Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Academic Debate in the UK: An Open Letter to Prof Mary Beard and Dr Priyamvada Gopal

Dear Prof Beard and Dr Gopal

I have just spent the evening looking through your tweets, and would like to make some observations, not in criticism of you as people, but as a casual observer of the Twitter maelstrom you are caught up in, and because I respect you both very much. My main concerns are that you are failing to listen to each other, and that what is going on between you is being played out everywhere in the UK, with the result being that debate and discussion is stifled.

Before I continue, I will say, Prof Beard, that although I respect you for your achievements and accomplishments, what has disappointed me most about this whole sorry affair has been your actions to date. I did not like your words and your views, which have been countered and refuted by Dr Gopal's excellent blogpost (and about your blogpost, all I will say is that the phrase 'comparing apples with oranges' immediately sprang to mind when you drew an analogy between intense, external pressures playing their part in influencing the behaviours of aid workers following a destructive natural disaster versus those of French citizens in a man-made world war; surely what happened at the Fukushima Power Plant following the giant 2011 tsunami in Japan would have been a better comparison), but I will defend your right to say them etc... No, it was that video and photo of you crying that really disappointed me, for they reminded me of all those mainly Victorian, man-made comments about us women being inferior because we are allegedly prone to hysteria, histrionics, and being emotional at the expense of being analytical and rational. That you did not have even one sentence to answer Dr Gopal's blogpost was a true shock, and a letdown; I truly, truly, truly expected better from you than your tears.

That is not to say that I agree entirely with your views, Dr Gopal. Although you were right to call out the pro-colonialist nuances in Prof Beard's words and the destructive effect they have, and that yes, they do reflect a racist worldview, any further deconstruction of Prof Beard's blogpost should only have been on the horrendously complex language that was used, together with the fallacy of comparing apples with oranges. Sorry if you think that I am telling you off and telling you, a professor of English, how and what to write, but please hear me out: as a British-born Chinese, I have been 'the only Chinese in the [insert place here]' practically all my life, with non-Chinese people around me who didn't hurt others or even flies, but said the nastiest things about 'them over there' without pausing to think. Their words are the products of what they were fed literally and metaphorically when they were growing up, but their words do not reflect their character. When appallingly disagreeable and/or racist words and views are aired, then yes, it should definitely be up to people like you and me who can see things with a fresh pair of eyes to point out what is disagreeable and/or racist, as well as alternatives and why such alternatives are equally, if not more valid, whilst dispassionately disentangling opinions and words from racism and discrimination that is acted upon (for example, see the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Mi Gao Huang Chen, and the admitted institutionalised failings of the police in the aftermath of these murders).

This whole debate began as a discussion of factors which could influence the behaviour of Western aid workers who are put under pressure, but it became overtaken by an even more important Twitter discussion about influences, whether conscious or not, and most especially about race, race relations, and discussions about race, and perceptions about other races, having a part in decision-making. I think both topics need further discussion, and where better than to start than to have you both, Prof Beard and Dr Gopal, in a room filled with real flowers, pretty tablecloths, fluffy tea cosies, hen-shaped egg holders, tea, coffee, and cake, LOTS of cake, and a video camera present so that your chat can be streamed live, or broadcast afterwards? As this is really important, on no account should this discussion be in private, and I personally think the more informal, the better. After all, isn't this the perfect chance for us ladies to show everyone what we are capable of when we work together?

Best wishes
B x

Friday, 12 January 2018

Trump: A Gift to Linguists (warning: contains swearwords)

Crude/inappropriately happy post alert, but I could not help but think when I heard of this, and I hope that in addition to the serious side to all this, you will think about this from a linguistic point of view, or at least from the point of view of learning English and Chinese as second languages. If you are averse to swearwords, or to non-judgmental blog posts, look away now.

