This Is For My Neighbor

When I was a young child, my neighbor gave me red envelopes on Lunar New Year.

Previously, she frequently walked around the block. Even when she needed a walker and could move only slowly, she still made a point of walking around the block on a regular basis.

A few years ago, she stopped the walks because of a loss of mobility. Now she almost never leaves her home. When she does, she has company. Her live-in caregiver runs her errands.

A couple weeks ago, when the plum tree in our backyard was in full bloom, my neighbor spent much time looking at it through her bedroom window.

A photo of the plum tree from a couple weeks ago.

My neighbor is a Chinese American elderly woman.

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I Supported Changing the Dutch Translator of Gorman’s Poetry. Why Do I Oppose Changing the Catalan Translator?

Since I wrote this post about the controversy over translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, more information has come my way, particularly information about the Catalan translation being dropped.

First, what additional details have you learned about the controversy over the Dutch translation?

According to this article, Janice Deul said:

“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul told me when we met near her home in Leiden. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”

There, Janice Deul said that she does not have a general problem with white people translating black people’s works. She just thinks that this is an exceptional case.

While researching these blog posts, I found hundreds of comments about how horrible it is to claim that a white person can never translate a black person’s works, yet I found no one arguing that white people should never translate black people’s works. All of those arguments against having white people translate black people’s work (including editorials in respectable newspapers) are fighting a straw man. Meanwhile, I rarely find anyone arguing against Deul’s actual position: that this poem/poet is a special case. Making a good faith argument that even in this case the race of the translator should not matter is possible, especially if the poet herself takes that position. Yet those arguments are far less common than outrage over ‘a translator was forced to quit because bad people on social media will never let a white person translate a black person’ (never mind that the translator was not forced).

Good faith arguments like that would be boring. Provocative statements such as ‘ZOMYGOSH THE WOKE PEOPLE WANT TO CANCEL WHITE TRANSLATORS!!!!’ are more exciting.

Yeah, that’s a problem.

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Do You Know How Patronizing ‘The First Time a Woman Translates Homer Is a Big Deal’ Sounds?

On a podcast, I heard a translator talk about translating from a ‘post-colonialist/de-colonised’ stance. He said:

To readers who question whether that sort of thing is important… well, it actually is. As folks probably remember, it’s a big deal when Homer is translated for the first time by a woman translator into English… it’s a big deal, because depending on the political approach, and the stance as an interpreter which the translator brings to the text, lots of things which seem to be unquestionable or assumed to be true – are changed.

You’re a woman who has read Homer in Ancient Greek. Surely this makes you feel included?

Wrong. It alienates me.

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What’s Missing from the Controversy over Who Translates Amanda Gorman into Dutch?

What’s missing from the controversy over who translates Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch?


Okay, now that I have the answer, I’m leaving without reading the rest of this post.

Suit yourself.

You don’t care?

I can’t force you to read the rest of this blog post.

Fine, I’m curious enough to keep reading. What are we talking about? Continue reading

What Does Being Jewish Have to do with Liking Wuxia/Xuanhuan/etc.?

Ten years ago, if you had asked, “Will you still be into wuxia ten years from now?” I would have blanked at trying to imagine anything about myself ten years in the future said “probably not.”

Nowadays my taste for wuxia has expanded into a taste for xuanhuan and other Chinese-themed fantasy (personally I don’t consider wuxia to be ‘fantasy’, but it’s a trivial hairsplitting of genre definitions, I will not argue with people who say that wuxia is a subset of ‘fantasy’). I don’t spend nearly as much time reading traditional wuxia as I did, say, eight years ago. Yet it’s still clear that, even today, I am much more excited about reading/watching wuxia/xuanhuan/etc. than European-inspired fantasy.


I don’t think there is One True Answer… but a partial answer is ‘I’m Jewish’. Or more precisely, ‘my specific experience of being Jewish, which is not necessarily the experience of other Jews.’ Continue reading

My Uncle Almost Died

On February 10, my paternal uncle called my mother. I didn’t hear the conversation, but I imagine it went something like this:

UNCLE: Is my brother there?
MOTHER: No, but he’ll be home soon, you can call back.
UNCLE: Actually, I can’t because I’m going to have surgery.
UNCLE: I have a dissection.
MOTHER: What’s that?
UNCLE: Tell my brother what’s happening. [hands phone to hospital worker]
MOTHER: What is happening?
HOSPITAL WORKER: Ma’am, he just entered the operating room.
MOTHER: Who are you?

