The translator Howard Goldblatt has a very nice piece in the latest issue of Asymptote, about his decades-long relationship with the Taiwanese writer Huang Chunming:

I finally met Chunming not long after I began teaching at San Francisco State University. Huang, a free spirit like his father (who had come to the US without knowing English and opened a Chinese restaurant somewhere in the Midwest), was traveling around the States in a beat-up, uninsured car he would later abandon when it crapped out on him. We had corresponded briefly, through the good offices of Nancy Ing, so he simply showed up at my flat one day, and that was the beginning of our friendship. I don’t know what we talked about, other than his stories, several of which I had read and was interested in translating; I’m sure he regaled me with his storytelling talent. He would pepper his Mandarin, which I understood, with Taiwanese, which I didn’t, and yet I would always know what he was saying. That talent has stayed with him over the years, and he has become, in my view, the archetype of a speaker of the hybrid language—a mixture of the two languages, with a smattering of English or Japanese—that is contemporary Taiwan’s lingua franca.

It’s quite a story, and makes me miss Taipei terribly; how I’d love to pop into the Astoria (founded by Russian emigres in 1949) for a pastry and coffee!

The rest of the issue looks well worth investigating, too; there’s another piece on translation in which “An author interviews his translator.” Thanks, Bathrobe!


  1. Do visit Taiwan! If you come to Hualien I’ll take you out for dinner at 白俄羅斯餐廳 Kali Laska Belarusian Cuisine!

  2. You live in Hualien! It was near Hualien that I first learnt the Chinese name for MacDonalds. I was asking directions in the vicinity of Taroko Gorge in my halting Chinese and was told to go as far as Maidanglao. I asked what Maidanglao was and was told with a laugh, ‘You’ll know it when you see it!’

  3. Kali Laska Belarusian Cuisine
    I presume “Laska” has something to do with Russia; what’s “Kali”?

  4. John Emerson says

    In Taiwan in 1983 I remember a Mandarin/Hokkien Wolfman Jack type disc jockey who peppered his speech with garbled English and Japanese.
    I spent several hours walking around hwalien, which had a distinctly different feeling than all the other Taiwan towns I visited. More spacious, for one.

  5. Ah, yes, I was in Hualien in the early 90s and it did feel spacious then, not so sure the same can be said now…
    I often joke that you know I live in a rural area of Taiwan because there are only three 7-11s within ten minutes of my house!
    The university is about 20 min outside of town. Here’s a picture of the view from my balcony (you can see the sun glinting off the 7-11 sign through the trees): http://www.flickr.com/photos/kerim/8381188051/in/photostream

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