Cover of Sinéad O'Connor, With Nonsense Lyrics, In Mandarin

So, ever since we published this book Running through Beijing, we’ve been attuned to all the crazy, Western knock-offs coming out of China these days.

But this right here really takes the cake. It’s not even a knock-off. It’s more like a knock-off that’s so original that it becomes its own thing.

So wow. There’s pirating Western goods, and then there’s building simulacra Apple stores in China, and then there’s this: Fatima Al Qadiri’s cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” sung in Mandarin with nonsense lyrics. And it’s an eerie, freaky sound that’s sort of familiar to your Western ears but also very creepy and sinister at the same time.

As Adam Bychawski explains at The Quietus:

‘Shanzhai’, the opening track of Fatima Al Qadiri’s debut album Asiatisch, takes its title from a Chinese term used to describe counterfeit Western goods. Literally it translates to “mountain village”, evoking both the outlaw nature of the industry and the crudeness of its reproductions – copyright-evading spoonerisms of sportswear brands and fast food chains. While such knock-offs are commonplace, there is perhaps more craft and sophistication to some imitations than that definition grants. Electronic giants such as Apple, slow to meet Chinese demand, have had their official stores outnumbered by dozens of simulacra, painstakingly recreated down to the uniform of their employees – to all intents and purposes the real thing. The term has come refer not just to products but lookalikes and parodies more generally, such as the track itself, a cover of Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ sung in Mandarin, only with nonsense lyrics – a joke at our expense. Much like the Apple stores, we might have never known the difference.

This seems to me like a really, really fantastic instance of translation. Cultural exchange, play with language, the creation of a hybrid that’s transcends any one place and is purely astonishing. This is what translation is all about.

Two Voices: Amanda Michalopoulou and Karen Emmerich, in Conversation with Scott Esposito [Audio]

michalopoulou-emmerichIn April we had the pleasure of hosting Amanda Michalopoulou and Karen Emmerich in conversation about Michalopoulou’s book Why I Killed My Best Friend, which Emmerich has just translated and published with Open Letter Books.

Why I Killed My Best Friend is a story about two Greek girls, Anna and Maria. They both live the first few years of their life abroad—Anna in Paris, Maria in Nigeria—and are brought back to Greece as young girls in the 1970s. In this conversation we talk about why Greeks were going abroad in that time, why they came back, and how Anna and Maria forge a friendship based around their differences as much as their similarities.

This is also a story very much about politics and theory—writers like Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze are name-checked, as well as the filmmaker Pier Paolo Palolini. Michalopoulou also weaves in events from Greece’s tumultuous 20th century, plus snapshots of wider world insurrection—for instance, a cameo from the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle.

We talk about the state of modern Greece, Michalopoulou’s and Emmerich’s own thoughts on the history covered in the book, and, of course, some of the interesting translation questions involved. Particularly interesting here is the word odiosamato, which has been translated as “frenemies.” This is probably not the best translation, however, as Emmerich discusses here.

Denise Newman Workshop on May 17

Baboon-294We still have a few slots open for our translation workshop with Denise Newman, translator of Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt.

The workshop will be a three-hour intensive held at Two Lines Press’s offices, designed to improve your translation skills and to let you work directly on a particular translation. This lively, hands-on workshop will include in-depth group discussion and direct practice with various strategies and craft considerations surrounding the art of translation.

In addition to working with the award-winning Aidt, Denise is the translator of possibly Denmark’s greatest writer, Inger Christensen. In addition to being an outstanding translator, She is also a widely published poet and a teacher at California College of Arts. She also received a 2013 NEA Translation Fellowship to complete her translation of Baboon.

Participants will also receive a FREE, ONE-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to Two Lines Press’s 2014 titles, a value of over $50.

WHERE: the offices of the Center for the Art of Translation, 582 Market St., Suite 700

WHEN: Saturday, May 17, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm

COST: $100

Entrance into the workshop will be granted on an application basis. To apply, submit a two-page translation sample via our Submittable page.

