Part Three: The Infamous Outlaw (江洋大盗)

Life Update: I’m tossing up whether I want to do a Masters in Translation/Interpreting.

I’m not sure if it’s worth it (time + money wise). It’ll be minimally helpful for my career (though deeply personally interesting) and I’ve been told by the course coordinator it is not a degree designed for part time study.

Surely 1-2 subjects a semester is manageable though? I’m not sure, but I’d like to at least explore this idea a little further – watch this space.

Start here for Part One.

The thief looked at the boy in contempt one last time, decides there is nothing worth stealing, and knows it’s finally time for her to head out and test her skills in the wider world.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if her family is full of the poorest souls.

Now that she is making her own way in the world, the budding outlaw saw possibility around every corner. Why she could steal all over the globe from family and friends to complete strangers. The world is so big and much is ripe for the taking.

Filled with gusto, her fingers twitch with excitement.

《白云堂》an ancient Chinese poems gives her the ability to steal mountains and disguise water. Master Shao, a traditional artists gift her gardens filled with lush greens and a wide varietyof insects, fish and birds to catch. It’s rare to find 《制乐小集》, a musical album, at the market but she buys some beansprouts instead. “Taipei People” accompanies her to the United States as the thief stealthily chews on modern literature. She tip toes around Old Master Q, a comic-book character, as he snoozes, hoping the English poems jingling about in her rug sack do not wake him.

When Mr Cai, a famous astronomer was not paying attention to the observatory, the thief extends her crimes to the galaxies, stealing the stars and moon to illuminate her path of notoriety.

Fang Xinzheng’s “Sleep on the Gale” led the thieving girl to search for Linda’s last summer among the willow trees. She watches as a young man whistles out of tune and trims Whitman’s hair, grown into the grass on his grave. Homer began to sing blindly at some point, please don’t tell anyone else it was me who reached into the window and stole his soul. Aesop, previously a slave, I merely ate his flesh but skipped over the quack toad he speaks of.

Sha Linjie hunted in the fields, but he could never capture half these precious treasures I have. I justified it all too, why Hemingway, if I didn’t kill him now, he will kill himself in the future anyway. Picasso’s circus, Gauguin’s girl, Cézanne’s apple, Van Gogh’s sunflower, all were consumed by me on the grass for a well-balanced breakfast. I also pocketed Dali’s melting clock, a useful tool to improve the precision of my crimes.

That was not all. “The Brothers Karamazov” are all stolen one by one. “The Hunter’s Diary” she also took, though her guilty conscience made her refrain from “Crime and Punishment”.

Little by little, her diet became these squares, squiggles and lines that she could swallow whole.

You may ask why this thief is so focused on literature and art. These cheap and rotten things, what use do they have? Oh, don’t look down on her for her hunger, these are just to tide her over, the good stuff is yet to come.

Over the course of the next few years, the girl’s crimes piled up into a small mountain and she truly earnt the title of the infamous outlaw. One day, she stole a plane ticket, said goodbye to her family, crossed the oceans to embrace new adventures that awaited her.

“Oh lord help us, the infamous outlaw is coming!”

The thief chuckled coldly as shrieks from the people pierced the skies.

She meets a fellow thief in a cornfield. A lone wolf by nature, this was the first time the thief has met a colleague. She quickly gave him a handful of her popcorn.

The other thief bursts out in laughter at her offering, “It is not honourable to steal food, that is for the most squalid of creatures!”

“What do you steal if not food then? I am the empty-bellied thief, out to consume all there is for the world to offer.”

“Well you’ve spent all this time and effort to come here, why not steal… a doctorate?”

“A doctorate? What use does that have? Is it more savoury or sweet?”

“Hah, a doctorate is not food!”

“If it is not edible, it is not my style. I do not wish to steal it.” The thief takes a closer look at the man in front of her. Really he was just sallow skin holding onto sharp protruding bones yet on his back was a huge, bursting backpack.

“Is it a doctorate you have in there? Why do you not eat it?”

“Oh you swine! All you know to do is to eat, do you really not know the benefits of a doctorate?”

