty good (I have two of his CDs and am currently coveting the third). He’s in his early 30s, so his music tends to be a little less … “oooh,ooooh, baby oh yeah” than most the big stars here. You know you’re in trouble when you can take any top-selling album in Taipei, open the album jacket to the lyrics page, and find that it is all in Chinese except for about 100 occurrences of the English word ‘baby’. The chorus of one of the most popular songs in Taipei right now, by the most popular group (F4), goes like this: “oh baby baby baby, my baby baby….” Now on Tao Zhi’s first album he has a song for which the entirety of the chorus is “Maybe baby baby baby baby baby,” but I forgive him for that because his later work is of a much higher quality.
[On a side note, the F4 (pronounced e-fu suh – F being a tricky sound and suh(si) being 4 in Chinese) phenomenon is a story in itself. You have these four very pretty but generally talentless guys – a situation we are not unfamiliar with in the US – who have put in dreadful performances on not one but two long-running soap operas and have now chosen to torture the public with a second music album – this is addition to the fact that three of them have solo albums. Taiwan youth seems to forgive them for their lack of talent on the grounds that they are, in fact, extremely pretty. So instead of criticizing the F4 empire, even the most cynical individual can be heard to state proudly that these four guys were “Made in Taiwan.” Actually, one is an ABC, so as I pointed out to my language partner, three were Made in Taiwan, but the fourth was Made in America. You can check them out, if you’re interested in the Taipei teeny-bopper scene, at http://www.sonymusic.com.hk/f4/ ]
2. Resolution on the Dust Issue: I finally got some info on why the “our dear savior’s birth” bit in “O Holy Night” was translated as “just before dust.” I asked a friend who is a professor at Chengda (Chenchi University, my school), and he explained that this translation actually dates back to the advent of Buddhism in China. One way of representing the arrival of a Boddhisatva – an enlightened departed one who forgoes Nirvana to come to earth and guide lost souls in their search for Truth – is that the deity comes to the dust of the earth from the heights of the Buddhist representations of heaven. Thus, birth of a deity can be equated with the deity meeting the dust. Even more important than the translation of the nativity into a language far more familiar with Buddhist traditions, he noted, is the fact that the word for dust happened to rhyme…..
Speaking of translation problems, I’m reading a Chinese translation of Pride and Prejudice right now. I checked out the original – in English – from the Chengda library, and am occasionally thrown into fits of giggles when I compare. For example, a comment by Elizabeth in the original is: “Stay where you are – You are charmingly grouped and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Goodbye.” In this translation, it comes out: “The three of you together really not bad, one more person would kill the scenery. I’ll leave first.” If that isn’t proof that great literature MUST be read in the original language in order to gain full understanding, I don’t know what is.
3. What I mean by “things will get exciting.” My friend Holly comes to visit tomorrow, though the poor girl does not yet know that the agenda during her visit includes trips to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs police to get my resident visa and alien resident card, not one but TWO outings to Chinese kung fu movies with my Chinese class, and a going-away party for a Korean friend (who’s off to mandatory military service in South Korea, not an enviable situation at the moment) at, of all places, Pizza Hut. Actually, that shouldn’t be too bad as long as no one orders the new “Peking Duck Pizza,” another wild attempt by Pizza Hut to fuse east and west in what must be the worst of all possible ways – ruining perfectly good pizza by putting a pound of sweet-and-sour duck meat on it.
About four days after Holly returns home to Minnesota, I’ll be off to Tokyo for a week (January 27 through February 3). There I hope to get a visa for visiting mainland China, eat some sushi in its natural environment, buy something exotic out of a vending machine (I’m told Tokyo is the best place in the world for this kind of adventure), take a picture of Mount Fuji with snow (can’t climb it in the winter – yeah, THAT’S the reason I’m not planning to scale the mountain…), and celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve in Chinatown (Japanese New Year is December 31 like the rest of the world). I’ve heard a rumor that it is Sumo Season (sorta like football season, but more, um, colorful), so who knows what delights await me….
When I get back to Taiwan I have a week of vacation (still Chinese New Year here), then two weeks of term finals, and then my parents come (February 22) and we all head off to the mainland (February 24). Really, life won’t be boring again until mid-March at the earliest, and even then the doldrums factor is looking kinda iffy.
Anyway, that is, sadly, all I know at the moment. When people tell you that living outside the US is a laugh a minute, don’t believe them. There can be whole weeks at a time in which one’s greatest adventure involves guessing what oddities have been placed in each day’s batch of tea-jello (sniff).
Copyright 2004 by Meredith Oyen