Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Often to pass the time on board, the crew
will catch an albatross, one of those big birds
which nonchalantly chaperone a ship
across the bitter fathoms of the sea.
Tied to the deck, this sovereign of space,
as if embarrassed by its clumsiness,
pitiably lets its great white wings
drag at its sides like a pair of unshipped oars.
How weak and awkward, even comical,
this traveller but lately so adroit!
One deckhand sticks a pipestem in its beak;
another mocks the cripple that once flew.
The poet is like this monarch of the clouds
riding the storm above the marksman's range;
exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
he cannot walk because of his great wings.
Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
My "personal search engine", JES, kindly informs me that this translation is by someone called Richard Howard. I gather his version (another one for my wish list!) of Les Fleurs du Mal is widely considered a masterpiece, and won the American Book Award In Translation when it first appeared in 1983.
Here, belatedly, is the original French text (source, with 5 other English versions).
Souvent, pour s'amuser, les hommes d'équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.
À peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d'eux.
Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L'autre mime, en boitant, l'infirme qui volait!
Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
My 10 Favourite (Recent) Chinese Films
1) The Missing Gun (Xun Qiang)
(Dir. Lu Chuan, 2002)
As The Weeble complains in the first comment below, Lu Chuan is known as even more of an arsehole than most people in the Chinese film industry. Furthermore, it is apparently an open secret in the industry that the author of this film was really its star, Jiang Wen, temporarily unable to get permission to work as a director from the authorities here.
2) Kekexili (released in the US as 'Mountain Patrol')
(Dir. Lu Chuan, 2004)
Well, even if Lu Chuan may not be a nice chap, and may not have been the sole or principal director of the marvellous Missing Gun, he surely was the man at the helm for this fantastic action adventure. It's a Chinese 'Western', based on a true story about a group of Tibetan vigilantes which formed in the mid-90s to try to fight the plague of poaching of the endangered Tibetan antelope. It's breathtaking to look at (shot entirely on location in the Kekexili region of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau), morally complex, and compellingly tragic.
3) Keep Cool (You Hua Hao Hao Shuo)
(Dir. Zhang Yimou, 1998)
A little-known gem from the famous director, which I only found out about through personal recommendation from a translator friend. It was apparently shot on a shoestring budget in the space of a few weeks, a fill-in between other more expansive projects. It's filmed almost entirely on location on the streets of Beijing, and with a largely non-professional cast. There's an almost Dogme-like simplicity and directness about it, much of it being shot with hand-held cameras, in a jerky, hyper-kinetic style that is unimaginably removed from the elaborate choreography of colour and movement that is the trademark of his most famous films. It starts out as a breezy, if offbeat, romantic comedy, but evolves into something much darker: the entire second half of the film focuses on the two principals sitting together in a restaurant, debating the pros and cons of violence and murder. It is, in fact, a very black comedy; but, for once, the humour translates, and even Western audiences will find it laugh-out-loud funny. And it has superb performances from the two leads, Jiang Wen and Li Baotian.
4) Blind Shaft (Mang Jing)
(Dir. Li Yang, 2003)
Li Yang began his career in documentaries, and this, his first feature, has a gritty, slice-of-life feel to it. It's an extremely dark drama about migrant workers in China's largely unregulated and appallingly dangerous coal-mining industry, and is purportedly based on a true story of two such workers who develop a method of scamming money by murdering fellow workers below ground and then faking an accident and demanding compensation - or hush money - from the anxious mine owners for the death of their 'relative'.
5) Not One Less (Yige Dou Bu Neng Shao)
(Dir. Zhang Yimou, 1999)
Another rather untypical, 'experimental' venture from Zhang Yimou, shot on location in the Chinese countryside with an entirely non-professional cast. When the elderly teacher at a village school has to go away to visit a sick relative, he hires a teenage girl from a neighbouring village to be his substitute. Promised a bonus (I think it's 50 RMB!) if she can ensure that all of the children remain in school, the girl is distraught when one young boy runs away to 'the big city' to try to earn money to help his invalid mother. With almost no money, and no experience of city life, she journeys to the city herself to try to find him and bring him back to school - and, amazingly, she succeeds. Some find this film a bit too trite and sentimental, but I found it utterly, utterly charming (although it is also a devastating reminder of the depths of poverty in rural China: the entire school goes to work in a brick factory for a day, in order to earn the bus fare for a 30-mile journey).
6) The Emperor and The Assassin (Jing Ke Ci Qin Wang)
(Dir. Chen Kaige, 1998)
The only historical epic to really impress me, this is the same story as Zhang Yimou's Hero - a famous plot to assassinate China's first emperor, Qin Shihuang - but told in a more straightforward and realistic fashion.
