Bilingual

I realized a interesting fact while cleaning out old books.

When I first came abroad in my teens, I loved to read translated novels, especially novels from Europe or the US. I read all of them in Chinese. Not only couldn’t I read much in English back then, my English reading speed was pathetically slow. But I wanted to acclimate and understand the cultures quickly, so I would just read anything translated into Chinese to get a sense of the culture. One of the most memorable experiences was Macbeth for my Sophomore English class, oh my was it painful. I had no context of Shakespearian writing, not only was I supposed to understand the literal meaning of the book but I was supposed to be able to talk about the hidden metaphors for school as well. Absolute horror story, that one, and it’s just funny thinking about it now.

In my twenties, books on my shelf evolved to be 25% translated US/European novels, 25% translated Japanese novels, 25% books from Taiwan/China, 25% English books. I equally divided my reading time to learning the new culture, staying on top of Asian cultures, and maintaining my Chinese reading/writing skills so I never forget my mother tongue.

Now, 60% of my books is fiction/non-fiction in Chinese, 20% is non-fiction in English, 15% is translated Japanese novels, 5% is translated US/European books. On top of this, I also have a collection of eBooks on my Kindle, mostly in English, but some are in Chinese. I don’t remember when this happened, but I actually can’t sit and read through a translated US/European book any more. Every time I read a description of a specific city, space, object, feeling, or even the name of these characters, I find myself hoping they were in English so I can get better context. It is never really the same reading translated work. And obviously in the US, eBooks is killing it, so any hard copies I keep are usually very useful non-fiction books, a lot of them are design related.

A Taiwanese blogger living in France wrote a letter to the ladies who decided to leave Taiwan and move abroad for their foreign spouses and families, it was a fantastic read, but too bad it’s in Chinese only. In it, she described what it’s like to be completely absent from her friends and families life in Taiwan, to not be on top of current affairs in Asia, to start her life over as a French resident, to never feeling 100% French, to never be ashamed of her Taiwanese heritage, but to also be stuck in between two cultures thoroughly. What used to make sense in no longer does, and it’s a little bit like floating in between two giant pieces of lands, you’re not really part of either, yet you are in touch with both.

I love how she mentioned that life abroad comes in three phases: fun and curious, hardship and breaking through, survival and acclamation. This is absolutely the most accurate description. Just as I went through these three phases, my bookshelf grew and matured with me. In 10 years, if we look back at this again, I’m sure I would have more feelings to share.

ImmigrantSandy ChenComment