Dispatch, Translation

A Foreigner in Beijing

Reflections of a returnee – Liuyu Ivy Chen

When I arrived in Beijing in January, I paused on the sidewalk and looked up: the sky was blue, cloudless, immense. I went to college in this city, and often visited after graduation. Back then, Beijing’s sky was typically a murky palette, a mix of smog, dust and sand from carbon emissions, courtyard demolitions, subway construction and northwestern storms. I soon learned that the government had shut down the city’s coal-burning heating systems during a recent eviction campaign which targeted low-skilled migrants. This controversial operation was vaguely documented in the Chinese media, but its result was clearly reflected on the sky.

Translation

Small Town

Li Jingrui looks back on her hometown - translated by Helen Wang

This is our final (and longest) piece in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine 单读, translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. To close the mini-season, former journalist Li Jingrui reflects on her roots, and two decades of change in smalltown China. To support more Chinese voices, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page, through which we are already close to brining you a wider range of stories like this one.

You can find the same kind of park in every small town. They’re all identical: a park with a small lake covered in water lilies, a few wooden boats that nobody rows tied to the so-called jetty, bright yellow duck-shaped motorised boats puttering around in the middle of the water. The weeping willows trail their branches as they do in poems, though their leaves are grey with dust, except in late March, when the new growth slowly unfurls, and every living thing seems to come back to life.

Translation

Letter to My Mother

Ou Ning on his career as a poet and filmmaker – translated by Nicky Harman

This is the third piece in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine 单读, translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. In this personal essay, literati Ou Ning remembers his hometown and reflects on his movement away from it into the world of social activism. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.

 

I am in Baan Mae village, Sanpatong County, Chiangmai, Thailand. The sun has just gone down and night is drawing in. Darkness seeps across the rice fields, the bamboo forests, the banana palms and rape flowers, and as my friends light the lanterns, I feel a light breeze. I’m thinking of you, Mum, in the bitter cold of a Beijing winter, and thinking too, of our home. Xialiu, the village in Guangdong, where, just like here, smoke from kitchen fires fills the air. When I was a kid, you’d work all day in the field before rushing home to make dinner. We were all so poor back then, we could barely afford rice. Meals were mostly sweet potatoes stewed to a porridge with a little rice. Lately, I’ve been getting nostalgic for that porridge, so sweet, so perfectly thirst-slaking. I miss my life there and as the years go by, my memories grow more and more melancholy. But that is why I decided to bring you to Beijing.