A DVD Playlist for Running through Beijing by Xu Zechen

running-through-beijing-294-webSo you may have heard that we’ve got a new book flying out into the world in just one week. It’s called Running through Beijing and it’s our very first title from China. It’s all about the life of a young migrant who makes his living by selling pirated DVDs on the streets of Beijing. As it turns out, this sort of work gets you into a lot of things, some legal, some not, but most existing somewhere in between.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of cinema in this book. And, interestingly, there’s a lot of Chinese cinema that deals with similar subject-matter to Running through Beijing—young man immigrates from the provinces to the capital, does what he has to in order to survive, meets all sorts of other outsiders along the way.

So what we decided to do was to make a sort of DVD playlist to accompany Running through Beijing. Some of these films are actually in the book, and some of them are great material to watch alongside a reading of the book. Here they are, along with our pithy summaries, and some clips to give you an idea of the action.

Together by Chen Kaige

A young violin prodigy makes a journey common to the migrants featured in Running through Beijing—from the provinces to China’s capital—finding shockingly different
values and lifestyles. Fascinatingly, though this film was made just six years before Xu wrote Running through Beijing, the two Beijings in each are remarkably different.

Spring in a Small Town by Fei Mu

Running through Beijing’s protagonist (and pirated-DVD entrepreneur extraordinaire) Dunhuang supplies some students with both the original and the remake of this venerated classic of Chinese cinema. Released in 1948—just one year before Mao changed China forever—this family saga makes a fascinating counterpoint to Xu’s frenetic, urban world.

The Bicycle Thief by Vittorio De Sica

This canonical Italian neo-realist film is routinely ranked among the greatest movies ever made. It plays a several small but important roles in Running through Beijing: first when Dunhuang buys it as a pirated DVD (impressing his eventual girlfriend), then later when he sells it to film students, and then when—surprise, surprise—he gets his bicycle stolen.

Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai

Frequently known as “the Chinese Bicycle Thief,” Wang’s breakout film is almost too on the nose when it comes to similarities to Running through Beijing. The kid who comes to Beijing; the stolen bicycle; the desperate search for work . . . The film is slower than Xu’s book and not as funny, but what can you expect? It’s Chinese independent cinema.

Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer

Beloved by film students for its time-twisting plot (Dunhuang makes a grip of money supplying a class with just this movie), and starring the flame-haired Franka Potente, Lola became both a popcorn cinema legend and a critical darling, racking up 26 international awards. Dunhuang himself starts resembling Lola as he takes to scrambling through Beijing.

The World by Jia Zhangke

As does Running through Beijing, Jia Zhangke’s first hit nails Beijing as a place, plus it gets China’s larger yearning to be part of the world. It’s set in the trippy Beijing World Park, which includes replicas of the World Trade Center, Eiffel Tower, and Taj Mahal. Be sure to also check out Jia’s Still Life, Taste of Sin, and 24 City.

Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal

This documentary showcases China’s amazing, immense factories and the mammoth infrastructure that serves them. Like no other film on China, this one reveals the truly gigantic proportions of the economy that provides the world with much of its consumer goods—it puts the pirated-DVD “factory” that Duahuang visits into perspective.

Lost in Beijing by Li Yu

Another nice take on the underbelly of migrant worker life in Beijing, this one with plenty of sex in it. Two couples of very different social status become entangled, first sexually, then criminally. As with a lot of great art, this film was eventually banned in China—make sure you find the version that screened in Germany!

Cell Phone by Feng Xiaogang

Two relationships go awry when two wives make shocking discoveries on their men’s cell phones. As with Running through Beijing, the film dissects the role consumer technology continues to play in revamping China—the commercial and critical success of both speak volumes about just how hard this hits home for many Chinese.

Last Train Home by Lixin Fan

This documentary follows the lives of two of the 100+ million migrant workers who head home every year for Chinese New Year. Estimated as the world’s largest human migration, it’s a spectacle made up of people like Running through Beijing’s Dunhuang: they’ve left their families—and much of their identity—back home.