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I noticed him once he got on board. He was an old man, with a grey crew cut, looking blank as if he’s a lost child. He wrapped himself in a light brown jacket, and with a leather bag over his shoulder, and a walking stick in his hand, he hobbled into the cabin. While the others dragged their luggage on wheels, trotted along with their heads up, he seemed a bit panicked, looking down at his boarding pass, looking up for the seat number. Some impatient people squeezed past him so hard that he had to lean forward. In the end he managed to sit down on the left seat in front of me, clutching his bag tightly to his chest, perhaps with all his identification inside. His walking stick was a little bit too long, so he bent and stuff it under the seat in front of him, but after all the hassle, the flight attendant came and pulled it out, and settled it somewhere in the front of the cabin. The old man reached out his arm, and with his heavy Shaanxi and Gansu accent he said to the back of the lady, “Remember to bring it back to me.”
I looked down and read the newspaper.
Flights from Taipei to Hong Kong are usually full, but not every passenger has his final destination in Hong Kong. Some of them clutch their Mainland Travel Permits for Taiwan Residents tightly in their hands, and in the Hong Kong International Airport, they get off and on, then up and down. As soon as they get to the other shore, they will disappear all over the great lands and rivers, like a small drop of water silently falls into a vast desert. The old man hobbles across thousands of kilometers, all by himself, staggering from door to door, gate to gate, there’s no need to ask him why: I knew his story too well.
He was once a boy with eyes that resemble those of a deer’s, with a mother who loved him so, with ever-blooming happiness; he was eager to grow up, imagining all kinds of ups and downs that could possibly happen in his life, but there was one that he didn’t expect, which was exactly what happened to him: the war uprooted him like a sudden typhoon, and maliciously dumped him on an unknown piece of barren land. There he became an orphan of the era; fell to the bottom of society, thereafter, he lived all his life wandering, in misery. When he got old, he could finally return to his homeland. All the mountains and rivers were still there, and the spring was still how it used to be, but the graves of his parents had become too deeply nested among the long grass that with his stiff aged knees, he was not able to kneel down and bow. The people who used to be at home, were no longer there.
I don’t dare to look at him, because simply a fleeting glimpse of his miserable shadow in the corner of my eyes bring memories of my father flooding back to me. Father left three years ago, I thought, if, if I had one more chance, just a single chance, to take him back to his homeland––what would I do?
I would accompany him on the flight; I would never let go of his frail hand for a single second.
I would listen to him, and I would never get fed up. I would stubbornly ask him to tell me all of his heroic stories when he was a general of the Republic of China Military Police, I would ask him for every piece of detail––which year exactly? Did you station in Zhenjiang, Wuxi, or Hangzhou? How did the communists on the other side put in the letter to persuade you to “revolt for justice”? Why didn’t you accept it? ……I would clarify every single part, I would take out my notebook, and with the most serious attitude that I could possibly have, as if I am having an interview with the head of state of a superpower, I would pay attention to every word he said. Every time I heard a place that I didn’t know, a time period that I had no idea of, I would insist and ask him, “say that again, please say that again, do you mean ‘jiang’ like the river? How do you write ‘Yangbatou’? How long had your army stationed in Guangzhou? How did you get to Hainan Island? And Taiwan? What kind of ship did you take? What was the name of the boat? How many tons it weighed? Did the cannon hit the boat? Had it set the boat on fire? Was there anyone who fell into the sea? How many? Were there kids? Did you see it happen? What did you eat? Buns? How many buns could a person get?”
I would eat the terrible in-flight meals with him. I would tear the bread into strips, and ask for a cup of hot milk from the flight attendant, and then one by one I would soak the bread strips into the milk, so that he could chew slowly. If he knocked down the milk with his shaky hands, I would ask for another cup, but his clothes would not be very wet, as I would have already unfolded the white napkin and spread it across his chest before that happened.
When we got off to transfer, I would hold his hand, and we would walk slowly. If someone squeezed through us and deliberately gave us an impatient look, I would yell at him, “Didn’t your parents teach you manners!”
