Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer in Shanghai

I apologize for my long absence from blogging. After the conference in Hawaii, I had to go into overdrive to finish the semester, get ready for surgery, and get a rough draft of my entire thesis done before I left for a month in Hong Kong and Shanghai (mostly in Shanghai). I did it!!
And I had the surgery. It was successful, and the surgeon found conclusive evidence that in the past, some procedure WAS done on me without my permission (see my post about giving birth to Peace). I will need further surgery to fix the aftermath of that, but at least the potentially dangerous beasties have been removed, and I am able to move forward to full health.

Because I got to Hong Kong just a little more than a week after my final health procedure, I did not do any extraneous sightseeing. I spent several days with my friends—the scribe, the heroine and Pommes—and did research in some archives at the Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as some interviews to bolster that research. Pommes and his servants are such gracious people; it was so nice to have a welcoming place to hang. The temperatures were high, as was the humidity, and it was nice to not feel compelled to rush around seeing sights. We did eat some awesome dim sum, but that is de rigueur in Hong Kong.

 On July 31, I arrived in Pudong Airport in Shanghai. As we landed, we were surrounded by a billowing yellow fog. Looking out the window, we could not see to the end of the runway, and it felt like we were in some eerie 1950’s sci-fi movie. Shanghai was hotter and more humid than Hong Kong, and it was much more polluted. I got to my hotel without mishap, and per the program coordinator’s instructions I requested to pay for my own single room as the anesthesia from my surgery and later procedures had exacerbated my allergies, and I needed a safe haven from scents (and pollution). The people at the desk were quite nice, especially when I explained that it was a medical situation, but the coordinator had neglected to mention that I might be making such a request, and they were booked solid, so at about 10 pm, I was called out, when my formerly assigned roommate arrived and tried to get into the room. Eventually, they worked it out, and I had my single room, but the American coordinator kept trying to tell me that I would be okay sharing a room. I had had a major allergy episode in Hong Kong, and the younger women all wore scents of one kind or another with the heat, so I stood my ground. Fortunately, all three of them had been in China doing research prior to the workshop, and they all had places to stay in Shanghai.

The people in the hotel were quite nice. The service was excellent, and I think they felt embarrassed that they had not known to be prepared for my request. They had our translation group and a group of students from Japan, who were studying Chinese. Plus they had group after group of “Red Education” tours. We were in a government-run hotel, and in China, Party cadres rotate through “Red Education” weeks on a regular basis. During that week, they go to a site with significance to the Party where they stay in a government hotel and attend classes on the latest Party updates in the morning. Then they go sightseeing in the afternoon. They ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the hotel every day, and their lunches and dinners were always banquets. The rest of us just sat at small tables around the peripheries of the dining room. It was harder to get a lunch plate there, than to order a full-fledged feast. In the three weeks of our stay there, I think we went through four full tour groups, and there was a fifth just starting when we left.

The translation workshop was wonderful. The Chinese-English group met Mondays and Thursdays. We sat at a formal seminar table complete with microphones (not turned on) and elegant name plates. Our professor was Ted Huters, professor emeritus from UCLA and editor of Renditions translation journal, which is one of the top journals of Chinese-English literary translations. He has decades of experience, and his comments were quite helpful. We students came from different disciplines, and so we each chose an article in our field, one that was related to our research, and we took turns presenting our translations to the group. Professor Huters and our classmates made comments and helped us get the best rendering of the difficult passages. It was thoroughly wonderful. There were some very interesting articles. The students from the English-Chinese class could sit in if they wished, and a few of them added their input to the discussions.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday were the English-Chinese classes. That section was taught by the Dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences at Fudan University. His name is Deng Zhenglai, and he is considered to be one of the top five most influential university professors in all of China. He has published about 20 books of his own and 20 more of his translations, plus numerous journal articles. He edits several of China’s top social sciences journals. He was, of course, a strict, traditional Chinese teacher. I felt like I was back in Taiwan with my favorite Chinese teacher. They were all working on one text, James P. Sterba’s “Liberalism and the Challenge of Communitarianism.” It was all about finding a “non-question-begging conception of the good” that accommodates both self-profiting and moral conceptions of the good. Doesn’t that just sound like so much fun to translate into Chinese? The discussions at times got quite heated, and I felt like I was back at the publishing company in Taiwan working on translations of the Bible. All good!! I really liked Professor Deng. I sat in on every minute of every English-Chinese session.

