Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok


My patch: Chinese whispers updated edition

I'm the Mt Roskill mother! Give me the child! I will fight all comers using the mystical art of "taijuchuanj-wu style" I... oh. Sorry. I was unexpectedly overcome by the all-conquering force of little-Chinese-girl cuteness.

Damn but that mysteriously abandoned kid is cute. It makes me realise how racist I am. Actually, I've been told many times how racist I am by Public Address readers, so it should come as no surprise here. The purported cuteness of little Maddy had no effect on me, despite her larger than life-size picture being plastered over every European customs terminal I've passed through in the last three months. Italian bakeries. Swiss bus shelters. The sides of cardboard box houses of homeless people. Blonde tyke missing presumed horrifically killed? Meh. Cute little Chinese girl from Mt Roskill *not* missing at all and not actually in any physical danger but looking for a caretaker? Soooooo cute!!! Must blog cute child!

Give lah! I live in Mt Roskill! Or failing that, give me a puppy. Thankfully, I still think puppies are cuter than human children, even cute Chinese ones. Actually, I don't live in Mt Roskill. I live in Geneva now. Geneva, Switzerland, not Geneva, Illinois. So I ain't never getting my paws on 'Pumpkin'.

Do we need an obligatory media parse? Let's throw convention to the wind and start with our 'own' side. Skykiwi is currently reporting, or misreporting, or mistranslating, far too hopefully, the Xue's Roskill neighbour Charlie Rata, based on a story in The Age. The original quote from the Age story in English:

A neighbour, Charlie Rata, said a young Asian woman had arrived at the house last Friday night with an airline ticket. "She kept saying, 'I've got airline tickets for them'. I just said, 'I can't help you'," Mr Rata said. "She said, 'Do you know where they might be?' but we hadn't seen them for a few days. She almost didn't want to leave, but there was nobody there."

Skykiwi has interpreted this young woman as being the mother, Annie Liu, in a spurt of wishful thinking. Here, in my own crappy translation into English:

But today, according to Australian newspaper The Age, the news has suddenly come forth that [an idiom I don't know] little Qian Xun's mother has been seen! Neighbour Charlie Rata provided an important clue to the media. Last Friday she had seen Anni, carrying a plane ticket, return to the Mt Roskill home, but Xue Naiyin had already flown to Melbourne, Australia, with his daughter on Thursday. Charlie said: Anni kept asking where were her daughter and husband? But Charlie said I don't know, I can't help you. Anni wanted to hang around the house, but there was already no-one there.

(my bold, and whoops, duh, 千寻 is actually Pumpkin's name I realise now)

Yes, that was literally:

"她在上周五还看到Anni... Charlie说,Anni一直问她,她的女儿和丈夫在哪?但是Charlie说不知道,也无法帮助她。Anni想留在那个家里,但是那个家已经人去房空了."

My Chinese literacy is kind of crappy, but I understand that much.

Well - Rata saw someone - you would assume he would have recognised his neighbour if it had been Annie Liu, or that it would have been mentioned in the original The Age article which is so clearly being directly translated. An overeager interpretation of 'clues' perhaps? It's understandable, but it seems to be presented as fact, and as a direct translation from The Age. Or do they know something The Age, the Herald, and Pansy don't? It's always possible, although I don't know what Mandarin-language insider info they'd get from Charlie Rata. Skykiwi might want to iron this one out: it's the kind of thing that raises hopes and launches unhelpful rumours. I'm a little confused myself.

Meanwhile: to the MSM! I must say, this description of the troubled father shouldn't be funny, but it is: ""He was a bit of an odd one. He used to walk around during the day in his underwear with a singlet on," Mr Rata said." Um... no-one tell our Malaysian grand-dads that this is odd, okay? A further detail in the Herald: "(the missing man) taught ...taijuquanj wu style, a Chinese martial art." I think that would be spelt taijiquan. AKA Tai Chi. Yes indeedy, a Chinese martial art. I have no idea where that extra 'j' came from... Quanj? Is that, like, Finno-Ugric? Is it the Herald online girls spilling coffee on their keyboards?

I'm betting, along with the rest of the Roskill Chinese, that there are sadder things to uncover about Mr Xue and his wife than the fact that he teaches taichi, and despite being a mainlander, dresses like a daggy old Southeast Asian Chinese guy (although one doesn't get full daggy old Southeast Asian Chinese guy points until one pulls the bottom of one's singlet up and over one's beer belly and tucks it into one's neckline, to air the stomach during a humid spell).

These are barely quibbles though, and it's actually refreshing to have seen the girl reported as a "New Zealand child" from the beginning. Whatever is going on in this family, these are our communities, and I'm even glad that the neighbours have as much as noticed that the guy walks around in his undies. As Pansy Wong snaps into action, I am a little homesick, for no defensible reason - merely the merciless combination of community identification and the helpless face of a pixie-like, quasi-orphaned Chinese child. Kind of sick, yes? Well, it's what keeps me making dumplings for Keith.

Update: Sometime after I blogged this and contacted them 12 hours ago, Skykiwi altered its online report to a straight translation of the story in The Age. No more exclamation marks, vital clues, or saying that "Anni" had been seen. *But* not before the Herald reported this in its running online updates:

3.00pm: The mother was seen with an airline ticket and was looking for her husband and daughter on Friday, according to a contributor to the Chinese-NZ website

Sigh. I contacted the lead journalist on the story, and she quickly put out that particular fire, thankfully - the 3:00pm entry is gone. I'm guessing the 'update' would have been on the Herald site all afternoon and evening up until a couple of hours ago.

Reminds me of a postmodern poetry translation game I once did with an actual Chinese poet and a literary academic in an issue of Landfall. I translated "the surprise of words grows older and more intense" into "the older people are, the more roasted they look." I wish this case was as amusing.

It can definitely be useful to go to ethnic minority language media for insider knowledge and context. Still, for every bit of genuine community scoop, there are a whole wad of stories just translated and summarised on the fly from the mainstream media, and which are vulnerable to being warped, oversimplified, or rendered unrecognisable in translation. This was a classic case of the news eating itself, but at least it was minor.

By comparison, the talkboards have offered up more realistic sounding neighbourhood information about the domestic violence in the Xue household, and other private details, which don't feel too good to read about or healthy (legal?) to repeat - but to the Chinese commentor on Skykiwi who said 'the wife is good-looking but the father looks like a pig - and the kid is piggy-looking like him' - Hey! Shut your face, the kid is totally cute! Go back to your Madeleine McCann shrine!

49 responses to this post

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last

First ←Older Page 1 2 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

This topic is closed.