There would be a long long queue of people waiting for transit, going up the stairs and getting on the plane again. I would hold his hand, and we would go to the front of the line, whoever it might be, I would tell him, “Excuse me, would you mind if we go first? You know elderly people can’t stand for too long.” I would put his bag on the conveyor belt at the security checkpoint, then hold his arm and escort him through the full-body scanner. If the inspector said, “Please stay back, he has to do it alone.” I would insist and say, “No, what if he falls? Then please come and walk him through!” If, for whatever reason, the scanner just “beep” and he had to go back and do it again, I would just take his hand, and walk him through at once, whatever consequence it might lead to.
After the plane went “pang” and touched the ground of Changsha, while the plane was still sliding, I would turn around and kiss his forehead––his age spots appeared even on his forehead, I will kiss his forehead, and with the most tender voice I’ve ever had in my life, I will whisper in his ear, “father, you’re home.”
“Pang!”, the plane did land, this is Hong Kong International Airport. My newspaper had fallen all over the floor. While the aircraft is still sliding, the old man on my top left hand side suddenly stood up with a stagger, and I heard the flight attendant’s angry and harsh voice saying, “Hey sit down, sit down, you sit down! We are not there yet, what’s the hurry!”
Chinese to English: 原文﹕《目送》（龍應台著） I 有些路啊，只能一個人走——寒色 General field: Art/Literary Detailed field: Poetry & Literature
Beyond thousand miles rivers and mountains in colours of the fall, deep behind the reed flowers floats a lonely raft.1
Questions from readers in talks or seminars are usually not difficult to answer, but not long ago I was embarrassed in front of an audience of over a thousand people by a question that I didn’t know the answer, what I answered at that time is nothing more than a fudge.
What he asked was, “Home, what is it?”
What is home, isn’t it a writing topic in second grade? It should be listed on the same difficulty with essay topics like “My Dream Career”, “My Mother” and “My Summer Holiday”, why would it be asked here, in front of someone who believed herself has long ago apprehended the meaning of “Thousand miles away rivers and mountains in colours of the fall, deep behind the reed flowers floats a lonely raft” ?
He was sincere, and was eager to my answer, but I could only beat around the bush and fudge the question. Such a hard one.
When you are sons and daughters being cared for, home is where your parents are. In the morning, when you need to run for the bus, someone hurries you to drink a cup of hot soya bean milk. If it rains, someone insists that you bring an umbrella with you. The lunchbox stuffed in your schoolbag is so hot that you can feel the heat even on your back. On weekends, the four or five of you would cram into a motorbike, swaggering around in the market. When you come home from school, just a few feet away from the door, the clear sound of the stir-frying spatula and the smell of dishes come to you. When the night falls, there will be a big mosquito net and four tatamis. Once the lights are off, it’s your sweet dreamy time. Inside the net you and your siblings play and fight and laugh among the tenderness of the beddings, outside you hear adults coughing, walking, whispering from time to time. When your eyes get blurry, over the window the fragrance of jasmine flows like a ribbon of silk in the air, quietly into the half-awaken eyelids. It is a warm and carefree world both inside and outside the net, it is home.
But what will happen to this home?
People go, one by one, often they go very far away, for a very long time. There will be a long period of time in which only once in a year the lights in the house are particularly bright, the noises of people are particularly loud, that there will be in and outs for a few days, and then it’s back to silence again. The people who stay in the house will grow old and vulnerable, they will walk slow and begin to stagger, it will become more and more quiet in the house, so quiet that you can even hear the tick of the clock on the wall. The jasmines blossom as it used to be, but seeing it in the light at dusk one can’t help feeling lonely and miserable. Later on when one of the people who stay has gone as well, the remaining one will look out to the window behind the dark curtains, through which she feels like she sees, that one day, comes a car to pick herself up. She may lock the door and walk out slowly by herself, or she is on a wheelchair, being pushed out, or maybe covered by a piece of white cloth, being lifted out.
When being the lifelong companion of someone else, wherever the two people are, it is home. It was once a simple apartment in a small foreign university town, in which the kitchen was shared with two other families. It’s snowing hard outside, in an unfamiliar way, but in the bedroom his hands were warmer than ever. Then it followed by one unfamiliar city after another, one new job after another, one new home after another. There was some important furniture that was always on the way of transport, while the rest was bought or thrown away bit by bit every time moving to a new city. Never dared to hang anything memorable for a lifetime on the wall, because a wall, is temporary. And in an interim, there is only hypothetical permanence and unsecured eternity. Home, is where the two people happen to settle down for the time being.
