Thursday, 22 February 2018

Happy Birthday, One and All!

You might be wondering whether I'm wishing you a Happy Birthday, and whether it's my birthday, and in a sense, the answer to both questions is 'Yes'.
It's the seventh day of the Chinese New Year today, and I came across this article in the Guardian about Chinese New Year customs. It has provoked some backlash amongst some, in that their customs were described in the article as being 'antiquated', but as I am not Cantonese myself, I can see what the writer was trying (and failing) to get across: that the 'Chinese New Year customs' most Brits are familiar with, down to the use of 'kung hei fatt choi' to wish someone a Happy New Year, are actually Cantonese customs, and that the customs of the Chinese vary from place to place.

One of the peculiarities of the place where my ancestors came from is their celebration of the seventh day of the Chinese New Year as 'Renri' -  人日 - 'Creation of Humanity Day'. The story goes that the Goddess Nuwa 女娲 came across the Earth, which was uninhabited, and decided to make figurines to amuse herself. On the first day, she made chickens, the second dogs, the third pigs, sheep and goats on the fourth, cattle on the fifth, horses the sixth, and humans on the seventh.

She initially crafted humans by hand from loess, and instead of the body of a snake (which she had), she gave humans two legs. Her creations, happy to be alive scampered about joyfully, and she got excited and made more by taking two pieces of rope together and splashing mud about; the splutters turned into more humans. Apparently, this is the reason why social classes exist, with the descendants of the handcrafted humans lording it over the descendants of the splutter-derived humans.

Another peculiarity in my family is that Renri is only celebrated through retelling this story on this day, and no more, because of modernisation and because the family converted to Christianity a while back. In other families, Renri is celebrated with feasts and other customs such as mountain-climbing and making offerings to Nuwa.

I shall leave you with a picture, which I remember seeing as a child, of Nuwa, and her brother and husband Fuxi, the creator of marriage, surrounded by stars. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Academic Debate in the UK: An Open Letter to Prof Mary Beard and Dr Priyamvada Gopal

Dear Prof Beard and Dr Gopal

I have just spent the evening looking through your tweets, and would like to make some observations, not in criticism of you as people, but as a casual observer of the Twitter maelstrom you are caught up in, and because I respect you both very much. My main concerns are that you are failing to listen to each other, and that what is going on between you is being played out everywhere in the UK, with the result being that debate and discussion is stifled.

Before I continue, I will say, Prof Beard, that although I respect you for your achievements and accomplishments, what has disappointed me most about this whole sorry affair has been your actions to date. I did not like your words and your views, which have been countered and refuted by Dr Gopal's excellent blogpost (and about your blogpost, all I will say is that the phrase 'comparing apples with oranges' immediately sprang to mind when you drew an analogy between intense, external pressures playing their part in influencing the behaviours of aid workers following a destructive natural disaster versus those of French citizens in a man-made world war; surely what happened at the Fukushima Power Plant following the giant 2011 tsunami in Japan would have been a better comparison), but I will defend your right to say them etc... No, it was that video and photo of you crying that really disappointed me, for they reminded me of all those mainly Victorian, man-made comments about us women being inferior because we are allegedly prone to hysteria, histrionics, and being emotional at the expense of being analytical and rational. That you did not have even one sentence to answer Dr Gopal's blogpost was a true shock, and a letdown; I truly, truly, truly expected better from you than your tears.

