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花街樹屋 The Tree Fort on Carnation Lane (摘譯 excerpt)

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I have no idea where that hundred-dollar bill came from. They said I stole it, pilfered it out of the pocket of a pair of suit pants my father had left hanging over the bedroom door. I remember they had me surrounded and were shouting at me and that I found myself kneeling before the family altar. It must have been evening, because, as I recall, it was dark outside. The light in the family room was off, and the bulbs from the two electric candles on the altar cast a reddish glow on the faces of the adults. Of course maybe their faces were red because they’d seen red. My parents and my dutifully widowed grandmother—they launched volleys of Mandarin at me mixed with Taiwanese. I was crying, my mother was crying, too. They were stamping their feet and gesticulating. They all kept pointing at my right hand, which – lo and behold – was clutching a crumpled green one hundred dollar bill. It was like it had grown out of my palm, as if it were part of my own body.

My earliest memory. I’m not proud of it, but I thought of myself as a thief before I had any conception of my own identity or that I was even a boy.

自行車 The Bicycle

Old Zhang walked under the awning of the open-air garage by his building, eyes widening involuntarily. It was gone! Craning his neck, he stared into the corner, as if his bicycle had turned into a spider or an ant and was playing hide and seek with him. There was no hole for it to hide in, just an old sketch of a male sex organ some kid had chalked on the wall. Zhang couldn’t be bothered to rub it off; it was a public garage. He clutched the key, sure that he had locked it up the night before. There was a grimy piece of colored paper on the ground, and some fallen leaves, but no sign of a picked lock. The garage was over forty meters from end to end. Zhang trudged along, scanning the scooters, mopeds, and bicycles… Sure enough, it was really gone.

死亡是一隻樺斑蝶 Death is a Tiger Butterfly

But my heart was strangely quiet. Something had made it friendly to death.

Naoya Shiga, “At Kinosaki”

Translated by Edward Seidensticker

In that tiny, quenched image of vitality, a bird like a leaf dropped by the wind in passing, I felt something of our common, friable substance – a shared vulnerability…

John Haines, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire

In the department office, after the staff had all gone, I encountered my colleague Professor Kang, whose father had recently passed away. She looked exhausted. I sat across from her, going on about the things I’d been reading as she sorted through her mail. Suddenly, she looked up and asked, “How long did you spend grieving your father? Until you were able to move on?”

I couldn’t say, my dear Professor Kang. You understand life more than me. With every breath you take, you are more in synchrony with the rhythms of the Earth, and closer to the Lord than me. I couldn’t say, Professor Kang. I don’t know how much time I spent grieving. Maybe I don’t even know if there’s a time when (or a space where?) one can finally move on.

大年夜 New Year's Eve

「這個年,一定要熱熱鬧鬧!把他們都集合起來,好酒好菜,大家樂樂。」

“This New Year’s Eve, we’ve really got to live it up! Let’s gather everyone together for good food, good wine, and good times.”

他說話的口氣,雖然不像命令,但至少有點兒「想當然耳」的味道。

Though he didn’t seem to be using the imperative mood, he did at least sound like he was taking something, or someone, for granted.

在公寓中 In the Tenement on Duckweed Lane

“Exile begins as soon as we leave the womb.”
“One’s mother should be one’s true homeland. Only death finally frees us from this final belonging.”
“The return to the homeland is but a return to the mother’s grave.”
– Norman Manea, The Hooligan’s Return (translated from the Romanian by Angela Jianu)

I grew up, and came of age, along that lane. The first apartment house we had after arriving in Taipei was on that lane, as was the second, about a half a kilometer away. The lane was where my wandering first began.

Now almost thirty years have passed, and the lane hasn’t changed at all. It’s still narrow and winding. People still bustle down it dawn to dusk; it’s a secret stream gurgling along the city limits. Returning now, after all this time, I’m surprised to see my departure and Taipei’s skyrocketing property market haven’t changed it much. The apartments to either side are still as old, if not even older. The paint on the window grilles is spottier than before, the dull rust from so many years plainly visible.

死去活來 Back From the Dead Again

不是病。醫生說,老樹敗根,沒辦法。他們知道,特別是鄉下老人,不希望在外頭過往。沒時間了,還是快回家。就這樣,送她來的救護車,又替老人家帶半口氣送回山上。
She ain’t sick. The doctors said, she’s just an old tree, ready to return to the earth out of which she grew. There was nothing they could do. Those doctors knew that most folks, specially old folks from the country, would rather not pass away away from home. She doesn’t have much time left, they said. You best be goin’ home. In this way, the ambulance that had brought her down to the hospital took her back up to her mountain home. Her life was hanging by a thread.