“No, please enlighten me.”

“The stealing of this doctorate took all my blood, sweat and tears but now that I have it, it brings me plenty of benefits. At the very least, I can swap it for a beautiful bride. Do you understand now?”

The thief took a look around for eavesdroppers before she lowers her voice and whispers: “You see, yours truly is an empty-hearted thief. Things I cannot eat, are much too heavy and cumbersome for my tastes. Even if it may be used to purchase love in the future. Thank you for your guidance, farewell now.”

Continue reading “Part Three: The Infamous Outlaw (江洋大盗)”

Part Two: The Infamous Outlaw (江洋大盗)

Hey everyone, sorry for the late post. Happy International Women’s Day! Serendipitously, continuing the translation of Sanmao’s work seemed appropriate for celebrating the occasion.

Part One – After I made up my mind, I decided to go and get an X-ray.

“Wow, it really is empty!” The doctor exclaimed after taking a look at my results.

“Yet you’ve managed to survive 14 years, truly impressive.”

I grab the x-ray image off him, quickly run home and slide it under my bed to keep it hidden and safe. I decide that twenty years later, I will go get another x-ray scan and see if by then, I will be a full person.

As I don’t have a heart or any courage inside, my will has always been a weak one. Even after being inspired by the Japanese thieves, I did not try my own hand at pickpocketing, letting precious time slip through my fingers day by day.

That was until one year, when the neighbours nominated our family to be the district’s model family. Everyone in our district already knew of my parents’ characters but they were still very careful with the selection, coming over and conducting a thorough interview with them.

Question after question cemented the committee’s initial assessment that we were a model family. Alas as the interviews were wrapping up, I walked by the kitchen and was spotted by the interviewer.

“Today isn’t Sunday, why isn’t your daughter at school?”

Mother, trying to protect me, replies “my daughter’s not well, so she has quit school.”

“What type of illness does she have? She looks quite healthy.”

“She has honeycomb shaped holes in her organs. It’s an incurable disease. As you can imagine, it’s very frustrating for us all.”

In the end, because of my strange illness, our family did not become the exemplar of a perfect family. According to the interviewer, a family with a mysterious sickness does not set a good role model to others.

That night, tears streamed down my face as I lay there in the silent night. I vowed in that moment to become a thief.

Now, out of all the outlaws in the world, I bet you could not name even one driven by anything other than greed or power. I did not have a master in the craft but these basic principles I understood well.

As I scanned my surroundings carefully, not letting even a blade of grass escape my sight, my eyes settled on my parents. As a novice thief, they were fantastic practise targets. If I get caught, the stakes would be much lower. It’s not like they’d actually report me to the police!

I carefully sized up my prey. These two are very principled people who are harsh with themselves and endlessly generous to others. They are responsible in all their actions and supportive of their children. They never speak about others behind their backs, never ones to brag either. They are neither insecure nor self-pitying. If others owe them money, they would never chase the debt and often when it comes time to pay, they are the ones footing the bill and then some. I’ve never properly assessed my dear parents before but having taken a look, aside from their above average looks, all this stuff inside them is so outdated! All these old fashioned qualities that nobody wants anymore, yet they treat them like gold!

It was a decade or so ago where they met a ‘Count of Monte Cristo’ type. Since then, both of them have become more and more foolish. Idiotic buggers beyond all hope! Even to me, an empty person, stealing from them would not be worth my time. From the perspective of an absolute beginner desperate for some practise, I decide that these two chumps just don’t make the cut, no thank you sir.

Continue reading “Part Two: The Infamous Outlaw (江洋大盗)”

Part One: The Infamous Outlaw (江洋大盗)

Backstory: 三毛 (Sanmao) is a Chinese-born Taiwanese writer who was able to capture the imagination of my mother’s generation with her book, Stories of the Sahara, published in 1976.

Sanmao, in a nutshell is “an incurable romantic, a lonely dreamer and a gifted drifter”.