But what will happen to this home?
Many of them break up soon, because people change, life changes, and home, changes accordingly too. When hoping for stability, many people get into a home; when yearning for freedom, many however escape. A person who crave stability may meet one who want freedom, while a person who want freedom may fall in love with someone looking for stability. Home, may accidentally become a place where there is no warmth but only pressure. The world outside may well be bleak, but home could be even more desolate. Being alone may well be lonesome, but under a forlorn lamp, when two people are facing each other without having anything to say, it could be even more lonely.
Many people start to rove around for the rest of their lives after going through this.
Many people have sons and daughters a while later. Once you have a child, home is where your children are. You prepare the breakfast before dawn, you put a cup of hot soya bean milk on the table, and you have to see him drink it all up before he goes. If it rains, the young boy never wants to bring an umbrella as it spoils his image, so you nag and almost beg him to bring one. He’s out already, but then you rushed out to stuff a scalding lunchbox into his schoolbag. On weekends, you ride a motorbike to the market, putting two of your daughters at your back, and a small one in front between your legs. It is crammed, but the warmth of your daughters and the laughter in the breeze make everything sweet and cute. Since morning, you begin to chew over what to cook for dinner, and when the sun set, you pay attention to the sounds outdoor while stir-frying the dishes, expecting your kids to come back to you one by one. At night, you put a cup of boiling hot milk on the desk, he raises his head up from the pile of homework and looks at you, he doesn’t say a word, he gives you a smile. You feel like there flows a subtle fragrance of jasmine.
Wherever the children are, it is home.
But what will happen to this home?
1: Quoted from a poem written by Li Yu, the last Southern Tang emperor who had surrendered and was captured by his enemy. The poem expressed his nostalgia towards the past empire that didn’t exist anymore.
Chinese to English: 原文﹕《目送》（龍應台著） I 有些路啊，只能一個人走——共老 General field: Art/Literary Detailed field: Poetry & Literature
We walked into a park in Central. It was a small piece of green, tightly enveloped by skyscrapers that poked up through the clouds, the little garden at the bottom was like a tiny hammock between the buildings, holding a handful of greenery.
Beside a bubbling stream there was a smooth rock, the three of us each took a corner and sat down. One looked up to the sky, one looked down at the ground, I looked at a tree, a stunted one, with flourishing glossy leaves huddling into a lush dark green crown.
These three people are usually busying on their own. One of them always drives and works at the same time, taking phone calls one followed by another, with numerous business arrangements settled between one traffic light and the other. When he sleeps, he always keeps his mobile phone on, and puts it beside his pillow. The other one puts on his white coat and does the ward round every day before the crack of the dawn, having a gadget on his waist that makes him put down his chopsticks and run outside immediately to pick it up even when it rings in the middle of a dinner. When he is on drinking spaces with friends, he always stands aside in a corner, covering his mouth and whispers. If you listen carefully, what he would be saying is “What about the corpse?”, “Has the family arrived?”, “From which floor did he jump? What time was it?”, and then without batting an eyelash, he goes back to the bustling dinner table. When someone ask “What happened?” he would say, “Nothing special.” When the dinner ends and everyone is gone, he will be on his way all by himself, mostly when the night falls and everything is obscure.
And me myself, who’ve always got endless books to read, endless words to write, endless journeys to go on, endless sceneries to see, endless things to think about, endless questions to ask, endless worms, fishes, birds, flowers and trees to fall in love with. I am busy, way too busy.
However, we decided to come out for a walk. The three of us, wandering around aimlessly, without a burden to bear, without a map in hand.
Then, I saw it.
Among that huddle of rich deep green leaves, hid a rich dark green wild parrot, pecking at a starfruit––one that is so green that it glitters. I walked near the tree, threw back my head and took a closer look at it. The eyes of the wild parrot rounded, looking at me as well. We stood under that starfruit tree, looking at each other.
Then the other two people joined us quietly. The three of us then stood under the tree, looking up, holding our breath, quietly, gazing for a long time, until the wild parrot finished the starfruit, spit the pit, flapped its wings––Wa––there it flew away.