背海的人 Backed Against the Sea (摘譯 excerpt)

這裡是「夜深沉」午夜卿卿切切,濃情蜜意悄悄兒「談心」的美妙節目:──由歐陽羞羞露露小姐陪您款款細談。歐陽羞羞露露其實是「曾經滄海難為水」,是飽嚐人生憂患的,受盡了挫難的,老槍──你信不信?
This is ‘So Deep the Night,’ a hushed early morning ‘heart to heart’ of a marvelous radio program hosted with tender loving care by yours truly: Miss Modesty Exposé Ouyang's on the air. Miss Modesty is gonna bare her soul to you tonight. She's seen it all: ‘After sailing the deep blue sea, mere rivers can’t compare.’ She's sated with life’s sorrows, having endured every trial and tribulation. Old Gun, do you believe it or not?

11元的鐵道旅行 The 11 Dollar Train Trip

台灣最慢的火車,最短區間的里程,最便宜的旅行,票價是11元。
The shortest trip on Taiwan’s slowest train is the cheapest you can take: that’ll be 11 dollars, please.

比如,池上至富里、壽豐至志學、萬榮至鳳林之類。有趣的是,如今它們幾乎都集中在花東縱谷。
For 11 dollars you can go, for instance, from Chih-shang to Fu-li, from Shou-feng to Chih-hsueh or from Wan-jung to Feng-lin. Interestingly, almost all of these trips are now along the Rift Valley between Hua-lien to Tai-tung.

外島書 Offshore Island Bible (摘譯 excerpt)

天地玄黃,宇宙洪荒。
是他胸前的繡字,是她心底的地老天荒。
Earth was brown and sky was blue
when space was young and time was true.
On his breast a yellow sewn on word,
and in her heart a dream of love deferred

1 第六張黑牌
1. The Sixth Black Card (or The Lottery)

這個月來一直板著惡臉的凶酷班長,態度突然和善了起來。在我從籤筒抽出那隻籤後,他把我叫到連辦公室,拆了一包軍用長壽香菸,請我抽了一根,自己也叼了一根。我們隔著辦公桌相對而坐,沒什麼話說。他的菸才抽一半,我就把整根菸抽完了。我主動又拿了一根菸,他默默幫我點上。又抽了半根,還是沒什麼話聊。我心裡仍想著剛剛在營餐廳抽籤的景象。
The squad leader’s attitude had changed completely, and all of a sudden. Menacing and merciless, he’d worn a nasty expression on his face for a month, but now he was playing Mr. Nice Guy. After I drew that lot from the box, he called me into the company office, cracked a pack of military-issue Long Life cigarettes, and offered me one, dangling another from his lips. We faced each other across the desk, nothing much to say. I’d finished the whole cigarette and he was still halfway through his, so I helped myself to another without asking and he gave me a light without comment. I’d smoked another half a cigarette and still no conversation. I was still thinking about the military lottery in the mess hall just now.

熊兒悄然對我說 A Bear and a Boy (摘譯 excerpt)

我們族人是天神用各種樹葉做成的。
Our tribe was fashioned by the Celestial Spirit from the leaves of every tree.

父親小時候堅瘦的字跡。
Father had written this in his crabbed script when he was a child.

當時他認真記下了山裡的每件事,他當做是祕密。知道這些事,是在十二歲那年,從父親日記上讀到了一則諺語開始。他從不對我說故事,也不為我買童話書,在我寂寞的童年,只學會一種消遣,就是找鑰匙,打開父親每個抽屜,一個個清點,像個小偷,更像偵探。日記用牛皮紙層層裹住,壓在一個生鏽的鐵盒下,鐵盒裡收了兩個小巧的鳥巢,一個是碗狀,由樹皮、草枝、苔蘚之類的材料編成;一個是球狀,入口開在側面,就著燈光觀察,能看見裡面編織著像是枯竹葉、芒草葉的材料,縫隙間還填著羽絨。很細的羽絨,日記中夾著幾絲這樣的羽絨,而側頁畫著一隻小小鳥,似乎是羽絨的主人。
He had carefully recorded everything that had happened up in the mountains, like keeping secrets. I only found out about these things the year I turned twelve, when I came across a proverb in Father’s diary. Father never told me stories or bought me children’s books. In my lonely childhood I only had a single pastime, which was to get the keys and open all of father’s drawers to make an inventory of everything inside, a bit like a thief, even more like a sleuth. The diary was wrapped in layers of kraft paper and pressed under a rusted metal box. Inside the box was stored a couple of delicate bird’s nests, one shaped like a bowl and woven out of bits of bark, grass, moss and lichen, the other spherical with a side entrance. Holding the latter up to the lamp, I saw that the interior was woven out of dry bamboo leaves and silvergrass, with very fine down crammed in the cracks. A few filaments of this down were pressed inside the book, and on the opposite page there was a drawing of a little bird, the one it seemed to whom the down belonged.