That is not to say that I agree entirely with your views, Dr Gopal. Although you were right to call out the pro-colonialist nuances in Prof Beard's words and the destructive effect they have, and that yes, they do reflect a racist worldview, any further deconstruction of Prof Beard's blogpost should only have been on the horrendously complex language that was used, together with the fallacy of comparing apples with oranges. Sorry if you think that I am telling you off and telling you, a professor of English, how and what to write, but please hear me out: as a British-born Chinese, I have been 'the only Chinese in the [insert place here]' practically all my life, with non-Chinese people around me who didn't hurt others or even flies, but said the nastiest things about 'them over there' without pausing to think. Their words are the products of what they were fed literally and metaphorically when they were growing up, but their words do not reflect their character. When appallingly disagreeable and/or racist words and views are aired, then yes, it should definitely be up to people like you and me who can see things with a fresh pair of eyes to point out what is disagreeable and/or racist, as well as alternatives and why such alternatives are equally, if not more valid, whilst dispassionately disentangling opinions and words from racism and discrimination that is acted upon (for example, see the murders of Stephen Lawrence and Mi Gao Huang Chen, and the admitted institutionalised failings of the police in the aftermath of these murders).

This whole debate began as a discussion of factors which could influence the behaviour of Western aid workers who are put under pressure, but it became overtaken by an even more important Twitter discussion about influences, whether conscious or not, and most especially about race, race relations, and discussions about race, and perceptions about other races, having a part in decision-making. I think both topics need further discussion, and where better than to start than to have you both, Prof Beard and Dr Gopal, in a room filled with real flowers, pretty tablecloths, fluffy tea cosies, hen-shaped egg holders, tea, coffee, and cake, LOTS of cake, and a video camera present so that your chat can be streamed live, or broadcast afterwards? As this is really important, on no account should this discussion be in private, and I personally think the more informal, the better. After all, isn't this the perfect chance for us ladies to show everyone what we are capable of when we work together?

Best wishes
B x

Friday, 12 January 2018

Trump: A Gift to Linguists (warning: contains swearwords)

Crude/inappropriately happy post alert, but I could not help but think when I heard of this, and I hope that in addition to the serious side to all this, you will think about this from a linguistic point of view, or at least from the point of view of learning English and Chinese as second languages. If you are averse to swearwords, or to non-judgmental blog posts, look away now.

This is your last chance to look away. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, has been reported to have talked about 'shithole countries' in a meeting he held, and as a result of this, reports, replies, comments and statements have been forthcoming. I am not from the US, so I will, out of politeness and also because there are enough commentaries out there, not say any more about this, apart to point out that thanks to Trump, the British press now uses at least one vulgar word everyday, but admittedly, it's not a swearword. Did you know that in parts of England, especially in Manchester, 'trump' means 'to fart'? This has been going on for a long time, even before Trump was elected or we had heard of the US version of 'The Apprentice'. Somehow, the British press has been very polite about this, but every time I read of 'President Trump', I think of the world's loudest, most echoey fart ever, and I have to snigger; I can't help it if farts make me giggle, and if the word 'trump' means 'fart' to some of my friends. 
A report which intrigued me was on the phrase 'shithole countries' causing translation difficulties, and here're my ideas on why it is proving to be such a problem for Chinese translators. The word 'shithole' is a tricky one to translate into Chinese, because there is no indication as to what a 'shithole' literally is. Is the hole man-made or not? Where is the hole in relation to the faeces that are referred to? What is the hole made of? Does the hole open, or close, or if it does not do either, what does it do instead? Everything's so vague, and thus, in Chinese, the closest you can get to 'shithole' are the literal but polite 肛门 'anus' or 马桶 'toilet' or 'toilet bowl', which are everyday terms that are neither offensive nor vulgar. 
To avoid causing a political issue from an incorrect or incomplete translation, Chinese translators have used two phrases to convey what 'shithole' might mean, especially if Trump, and Trump alone, used it in the context of 'countries'. The first is the short 烂国家, where 国家 means 'countries' and 烂 is a colloquialism (and it is vulgar only because it used to be a word which would not have been used by the elite) which means that something is so decayed, rotten to the core, and far gone that it cannot be saved. The second is the colourful 鸟不生蛋国家 'countries where birds do not lay eggs'  (the full phrase is actually 鸟不生蛋狗不拉屎 'where birds do not lay eggs and dogs do not shit', but this is abbreviated to the bit about birds and eggs because that is the polite bit), which specifically refers to birds and not chickens because birds can fly far, but not chickens, and before birds can lay eggs, they need to settle and build nests first. A place where even birds will not stop to lay eggs (and build nests) is one that is desolate, cold, abandoned, and godforsaken, and this is the meaning that has been adopted. 