The hospital worker told my mother the name of the hospital and the surgeon who was about to operate on my uncle and explained how to get updates on my uncle’s condition.

My uncle had an aortic dissection. I had never heard of ‘aortic dissections’ before Wednesday. My understanding (courtesy of Mayo Clinic) is this: an aortic dissection is when the inner lining of the aorta (the largest artery connected to the heart) tears. Once the inner lining is torn, it’s usually a matter of hours or days until the aorta itself breaks open, hemorrhaging lots of blood and causing the circulatory system to fail. It’s almost always fatal. The only way to stop this is to surgically repair the aorta before it breaks. Continue reading

Emma Goldman’s Courage

Living My Life by Emma Goldman is one of the most vivid books I’ve read in the past half year.

Emma Goldman, one of the world’s most famous anarchists, believed ‘free speech’ in the United States was a joke because the government often suppressed her own speech. Many times local police shut down her public lectures, and the government sometimes prevented her from publishing her writing by seizing all copies distributed through the mail and even raiding her office and confiscating her manuscripts. Right-wing vigilantes in San Diego (which the police ‘mysteriously’ could not control) threatened her with violence and forced her to flee to Los Angeles – though she returned to San Diego years later to prove that the vigilantes could not silence her. Even when offered police protection, she refused it unless coerced because, as an anarchist, she was anti-police. She was imprisoned for two years because of her public opposition to the United States entering World War I.

World War I was a revelation to her because many anarchists she looked up to – including her idol Peter Kropotkin – supported the war. She herself refused to side with either the Allies or the Central Powers, claiming that war hurt the ordinary masses of all countries involved. She saw many allegedly like-minded people support the war. On the other hand, some socialists and other non-anarchist leftists who she previously regarded as flaky came out against the war, despite economic, legal, and reputational risk. Continue reading

Testing My Resolution to Quit Books Which Grip Me Not: The Lying Life of Adults

Recently, my resolution to quit the books which fail to engage was tested again.

I dropped The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante about 40% of the way through. Facing this was hard.

I was so pumped up. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet is one of my favorite works of fiction I read in the past decade. Naturally, my expectations for her latest novel were high. I did not even apply my first hundred pages/first third cutoff. Continue reading

Ninth Blog Anniversary Post

For so many years I’ve been astonished at how long I’ve kept this blog active that, this year, I’m no longer astonished. I’m saving my astonishment for the 10th anniversary next year.

What has gobsmacked me is that ten years ago to the day, I first arrived in Taiwan. It still feels like yesterday. How did ten years pass so fast?

If ten years pass so quickly, my life has little time remaining. Unless some extraordinary advances in increasing human life spans happen soon, my remaining life expectancy is measured in decades at best. Fast-moving decades.

The one major change I’m making to celebrate this anniversary is banishing the ads. I finally got so sick of the WordPress ads (is it just me, or did they get more annoying every year?) that I finally upgraded to a paid plan.

Recently I’ve been studying self-editing and applying what I’m learning to new blog posts (and sometimes going back to old blog posts to practice my editing skills, I’m fortunate to have so much material for practice).

My recent foray into self-editing reminds me of the early years of this blog when I held myself to a 500 word maximum. I learned a lot about self-editing by imposing that limit, but not as much as I’m learning now by intentionally studying the techniques.

Thank you, all of you who read this blog, whether you’ve been a frequent reader for years or only now stumbled on this humble little blog.

How Far Has My Ancient Greek Come, and Where Is It Going?

In September 2019, for the first time in a decade, I plunged into Ancient Greek. (I can hardly believe I spent a whole decade away.) Though I never spelled out my goal, it’s obvious in hindsight; not being able to pick up a book and simply read in Ancient Greek irritated me. I wanted to read Ancient Greek with the same ease as I can read modern Chinese.

A year and a few months later, I still can’t read Ancient Greek as well as I read Chinese. By now I know my Ancient Greek will never rise to that level (despite studying Ancient Greek years before I started learning Chinese). The reasons are twofold.

First, I can’t create an equally rich environment for Ancient Greek as I have for Chinese. By ‘learning environment’ I don’t mean moving to a place where Ancient Greek is spoken as an everyday language (though that can count). I mean having many ways to experience the language: chatting with people, listening to radio programs in Ancient Greek, watching movies, that kind of thing. Even the variety of reading material available in Ancient Greek is infinitesimal compared to what’s available in Chinese. Continue reading