We met each other’s gazes, and smiled, as if we have just gone through a secret religious ceremony, and then we started to miss the one who’s absent.
It was a warm and sunny, breezy afternoon. I noticed that they had grown more white sideburns, so I bet they must have also noticed signs of aging in me. I felt an ache in my heart seeing in their eyes hardships that they have gone through, those unintentionally shown in their eyes, I wonder––were they reluctant as well to see me wandering?
It’s just that we seldom say it out.
What a peculiar relationship. If we were friends, we would greet each other, call each other, we would send messages and emails, we would show our care. If we were lovers, we would live in each others’ mind, we would concern for each other, we would miss each other dreadfully, because between lovers there is a bond as strong as glue. If we were husbands and wives, as long as we were not an unhappy couple, we would see each other every day and night, we would give one another earnest guidance, we would be like two peas in a pod, we would argue, we would reconcile, we would have our destinies tightly twirled around one another.
But we are not. We don’t passionately care about each other like friends do, we don’t stay intimate with each other like lovers do, we don’t strive against difficulties together like husbands and wives do. Every ordinary day, we siblings are meant to have their own career and life, we have to make and bear our own choices. We gather, usually not for each other, but for our father or mother. When we gather, even if we get a chance to sit down together, we don’t necessarily have heart-to-heart talks, even if we do, we don’t expect help––it’s our own choices, so we are the only one to bear the consequences, at this age, we have already known this by heart. Sometimes we asked, “Will you and me still get together, if mother passes away? Will we, be like dandelions in the wind, being drifted to nowhere, letting ourselves slipped from each other’s memory amongst the desert of life?”
However, things aren’t that simple, because unlike every other people on earth, we could recall our old days from each others’ faces. We know by heart our childhood––the words we carved on the old banyan tree, the paper windows of the Japanese house, the sound of rain pouring down on the metal ceiling, the fireflies at Summer night, the voice of father reading aloud his ancient books, the jolly smile of mother, and all the shameful, frustrating, glorious and blissful bits of our growth. There is a part in the beginning of your life, that is only known by these few people in the entire world, for example your nickname, or the tree where you broke your arm.
There is a type of tree in South America, Saman, whose crown extends wide like the shape of a bell, so wide that from one end of the crown to another it could be 30 meters apart. During cloudy days or night time, the leaves fold, so that the rain drops through the gaps between, that’s why despite the big canopy, the grasses below them are still green and lush. Siblings are not tracks that never cross, they are more like branches and leaves of a Saman, 30 meters apart, and yet still of the same tree and root, every day and night, watching the same fall of rain straight to the ground, growing old with the tree and the rain, how nice.
Chinese to English: 原文﹕《目送》（龍應台著） I 有些路啊，只能一個人走——十七歲 General field: Art/Literary Detailed field: Poetry & Literature
I had a talk in Cambridge, and Hua Fei flew from Germany to meet me. It takes two and a half hours on bus from Heathrow airport to Cambridge, so I decided to walk to the bus station to pick him up. Spots of drizzle fall on my umbrella, while the white doves flapped past. I walked past one and another red brick building from the 16th-century, one and another green lawn, all the way to the so-called bus station, which is just a kiosk, packed by people waiting for buses, taking shelter from the rain. So I stood in the rain and waited.
The pair of Mandarin duck slept under a tree, with their necks twisted around each other. Across the big lawn there is a narrow mud road, where geese walked in a row, waddling towards me like mothers going to the market. I walked closer, and suddenly realized they are not geese, but Canada geese instead, stopping over in Cambridge.
Several buses arrived, all of which directly head to Cambridge from Heathrow Airport. Heads poking out, but not that of him. The umbrella was too small that my shoes and trousers’ ends were wet, the chill froze my hands. The feeling of waiting—how long it had been since I last waited for somebody in such a way? Waiting in an unfamiliar town, for a bus from airport that carried your 17-year-old boy, what a blessing.
He arrived, I didn’t walk over immediately, looking at him from a distance as he took his luggage from the baggage compartment. On the17-year-old teen, the cuteness of his childhood chubby cheeks had been replaced by the sculptured and chiseled features. He spotted me, with eyes affectionate but hidden deep, very deep eyes—how clearly I still remember his limpid eyes alighting with amusement when he was a baby.
