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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some Chinese Philosophy Or Another Translation Example: Some Do’s And Don’ts.

I received the following Chinese “poem” from a friend; a piece on human behaviour about how people act in general according to their current financial state of affairs. Certainly I am no expert in ascertaining how true it is in applying to the general populace. I am more interested in the translation to English. As a perfectionist, I was aghast at its poor quality as I read the original translation even though any English reader can grasp the soul of the poem easily. It was simple enough an example to show how one can do a better job in translation. My translated version is in italics. For more information see my essay on the “The Barbaric Goddess.”

沒錢的時候, 養豬;
When without money, keep pigs;
When poor1, raise a pig;
Being Rich

有錢的時候, 養狗.
When have money, keep dogs. 
When rich1, keep2 a dog.

When without money, eat wild vege at home;
When poor, eat veggies3 at home;

When have money eat same wild vege in fine restaurant.
When rich, eat veggies at restaurants4.

When without money, ride bicycle;
When poor, ride a bike5 to work6,

When have money, ride exercise machine.
When rich, ride an exercise7 bike in the guest room.


Being Poor

When without money wish to get married;
When poor, yearns8 for marriage;

When have money, wish to get divorced.
When rich, wished9 for divorce.

When without money wife becomes secretary;
When poor, wife10 IS the secretary;

When have money secretary becomes wife.
When rich, secretary10 IS the wife.

When without money, act like rich man;
When poor, act11 like the rich;

When with money, act like poor man.
When rich, masquerade11 like the poor.

人 啊,都不講實話:
Man oh man never tells the truth:
Man O man, never can he tell the truth12:

Says share market is bad but keeps speculating;
Stocks and bonds are drugs, but still we keep on Tango-ing13;

Says money is evil but keeps accumulating.
Money is evil, we still keep on gaining14.

Says women are trouble-makers but keeps desiring them;
Beauties15 are trouble yet desiring them to no end;

Says high positions are lonely but keeps wanting them.
Lofty posts though lonely yet we hunger16 for them.

Says smoking & drinking is bad but keeps partaking;
Smoking & drinking: filthy habits we can never forgo17.

Says Heaven is good but refused to go!!!
Paradise18 is most wonderful yet we refused to go!!!

In the rural areas, chicken calls man awake.
In villages, in the morning the chicken19 calls the man.

In the cities, man calls for chickens.
In cities, in the night the man calls for chickens20.

In the past, famous actresses will not sell their bodies;
In the past, divas21 sell their talents not their bodies;

Now actresses will sell their bodies to become famous.
Nowadays, they22 sell sex but not their talents.



What is life about?
What is life?

1 歲時出場亮相
At one, YOU are the top priority
At age one, you are the STAR23.

10 歲時功課至上
At ten, academic excellence is the top priority.
At age ten, academic excellence is THE top priority24.
20 歲時春心盪漾
At twenty, getting dates is the top priority
At age twenty, spring desires takes control23.

30 歲時職場對抗
At thirty, a good career is top priority
At age thirty career is the main battle25.
40 歲時身材發胖
At forty, keeping your body in shape is top priority.
At age forty, one's waistline keeps on expanding.

50 歲時打打麻將
At fifty, beating others at mahjong is top priority
At age fifty, time often spent on playing mahjong

60 歲時老當益壯
At sixty, keeping IT up is top priority
At age sixty, keep IT up is top priority26

70 歲時常常健忘
At seventy, remembering something is top priority
At age seventy, able to remember is a good thing.
80 歲時搖搖晃晃
At eighty, moving around is top priority
At age eighty one needs to move around more often27

90 歲時迷失方向
At ninety, knowing directions is top priority
At age ninety, getting lost is often the case.

100 歲時掛在牆上
At 100, having your portrait on the wall is top priority!
At age hundred, having your wall portrait27 is top priority!

Wishing you all happiness! Be good!
Wishing all happiness abound and be a good person in life!


29 Apr 2011

1. The original translation sounds too much like broken English. Retaining the original flavour of the poem does not give any added value. The original text uses the same word twice and I find it boring in the English version. So I try to use as many different substitution words but still in keeping with the intent of the poem.

2. “Keep” has the connotation of choice while “raise” has a sense of compulsory obligation or duty.

3. The original words used were indeed “wild vegetables”. It is fine in Chinese but to an English reader, it sounds odd since vegetables are grown by man and cannot be wild.

4. In the original text, there is no adjective used to describe the kind of restaurant one is eating at. Such exaggeration is unneeded as it does not improve much. By eating out already infers that one has enough money to do so. However the word, "same [kind of] " may be added for emphasis. See also Note 7.