Boys and Girls 男孩與女孩

My father was a fox farmer. That is, he raised silver foxes, in pens; and in the fall and early winter, when their fur was prime, he killed them and skinned them and sold their pelts to the Hudson’s Bay Company or the Montreal Fur Traders. These companies supplied us with heroic calendars to hang, one on each side of the kitchen door. Against a background of cold blue sky and black pine forests and treacherous northern rivers, plumed adventurers planted the flags of England or of France; magnificent savages bent their backs to the portage.
小時候,我父親是個「狐」農,也就是說,他養銀狐,養在狐圈裡;秋天冬初時,狐毛的質最優,父親就會宰了狐狸,剝了皮,把狐皮賣給哈德遜灣商行或是蒙特婁皮商。多虧這兩家公司贊助,讓我家廚房門內門外都有豪氣萬千的月曆可掛 – 寒冷的青天、陰暗的松林、詭譎多變的北方河流,一群頭戴羽飾的冒險家正把國旗往地面插,有的插英國國旗,有的插法國國旗;還有壯碩威猛的番人彎腰扛船正趕著路到下一條河。

魚骸 Fish Bones (摘譯 excerpt)

烈陽曝照的正午,四野靜悄悄的,正是工人回家休息、蚊蚋稍歇的時刻。沼. 澤深處有鳥鳴蛙叫,大爬蟲的腹部窸窸窣窣的摩擦著草莖,猴群次第躍過稀疏的樹。水面勉強浮著給草葉切割成零亂碎片的日光。緩慢的步伐一路踩斷枯枝,他來到草澤畔。穿著長筒靴,長褲,長衣,連脖子,額頭也纏著濕巾;戴著白色手套,拎著棍子的手徐緩的撥開迎面橫著的草。大部分的草葉和莖都銳利如刃,要不則長滿尖刺。一不慎便觸膚生疼,馬上留下淡淡的血痕。風也可以助長它們的態勢,密密麻麻的刃葉胡亂打來。一舉步即陷落,踩著了軟泥,隔著靴子仍覺得異樣的冰涼。被吸著的腳艱難的連靴子一道拔起,跨出下一步。水愈來愈深,淹過了靴,濕了褲子,及腰。他乾脆俯身於水中,雙手輪替抓著水涘的草莖,半爬半游的深入。因他的來到而自水涯逢聲落水的或者是青蛙田雞,大大小小的四腳蛇,要不就是常見的草龜。許多回,他看見牠們自水中警覺的露出頭來,眼一轉便快速沉入水中。
The blazing noon sun scorched, and there was stillness all around; rest for the Worker, repose for the Gnat. Deep within the swamp there came cries from the Bird and croaks from the Toad. Big creepy crawlies brushed their bellies across stalks of grass, and Monkeys leaped one by one through the sparse trees. The water surface strained to support the sunlight, sliced by blades of grass into a mess of fragments. He took slow footsteps, cracking dried branches the whole way, until at last he reached the banks of the swamp. He wore high cut rubber boots, trousers, a long coat; and even his neck and head were wrapped, in a moist kerchief. He slowly poked his way through the grass that blocked his way with the stick he held in his white gloved hands. The blades of grass and their stems were sharp as blades, or covered in spikes. He had to be very cautious, for a single touch was painful and would leave a flesh wound. The breeze emboldened them, and he faced a dense phalanx armed with leaves of grass. He felt a cold sensation through his boots, for with every step his foot sank into the mud. It was difficult to suck his foot up with the boot on. The water gradually grew deeper and deeper until it filled his boots and soaked his pants and wetted his waist. Then he just bent down into the water and used his hands one by one to paw at the weeds on the bank, half crawling half swimming. His arrival was met with the sound of the splashes of leaps from the bank into the swamp – might have been frogs or toads, lizards large and small, which the locals called four legged snakes, or ordinary grass turtles. He caught sight of them many times as they alertly raised their heads out of the water, stole a quick glance, and then rapidly retreated back into the depths.