Thanks for reading this; if you are offended, don't say I didn't warn you. If only every single word I know could inspire long blog posts like this!


Thursday, 4 January 2018

My first post of 2018! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all; make 2018 a good one!

I spent the first few days of 2018 recovering from the mother of hangovers caused by too much Christmas puddings and chocolate, and now, I have finally remembered that I have a blog to post to :-).

One of my resolutions this year is to share things which make me happy with you, and already, 2018 is shaping up to be a great year for the London theatre scene with this: a London showing of Brecht which makes me ecstatic in its casting choices, as well as the commitment by Aequitas Theatre, the company involved, to pay its actors a decent, proper wage.

So if you are around the Brockley Jacks Theatre in London SE4 from
the 16th of January 2018 to the 3rd of February 2018, do drop in to see 'Fear and Misery of the Third Reich' by Brecht, directed by Bellis! Tell your friends about this, and/or donate to and/or share the GoFundMe site of this production: I don't have any connection with this production apart from being very happy that the director is female and that my Twitter acquaintance @htrebbels is starring in this. If there is anything to learn, it is this: get up and go make your dreams a reality! And yes, as this makes me happy, I'm sharing this with you!

Thanks for reading, and have a great 2018! xxx

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year!

It's that time to celebrate and reflect on the year that has gone! My highlight was releasing 'The Prophecy' and 'Five-Penny Rhymes' on Amazon! It was exhilarating to see my ebooks take their final forms, be responsible for things like book cover design, and learn skills like using Instagram and Soundcloud, sound remixing, graphics design and typesetting, all in the name of marketing. Even balancing between my offline and online activities has become a new skill in itself!

Close on the heels of this was discovering Twitter hashtag games, the hashtagging community, and through hashtagging, myself. There were times when all I wanted to do was crack a terribly punny hashtag joke yet felt the urge to blog on things in the mainstream media, and going with the urge over the joke. Although politics is not my 'thing', and I do not have much to say over these things, I do, however, recognise that there are others who have their identity and/or politics as their focus, and that they are looking for someone to speak up; all I can say is that if you think this is you, you should speak up for yourself and what you stand for, and don't wait for others to speak for you.

Last but not least, the terrorist incidents that happened and the hysteria in the mainstream media about Islam and the Arabic language coincided with me connecting with Twitter friends whose languages depend on the Arabic script. I thank these Twitter friends for showing me glimpses of their daily lives through their tweets, and although I cannot read them, I would like to thank Google Translate for ensuring that I got the gist of them. I will never forget the irrational, idiotic fear I had when I received my first Arabic-language DMs in the wake of the Manchester bombings (I stupidly thought the tweeters were terrorists) which turned out to be, amongst others, from a plumber who was advertising his business, and another chap who was wishing me a good day. I had started out this year with the aim of getting more Twitter followers, and have now modified that slightly. It is nice to have lots of Twitter followers, but even better to be able to interact with them, and I shall be trying my best to have more interactions with all my Twitter followers, whoever they may be. If I have learned a lesson this year, it is to have a firm conviction that people should only be judged on their actions, and nothing else, in real life.

So for me, it has been a great year, and I could not have enjoyed it without you, my online friends! I wish you and your families a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2018 filled with lots of punny jokes and funny animal photos and videos!

Thank you 谢谢
teşekkür ederim
for being on my crazy rollercoaster online journey this year!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

My Reviews of 'The Calypsis Project' Books 1 and 2 by Brittany M Willows! And my book reviews in general!