After falling in love with the Sahara from an article she read in National Geographic, Sanmao, a non-traditionalist even by 21st century standards, follows her heart to the great desert. Stories of the Sahara is a window into the life she builds there and her musings on the interactions she has with her Spanish husband and Sahwari neighbours in this completely different world to what she or her audience has ever experienced before.

More than four decades later, I am one of many young women who are finding and quickly falling in love with the unique blend of kindness, wisdom and freedom present in her work. It is such a pity that more of it is not translated into English as I truly believe many will resonate with this gentle force of nature of a woman now and into the future.

I won’t say much more about Stories of the Sahara except that you absolutely should get your hands on a copy. Currently, I’m on book 4/15 of her entire collection with the intention of reading them all. I wanted to share one of my favourite stories so far from 稻草人手记/A Scarecrow’s Scribbles from Sanmao’s time in the Canary Islands.

Please forgive any unintended errors or creative liberties I’ve taken in this translation. I hope you enjoy 江洋大盗/The Infamous Outlaw.

If you want to hear about the Chen family, I have to begin with our ancestors.

We had generations of scholars with not much to their names. The Chens are all known to be humble in possessions guided by a wealth of morals and principles.

You see, we didn’t just record people’s names in our family tree. Our trusty scribe/accountant diligently keeps track of everyone’s ethical income and expenses and the balance sheets he kept were never wrong.

Such is the family I grew up in. Logically speaking, you’d expect my parents to be fielding marriage proposals left, right and center ever since I was a little girl. Alas, that was not the case.

To borrow a phrase from the bible – if my parents were a grape vine, I would not be an off-shoot. In my own words, if a fortune teller was ever to try and predict my future, by the time he gets halfway through his calculations, the disgraceful daughter that I am would’ve already lost the entire family fortune.

Ever since I was born, I’ve locked away a huge secret in my heart. After I learnt how to speak, I’ve made sure to keep my lips sealed tight about this matter. They say blood runs thicker than water but even my parents have heard nothing about this matter.

What terrible secret do I hold that’s making me play so coy?

Fine, I’ll tell you, but only you. And only if you promise you won’t turn around and tell some John Smith or Jane Doe. Even if you are in a tight spot and decide to sell me out…just remember that Sanmao isn’t anyone special and you will get pennies for this information.

As I said earlier, ever since I was born, I knew this truth about myself. Even though on the surface, I don’t look any uglier or different in any discernable way from anyone else, that’s actually far from the truth.

I am a fraud. Not only am I a fraud, I am also empty inside. I’m so goddamn hollow I don’t even have any posters up on the barren walls of my insides. I don’t have a brain, heart, bravery or courage. I am well and truly a black hole, an abyss.

To give you another example of my condition, you know those sci-fi aliens that have come to Earth on their UFOs and have blended into humanity seamlessly? They look just like all these other people living happy fulfilling lives. If you didn’t have any special powers to spot these aliens, you’d never be able to catch them out. Well, I am one of those aliens.

I should let you know now that I don’t enjoy being an empty person. Being hollow inside makes it much harder to go about every day life. When the wind blows, or a stranger accidentally bumps into me, or even when a small branch brushes against me, I would be knocked onto the ground, unable to get back up.

From the first memory I have to when I turned fourteen, I was constantly falling over. My body was covered in bruises and everyone was laughing at me. Even though I had nothing else inside me, my tear ducts and temper never let me down. Every time I fall, they’re there to keep me company.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past fourteen years and have decided I simply cannot go on like this. If this continues, surely before I hit my twenties, I would have had a final fatal fall to my death. If I don’t want to die young, I need to find another way to save my life.

What can I do about this? After careful consideration, I decide to copy those shameless Japanese neighbours of mine and become a thief.

This world is so big and crowded, I figured. Everyone else has so much ready-made stuff. If I take a little from here and nip a little from there to fill up my empty hole, after a while, wouldn’t I become a full person?

After I made up my mind on the matter, I decided to go and get an X-ray.

(to be continued)

Tiny Letters: to remind myself the pandemic will be gone and I will still be here

Written in Chinese, English translation below.


A letter from the past.


