Literature in Translation: “Liu Qí-Wei’s Life as an Adventurer” by Liu Níng-Sheng

In 1993, I went to Papua New Guinea with my dad, Liú Qíwěi, who was then 82 years old. On our trip he lamented: “life has a way of messing with me: When I had the energy to travel, no one would sponsor my research; now that I’m old and have sponsors, I’ve lost all my energy.” However, when he was seventy, he was still researching different aboriginal tribes and collecting data on the Borneo culture. My dad was a strong man.

At our last stop in Papua New Guinea, everyone was suffering from mosquitoes bites along the Sepik river. Even with the most potent bug spray, the mosquitoes were unstoppable; and because I was filming and had to keep a steady hand, the mosquitoes were unscrupulous in their attacks. By the time I told my dad, “I’m not sure I can take this any longer,” my hands were utterly swollen. Seeing my condition, my dad finally agreed to go home with me a few days earlier than planned and we never went further up the river.  I was once bitten by fleas when we were in the Tali highlands in China. It was extremely itchy and the swell from the bite was as large as a water glass. To stop the swelling, a shaman grabbed a few bushels of urtica thunbergiana, pulled up my shirt, and repeatedly hit my body with them. The excruciating pain left me covered in cold sweat; however, the ritual also stopped the itching. Throughout the whole trip, my father was pickier than I was about our diet, which consisted of “vegetables,” also known as tree leaves, combined with fish, canned meat, or crackers. With no variety day in and day out, he became tired of the meals and would sometimes skip lunch and just drink water instead. What he enjoyed most was instant coffee, so we brought some of that with us.

From that adventure I learned of my father’s deep respect for foreign cultures–he never treated the people as lower class, the way most travelers would. When I once again traveled through Papua New Guinea, I saw that most tourists didn’t judge foreign cultures fairly. Instead, they would use the cultural perspectives innate in them to criticize a local culture. For example, when purchasing food, they would say, “So dirty!” or “Is this edible?” These attitudes are indeed worth discussing.

When I sat on the floor with a Papua New Guinean to chat, I could tell from the body language of other tourists why cultural exchanges are so difficult. They don’t have the desire to understand, let alone identify [with the locals]. The Papa New Guinean later said to me: “You’re the only one who’s willing to sit with us, to identify with us.” How tedious would life be if the whole world spoke only one language, ate the same food, and dressed the same? Through my dad’s mentoring and influence, I learned the importance of respecting other cultures. When I once passed through Tahiti, I noticed that the aboriginals were working hard to restore their native music and dance after enduring foreign influence over the past hundreds of years.

When Paul Gauguin went to Tahiti, he argued with the local government, which was trying to suppress the local culture after missionaries were offended by the perceived flirtation of the native dances. In fact, promoting reproduction and the longevity of their culture was the essence of their dances. Many aboriginals are fond of war; some are even cannibals and head hunters. Aboriginals partake in cannibalism believing that it allows them to attain the spirit and wisdom of the hunted, whom they see as their respected enemies. [But without understanding], we criticize their cultures and customs, and simply think that their behaviors are amoral and uncivilized. However, we need to first learn about their culture to understand the reasoning behind such ceremonies. These are all lessons I learned from my father.


  1. 巴布亞紐幾內亞 (Bā bùyà Niǔ Jī nèi yà)-Papua New Guinea. This usage is most common in Taiwan.  Abbreviated version: 巴紐(Bāniǔ).
  2. 感嘆 (gǎn tàn)-To sigh, to lament.
  3. 造化 (zào huà)-Nature, the creator.
  4. 弄人(nòng rén)-To mess with someone.
  5. 部落 (bù luò)- Tribe.
  6. 原住民 (yuán zhù mín)-Indigenous peoples / aborigine.
  7. 婆羅洲 (pó luó zhōu)-Borneo.
  8. 採集 (cǎijí)-To gather,  to collect, to harvest.
  9. 熬 (áo)-Endure.
  10. 防蚊藥 (fáng wén yào)- Bug (mosquito) spray. 防: to protect , to defend, to prevent. 蚊: mosquito. 藥: drug, medicine.
  11. 吃不消 (chī bu xiāo)-To be unable to tolerate or endure / to find sth difficult to manage
  12. 肆無忌憚 (sì wú jì dàn)- Unrestrained; unscrupulous. 肆: indulge. 無: without. 忌: fear. 憚: to shrink (from fear).
  13. 跳蚤 (tiào zao)-Fleas.
  14. 巫師 (wū shī)-Wizard, magician.
  15. 咬人貓 (yǎo rén māo)-Urtica thunbergiana.
  16. 民族 (mín zú)-Nationality, ethnic group.
  17. 商榷(shāng què)-To discuss, to bring up for discussion.
  18. 認識 (rèn shi)-To understand, to become acquainted to.
  19. 認同(rèn tóng)- To identify with, to recognize, to approve of.
  20. 薰陶 (xūn táo)-Influence.
  21. 風俗 (fēng sú)-Custom (social).
  22. 壓制 (yā zhì)-Suppress.
  23. 傳教士 (chuán jiào shì)-Missionary.
  24. 西匹河 (xī pī hé)- Sepik river.
  25. 大溪地 (dà xī dì)-Tahiti.

