Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travel. Show all posts

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Reading (and writing) about someplace else: Mishi Saran

Nicky Harman interviews Mishi Saran, writer of fiction and non-fiction, and long-time resident of Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Mishi Saran, photo by Tripti Lahiri

 Q: Serendipitously, I wrote about Xuanzang (Tripitaka) as a translator of Buddhist sutras in my last blog post here, and you have written a wonderful book, Chasing the Monk’s Shadow, in which you follow in the footsteps of Xuanzang from China to India. Did you feel like you got an insight into his character when you were writing the book?
A: I was drawn to Xuanzang as a traveller who braved the miles from China to India and back. A Chinese monk with an India obsession, an Indian woman with a China craze; he and I were destined to meet. To follow his route to India, I mostly consulted two Tang dynasty accounts translated into English by Samuel Beal (1825-1889). One was Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World, by Hiuen Tsiang in two volumes, and the other The Life of
 Hiuen-Tsiang, translated from the Chinese of Shaman Hwui Li. 
Poring daily over those pages for month after month on the road, seeking clues to Xuanzang’s passage 1400 years before me, I became attuned to the cadences of Xuanzang-via-Beal; how little he gave away of his inner state of mind, how stringently he observed and recorded. Xuanzang’s biographer was rather more colourful, and inevitably, hagiographic. Still, Xuanzang was my travel companion, my Chinese guide who unfolded India for me. Not infrequently, I talked to the monk in my head. It became a game for me, to extrapolate human feelings from scant clues embedded in the text. I found fear, homesickness, wonder, a certain amount of gullibility, a good deal of luck. It is an astonishing record.    

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

The History of a Place in a Single Object, with Multiple Variations

Nicky Harman looks at translating tools, and it's more fascinating than you'd think.

It’s not often that I, as a translator, get to do research on the place where a particular author’s novels are set. In fact my recent visit, with Dylan King, to Shaanxi province to Jia Pingwa to look at where his novels Shaanxi Opera (AmazonCrossing, forthcoming) and Broken Wings (ACA, 2019) were set, was a first. We arrived with a list of questions of the ‘What does that tool do?’ and ‘What kind of a gate entrance is that?’ variety. We were primarily motivated by wanting to get the words right in translation. But it led Dylan and me into discussing the wonderful BBC/British Museum radio series, the History of the World in a Hundred Objects, and what follows is (with apologies to Neal MacGregor) a small meditation on what a particular tool can tell us about a place and how people live there.

The tool: a stone object in two parts that grinds up grain and spices, and produces soybean milk from the raw beans. There are two variations:  nian3pan2, also known as碌碡liu4zhou, consisting of a base stone and a cylindrical roller; and 石磨shi2mo4 or mo4pan2, made up of磨扇mo4shan1two circular stones, one atop the other, the bedstone (下扇) which stays stilland the upper stone (上扇) which moves around. In both versions, the top part is pushed around by a human or a beast. At least that’s what used to happen.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Summer reading

Asian Books Blog is taking a break until Friday September 6. In the meantime, what will you read if you're visiting Thailand, Taiwan or Vietnam? Cecile Collineau, an independent book consultant based in Singapore, recommends novels you could pack wherever you're going.