5. Earlier on, the original translator used “veggie” (even though spelt wrongly) as slang for vegetable in view of the lightness in tone of the poem, such usage should be inconsistent throughout in the poem.

6. In the original text, it meant, "ride a bike on the road".  I did not translate, "on the road" because the meaning is implied under ordinary circumstances.  One cannot ride a bike on water!  Instead, I chose the phrase, “to work” in to contrast it with the next line. “To work” suggests a task must be done.
7. The word “exercise” does not appear in the original text. However in this case the original translator correctly added this extraneous information to convey a clearer meaning to readers.

8. Same reasons for notes 2 and 6.

9. In the original text, the character used can also mean “to think”. Both of us chose “wish” because with community property laws getting a divorce is difficult or impossible to do so.

10. By using appropriate capitalizations a piece can comes to life.

11. Again the original text uses the same character twice meaning “to pretend.” I like the original translator choice of the word “act” as its smacks with hints of pretence; much better than my first choice “pretending”.

12. Just a matter of style preference. “Ah, man can never tell the truth” doesn’t sound poetic enough for my personal taste.

13. The original character used is “to play” as in “playing the stock market”. I like the original translator’s choice of “speculation” because “play” has hints of something we usually do for fun. However in the rest of the line, we take on different sides in contrast to note 11. The original translator uses an inference while I took on a more literal translation. Retaining the original flavour of the poem works better in paint a more vivid picture. In doing so, I cannot use the verb “speculate” anymore.

14. The character used means “to scoop”, but in Cantonese slang it means “make money” or “to work” rather than to accumulate. “Gain” is a better choice as its meaning is closer in spirit even though “accumulate” also reflects the intent of the poem to the reader.

15. The original text uses, “beautiful women”. Here I don’t understand why the original translator drops the word “beautiful”. Beautiful women don’t need to not make trouble. They are trouble themselves! This is also reflected in the original text. Therefore I feel the original translation is wrong in this respect. At the same time in keeping with tone of previous lines, the slang word, "babes" should be used. I prefer “beauties” because to a gay man, women beautiful or not will not be as desirable as they are for a straight guy. The word “beauty” certainly applies to the imagination of whatever inclination the reader is oriented towards. “Desire” is a more powerful emotion than just “want”. The word, “Says” has been dropped because I find it redundant. It is assumed that someone is expounding the truth of the poem to us while we are reading it. At the same time, I have added, “to no end” for better reading in the target language.

16. The literal meaning of this line is, “High positions are cold yet we still want to climb.” We both came to the same conclusion that literal translation does not work well in this instance. However we chose to express it differently. Again “hunger” is a stronger emotion than “want”. At this time, I elicited in changing the line structures so as not to make the repetition too boring for the reader.

17. The literal meaning of this line is “Smoking and drinking are harmful to our bodies yet we don’t want to kick these bad habits.” I like his choice, “to partake” although “to forgo” is a little truer to the intent of the line. At this stage, the repetitive nature of the poem becomes stale and change is definitely needed to break the monotony.

18. Since Cantonese slang was used in the poem, the word “Paradise” is the better word choice than “heaven” in translating “Hall of Heaven”.

19. Technically “chicken” is the wrong word to use. Chickens don’t crow, roosters do! Chinese unlike English do not have different words to differentiate the sex of chickens. An exception is made in this instance because of the next line in the poem. In using the correct translation, “rooster wakes the man”, the play on words in the original language is lost.

20. Cantonese slang for calling the oldest profession. Streetwalkers are known as chickens but of course nowadays denote both sexes. For whatever reason the original translator had in mind, the word “night” is must be retained.

21. The original characters used meant actors, especially those performing in Chinese opera. However they can also mean movie actors/stars although nowadays the more common term (literal translation from English – “bright stars”) is used for the distinction. I like the original translation of “in the past” for “old societies” and “now” for “new societies”.

22. The original characters used meant performers in general. I chose the word, “them” to emphasize those in the same profession.

23.  Although the original translation is correct, it had lost the flavour of the original text.  Never infer too much when a literal translation is sufficiently clear and makes the reader come to the same conclusion.

24.  Except for minor changes, we are in total agreement.

25.  There is nothing in the original text to suggest about the quality of the career.

26.  The literal meaning is "health is the top priority" at this stage of the game.  However such exaggerated inference gives the piece much liveliness and humour and does not diminish whatever the intent the author was trying to infer.  This is an example of good translation that takes the soul of the text into the consideration.

27. It could also mean one is getting to waver and tottering clumsily. But with the context, this may not be the case.

28. Having a good portrait in preparation for one's funeral. No one wants to look like a dead thing even on his own funeral! Such is the vanity of human nature.

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