Monthly Archives: June 2013

A bread car gone stale

When I first moved to China one of my favorite words was 面包车, literally “bread car”. It describes a certain kind of small, low-end van that just happens to be shaped a lot like a loaf of bread.

Exhibit A:


This particular 面包车 has a special place in my heart because it’s been in the exact same place for the past three years, parked behind the school I worked at in Xi’an. The color, the steadily deteriorating condition, the fact that it occupies a really prime parking spot…. I just love it.

IMG_20130618_131551         IMG_20130618_131538

A wall in the park

Click on the pictures for enlarged images.


It’s an art installation in the middle of Chaoyang Park in Beijing. Despite walking past it dozens of times before, I’d never noticed the piece until a couple weeks ago. You’ve got a wall made of regular-sized bricks jutting straight out of a stone wall, with hundreds of small metal cables linking the brick wall to two large metal rings hanging off the stone wall.


I don’t need to tell you that this thing is just ripe for all kinds of interpretation of the political and cultural variety. Walls (great ones and the kind bulldozed for highrises), chains, unity, diversity, mutual-aid, “harmony”… it’s all there and waiting for someone to read too much into it. I’ll take it over backpacks nailed to a wall any day.


I’m just happy to see that there is such a thing as understated public art snuggled into the center of Beijing.

[To find the piece you could walk in from the west gate, number 3. Head directly east, crossing the open grass patch, keep going east by following the path by the lake, cross the metal bridge, continue straight by another bridge and grass patch on your right. The wall should be there on your left side.]

Translation: 孙燕姿 “未完成” (Stefanie Sun, “To be continued”)

孙燕姿 album cover

This will be my first shot at translating lyrics by my favorite Chinese-language singer: 孙燕姿, Sunyanzi (tones: 1, 4, 1). She’s a Singaporean “mando-pop” singer, and earlier this year I just went head over heels for her [music]. Below is a link to my favorite one: 未完成, “To Be Continued.” This has been my pick-me-up-and-throw-me-out-into-the-world song all spring, really injects a healthy dose of joy into my day.

Here’s a Youku link to the music video (but with low quality sound).

Here’s a Youtube link for sound quality.

And a link for listening to/downloading the mp3 未完成 To Be Continued

I’ve never translated poetry of any kind before, and with this I’ve gone with a mix of direct translation and plenty of “poetic” license. Remember that poetry always sounds strange in translation, song lyrics look dead when written down and, most importantly, I’m a noob at this. Here goes…

Take the long way home, mixing things up a bit,                      绕个路回家 有些事开始复杂

It’s a turn of phrase, one that I’m growing into                          拐个弯说话 代表必须长大啦

Gotta make sure, you’ll never quite make it on time,               要确定自己 总好象是来不及

With that shifting mood, can I get an answer from someone?心情在变化 能否找个人要答案 快回答

When you’re your boss, can’t be taking any days off,             开始负责任 都不能有点懒散

But left alone you’ll give the brain a break, what to do?          虽然私底下 常常让脑袋在放假 该不该


Put it this way: I can’t wait for the changes I can’t see,            这么说来 对我有期待 不知不觉是改变

I’m to be continued, and what comes up comes out,               未完成的我 一出现就要有表现

Feels pretty good,                                                                   感觉不错

To live is to change, and to never finish up.                            生活在世界未完成是个期待 永远做不完

[absurdly cute laugh, followed by repeat of earlier verses]

Think, think normal, think special, think freedom,                   想 想平凡 想特别 想自由

It all like that long way home, the extra turn,                           我想一切就像 绕个路 拐个弯

The extra load, pick it up, forced to become who I am.           要负责任 别偷懒 在逼着我成长


Put it this way: a heart full of unspeakable wishes,                 这么说来 自己的期待 有时说不出来

Choices made of intuitions,                                                     未完成什么 我会考虑我的直觉

Feels pretty good,                                                                   感觉不错

To live is to change, and to never finish up.                             生活在世界未完成是个期待 永远做完


Lots of non-poetic clunkiness in translation (and trouble in my formatting) but you get the idea. Sunyanzi was most popular about ten years ago, meaning that most college-age women in China love her. You can say what you want about Chinese music, but I’m just glad that this generation grew up with the above lyrics as opposed to this.