Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Di tou si guxiang.

I love the gurgling ascending scale a large bottle of water being poured into a water bottle makes. If I needed a sound effect for a machine powering on, I'd love to use that. (Wonder if I can find a good microphone and make it my laptop startup sound.)

I've discovered something else I like here: massages. They are unbelievably cheap by American standards - 200 pesos per hour, or roughly $4. My aunt and cousins were astonished to hear that massages cost at least 10 times that amount in the US. Minimum wage here is about $8 a day, though.

Now an explanation of what the post title means. This morning, I read (or rather, struggled through with massive amounts of assistance from my teacher) my first classical Chinese poem. I need to figure out how to type tones - probably just accent marks over the right vowels. (I refuse to do things like "ta1 shi4 wo3 ma1 ma1" where the number at the end refers to the number of the tone; it's just ugly to read.)


Chuang qian ming yueguang,
yi shi dishang shuang.
Ju tou wang ming yue,
di tou si guxiang.

A rough word by word rendition:

Bed front clear-bright moon shine,
Doubt is on-the-ground frozen-water,
Raise head look-hopefully clear-bright moon,
Lower head reminisce home-town.

My translation:

Moonshine is beaming down before me on my bed,
I half-believe I see a frosted blanket on the grass.
Clear moonbeams fill my gaze when I uplift my head,
Bowing, I think about my homeland in the past.

Ok, it's a crude first attempt, and I have so much respect for translators right now. But it's fun to translate, and it does sound a lot better in the original Chinese. Buoyed by this, I'm starting to translate some of my favorite English poems in the other direction. Mind you, it's terrible Chinese I'm producing, I'm actually supposed to be writing characters repeatedly for "homework" instead, and my teacher will probably laugh uproariously when she sees it, but at least I'll have fun and find out what I'm doing wrong.

Rudyard Kipling is probably not a good task for beginners ("If" is what I'm using for my first attempt) but if I don't try, I'll never know how I'll do. Also, I like the poem and there aren't many tricky double-meanings to render into an unfamiliar language. It is much easier for me to translate Chinese into English, but I lack appropriate reading material to tackle. (I can't actually read that many words. I can use the dictionary, but looking up Chinese characters is aggravating; you do lookup by radical, then strokes, then...)

I'm really tempted to do the Ballad of Mulan, or the Tao Te Ching (the only two works in Chinese I know of that I really want to read), but both have an archaic vocabulary that will be hard to find definitions for and won't do me much good to learn, plus their study has stymied native Chinese scholars for ages. Sort of like suggesting to a new English speaker that they ought to start in on their Shakespeare analysis. I could find or create readings with but a speech by Bill Clinton isn't really on my "woo I want to read this NOW!" list.

Maybe I can tackle some Wikipedia articles, or try reading Global Voices. I'll be slow, inaccurate, and in some amount of pain at the start no matter what I do, but I might as well attempt to be helpful and/or read "real stuff" instead of baby books that serve no purpose other than acting as grammar exercises.


Achie Nono said...

cool...glad to see you're interested in the language. i'm reteaching myself chinese, but not going too well. at the rate you're going, you'll probably be better than me by the time you come home. btw, i do have tao te ching here, in chinese and also translated to english. so anytime you want to come over and read it, you're more than welcome to :)

achie nono said...

hey, how do i type chinese characters in the computer? i have a macbook... help.