This is your last chance to look away. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, has been reported to have talked about 'shithole countries' in a meeting he held, and as a result of this, reports, replies, comments and statements have been forthcoming. I am not from the US, so I will, out of politeness and also because there are enough commentaries out there, not say any more about this, apart to point out that thanks to Trump, the British press now uses at least one vulgar word everyday, but admittedly, it's not a swearword. Did you know that in parts of England, especially in Manchester, 'trump' means 'to fart'? This has been going on for a long time, even before Trump was elected or we had heard of the US version of 'The Apprentice'. Somehow, the British press has been very polite about this, but every time I read of 'President Trump', I think of the world's loudest, most echoey fart ever, and I have to snigger; I can't help it if farts make me giggle, and if the word 'trump' means 'fart' to some of my friends. 
A report which intrigued me was on the phrase 'shithole countries' causing translation difficulties, and here're my ideas on why it is proving to be such a problem for Chinese translators. The word 'shithole' is a tricky one to translate into Chinese, because there is no indication as to what a 'shithole' literally is. Is the hole man-made or not? Where is the hole in relation to the faeces that are referred to? What is the hole made of? Does the hole open, or close, or if it does not do either, what does it do instead? Everything's so vague, and thus, in Chinese, the closest you can get to 'shithole' are the literal but polite 肛门 'anus' or 马桶 'toilet' or 'toilet bowl', which are everyday terms that are neither offensive nor vulgar. 
To avoid causing a political issue from an incorrect or incomplete translation, Chinese translators have used two phrases to convey what 'shithole' might mean, especially if Trump, and Trump alone, used it in the context of 'countries'. The first is the short 烂国家, where 国家 means 'countries' and 烂 is a colloquialism (and it is vulgar only because it used to be a word which would not have been used by the elite) which means that something is so decayed, rotten to the core, and far gone that it cannot be saved. The second is the colourful 鸟不生蛋国家 'countries where birds do not lay eggs'  (the full phrase is actually 鸟不生蛋狗不拉屎 'where birds do not lay eggs and dogs do not shit', but this is abbreviated to the bit about birds and eggs because that is the polite bit), which specifically refers to birds and not chickens because birds can fly far, but not chickens, and before birds can lay eggs, they need to settle and build nests first. A place where even birds will not stop to lay eggs (and build nests) is one that is desolate, cold, abandoned, and godforsaken, and this is the meaning that has been adopted. 

Thanks for reading this; if you are offended, don't say I didn't warn you. If only every single word I know could inspire long blog posts like this!


Thursday, 4 January 2018

My first post of 2018! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all; make 2018 a good one!

I spent the first few days of 2018 recovering from the mother of hangovers caused by too much Christmas puddings and chocolate, and now, I have finally remembered that I have a blog to post to :-).

One of my resolutions this year is to share things which make me happy with you, and already, 2018 is shaping up to be a great year for the London theatre scene with this: a London showing of Brecht which makes me ecstatic in its casting choices, as well as the commitment by Aequitas Theatre, the company involved, to pay its actors a decent, proper wage.

So if you are around the Brockley Jacks Theatre in London SE4 from
the 16th of January 2018 to the 3rd of February 2018, do drop in to see 'Fear and Misery of the Third Reich' by Brecht, directed by Bellis! Tell your friends about this, and/or donate to and/or share the GoFundMe site of this production: https://www.gofundme.com/actors-wages-aequitas-theatre. I don't have any connection with this production apart from being very happy that the director is female and that my Twitter acquaintance @htrebbels is starring in this. If there is anything to learn, it is this: get up and go make your dreams a reality! And yes, as this makes me happy, I'm sharing this with you!

Thanks for reading, and have a great 2018! xxx

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year!

It's that time to celebrate and reflect on the year that has gone! My highlight was releasing 'The Prophecy' and 'Five-Penny Rhymes' on Amazon! It was exhilarating to see my ebooks take their final forms, be responsible for things like book cover design, and learn skills like using Instagram and Soundcloud, sound remixing, graphics design and typesetting, all in the name of marketing. Even balancing between my offline and online activities has become a new skill in itself!

Close on the heels of this was discovering Twitter hashtag games, the hashtagging community, and through hashtagging, myself. There were times when all I wanted to do was crack a terribly punny hashtag joke yet felt the urge to blog on things in the mainstream media, and going with the urge over the joke. Although politics is not my 'thing', and I do not have much to say over these things, I do, however, recognise that there are others who have their identity and/or politics as their focus, and that they are looking for someone to speak up; all I can say is that if you think this is you, you should speak up for yourself and what you stand for, and don't wait for others to speak for you.

