translations to the tanglish by Joshua Ip

The screen glows before my window
The sound of rain playing on the meditation app
I raise my eyes to translations to the tanglish
I look away, remembering my Chinese tuition classes.

translations to the tanglish begins, of course, with a very Singaporean, very modern-world version of that old Li Bai classic about the moon outside your window. Like many of us Chinese-but-more-Singaporean folks, I don’t remember a single other Tang Shi, notwithstanding the valiant efforts of my poor Chinese tuition teacher of 10 years, who ended her time with me by literally shaking my hand and murmuring in resignation, “At least you passed.”

To be able to fully appreciate the sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued satire in Joshua Ip’s very Joshua-Ip-ish collection, it’s pretty essential to dig up your old Chinese dictionary (honour your tuition teacher) and crack into the original poems. The beauty and subtlety of each carefully composed line, juxtaposed against Ip’s modernised ‘translations’ (in language, theme, and structure, as well as emotive effect) makes for a wild ride.

I chuckled many times, while at the same time discovering many of the original Chinese poems for the first time, and realising that the (SO BORING) poems from school about peonies and carp are far from the best examples of Chinese poetry. My favourite discovery, also by Li Bai, is about booze. And the ‘Tanglish’ translation, keeping in the general spirit of the original, features all the loud, cheerful, grumpy things uncles in kopitiams shout when they’ve had too much Tiger Beer.

translations to the tanglish is an entertaining read on so many levels, from making Tang Shi fun (at last!) to poking you into that uniquely Singaporean self-awareness that Joshua Ip is so good at. If you always hated your Chinese textbooks, well... this is adamantly NOT a textbook.


by Meihan Boey