Welcome to the blog that I launched more than a decade ago, and have hosted since. Granted, it has undergone a number of iterations — Ethnic Chinalit: Writing by & about non-Han Peoples, 非漂 [Fēi Piāo], AfroLit4China, and most recently Altaic Storytelling — but 300+ original posts dating from 2009 to present can still be found here.
After several years of literary translation (see here), my current focus is on the Silk Road. Doubtless President-for-life Xi Jinping would approve, given this dovetails nicely with his One Belt, One Road initiative. In 2021, I was commissioned to bring <我心归处是敦煌> to life in English. This is the autobiography of the tenacious female archaeologist, Fan Jinshi (樊锦诗), who grew up in China’s modern megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai, but devoted her career — effectively opting to live and work in the remote desert for more than five decades — to the preservation and documentation of the Buddhist-themed Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province. The Chinese original has already sold some 370,000 copies.
In 2020, I translated Professor H.K. Chang’s Silk Road Cultures: 15 Lectures <丝路文明: 15 讲> . Topics included: Zhang Qian Pioneers Exploration of the ‘Western Regions’ (張騫鑿空與漢代的西域), Kumarajiva Supervises Translation of the Buddhist Canon (鳩摩羅什主持譯經), Sogdians on the Silk Road (來自河中地區的粟特人), Paper-making Know-how Migrates West (紙術西傳), Islam’s Debut in the Middle Kingdom (伊斯蘭教入華), Rise of the Turkophone Tujüe (突厥的崛起與西遷), and Maritime and Land-based Communications under the Mongols (蒙元時期的海陸交通) — 15 lectures in all.
A bit earlier, I also rendered the professor’s book-length <大中东行纪> in English (The Greater Middle East: Travelogue & Reflections). Of Manchu ancestry — born in Shenyang, raised in Taiwan, educated at Stanford — he has penned this travel diary that offers an unusual look at the 31 states of the “Greater Middle East” as he defines it: The Middle Eastern “core” consisting of Arab societies plus Israel; North Africa’s Maghreb, whose fusion of pre-Islamic Berber roots and deep Muslim faith makes it unique; the four countries in the Horn of Africa where Asia meets Africa, particularly Ethiopia with its Orthodox Christian faith and Jewish Falasha; the Mediterranean’s Greece, Cyprus and Malta; and the hodge-podge of ethnicities and religions that inhabit the southern Caucasus — Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
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Like to learn more about my published literary translations — including full-length books and magazine articles — as well as synopses and excerpts for marketing use? Click here.
My (serendipitous) Timeline
- My tourist visa mercifully extended to the official limit of 180 days, I leave Corona Era Paradise — Taiwan, which has seen just 7 deaths — for Erdoğanistan, oops, Turkey. At that time in 3Q 2020, to attract tourists neither Corona test results nor quarantine were required upon entry. After a month or so in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu, I move to a tranquil tiny seaside town on the Aegean, and get down to the work that pays the rent: Translating the autobiography of female archaeologist Fan Jinshi (我心归处是敦煌), who devoted 50+ years to the preservation and documentation of the Buddhist-themed Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, and . . . my on-again-off-again Turkish studies.
- Instead of my customary visa run — Tainan-Penang (台南 — 槟郎屿) or Tainan-Kuching (台南 -古晋) — I opt instead to check out Dar es Salaam (坦桑尼亚的达累斯萨拉姆) in East Africa. Very hospitable, the Tanzanians, and I enjoy my brief study of Swahili, a Bantu language that is a national tongue in DRC, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. My choice of a tutor from Kenya, however, brings wry smiles to the face of many a Dar es Salaamite, doubtless due to this adage: Swahili was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Tanzania, fell sick in Kenya, died in Uganda and was buried in Congo.
- Since the authorities have made learning Uyghur in its spiritual homeland (Xinjiang’s Kashgar, 喀什) impossible, I study elementary Turkish in Istanbul. Both Turkic tongues, Uyghur and Turkish share similar sentence structure and vocabulary. Useful in translating Uyghur author Alat Asem’s Confessions of a Jade Lord.
- Published: My rendition of Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), Chi Zijian’s account of the 20th-century tragic twilight of the reindeer-herding Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang.
- Host one-day, intensive export management training sessions in as many as 8 cities monthly in China, and eventually train 8,000+ export professionals how to prioritize incoming queries, maximize earnings from existing clients, and exhibit overseas. At times, a blurry string of cookie-cutter airports and business hotels leave me wondering which city I might be in, but I quickly ascertain my approximate location in the People’s Paradise when the first handful of eager attendees pipe up in their dialect-mangled Mandarin.
- Robbed by a knife-wielding thug in Shenzhen, I awake in a hospital hallway — now People’s Hospital Number 2 — where staff advise amputating my right hand. Immediately. I decline, protesting that I intend to keep it for future use. Check out One of the People (遭遇深圳) for the saga.
- Browsing in 季风书店 bookstore at Shanghai’s Shaanxi Subway Station entrance, I buy a copy of 上海宝贝 (Shanghai Baby) featuring cover selfie of Wei Hui’s sultry lips. My rendition becomes a best-seller in Hong Kong and Singapore.
- Supervise English-to-Chinese translation of 世界经人理文摘 (World Executive’s Digest) — now a popular online portal — China’s first monthly management magazine not targeting lobotomized party cadres.
- Arrive in Taipei all hyped up about my China adventure, only to discover that Ilha Formosa ain’t exactly the People’s Republic. But it is under martial law, it is a one-party state, and several famous dissident writers are in prison.
- Mum, who learned Russian and German to earn her PhD in French lit, teaches me elementary Deutsch that summer using 1st-year university textbook. My first reads not long after: Hesse’s Siddhartha and excerpts from Lutherbibel.