7) Balzac and The Little Seamstress (Xiao Cai Feng)
(Dir. Dai Sijie, 2002)
Author Dai Sijie directs the film version of his fictionalized Cultural Revolution memoir: two teenage 'intellectuals' from the city are sent to a remote mountain village for "re-education" - and, of course, they both fall in love with the beautiful tailor's daughter (it's the irresistible gamine, Zhou Xun - how could they not?). Nothing very deep, but a charming bit of fluff.
8) Beijing Bicycle (Shiqi Sui De Dan Che)
(Dir. Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001)
Another look at the plight of migrant workers. In this one, a peasant newly arrived in the capital finds himself a job as a bicycle courier. Half of his meagre earnings go towards paying for the expensive mountain-bike his company has provided for him. When the bicycle is stolen, his world falls apart. He begins an obsessive search for it - and, improbably, he finds it again; but now it is owned by a wealthy teenager, a schoolboy at a private school, who bought it at a secondhand market and refuses to part with it. It's a marvellous portrait of Beijing in the Noughties, and a bleak reminder of the desperation of the very poor.
9) Chicken Poets (Xiang Ji Mao Yi Yang Fei)
(Dir. Meng Jinghui, 2002)
Two university friends live together on a farm on the outskirts of Beijing, in the shadow of the airport. One, a go-getting entrepreneur, tries to make his fortune by breeding rare black chickens. The other, a would-be writer, makes a Faustian bargain with a mysterious CD vendor who gives him a magical CD-ROM which enables him to become a successful poet, the darling of the literary scene. There's not really much story to this, just a meandering succession of surreal episodes: but it's so weird and quirky and stylish that it lingers long in the memory.
10) Er.... I really can't think of any more.....
OK, done now (very long lunch date!).
Friday, March 27, 2009
In Beijing, Spring comes halting;
Winter chill lingers.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
You know how some people - science teachers, chefs - burn themselves so frequently that they become used to it; their skin gets tougher, and they cease to notice the pain?
In fact, after a while, they forget that they ever felt any pain. They take pride in showing off the skill they have acquired: "Hey, that's not HOT. Look how easily I can pick it up! No pain at all. Easiest thing in the world."
I suggest maybe that's what TW and his Chinese friends are like when they think about learning to write Chinese characters. Easy, easy, easy - not difficult at all.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Bugger! This isn't displaying for me in Firefox at the moment, but it seems to be OK on Explorer. If you're having problems seeing anything here, try clicking on the post title to move to a single page view - that seems to work in all browsers. And this is really COOL. (Nope: still not working for some reason. It's suppose to be this neat rolling rings widget - but Adam seems to have given up on this one, since his webpage isn't providing any embed code for it any more.)
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
No pain, no gain.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Alain de Botton (1969- )
Memory, yes, and also history. I feel I might have a post or two in me this week about the upcoming 'Serf Liberation Day'.
By the way, I absolutely adore de Botton's writing. Please check out my review of his early work, Essays On Love.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Friday, March 20, 2009
Thursday, March 19, 2009
For instance, I just adored the multiple reflections in this array of cocktail shakers, and took several pictures of it (though in retrospect I rather wished I'd moved the bottle of Tsingtao beer at left out of the way!).
And there are some lovely colours, forms, and variations in light in this close-up of flower stems in a thick glass vase.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Brendan Behan (1923-1964)
[He might have added "and the Chinese".....]
* I already did one over on the Barstool, you see.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
The tide was rising, and she turned once more
To sweep away the dark sea from the door.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
10 Things China Is Really Good At
7) "Assimilating" invaders
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Update 1: I was indeed mistaken about the first character up there. Please see the comments below from my friend The Weeble. I didn't want to change it because I think this is an interesting side discussion in itself. The character I mistakenly selected, 忿, apparently means something like 'vehement' - which seems to me almost more appropriate than 'angry'.
Update 2: Jeremiah, being of an academic bent, felt inspired by my frippery here to write a much fuller and more considered piece on the fenqing phenomenon. Please go and take a look, if you haven't already.
Update 3: Please also take at look at my (equally frivolous, but - I hope - commendably even-handed) follow-up on How to be a fenwai.
Update 4: Now, how did that happen? This post has just been linked to by the celebrated political pundit and pioneer journo-blogger Andrew Sullivan on his blog over at The Atlantic. Since this guy sometimes gets one million visitors a week, I am waiting with some trepidation to see what his recommendation may do to my traffic.