Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Been a long time since I blogged and rolled

Me: Forgive me Blogger, for I have sinned. It has been like four months since my last blog session.

Blog: Infidel! How dare you ignore me? Have two Bloody Marys and say one Our Blogger and you are forgiven. In nomini blogii y googlii y webus sanctii, amen.

OK, now that I got that out of the way, here is my new blog post.

Recently I found out that my friend Dewey Webster is working on the Seattle Chinese Garden. This project is really cool. It is an effort to construct an authentic Chinese garden and courtyards in Seattle.

Of course no Chinese courtyard is without that staple of Occidental entryways: the couplet. Oftentimes on either side of an entryway to a courtyard or other doorway, you will see plaques with vertical lines of writing on them. The couplets are poems that are supposed to say something about the place they are hung at.

Dewey sent me pictures of the various couplets, as well as the overhead plaques that say what area you are entering, and asked if I wanted to take a crack at translating some of them. How could I resist? Not only is it a great reason to update the blog, it is a way to be a part of a cool project. So, here are the couplets.

Note: The plaques are written traditionally, right to left, and top to bottom. For my own intense porpoises, I have converted to regular left to right.

Xi Hua Yuan
Looks simple enough, right? Wrong! Literally this says Western Glory Garden. However, the “western” refers not only to the West as in the USA, but Seattle, whose Chinese name is “西 Xi Ya Tu.” This is a phonetic translation, which literally means Picture of Western Grace. I have also heard a take-off transliteration of Seattle : “si ya tou,” which honestly sounds closer phonetically, but it means “dead slave girl” so for some reason it fell out of favor with the locals.
The word 华, glory, also means “China,” so the place is called West Glory Garden, but also Seattle-China Garden.

On either side of this entrance is the following couplet:
Right side:
西窗烛剪巴山雨 (xī chuāng zhú jiǎn bā shān yǔ)
This took me a while to figure out. Basically it says
"Cutting candles by the Western window, the rain over Ba Mountain."
Ba Mountain seems to refer to Sichuan. The reason I say that is because of this old poem by Tang Dynasty poet Li Shangyin (李商隐), upon which the couplet seems to be based:

君问归期未有期 (jūn wèn guī qī wèi yǒu qī)
巴山夜雨涨秋池 (bā shān yè yǔ zhǎng qiū chí)
何当共剪西窗烛 (hé dāng gòng jiǎn xī chuāng zhú)
却话巴山夜雨时 (què huà bā shān yè yǔ shí)

You ask when will I return, but I don't know,
The night rain of Ba Shan fills autumnal pools.
When will we be together again, clipping candles in the Western window,
So we can talk about the night rain of Ba Shan?

Not to be confused with 巴山夜雨 "Evening Rain" a movie from the 1980s about the Cultural Revolution.

Left side:
华萼香漂海国春 (huá è xiāng piāo hǎi guó chūn)
"The fragrance of Chinese flowers drifts into spring overseas"
This was interesting because like I said before 华 (hua2) means both "flower," glorious" and is also short for "China." The whole theme of this garden is the confluence of China and the USA. After all, Chongqing is the sister city of Seattle. So it could be "Glorious flowers" but I say "Chinese flowers." The other pun here is 海国 (hai3 guo2). 海 means "ocean" and 国 means "country," so together they could mean "overseas." But consider the word "Sea-attle." The Sea-Country.

End of Part One (in the interest of posting once before I return to China in March!)

1 comment:

Susan Moger said...

Missed this one till now and you are now IN China. Hope Dewey saw this. Nice work explaining the insanely complicated, tricky and baffling process of translation. What would Grace at War be in Mandarin?