與貓演習 Cat Exercises

The night before his final return to the mountain village, Jiang sat in the room, listening to the sounds of “his” neighborhood. All the food stands had been taken down; the streets were dark. Outside there were people waving flashlights, climbing stairs, and shouting. They hadn’t bothered posting a notice or making an advance announcement. Instead, they were conducting an emergency mobilization, going door to door to ask everyone to come out and attend a “Disaster Prevention Seminar.”

“Come on out, come quickly, everyone’s waiting,” they invited amiably.

Everyone was waiting. There was no arguing with that.

脫粒機 The Threshing Machine

An engineer came down from the prefecture the year the hydroelectric station was built. Soon, he had recruited young people in the village who were fond of newfangled things. He kept them busy on the threshing floor, and he predicted that come harvest time, it would no longer be necessary for so many people to keep beating the grain, back and forth and up and down, over and over again.

水電站 The Hydroelectric Station

What cool guys they were!

These guys on the survey team were even cooler than the guys on the work team.

The guys on the work team were cool too, but only in their eyes. Every part of their face would smile, but they still had this self-satisfied expression in their eyes. They came to Jicun, the village we were from, wearing backpacks like soldiers. After holding a meeting, they were assigned to live with poor and lower-middle class peasant households. They said, “Chairman Mao instructed us to eat, live, and labor with you, and to build a New Socialist Village with you.”

背叛 Betrayal

Waiting in the airport lounge, President Hu took out his cell and made two calls. The first was to Mrs. Hu in Taipei. “Hi, it’s me...I’ve made it to Macau...ah, alright.” He kept it to the point. The second call was also brief. “Hey there, what’s up? I’m in Macau. Take a shower and wait up for me.”

Hu returned the cell to his briefcase. He was a man in his fifties, a man who used pomade on his thinning hair, a man with a comb over. He had a square face; with the exception of several deep wrinkles between the eyebrows, it had no distinguishing features at all. It was the face of a middle-aged man, a weary, suspicious, dissatisfied face. Several times while he was waiting, complete strangers gave him a warm greeting and offered to shake his hand. He just shook his head: no, I’m not Manager Qiu. I’m not Chairman Chen. And I sure ain’t Jim, Mark, or Jonathan. China-based Taiwanese businessmen and their employees all had English names, even if their jobs required no English at all.

當劉宅好遇到阿旺 When Finehouse Liu Met Prosper Wang

Liu Zhaihao was destined to become a fortune teller, on account of his name. If you reverse the order of the characters in his given name you get Haozhai, which means ‘good house’. To country folks, it would seem like anyone with a name like that would be good at feng shui, at helping a person find a nice place to live. What’s more, his surname has the exact same sound as another character meaning ‘to keep’. Think about it: how could a name like Finehouse Kepe not get people thinking? This, then, was Liu Zhaihao’s fate, and his fate was inseparable from his name. Was there any particular reason why he was called Liu Zhaihao? No reason at all. His father chose his name, and his father was an illiterate coal miner from the town of Jui-fang.

貓,以及其他 Cats, et Cetera

The kittens came into the world before dusk, their bodies slick, their eyes covered by a grey film. Waaaaaaa: Their mewling summoned their mother, who started gently licking them, leaving her unable to ignore the disconcerting sight of blood underneath: Due to the mother’s incontinence during the delivery, the corrugated cardboard box was now going damp and soft inch by inch, its muddy yellow color seeming all the muddier. It was like a heavy clump of earth silently enduring the squirming vigor of the living.

Then, without warning, the mother cat snapped at the scruff of the neck of one of the kittens.

失聰者 Hard of Hearing

When he started calling out ee and ah, my wife and I couldn’t help wanting to charge over and in our usual way express to our possibly frightened child how worried we were, his poor parents. Smiling, our friend shook his head to stop us from rushing in. He continued to speak in his gravelly, grating esophageal voice, as though in response to our bewilderment and our child’s quavering.

訪舊 Revisiting the Past

This part of town was still so drab and dreary, as I’d remembered it.

The conference wasn’t over yet, but to me it was already done. The next day they would discuss preparations for the next annual meeting and handle some routine matters, but there was no need for me to attend. How was I going to spend this unexpected day of free time? After escaping the suffocating atmosphere of the conference center, I was strolling back to the hotel with a cigarette hanging from between my lips, unable to get this crazy idea out of my head: should I pay him a visit?