As it is the holiday season, I decided to catch up on my reading, and I must say that I have been impressed by many books I have been given in exchange for reviews. I am drawn to underrated gems which deserve a wider audience; do search my blog posts labelled 'book reviews' for the other two books which I have yakked about previously. Having said that, it is quite hard to balance my time, so I will do as many reviews as I can. This means that this is my penultimate blog post for 2017; watch this space for more tomorrow!

Without further ado, here are my Amazon UK reviews for 'The Calypsis Project' Books 1 and 2 by Brittany M Willows; read her books and prepare to be challenged and entertained!

My review for Book 1:

They say ‘never judge a book by its cover’, but once I learned that Brittany Willows did her own eye-catching artwork for both books in the ‘Calypsis Project’ series, I just had to look inside, and her books are impressive indeed!  Although I offered to review her work for free on Amazon UK, I was so impressed by the care and talent she put into creating her artwork and content that I paid for them; the series is reviewed here as if it were one book.

Book 1 took slightly longer to get into, but that is because Willows has created a number of alien worlds and their languages, and it took a while for me to learn who was who and what was what, but once I got going, the pace of the story picked up, and I finished both books eagerly.

What gripped me the most were the intra- and interspecies interactions (including politics) that Willows’s characters had, and her fast-paced, taut, yet informative story was well-plotted with a few twists that I did not see coming. I do not normally think when I read, but finding out what exactly the Calypsis Project was became my mission as well as the characters', which I thought was very cool. Willows’s characters’ interactions and opinions were very interesting, and left me pondering a lot of ‘what if...?’ questions about our own world, how we treat each other, and how we see each other. 

I wanted more at the end; it would be great to see what other insights Willows and her worlds have to offer, and I would say that Willows is one to watch in the sci-fi/thriller genre. May this be the first of many adventures in the 'Calypsis Project' universe!

My review for Book 2:

Book II has everything you would want in a sequel - it is gripping, thrilling, and ties up all those loose ends whilst keeping track of characters from the first book. Thanks to familiarity with the worlds from the first book, the second book is more action-packed and moves quicker than the first book. I was so impressed that although Willows had offered me a free copy in exchange for a review, I decided to pay for another copy over Amazon. She is one to watch in the sci-fi/thriller genre, and I hope that Books 1 and 2 will be the first of many set in the 'Calypsis Project' Universe. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

An Open Letter to the Director General of the BBC, Sir Lenny Henry, Mr Shane Allen, and Ms Alex Moody - 'Chinese Burn'

To Tony Hall, Baron Hall of Birkenhead, Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation; Sir Lenny Henry; Mr Shane Allen; Ms Alex Moody

Dear Baron Hall, Sir Lenny, Mr Allen, and Ms Moody

Chinese Burn (BBC3): A Complaint

A Hong Kong Chinese, a Taiwanese Chinese, and a Crazy Rich Asian enter a pub. The landlord looks at them and says, ‘What’s the joke?’

As this was how I felt after watching ‘Chinese Burn’, I am writing to complain about the non-inclusion of British Chinese (whether mixed-race or not) voices, and the marketing and aftermath of this show. I believe that if these issues had been handled, ‘Chinese Burn’ could have made for a more enjoyable comedy experience for all. ‘Chinese Burn’ is not a British sitcom and it lacks that British Chinese voice, and as a result, it does not and cannot fully reflect Chinese life in Britain. That is why it cannot and will not shatter stereotypes about the Chinese/East Asians in Britain and elsewhere, but instead create more of them. I feel very strongly about this, and that is why I am complaining.

The typical British-raised Chinese woman will not use ‘Asian’ to refer to ‘East Asian’. Although she might act, she will never encourage her bestie to play any prostitute, or use ‘fuck’ to describe her family (she’ll complain, but use words that are wittier). Most importantly, the kinder, more nuanced views of non-Chinese people that the British-born Chinese have when compared to eg American, Canadian, or Australian Chinese are lacking. As a result, although the show was about Westernised Chinese, I could tell that these were ethnic Chinese characters who had not had a British childhood and youth, but who had moved to the UK from abroad.