Original commentary, “劉其偉的探險生涯,” by 劉寧生著, from 聯合報副刊. Dated November 14, 2011.

Chinese-English Vocabulary Builder: Chinese Idioms with Hearts (心)

  1. 心知肚明 (xīn zhī dù míng)- To be well aware. 心: heart, mind. 知: to know. 肚: gut.  明: clarity; to understand.
    例句: 陳太太對丈夫的外遇心知肚明但卻沒勇氣揭發他。
    Example: Although Mrs. Chen is well-aware of her husband’s affair, she doesn’t have the courage to expose him.
  2. 心甘情願 (xīn gān qíng yuàn)-Out of one’s will; completely willing. 心: heart, mind, soul. 甘: voluntary. 情: feeling, sentiment.  願: wish, desire.
    例句: 為了讓孩子能有最好的未來,父母們心甘情願付出所有的一切。
    Example: Parents are willing to give all they can to guarantee the best future for their children.
  3. 意猶未盡 (yì yóu wèi jìn)-To wish to continue something. 意: idea, thought, intentions. 猶: like, similar to. 未: not yet. 盡: completed.
    例句: 此宴席在大家意猶未盡時結束。一夥人接著上酒吧續趴。
    Example: The reception ended before everyone was ready for the night to end. A group of people then went to a bar for the after party.
  4. 誠心誠意 (chéng xīn chéng yì)-Sincerely and earnestly. 誠: sincere, honest. 心: heart, mind, soul. 意: intentions.
    例句: 他誠心誠意的想跟你做朋友,你就答應他的邀約嘛。
    ExampleHe sincerely wants to be friends with you; why don’t you just go out with him?
  5. 提心吊膽 (tí xīn diào dǎn)-To be on edge. 提: to carry. 心: heart. 吊: hang. 膽: gallbladder. 
    例句: 自從他不小心冒犯他的上司,他在工作上總是提心吊膽,身怕被解職。
    Example: He’s been on edge, worried for his job, ever since he unintentionally offended his supervisor.
  6. 掉以輕心 (diào yǐ qīng xīn)-To be complacent, to lower one’s guard, or to treat something lightly. 掉: swing. 輕心: careless, casual.
    例句: 即便這是個安全的社區,晚上出門還是得處處留心,不得掉以輕心。
    Example: Even though this is a safe neighborhood, one should still be vigilant at night.
  7. 心平氣和 (xīn píng qì hé)-Calm and even tempered. 心: heart, mind, soul. 平: peaceful. even. 氣: breath; spirit. 和: harmonious.
    例句: 他的個性很好,即便情況不如意,他還是能心平氣和地處裡它。
    Example: He is well-tempered and is calm even when dealing with unpleasant situations.
  8. 別出心裁 (bié chū xīn cái)-To come up with a new idea or original approach. 別: different. 出: come up with. 心裁: idea, concept.
    例句: 她別出心裁,把窗簾拿來做裙子。
    ExampleShe came up with an idea and made a dress out of her curtains.
  9. 賞心悅目(shǎng xīn yuè mù)-Something that is pleasing and delightful. 賞: to appreciate. 心: heart, soul, mind. 悅: please, happy. 目: eyes.
    例句: 看完那部賞心悅目的電影後,她笑不合嘴。
    ExampleShe couldn’t stop smiling after that delightful movie.
  10. 粗心大意 (cū xīn dà yì)-To be negligent or careless. 粗心:  careless. 大意: careless.
    例句: 他總是粗心大意,忘東忘西的。
    Example: He’s so careless that he forgets things all the time.