Last but not least, the terrorist incidents that happened and the hysteria in the mainstream media about Islam and the Arabic language coincided with me connecting with Twitter friends whose languages depend on the Arabic script. I thank these Twitter friends for showing me glimpses of their daily lives through their tweets, and although I cannot read them, I would like to thank Google Translate for ensuring that I got the gist of them. I will never forget the irrational, idiotic fear I had when I received my first Arabic-language DMs in the wake of the Manchester bombings (I stupidly thought the tweeters were terrorists) which turned out to be, amongst others, from a plumber who was advertising his business, and another chap who was wishing me a good day. I had started out this year with the aim of getting more Twitter followers, and have now modified that slightly. It is nice to have lots of Twitter followers, but even better to be able to interact with them, and I shall be trying my best to have more interactions with all my Twitter followers, whoever they may be. If I have learned a lesson this year, it is to have a firm conviction that people should only be judged on their actions, and nothing else, in real life.

So for me, it has been a great year, and I could not have enjoyed it without you, my online friends! I wish you and your families a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2018 filled with lots of punny jokes and funny animal photos and videos!

Thank you 谢谢
teşekkür ederim
for being on my crazy rollercoaster online journey this year!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My Reviews of 'The Calypsis Project' Books 1 and 2 by Brittany M Willows! And my book reviews in general!

As it is the holiday season, I decided to catch up on my reading, and I must say that I have been impressed by many books I have been given in exchange for reviews. I am drawn to underrated gems which deserve a wider audience; do search my blog posts labelled 'book reviews' for the other two books which I have yakked about previously. Having said that, it is quite hard to balance my time, so I will do as many reviews as I can. This means that this is my penultimate blog post for 2017; watch this space for more tomorrow!

Without further ado, here are my Amazon UK reviews for 'The Calypsis Project' Books 1 and 2 by Brittany M Willows; read her books and prepare to be challenged and entertained!

My review for Book 1:

They say ‘never judge a book by its cover’, but once I learned that Brittany Willows did her own eye-catching artwork for both books in the ‘Calypsis Project’ series, I just had to look inside, and her books are impressive indeed!  Although I offered to review her work for free on Amazon UK, I was so impressed by the care and talent she put into creating her artwork and content that I paid for them; the series is reviewed here as if it were one book.

Book 1 took slightly longer to get into, but that is because Willows has created a number of alien worlds and their languages, and it took a while for me to learn who was who and what was what, but once I got going, the pace of the story picked up, and I finished both books eagerly.

What gripped me the most were the intra- and interspecies interactions (including politics) that Willows’s characters had, and her fast-paced, taut, yet informative story was well-plotted with a few twists that I did not see coming. I do not normally think when I read, but finding out what exactly the Calypsis Project was became my mission as well as the characters', which I thought was very cool. Willows’s characters’ interactions and opinions were very interesting, and left me pondering a lot of ‘what if...?’ questions about our own world, how we treat each other, and how we see each other. 

I wanted more at the end; it would be great to see what other insights Willows and her worlds have to offer, and I would say that Willows is one to watch in the sci-fi/thriller genre. May this be the first of many adventures in the 'Calypsis Project' universe!

My review for Book 2:

Book II has everything you would want in a sequel - it is gripping, thrilling, and ties up all those loose ends whilst keeping track of characters from the first book. Thanks to familiarity with the worlds from the first book, the second book is more action-packed and moves quicker than the first book. I was so impressed that although Willows had offered me a free copy in exchange for a review, I decided to pay for another copy over Amazon. She is one to watch in the sci-fi/thriller genre, and I hope that Books 1 and 2 will be the first of many set in the 'Calypsis Project' Universe. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

An Open Letter to the Director General of the BBC, Sir Lenny Henry, Mr Shane Allen, and Ms Alex Moody - 'Chinese Burn'

To Tony Hall, Baron Hall of Birkenhead, Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation; Sir Lenny Henry; Mr Shane Allen; Ms Alex Moody

Dear Baron Hall, Sir Lenny, Mr Allen, and Ms Moody

Chinese Burn (BBC3): A Complaint

A Hong Kong Chinese, a Taiwanese Chinese, and a Crazy Rich Asian enter a pub. The landlord looks at them and says, ‘What’s the joke?’

As this was how I felt after watching ‘Chinese Burn’, I am writing to complain about the non-inclusion of British Chinese (whether mixed-race or not) voices, and the marketing and aftermath of this show. I believe that if these issues had been handled, ‘Chinese Burn’ could have made for a more enjoyable comedy experience for all. ‘Chinese Burn’ is not a British sitcom and it lacks that British Chinese voice, and as a result, it does not and cannot fully reflect Chinese life in Britain. That is why it cannot and will not shatter stereotypes about the Chinese/East Asians in Britain and elsewhere, but instead create more of them. I feel very strongly about this, and that is why I am complaining.

