And as promised, here's a picture of the Christmas tree across the street. The fact that we have a massive Christmas tree, a KFC, a Vanguard, a Pacific Coffee and the 1984 bakery all across the street from us is a pretty dead giveaway as to how the area we're in is relatively well off and central.
When my books have finished downloading I more or less run into the same contemplation of cultural contact.One of my new reads is a journal of translated Chinese texts into English. Coincidentally, it was first published the month I arrived in Changsha. The other is an anthology of Chinese poetry. Their prefaces share some similarities. Both mention how Chinese poetry contributed to modern English literature, and the Imagist poets in particular. Both mention Ezra Pound's attempts to translate Li Bai with his limited Chinese and the notes of other translators (both think highly of Pound as an influential modern figure in literature, but not so much for his Chinese translations). They both include passages from the Book of Songs in order to take their readers back to the beginnings of Chinese poetry and its various functions. But since one is an anthology that means to trace Chinese poetry from the Book of Songs up to the poems of Mao Zedong and the other a journal trying to enhance literary and cultural understanding of China, they part ways after the Book of Songs.
The journal is simply called "Chinese Literature and Culture" and it not only introduced me to some very modern voices and what I imagine are very real concerns in China today. One story in particular concerned a woman who just finished her PhD and was looking for a university job but after considering her options goes to Beijing to try for a high school position because it seems more secure than attempting to get a position in a competitive market where relations are important. What particularly strikes me about the story is when she and her boyfriend stay in the luxurious house where the protagonist's mother works and become all too aware of what they don't have at a time when both are struggling to establish themselves. Perhaps this struck a chord for me because material things and money are a more explicit issue here in China (it's an issue anywhere, but people are curious/tend to be more forward about asking about your means). People here are not superficial, but one recurring pattern I notice here is a need to "display". Displaying test scores, displaying that you are not a person who needs to worry about wasting food when you leave extra at a restaurant, and the way people dress is often the result of careful thought: how to be well dressed without giving someone the impression that you care about your appearance so much that you don't care about doing your job. We think about the impressions we make on others, but that concern may not be as omnipresent in the US as I've found it to be in China.
Needless to say, I was impressed with the work I saw and they do take works originally written in English that relate to China. I may go through some of the things I write and see if I can contribute. I think the journal is based in Guangzhou at the Foreign Language Institute, a few hours away from here by fast train. The contributors/editors mentioned that part of their desire to create such a journal was due to the limited chances people have to really practice their talents in another language. One way Chinese people talented in languages find an outlet for their talents is in translation. I couldn't help feeling that it was somewhat related to my work here as an oral English teacher so I guess I was drawn to it pretty naturally. I'm still working my way through the other anthology but it is nice to have something to work at and something that engages me in a way I haven't been in a while. Reading is another way for me to understand a place I've found is misunderstood in many ways while doing something I enjoy. My Chinese isn't good enough to even read children's books without a lot of help and I do pick up magazines like I used to in Lugano but I can't read them either. I still want some kind of access to Chinese literature so I guess "Chinese Literature and Culture" came out at just the right time for me and it's not a perfect solution but I do sense that it's bridged what I see with what I'm often blocked from as someone who isn't fluent in Chinese. Or maybe I just generally enjoy work that suggests an understanding and awareness of two cultures. I've found that my students like my computer background which is kind of another product of various artistic traditions, Van Gogh's "Almond Blossoms". I guess I've just naturally been drawn to work that tries to understand and play with different traditions too.