Either you are sorting it out, or you are full of it.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cultural Exchange Simplified

It’s come to be the opinion of this humble Ferret that cultural exchanges in China are generally plagued by a kind of Orientalism, a perception of an intractable Other, or a perceived mystery that prevents people from having a meaningful exchange. This happens on both sides of the aisle. Foreigners feel that there are some things about China that are impossible to know; Chinese feel as if there are some things foreigners will never understand. And vice-versa.

Recently, I had a rather truthful exchange. A model perhaps for all future cultural exchanges:

[Ferret walks into a bathroom at Sichuan restaurant. He pees a urinal, thinking perhaps far too much about his expat, Chinese dilettante status. Old Chinese Man walks in as he is zipping up. Old Chinese Man notices Ferret.]

Old Chinese Man




Old Chinese Man




All things exchanged! All things understood! A four-part exchange where every message is conveyed clearly to the other succinctly and straightforwardly. Oh, that it could be so easy!

posted by ferret at 12:01 pm  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Translation: 春晓

Your humble Ferret recently went to a banquet at a very fancy Cantonese restaurant and stuffed himself silly.

While eating some “hand-fried squid” (手炸鱿鱼), I noticed that they were sitting on a piece of paper with a Chinese poem written on it.


Having 干杯’d a little too much wine, I attempted to read it 繁体字 and all in front of some Chinese folks. I did okay and only made a few mistakes, blustering my way through it like a 7 year old. But it didn’t really matter anyway. All the Chinese people there knew it by heart.

<春晓> 唐•孟浩然 春眠不觉晓 处处闻啼鸟 夜来风雨声 花落知多少 "Springtime Awakening" Meng Haoran (Tang) A springtime sleep, day breaks without me knowing Everywhere I hear birdsong The night was full of the sound of storms Who knows how many flowers have fallen? (Apparently there is a political angle to all of this, i.e. flowers getting blown away in the night. I don't know what that had to do with fried squid. 炒鱿鱼 maybe?)

posted by ferret at 6:11 pm  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

False Start #67

These languages are homes for my spirit.

My Chinese? An apartment in a great highrise of thousands. The doors are new but flimsy. The floors are half finished (the name for them often escapes me). The scrolls of ancient poems line the walls, most of them tattered and ripped in half. It’s cold, but there’s a heater in the corner. It’s broken a lot of the time. I should get someone to fix it, but a lot of times I don’t want to.

My Latin? A faded postcard of a house that looks like hundreds of houses that I see everywhere. What knowledge of this house I have from the picture gives me the feeling that I know hundreds of houses intimately. I feel myself to be veritable architect. I make wild assertions when I am in other homes and occasionally I am correct. I stun others. Most of the time I’m wrong.

My Greek? A foggy island lost on a foggy sea.

My Spanish? A decaying treehouse in the forest built by children. It’s shoddily built. I don’t dare to climb up into it.

My English? A worn-in rambler. I think I know every inch of it and every corner. I feel as if I can remember the day every piece of furniture was placed inside it. Still, every once in a while I’m intrigued. That air vent! Was it always there? That hole in the corner near the closet! How did that come about? That trap door in the cellar! I swear it leads to other worlds…

posted by ferret at 1:51 pm  

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Skyscrapers unfolding in the cold night air

Petals of iron bars and green mesh ready to fall away

And you too are what you are, unfolding in the night

This skin, this fragile frame ready to slip off

And let you reach for the sky.

posted by ferret at 1:55 am  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shanghai at the End of the World

Away from here and far

Where the ocean meets the land

And the sun peaks down

Through the curtain of clouds

Like the iris of an eye

Blinded long ago.


No one will see you here

Where the streets pulse

Against the limits of nothingness

And the windows of the houses

Are shut tight against the rising black.


If you shine here, you can

Only shine like a star

Burning hard and fast

Raging with a fire to stay alive

Raging with a fire those outside

Can never know.

posted by ferret at 1:11 am  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Shanghai as a Whale

I was swallowed by you. You, a great giant beast, a leviathan that holds worlds within itself. My life was storms and troubles. Hope had dissipated on an endless ocean of despair. Throwing myself into the waves, I found you.

Here the people speak their own words, a vast network of syllables gleaned from thousands of travelers over time. Those living here are  weary of outsiders because they were once outsiders themselves. While many stay here in the depths, many plan to leave. They know that the belly of the beast will come to land, and they will find a way out. And I am waiting, unsure if I will be one of the ones to leave, or one of the ones to stay.

posted by ferret at 9:46 pm  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Five Years Living in a Chinese City…

…and I still can’t say the word for “city” properly.

posted by ferret at 1:21 pm  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Translation: 《蝉》

My girlfriend recently gave me a bamboo iPhone case made by a company called Cicada. On the box by way of explanation for their company, they included a Tang Dynasty poem:

My translation:


Yu Shinan [Early Tang Dynasty]

Hanging from a drooping branch drinking dew,

Its sound scatters though the  phoenix trees.

Living high up it makes sounds that travel far,

Not relying on the fall wind to carry them.

Note: The last two lines of the poem are supposed to represent the idea that if you’re doing something good or you’re powerful, you don’t need to rely on the help of others to publicize it. The Baidu review of the poem has this to say: 蝉声远传,一般人往往以为是藉助于秋风的传送,诗人却别有会心,强调这是由于“居高”而自能致远。这种独特的感受蕴含一个真理:立身品格高洁的人,并不需要某种外在的凭藉. So I guess the idea is that these iPhone cases are supposed to be so sweet that word about them will get around without any help at all…

posted by ferret at 8:57 pm  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

This Guy

[Ferret and his co-workers, Wolverine, Oriole and Chickadee are eating dinner at a Japanese noodle shop. Ferret‘s food arrives.]



 Stone bowl rice! Whose is it?



This guy’s!

[Oriole and Chickadee both gasp! The Waitress serves the sizzling bowl of rice topped with meat and vegetables.]


What? What’d I do?


You are so rude!


What? Why?


You can’t call yourself 位 (person).




No. Just say 这是我的 (This is mine).

posted by ferret at 6:35 pm  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Shanghai as a Stained Glass Window

Built in the architraves of state capital, supported by the buttresses of individual finance and ruthless commodity optimization, you were consecrated by a a great secret society of builders, chipping away the stones of a great ideological edifice. Here what is worshiped cannot speak its name,  lost in the change and grow, the ebb and flow.

Shanghai, your streets are of leaden solder, and between them crystalline patches of light, colors of amber desire, aquamarine sympathy, purpled whispers, vermillion hatreds and hopes as green as the forest.

The onlookers are wowed and cowed, looking at this vision that they can only name, but they cannot understand.

posted by ferret at 12:48 pm  
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