22岁最后的一晚读这封信,发现现实和欲望和短短几个月前真的变了很多。 当然都是和疫情相关的那些事。

最近情绪真的很不稳定。动不动的就哭,或者从里到外的麻木。虽然每天坚持写日记但是差不多天天都一样的这些那些有的没的。 低沉的点点滴滴也没有什么营养,需要仔细的品味。 好久都没有写诗了。

那天Stephen问我有没有什么我真正热爱的事情,我居然头脑一片空白。 小时有真的有,摄像,写诗 等。疫情之前虽然没有我自认为可以被称作为热爱的活动,我也会为了我喜欢的事情忙碌 – 跳舞,攀岩,去美术馆,在大自然里发呆…而其中对我来说最重要的可能会是旅游吧。

‘18年本不应该发生的单行旅游 (本和新西兰高中同学约好一起游玩一个月,不了她最后因为找工作没有和我在曼谷碰面)。路上交的朋友,青游馆和沙发上的记忆…发现我好喜欢那时候的自己。也喜欢刚知道自己得到梦寐以求的工作后的自己。

几个小时前,我才和Darcy对话。当时真的很伤心。聊着聊着就说到了关于自己想要改变的部分。我给他打了一个(一点都不诗意的)比喻。 如果我是一辆车,现在我想提升和升级的地方太多太多了还不如换一部车。可惜要把自己完全换掉可没买一辆新车那么简单。

我真的很感谢这封信的到来。也许它不能完全的把我从颓废的几个月里拔出来,但是它提醒了我,我不是一直都这么不喜欢自己。 疫情不过是一个外来的因素。它压抑但不是一个永久的状态。

加油,马上就要turn 23岁的我。 而现在我也写一封信给十二月三十一号的你。

2020年,这个奇怪的一年马上就要结束了。如果你还没有定下名年的目标,那你就赶快想想吧。 希望这封信对你像对现在的我一样是一个惊喜。 希望你听到我现在的伤心和迷茫,可以笑着说你已经克服了。如果还没有,容我心疼一下下,然后告诉你我们真的没关系。 不管怎样,你已经很棒了。

我的一生至今很有幸 – 生活没有起过很大的波浪。(希望不会jinx自己) 目前我自身是一艘很小很小的船,微不足道的波浪和风就能把我的船身震动,行程搅乱。但不是还没有翻船吗!怕什么! 活得好好的话在可能的情况下能开朗点就开朗点 。主动权要放在自己的手心里然后握紧它。 世界上最无条件的永远支持和懂你的人不就是你自己吗…一定不能忘了对她好点。

Be gentle with yourself。 2021,新年快乐~

It’s the evening of 28 May 2020. You are watching some awful Chinese girl-group competition and an alert pops up on your phone.

A letter from the past.

You’ve completely forgotten that past-you has sent a copy of your ‘goals for when you turn 25’ to today-you.

Continue reading “Tiny Letters: to remind myself the pandemic will be gone and I will still be here”

可惜不是你 – If only it was you

I was in a long distance relationship when I heard this song live in late 2016. I instantly felt a pang in my chest, and it was in that moment that I consciously came to terms with the end of the relationship. There’s really no coming back from mourning a break up that hasn’t happened yet, so that’s why this is a really special song for me.

I tried to remain faithful in my translation but I’ve prioritised capturing the essence of the song first and foremost. I hope it makes you feel something. 

Suddenly, this moment fills with familiarity,
yesterday’s memories playing over reality.
The way I speak is more like you than me,
evidence of the love that used to be.

Almost believed my own lies,
and maybe fooled you too.
loving and being loved don’t always
balance to the same degree.

Being in someone else’s thoughts
is a type of luck, I agree, but I don’t know
how to give myself over completely.

Tried my best to change but I can’t
shift these pre-set boundaries.
I thought being by your side
could be the start of eternity,
but it feels like yesterday,
and yesterday feels so very far away.
Yet when I close my eyes, I can still see –
If only it was you, by my side until the end.
Don’t you remember when we walked and
our shoulders would collide?