The typical British-raised Chinese woman will not use ‘Asian’ to refer to ‘East Asian’. Although she might act, she will never encourage her bestie to play any prostitute, or use ‘fuck’ to describe her family (she’ll complain, but use words that are wittier). Most importantly, the kinder, more nuanced views of non-Chinese people that the British-born Chinese have when compared to eg American, Canadian, or Australian Chinese are lacking. As a result, although the show was about Westernised Chinese, I could tell that these were ethnic Chinese characters who had not had a British childhood and youth, but who had moved to the UK from abroad.

The reaction from abroad has been to the strong language and stereotypes in the show, but from my British-born Chinese perspective, these are really, really, really tame and acceptable because this is a comedy and not real life. For me, what was troubling and puzzling was that this sitcom went against originality and British sitcoms. After it became clear that the racism, sexism, and stereotyping against East Asian men came from the two main characters, for example, the main characters did not become the butt of jokes that pilloried them for this. Instead, tired, oft-repeated stereotypes about non-Chinese people and Chinese/East Asian males replaced witty observations of life, and the misuse of slapstick and physical comedy left a main character stripped of dignity until the end – a state which a British sitcom never leaves an underdog in.

If I, someone with no professional background in British comedy, can see this, why couldn’t the professionals? Did someone not read the script or watch rehearsals, and suggest alternatives? Did someone not suggest that a single British Chinese voice be brought in to collaborate with the immigrant voices? If Gok Wan and Alexa Chung were not available, what about Jo Ho and Ming Ho, who are two BBC scriptwriters? If new voices were needed, what about Bubzbeauty, Rebecca Boey and Chris Chan? Did the show’s creators, who are not British, get the appropriate support they needed to create the best show they could? Most importantly, is this the standard that non-white creators are up against, and is this the sort of content that the BBC is after - that non-white creators have to create characters that throw each other under a bus to be acceptable?

This show implies that the characters are underdogs simply because they are Chinese. It also implies that the Chinese experience is a foreign one, when in fact, it can also be British – Chinese food in Britain is different from Chinese food in China and Asia for a reason. It also implies that there is a serious disconnect between the BBC and those outside the BBC. As the most glaring example, how I am treated and viewed in real life is not mirrored in how 'Chinese Burn' treats and views its Chinese characters, and for 'Chinese Burn' to get the green light in the first place, its previewers must have had certain preconceptions about Chinese people in Britain that the people I am with do not have.

By leaving out the British Chinese voice, this show reinforces the perception that ‘the British Chinese are not real Britons’. This is a hypocritical stance to take when so many have declared that the BBC has and is to be more diverse. It is also hypocritical to see current British comedy shows pussyfooting around very real societal problems because of the fear of political correctness and how ‘certain groups of people might react’, but then see ‘Chinese Burn’ given that privilege to insult and mock a group of people for being that group of people and not for eg their bad actions and behaviour, and then for that group of people to be ignored when they voice their very real concerns about this.

‘Diversity’ is not just about skin colour, but also about voices. Skin colour should never be used as the only benchmark for diversity, ever.

In writing this complaint, I hope that public promises about ‘diversity in British programming’ do not result in the erosion of what ‘British programming’ is in terms of quality and content, and I also hope that this ‘diversity’ initiative is not a box-ticking exercise to say, ‘well, we’ve brought the [insert novelty group here], we’ve ticked the box, now let the audience decide’, and then not support the creators of new content adequately. I wonder if BBC Three is doing the right thing in not making a statement of any sort to reassure licence-fee payers that their money is not being spent to mock them, and in not making a statement to assist the creators of the show, to say that certain decisions lay with them and not the creators. Equally, I hope that this will not be used as a stick to beat BBC Three with, especially as British programming needs all the channels it can get to compete in output.

Ultimately, I think BBC Three and all who call for increased diversity in the British media must put their money where their mouths are; I honestly believe that BBC Three should have tried harder and given more support to the creators of the show before, during and after the airing of ‘Chinese Burn’.

Had I known what this show was really about, I confess that I would not have watched it, but having said that, my eyeballs and my mind haven’t been scarred for life, so that’s all right. Would I watch more episodes? I would, but only if the British Chinese involvement is there, and only if proper support is given to the creators.

