The great thing about learning Chinese is that your Chinese teacher gives you a new name. And so they gave me this name: Kè, which means to overcome or to conquer, and Wén, and that's the character for literature or the arts. Kè Wén, Conqueror of the Classics.
... So there I am in the embassy in Beijing, off to the Great Hall of the People with our ambassador, who had asked me to interpret for his first meeting in the Great Hall of the People. .... And so the ambassador began with this inelegant phrase. He said, "China and Australia are currently enjoying a relationship of unprecedented closeness." And I thought to myself, "That sounds clumsy. That sounds odd. I will improve it." Note to file: Never do that.
It needed to be a little more elegant, a little more classical, so I rendered it as follows. [In Chinese] There was a big pause on the other side of the room. You could see the giant pooh-bahs at the head of the horseshoe, the blood visibly draining from their faces, and the junior woodchucks at the other end of the horseshoe engaged in peals of unrestrained laughter. Because when I rendered his sentence,"Australia and China are enjoying a relationship of unprecedented closeness," in fact, what I said was that Australia and China were now experiencing fantastic orgasm.
That was the last time I was asked to interpret. But in that little story, there's a wisdom, which is, as soon as you think you know something about this extraordinary civilization of 5,000 years of continuing history, there's always something new to learn.
***Moving along... I would also like to quote a passage containing a great deal of cultural wisom.
Let me first go to China's views of the U.S. and the rest of the West.
Number one: China feels as if it's been humiliated at the hands of the West through a hundred years of history, beginning with the Opium Wars. When after that, the Western powers carved China up into little pieces, so that by the time it got to the '20s and '30s, signs like this one appeared on the streets of Shanghai. ["No dogs and Chinese allowed"] How would you feel if you were Chinese, in your own country, if you saw that sign appear? China also believes and feels as if, in the events of 1919, at the Peace Conference in Paris, when Germany's colonies were given back to all sorts of countries around in the world, what about German colonies in China? They were, in fact, given to Japan. When Japan then invaded China in the 1930s the world looked away and was indifferent to what would happen to China. And then, on top of that, the Chinese to this day believe that the United States and the West do not accept the legitimacy of their political system because it's so radically different from those of us who come from liberal democracies,and believe that the United States to this day is seeking to undermine their political system. China also believes that it is being contained by U.S. allies and by those with strategic partnerships with the U.S.right around its periphery. And beyond all that, the Chinese have this feeling in their heart of hearts and in their gut of guts that those of us in the collective West are just too damned arrogant. That is, we don't recognize the problems in our own system, in our politics and our economics, and are very quick to point the finger elsewhere, and believe that, in fact, we in the collective West are guilty of a great bunch of hypocrisy.