But we lost our way, parted at fork-roads,
thank you for being there and holding
my hand, even now your gentleness
lingers on my palms.

That time when our hearts beat as one,
I wish I’m still allowed to care for you.
except you are now part of someone else’s
scenery, I hope in her world you can see
the shadows of night stars.

Tried my best to change but I can’t
shift these pre-set boundaries.
I thought being by your side
could be the start of eternity,
but it feels like yesterday,
and yesterday feels so very far away.
Yet when I close my eyes, I can still see –
If only it was you, by my side until the end.
Don’t you remember when we walked and
our shoulders would collide?

But we lost our way, parted at fork-roads,
thank you for being there and holding
my hand, even now your gentleness
lingers on my palms.

Thank you for being there and holding
my hand in yours, I can still feel your
warmth burning in my chest.

Continue reading “可惜不是你 – If only it was you”

Last Night [昨晚]


the morning after
she pretended vodka was water
all sleep deprived
and out of her mind
she tried to purge herself of regrets
even if it was mixed in
with chunks of last nights dinner

sticking shame-stained fingers
down her throat
she could not quite reach
any semblance of redemption
she was stuck with the potent perfume of bile
for the rest of the day
and she vowed to not touch smirnoff
ever again

Continue reading “Last Night [昨晚]”

CLICK [键盘的沉默]



maybe in five years time
I’ll suddenly cross your mind
and you’ll wonder
what that starry-eyed girl
(who was so desperately in love with you)
is up to now

your finger will hover over the green dot
next to my name…

you didn’t know that I cut my hair

or that I left the suburb next to the sea

to make a life in the city that never sleeps

your finger will hover over the green dot
next to my name…

but you do not

Continue reading “CLICK [键盘的沉默]”


Chinese sing Yao Beina recently passed away after bravely fighting against breast cancer for the second time. In memory of her, I have translated the last song she sung to the public – fish. I can only hope that I have captured the essence of this beautiful, sad song. You can listen to the original here. Rest In Peace, Yao Beina.

Artist: 姚贝娜
Songwriter (music):孙嫣然
Songwriter (lyrics):孙卓然


I am just a fish, (我是一只鱼)
staring out of the aquarium, at you (望着鱼缸外的你)
knocking on the glass, (敲了敲玻璃)
you smile at me, as you leave (你对我微笑离去)
swimming, swimming, you almost slip from memory (游啊游啊我却快忘了你)
first I forget the distance between you and me (甚至你和我的距离)
nestling into your shadow, cast onto the water’s edge (依偎你在水中的倒影)
I can’t wait for you to come closer to me (我会期待你再靠近)

yearn to lie in the warmth of your palms (渴望躺在你温暖掌心)
feel you, hug you, kiss you (感受你 拥抱你 亲吻你)
It’s a pity I can only swim, swim, swim (可惜我只能游个不停)
pretend that fish (装作鱼)
only have (只有)
7 seconds of memory (七秒记忆)
I am a fish, a fish (我是鱼 是鱼)
I am just a fish (我是一只鱼)

I don’t understand your language (听不懂你的言语)
so I stay silent in the water and just breathe (沉默在水里呼吸)
can’t bear to close my eyes (舍不得闭上眼睛)
swimming, swimming, I will commit you to memory (游啊游啊我会再牢记你)
and every single one of your expressions (还有你每一个表情)
water pools in my eyes, snucked up unexpectedly (水灌进眼底无声无息)
it blurs you, separates you, from me (却模糊了你 隔开你)

yearn to lie in the warmth of your palms (渴望躺在你温暖掌心)
feel you, hug you, kiss you (感受你 拥抱你 亲吻你)
kiss you (亲吻你)
yearn to lie in the warmth of your palms (渴望躺在你温暖掌心)
feel you, hug you, kiss you (感受你 拥抱你 亲吻你)
It’s a pity, I can only swim swim swim (可惜我只能游个不停)
pretend to be a fish (装作鱼)
only 7 seconds of memory (只有七秒记忆)
I am just a fish (我是一只鱼)
only 7 seconds of memory (只有七秒的记忆)