Crossed two more items off my Harbin bucket list this week! The first one was finishing my set of 50 swimming workouts! It felt great to complete, and I think I’m definitely seeing results, which feels even better! Of course this doesn’t mean I’m stopping swimming, but it’s a nice little milestone. I’m wondering if I’ll keep it up or not when I go back to the states. The El Cerrito pool is outdoors, which will be no fun when I’m there in December, and after that I suppose it’ll depend on where I’m living. It’ll also depend on my finances, as I have no idea how much a pool membership costs in the states. (Here it’s less than $2 per swim if you were wondering.) I’ve also been playing with the idea of starting a martial art, perhaps China’s rubbing off on me. Won’t be kung fu though, we’ll see.
Anyway, back in May when I saw the string quartet, I saw on the opera house program that they would be putting on the Sound of Music in September. That instantly went onto my to do list. First of all it’s a great musical, but secondly how many times do you get to see it performed in Chinese!? Tickets were a bit on the pricey side, but well worth it, and I’d like to share a bit about it with you.
The show had a full Chinese cast, and a wonderful set that was layered to the backdrop (which was the house interior). All the dialogue and songs were in Chinese, which worked really well actually. The whole cast were great singers, Captain Von-Trapp especially, but I have to give it up for the translator(s). As I’ve mentioned before, when translating a work of art, the source material is really just your building blocks. As the translator you get a lot of freedom to change words and meanings since your primary objective is not to reproduce the original, but to create an equally beautiful work of art for the audience, which in this case meant making the lyrics conform to the original music.
For instance, “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” becomes, “You can’t solve a hard problem, you can’t solve Maria. You can’t catch a cloud, you can’t catch Maria.” Or, “Climb Every Mountain,” which was changed to, “Cross Those Mountains.” I have to say, while everything flowed nicely and sounded great, I can’t help but feel that some of the Chinese versions lost a bit of the beauty and intricacy of the English. A lot of sentences in the songs were fairly straightforward and used everyday vocabulary, compared to the more literary English lyrics. Perhaps I’m right, or perhaps I still don’t have that feel for Chinese and can’t appreciate it fully. I dunno.
Also all the German and French were removed from “So Long, Farewell,” which both makes sense and doesn’t. The original goes, “So long, farewell, auf wiedersen goodbye. Adieu, adieu, to you and you and you.” The original song is English, and the syllables match, so why not leave the French and German in? I think it’s because Chinese people have less familiarity with European languages than Americans.
The translation that impressed me the most though was definitely this one.
This song had the lyrics changed quite a bit, simply because the subjects of each line had to be homophones with the soulfege notes in Chinese rather than English. I don’t actually remember all the Chinese lyrics to the chorus, but I think I remember enough to show you what I mean.
(Do!) doe, a deer, a female deer
(Re!) ray, a drop of golden sun
(Mi!) me, a name I call myself
(Fa!) far, a long, long way to run
(So!) sew, a needle pulling thread
(La!) la, a note to follow so
(Ti!) tea, a drink with jam and bread
That will bring us back to do oh oh oh
Do is all sing together. (都-dou indicates “all” )
re I think it had to do with flowers
mi是猫儿咪咪叫 mi is for cats that meow (mi is onopatopoeia for meow in Chinese)
fa 是头发黑又长 fa is for hair that’s long and black (fa is the second half of 头发 (hair) which sometimes means hair on its own.) Here’s where the cultural context comes in. You’ll remember the original cast is blonde and super Aryan to a member, but this cast, being all Chinese, does have long black hair. Cool!
so 是把门给锁上 so is for the lock on the door. (锁, lock, is actually pronounced suo, but close enough)
la 是拉手儿… (la is for holding hands (la as the verb))
ti (xi) Had to do with water. I forget
I have to say, I’m really curious how the Chinese audience responded to the Nazi part of the plot. The captain refers to Austrians who capitulate to the Nazi regime as something like 叛国狗 （country-traitor dogs) which is what mainland Chinese with nationalistic hate-ons for Taiwan (you know the type, we have them in the states too) sometimes use to refer to Taiwanese government officials. Mainland Chinese are also super sensitive to the Taiwanese flag. So between the above and Captain Von-Trapp’s hatred of the Nazi flag, I’m wondering if mainland Chinese identified with the him. (The Chinese do love their morally-upright patriots. ) That’s be pretty stupid in my opinion, as to do so would equate Taiwan with some evil empire that’s trying to infringe on the Mainland’s freedom and values (lol, no).
A bit of cool trivia as well that I would include in a trivia night, but I don’t plan to host again before I leave Harbin so I’ll share it with you now. The symbol for the Austrian resistance during WWII (mostly people who wanted to restore the Hapsburg Dynasty, but also leftists, Catholics, and other people who didn’t like Nazi’s) was “O5.” E, being the fifth letter of the German alphabet, makes that OE or Ö which stands for Österreich (Austria in Austrian German). The Germans used a different word than Österreich for Austria, so by reaffirming their own name for the country it served as a rallying point for patriots.
Anyway, besides that I’ve had some damn tasty food this week. A new restaurant opened up downstairs which has a nice set meal, of honey beef, beef soup, rice, and salted veggies for 20 RMB, which is on the pricey side, but real tasty and a good meal for a workout day. Also had a great jianbing which was different from others in that the guy layered the batter thick, let it cook much longer than normal, and added a second egg, which made it deliciously hearty. It had also been a while since I’d had one, so I was kind of feenin’. This month is also “military training” month, which is something I don’t think I’ve mentioned before. Compulsory for all Chinese college freshmen is 军训 (junxun, joonshoon) during which, for the first month of the school year, they all wear matching camo outfits and learn how to march, drill etc. like soldiers. I think there are other activities, but to hear some of my friends tell it, they really just learn to march, make their beds etc. for a month. Some people might view this as a stupid waste of time (my Chinese friends think it is to a point at least), or a scary sign that China is militarizing its youth (they don’t really do anything military besides march and sing songs so that’s not it), but apparently the nominal justification is to teach kids how to be part of a group, live on a schedule, and learn some skills they might not have had (like bedmaking), which isn’t all that bad.
Lastly, shoutout to my sister for finishing a half marathon! An amazing athletic feat I could probably never accomplish. So dope, so proud, have a big nice meal tonight, you deserve it. Here’s some pictures of the opera house and surrounding wetlands, which are absolutely gorgeous this time of year, and in two months will be completely frozen and devoid of life. Nature’s crazy.