青紅幫 The Green and Red Gang

The phone at the bedstead started ringing in the middle of the night. And it wouldn’t stop ringing. Would the caller be so persistent if it wasn’t an emergency? Though I was greatly unwilling to relive the tumultuous events of the previous evening, they now returned to trouble me. In a daze, I put on my nightgown and picked up the receiver. On the other end of the line I heard Shangqing’s husky voice.

“They decided to take him off life-support? He’s gone…”

Now I was wide awake.

魏黃灶 Wei-Huang Zao

There is a “small business” located near the Baoying Temple in the town where I grew up. The sign outside lists four services: fortune-telling, auspicious day selection, auspicious name selection, and fengshui geomancy. Underneath are the words “Gourd Guru” in larger lettering.

The title of Gourd Guru was inherited by a high school classmate of mine, Wei-Huang Zao by name. He is the fifth bearer of the title, so I suppose we might have called him Gourd the Fifth, as if he were a European aristocrat. It has always seemed simplest to call him Gourd Guru. But perhaps because out of humility, perhaps because he considered the designation inelegant, he never permitted people to call him Gourd Guru. He used to say that all he had inherited was the sign itself and the business indicated thereupon: his name was Wei-Huang Zao, thank you very much.

肯亞大獵殺 Shooting in Kenya

雲很低,伸手上去,就摸到了。
The clouds were so low you could reach out and touch them.

雖然才下過雨,空氣是亮的、清的,由於特殊的緯度嗎?這裡的雲像緞質的帷幔,又像是天上伸下來的手指。
Though it had just finished raining, the air was bright and clear, maybe because of the latitude? The clouds seemed like folds in a satin drapery, or like fingers poking down from heaven.

想要滿足自己難以饜足的好奇心吧,才會跟隨一個攝影隊伍到了肯亞。我尤其希望知道這聲稱黑色非洲首善之區的國家,是不是正在陸沉當中——
I’d come to Kenya with a crew of photographers, probably in order to satisfy my insatiable curiosity: the country had been touted as the best thing black Africa had to offer, a rising star. I thought the country might actually be sinking, and had come to find out for sure.

全世界最高的生育率,逐漸壓垮了這片日趨沙漠化的土地。此外,關鍵當然是英國殖民者在一九六三年離開的時候,變魔術一樣,把治理國家的秘訣藏進禮帽裡帶走了。
With the highest birth rate in the world, Kenya was collapsing under the weight of its own population, the land gradually turning to desert. It hadn’t helped that when they left in 1963 the English colonizers had not passed on to the colonized the keys to running a modern state. The keys disappeared into the black top hat and the magician left the stage.

飛魚神話 The Myths of the Flying Fish

The Yami (Dawu or Tawo) people of Taiwan have long lived on a small, lonely island set in the midst of a great ocean off the east coast of the Taiwanese mainland. Before coming into extensive contact with any foreign culture, we Yami had already developed a tradition of ancestral wisdom, a stable foundation for the operation of Yami society and the development of Yami culture. This means of social operation and cultural development has been maintained entirely through a body of oral literature and mythic stories passed down from elders to the young. In practice, these stories have fully ‘legal’ force as well as the ‘religious’ force of social restraint. The stories teach the superstitions, taboos and beliefs that no Yami would dare disrespect. In these oral stories and myths, taboos relating to the flying fish fishing season are the most numerous and complex. The catch, as well as the wind and rain, were traditionally thought to be intimately related to whether or not the people observed the taboos of the fishing season. During the flying fish fishing season, from February to June, people, would curse and rage against anyone who violated a taboo. Thus, in the actual social life as well as in the attitudes of the Yami people, flying fish are extremely important. These flying fish-related beliefs have not only a positive and manifest function, but also a negative and latent function. Also, in addition to their social functions, they also function on an individual level. The myths of the flying fish are infused with a poetic beauty and a profoundly maritime meaning. They represent the main material for research on the beliefs and customs of the Yami people.

當背叛無須沉重以對的時候 A Time When One Needn’t Face Betrayal Heavy Heartedly

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Waiting is a rushing river, rushing endlessly. I crouch on the other shore, watching and waiting: watching the fearsome breakers tear at the shore and roll themselves into heaps of snow, and waiting for your face to appear and become clear as the seething spray disperses.