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei

Monday, 4 December 2017

My Translation of 'The Ballad of Mulan' into English

Disney's just announced that the Chinese actress Liu Yifei is to be cast as the warrior woman Mulan. I've been working on a translation of the original ballad which kicked it all off. It was written between AD420-589, and was set between AD386-536, when Northern China was ruled by the Xianbei people, whose Emperor was known as a 'Khan' or 'Son of Heaven', and whose culture revolved around horses. 

Some traditions elaborate on the ballad, giving details such as Mulan's surname (in some stories, she is surnamed Zhu, but in most stories, her surname is Hua), but this version gives the barest of details. The change in tenses was quite tricky, but I am pleased with what I have now. I did it for fun; enjoy!

木兰诗The Ballad of Mulan

唧唧复唧唧 木兰当户织
Tut-tutting, tut-tutting, tut-tutting;
Across the door, Mulan was weaving
不闻机杼(zhù) 唯闻女叹息
Though they could not hear her loom
Her family heard her sigh with gloom
问女何所思 问女何所忆
They asked what she was thinking
Or what she was recalling
女亦无所思 女亦无所忆
She said her thoughts were dull
And her recollections, null
昨夜见军帖(tiě) 可汗大点兵
But she'd seen an army notice last night
The Khan was calling men to fight
军书十二卷 卷卷有爷名
The Khan’s army had twelve scrolls
Her father’s name was on them all
阿爷无大儿 木兰无长兄
Her father had no eldest son
No older brother had Mulan
愿为市鞍马 从此替爷征
She decided to ride into town
And take her father’s place on the battleground

东市买骏马 西市买鞍鞯
East of town, she bought a steed
West of town, saddle and lead
南市买辔(pèi) 北市买长鞭
South of town, reins and a bridle
North of town, a whip for survival

旦辞爷娘去 暮宿黄河边
She said goodbye to her parents at the break of morning
And camped by the Yellow River in the evening
不闻爷娘唤女声 但闻黄河流水鸣溅溅(jiān)
She didn’t hear her parents calling for her
But instead heard the roaring of the Yellow River
旦辞黄河去 暮至黑山头
She left the Yellow River at the break of morning
And reached the Black Mountains in the evening
不闻爷娘唤女声 但闻燕山胡骑()鸣啾啾 jiūjiū
She didn’t hear her parents calling for her
But heard instead the foreign horsemen of Yanshan chatter

万里赴戎机 关山度若飞
She charged ten thousand li towards the battlegrounds
Crossing mountains so quickly, it was as if she had flown
朔气传金柝(tuò) 寒光照铁衣
The chilly northern winds led her towards the army timekeepers’ sounds
And on soldiers’ iron gowns, the coldest wintry moonlight shone

将军百战死 壮士十年归
Hundreds of generals and soldiers died in the fighting
And ten years passed before the warriors could return
归来见天子 天子坐明堂
When they arrived home, they and the Son of Heaven had a meeting
In a splendid throne room sat The Son of Heaven
策勋十二转(zhuǎn) 赏赐百千强
He used bamboo scrolls to record twelve promotions
And gifts and rewards worth hundreds of thousands
可汗问所欲 木兰不用尚书郎
The Khan asked everyone what were their needs
But Mulan had no use for officialdom
愿驰千里足 送儿还故乡
All she asked was for some swift steeds
To take her back to her old home

爷娘闻女来 出郭相扶将
Her parents heard of her return
And led the city out to greet her
阿姊()闻妹来 当户理红妆
Her elder sister heard of her younger sister’s return
And styled her hair and put on rouge and makeup at the doorway
小弟闻姊来 磨刀霍霍向猪羊
Her younger brother heard of his older sister’s return
And his knives whirred as he sharpened them, his pigs and sheep to slay

开我东阁门 坐我西阁床
I open my east-bedroom door
And sit on my west-bedroom bed
脱我战时袍 著我旧时裳(chang
I take off my robes of war
And put on my old dress instead
当窗理云鬓 对镜帖花黄
In front of my window, my hair like a cloud is done up
In front of my mirror, I put on yellow-flower makeup
出门见火伴 火伴皆惊忙
Outside, I face my army mates
And leave them in a whirl

同行十二年 不知木兰是女郎
We’ve known each other for twelve years to date
But they never guessed Mulan’s a girl!
雄兔脚扑朔 雌兔眼迷离
A male rabbit’s forelegs wriggle
And a female rabbit’s eyes wiggle
双兔傍地走 安能辨我是雄雌
But when two rabbits run, how can I tell
Which one’s male, or female?