Almost in a similar period when I appear to have given up eating meat all of a sudden, I have this sudden urge to rediscover my Chinese root. Reality is, nothing is ‘all of a sudden’. I have been wanting to give up eating meat for ages. And I have been wanting to brush up on my Chinese for ages. Reading Chinese novels is merely a first step of my long term ambition to regain my innate linguistic ability to its fullest and beyond. I want to be able to read, understand, and pronounce 100% of the words found in a modern novel, able to write in Chinese, and able to create literature in Chinese. After all, I believe all my friends who remain in Hong Kong are able to do all these. I am merely playing catchup.
The joy of reading Chinese books is indescribable. Language-wise, I am able to understand almost all the words and expressions (versus English novels). But mere understanding is not my primary aim. I want to be able to pronounce them as well (unlike the Western language, you can’t really pronounce a Chinese word if you don’t know the word). And that is when modern technology helps a great deal. I have found a site that helps me to find out how to pronounce a certain Chinese word in Cantonese. With my mobile phone that allows me to enter traditional Chinese in handwriting mode, I can look for a word wherever and whenever I need to.
Beyond words, I believe some of you who read both English and Chinese literature would agree with me that the ‘feel’ of the two is very different. It is the vividness of drama and sound, the emotional complexity, the culture and values, and much more that makes reading Chinese such a joyful experience. One could take a piece of Chinese literature, translate into English, and to me, the essence is simply lost. How could one translate the literal meaning of “scrap my eyes and see”, “rub in oil and add vinegar”, or “white as the cleanliness of jade and the clarity of ice”? Sounds so strange when translated literally but sounds so good when read in the original language.
Back to 《嘉年華會》- one of the four Chinese books I have borrowed from the library recently, the author 王璞 is born in Hong Kong, has lived in China, and since 1989, stationed in Hong Kong. I have deliberately chosen a Hong Kong writer because I reckon I can relate better – both in terms of the writing style as well as the locations and culture. 《嘉年華會》is a collection of short stories – 《希臘拖鞋》《嘉年華會》《收藏家》《跳房子》《悼念綠旗袍》《河邊少婦》《我的高麗同學》《啤酒》《流氓是怎樣煉成的》. For the ease of reference, I would translate these titles to: “Greek Sandals”, “Carnival”, “Collector”, “Hopscotch”, “Mourning of the Green Chinese Dress”, “Young Woman by the River”, “My Korean Schoolmates”, “Beer”, and “Thugs are Made of This”.
Some stories such as “Carnival” and “Thugs are Made of This” are rather short, like a few pages. “Beer” is perhaps the lengthiest of all for it takes up half a book. If there is a common theme amongst these stories, that would be an attempt to mix the reality with illusion. Another theme would be the loss of something. The author would try to convince the reader something exists only to later on blur it into illusion. Or a relationship that is well and good and then out of nowhere, a huge quarrel breaks out (that reads like watching a typical local TV drama) and the couple parts way.
In most of the stories, divorce seems to be a main topic. I wonder why. Relationships do not seem to work out. In fact, nothing works out in all the short stories. The story “Beer” is perhaps one of my favorite. It has the depth and complexity that I enjoy reading. The story’s main character is someone who has experienced four divorces and a childhood crush on a train that still lives vividly in her. To chain the plots is her passion to drinking beer. To add onto the plot is the main character’s mission to locate her missing father. All these plots are told not in a sequential manner, but rather randomly picked as the narrator recollects her life story. The most amazing thing is how the main character – a writer – creates and distorts the story of her childhood crush, in the form of short essays. That creates a story within a story – an exploration of what happens when love in reality meets with love as an illusion.
I am glad that the book ends with “Thugs are Made of This”. In just 16 pages, the author tells a story of an apartment owner from being Mr. Nice to someone rude and nasty after a series of unfortunate events. Such quickness in plot development, what a way to end the book. I will certainly look for more books written by 王璞. And one quote from the book to end this entry.
Additional Info: Singapore library tag is WGPU, Cosmos Books official site, and ISBN 978-988-211-977-2