And while I was in China, I did some serious thinking as to whether or not I would continue this blog. I have overt posts about translation clients, who are indeed blacklisted in China. This fact was not lost on the Chinese; I was invited out to dinner twice, and my work with these people and my research on underground churches in China was examined. I suppose it did not help that since May, a certain house church in Beijing has been trying to obtain a facility in which to hold public meetings of approximately a thousand people, and after being repeatedly thwarted by the government, they have taken their large Sunday-morning gatherings to a park in Beijing. I had read about this church on a house-church news listserve. What I did not know until I came back to the US and made some inquiries, is that, about the time I went to China, a group of house-church pastors had banded together to write an open letter to the government calling on China to let the church have its facility AND one of my former translation clients here in the US has been using this incident to promote human rights in China. Due to my health situation, I have not been doing much translation lately because I needed to get my iron count up so I could have anesthesia and surgery, and after my health, school work was my next priority. I had lost contact with some of my “blacker” clients (in China’s eyes), but China didn’t know that. In any event, a very kind lady went over things with me at two different dinners, and then it seems that things checked out, and I was fine. And because of that, I decided that taking down the blog now would be like closing the barn door after the horse had run away. So I will continue posting. My research on Chinese culture for my thesis and some of my more recent experiences have given me a better perspective on earlier episodes in my life, and I find that if anything, I have MORE to say.

I did not do as much sightseeing in China as I would have wished. My first weekend in Shanghai, there was a hurricane. My second weekend, when the translation workshop took a trip to a river town with canals and pretty gardens, I had a major allergy attack and had to stay sedated in my hotel room to get my airways open again. But my last Saturday there, I was able to take the Big Bus tour of all the main points of interest in Shanghai. It starts at People’s Plaza and goes to the Bund, the old French Concession, the main business district, some of the old temples, and it winds up with an evening river cruise on the Huangpu River so you can see the lights in both the old and new Shanghai commercial zones. I liked the river cruise the best. The view from the World Finance Tower was quite nice. The smog was not too bad that day. Another lovely spot was the Yu Garden and Temple of the City God market area. It’s a tourist zone, but I found that by bargaining, I was getting stuff for three times less than the other tourists I met on the river cruise. The Jade Buddha Temple was also interesting in that the statues look more Indian than Chinese. (I did not have a camera... so no pictures.)

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. To me, actually, the highlight was that as a blogger about China, I was “taken to tea,” although as a foreign blogger, I also got to order lamb chops (the most expensive item on the menu). Some of my friends at home did not see things like that. Personally, I was surprised to have even gotten a visa. I have overt posts on my blog about smuggling Bibles into China in the 1980s. I have posted my translations of the work of active (and blacklisted) Chinese democracy advocates. And yet, while I was in China during a situation that the Chinese government sees as a matter of national security, I was treated with kindness and courtesy, and no restrictions were placed on me. I even asked if there would be a problem in the future, if I continued to visit friends in the US who are “blacklisted.” I was told that friendship is a good thing, and I should keep up my friendships. (I had my computer checked, just in case, but my techie didn’t find any bugs.) To be quite honest, in post-9/11 USA, I am not sure we would have treated a foreign person with comparable connections as well as I was treated in China. Had I been someone coming our way, I just might have wound up in Guantanamo or some other off-shore site for “enhanced interrogations.” And I think it’s a sorry state that OUR society has come to.  


Cloudia said...

very enthralling account!

You inspire me, and I'm jealous that you got to 'hang' with the Pommes Tribe :)

Aloha from Waikiki;

Comfort Spiral
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Teresa said...

Hi Cloudi,

I bet you're green with envy at not getting to bring Miss Kitty to hang with Pommes ;-) Of course, you live on a boat in Waikiki, so usually the whole world comes to you, no?

I am not sure if you should take me as an inspiration or as a warning example of what NOT to write about on a blog because you never know what twists and turns life will take. Plans change all the time... but I do not regret anything that I have done. I have thoroughly enjoyed the doing of it, and I won't deny my life.

Hope you're well! One of the Chinese-English students was from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His work was quite interesting. He studies Chinese philosophy with the ever-so-famous Roger Ames.

Cloudia said...

thinking of you, 好友