I handed him an umbrella I got for him, and he rejected. “Such a drizzle,” he said. “you might get a cold,” I said. “I don’t need it,” he said. Small drops of rain drizzled on his hair.
I broke off: how disgust I once felt about the umbrella my mother insisted to give when I was seventeen.
When the sun broke out, we had a walk along the River Cam. I never know the River Cam of Xu Zhimo’s poems is such a poetic, tranquil river with delicate bridges over it, like the one in our old poem, flowing fast through the grass and the ancient colleges. Where the river branches out to a stream, clusters of stars sparkled, are they “Mi Wu”, the fragrance herb in The Book of Odes, or in other way “Jiang Li2” in The Songs of Chu? Stepping through the dense piece of Jiang Li, over the sparkling river, I thought I saw something white floating—who has forgotten his white shirt?
When I walked closer, the white shirt turned out to be a sleeping white swan, resting her neck on her own duvet, with a duckling beside her, dabbling alone with shadows in the water. I knelt down beside the bush to capture the scene, so moved that my eyes were moist; seeing my teary eyes, indifferently Hua Fei said, “you are like a child!”
We had breakfast at a café opposite to King’s College, here came the classic ‘English Breakfast’: scrambled eggs, fried bacon, sausage, mushroom, baked tomato……oily and heavy. At the moment I picked up my cutlery, all of a sudden I cried, “I get it.”
He stared at me.
“The simple ‘continental breakfast’ with bread and jam was named relative to this heavy ‘English breakfast’.”
There wasn’t even a hint of smile on his face, “Don’t make a fuss, everyone knows that.”, he said.
He then slowly spread the jam, and slowly he said, “We don’t call British Europeans, they are way too different in all aspects, British is British, not Europeans.”
At the entrance of Trinity College, I pointed at a small tree and said, “This tree is reputed to be the descendant of Newton’s apple tree.” “Don’t point your finger, you are like a kid. Using your voice is good enough.” He said.
Coming out from the medieval streets, I saw several Africans in colourful clothes dancing in circle, with posters protesting against the authoritarian and ruthless rule of the president of Zimbabwe, the number of people went into exile, indicators of economic downturn, are appalling. I said, I am only aware of slaughters in Sudan, but I don’t know Zimbabwe is under such extreme authoritarian rule. “Don’t you know about that? Zimbabwe was called ‘the Paris in Africa’, having the most developed economy and education system, yet the repressive rule of president Mugabe has turned Zimbabwe into almost the most backward country in Africa, in addition, the serious famine has killed many people.”
We walked pass St Johns College, where I discovered a pheasant on a huge chestnut tree, and pointed it out to Hua Fei—he unexpectedly turned around, with a quick leap he was 5 feet away from me, getting back to his feet, he said, “please, mum, don’t point, don’t point, it’s so embarrassing going out with you. You are like a naïve five-year-old!”
Mi Wu1, Jiang Li2: Ligusticum chuanxiong Hort, the modern Chuan Xiong, a food, a fragrance that was worn in clothes, a remedy for head ailments, it was also a metarphor for jun zi, which in the Chinese culture means a gentleman who carries a high moral standard. Here the writer quoted two of its usage in two different ancient Chinese texts, which wrote a different name but referring to the same subject.
Bachelor's degree - University of Hong Kong
Years of translation experience: 2. Registered at ProZ.com: Jul 2017.
I am a recent HKU translation graduate who have a sheer passion for language. I have been a reader of many kinds since I was young: from popular fiction to classical literature. Therefore, I am confident to write and speak authentic and professional English, meanwhile, being born and bred in Hong Kong, my fluent Cantonese and Mandarin has made me a competent translator.
I had been the simultaneous interpreter in various events including the talk Hall of Wisdom by Professor Joseph Yam. Worked as a Chinese-English translator in the literary journal Praya, my works were commented as 'touching, beautiful and reads even better than the original text'.
I was awarded silver in the World Young Commonwealth Essay Competition, in which 10,000 from 44 countries participated. I am also good at professional writing, ranking number 1 among 700 in a public English writing examination, followed by a 5** in the HKDSE English writing examination, and 5* in Chinese Writing. When it comes to verbal language, I score 8 in the oral section of IELTS, and I had a number of English debating experiences.