The reaction from abroad has been to the strong language and stereotypes in the show, but from my British-born Chinese perspective, these are really, really, really tame and acceptable because this is a comedy and not real life. For me, what was troubling and puzzling was that this sitcom went against originality and British sitcoms. After it became clear that the racism, sexism, and stereotyping against East Asian men came from the two main characters, for example, the main characters did not become the butt of jokes that pilloried them for this. Instead, tired, oft-repeated stereotypes about non-Chinese people and Chinese/East Asian males replaced witty observations of life, and the misuse of slapstick and physical comedy left a main character stripped of dignity until the end – a state which a British sitcom never leaves an underdog in.

If I, someone with no professional background in British comedy, can see this, why couldn’t the professionals? Did someone not read the script or watch rehearsals, and suggest alternatives? Did someone not suggest that a single British Chinese voice be brought in to collaborate with the immigrant voices? If Gok Wan and Alexa Chung were not available, what about Jo Ho and Ming Ho, who are two BBC scriptwriters? If new voices were needed, what about Bubzbeauty, Rebecca Boey and Chris Chan? Did the show’s creators, who are not British, get the appropriate support they needed to create the best show they could? Most importantly, is this the standard that non-white creators are up against, and is this the sort of content that the BBC is after - that non-white creators have to create characters that throw each other under a bus to be acceptable?

This show implies that the characters are underdogs simply because they are Chinese. It also implies that the Chinese experience is a foreign one, when in fact, it can also be British – Chinese food in Britain is different from Chinese food in China and Asia for a reason. It also implies that there is a serious disconnect between the BBC and those outside the BBC. As the most glaring example, how I am treated and viewed in real life is not mirrored in how 'Chinese Burn' treats and views its Chinese characters, and for 'Chinese Burn' to get the green light in the first place, its previewers must have had certain preconceptions about Chinese people in Britain that the people I am with do not have.

By leaving out the British Chinese voice, this show reinforces the perception that ‘the British Chinese are not real Britons’. This is a hypocritical stance to take when so many have declared that the BBC has and is to be more diverse. It is also hypocritical to see current British comedy shows pussyfooting around very real societal problems because of the fear of political correctness and how ‘certain groups of people might react’, but then see ‘Chinese Burn’ given that privilege to insult and mock a group of people for being that group of people and not for eg their bad actions and behaviour, and then for that group of people to be ignored when they voice their very real concerns about this.

‘Diversity’ is not just about skin colour, but also about voices. Skin colour should never be used as the only benchmark for diversity, ever.

In writing this complaint, I hope that public promises about ‘diversity in British programming’ do not result in the erosion of what ‘British programming’ is in terms of quality and content, and I also hope that this ‘diversity’ initiative is not a box-ticking exercise to say, ‘well, we’ve brought the [insert novelty group here], we’ve ticked the box, now let the audience decide’, and then not support the creators of new content adequately. I wonder if BBC Three is doing the right thing in not making a statement of any sort to reassure licence-fee payers that their money is not being spent to mock them, and in not making a statement to assist the creators of the show, to say that certain decisions lay with them and not the creators. Equally, I hope that this will not be used as a stick to beat BBC Three with, especially as British programming needs all the channels it can get to compete in output.

Ultimately, I think BBC Three and all who call for increased diversity in the British media must put their money where their mouths are; I honestly believe that BBC Three should have tried harder and given more support to the creators of the show before, during and after the airing of ‘Chinese Burn’.

Had I known what this show was really about, I confess that I would not have watched it, but having said that, my eyeballs and my mind haven’t been scarred for life, so that’s all right. Would I watch more episodes? I would, but only if the British Chinese involvement is there, and only if proper support is given to the creators.

Yours sincerely
Beanie Lei