References used:
MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary
Yahoo 奇摩字典

Chinese-English Vocabulary Builder: Chinese Idioms

  1. 叫苦不迭 (jiào kǔ bu dié)-To complain incessantly. 叫: to cry out, to shout. 苦: hardship, suffering. 不: no. 迭: repeatedly, frequently.
    例句: 王太太對購物、血拼的愛好讓皮夾子縮小的王先生叫苦不迭。
    Example: Ms. Wong’s love for shopping has led to many complaints from Mr. Wong, who holds a shrinking wallet.
  2. 匪夷所思 (fěi yí suǒ sī)-Unthinkable or extraordinary actions or ideas. 匪: same. 非 (fēi), not. 夷: ordinary. 思: think.
    例句: 這件謀殺案令人匪夷所思,十年了還是解不出來。
    Example: This is a difficult murder case that has yet to be solved even after ten years.
  3. 唯利是圖 (wéi lì shì tú)- To seek personal profit over everything. 唯: only. 利: gains, profit. 圖: to covet, to seek.
    例句: 此公司的創辦人唯利是圖,不在乎廉價材料和低廉的品質仍以高價出售產品,賺取高盈利。
    Example: The founder of this company seeks profit over everything, selling his products at high prices with high returns despite their cheap materials and  l0w quality.
  4. 得不償失 (dé bù cháng shī)- The gains do not make up for the losses. 得: to gain. 不: not. 償: return, to compensate. 失: to lose.
    例句: 失戀後她連續睡了好幾個星期,課也沒去上,結果影響了成績。真是得不償失。
    Example: After her breakup, she slept for weeks, missing her classes and thus affecting her grades. So not worth it.
  5. 打草驚蛇 (dǎ cǎo jīng shé)- To inadvertently alert an enemy.   打: to hit. 草: grass. 驚: startle, alert. 蛇: snake.
    例句: 玩躲貓貓時千萬不能出聲,打草驚蛇,免得被找著。
    Example: In the game of hide and seek, you must not make any sounds to alert the seeker, in case of getting caught.

References used:
MDBG Chinese-English Dictionary
Yahoo 奇摩字典
Bai Du 百科

Chinese-English Vocabulary Builder: Chinese Idioms

  1. 弄虛作假 ( nòng xū zuò jiǎ )-To play tricks, to deceive. 弄: to play, to fiddle with. 虛: false. 作: to make. 假: falsehood, deception.
    例句: 考試弄虛作假不但不誠實且不是聰明的表現。
    Example: Not only is cheating on a test dishonest, it also isn’t a smart move.
  2. 孰是孰非 (shú shì shú fēi)- Who’s right and who’s wrong. 孰: who, which,what. 是: right. 非: wrong.
    例句: 現在不是管孰是孰非的時候,趕緊把問題解決才是最要緊的。
    Example: This is not the time to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. What’s most urgent  is to fix the problem as quickly as possible.
  3. 人山人海 (rén shān rén hǎi)-Used to describe large crowds of people. 人: people. 山: mountain. 海: sea.
    例句: 聖派翠剋日當天,芝加哥河邊人山人海,大家都圍著看被染綠的河。
    Example: On St. Patrick Day, the Chicago riverside was surrounded with crowds watching the river turn green.
  4. 不知所措 (bù zhī suǒ cuò)- To be at a loss, not knowing what to do. 不知: not knowing. 所: place. 措: to place, to deal with.
    例句: 當貓狗打起來,害怕的妹妹便不知所措的哭了起來。
    Example: When the dog and cat picked up a fight with each other, the frightened little girl began to cry, not knowing what to do.
  5. 將信將疑 (jiāng xìn jiāng yí)- Skeptical; to take with a grain of salt. 將: going to. 信: believe. 疑: doubt, suspicious.
    例句: 電子書出剛上市之時,出版業及作者都對此產品將信將疑,不願電子化。
    Example: When e-books first entered the market, both publishers and authors were skeptical about the product and were unwilling to go electronic.
  6. 緩兵之計 (huǎn bīng zhī jì)-Delaying tactics / stalling /measures to stave off an attack.
    例句: 原來剛才那陣騷動是搶劫那家店的緩兵之計。
    Example: As it turns out, the ruckus just a moment ago was a distraction from the robbery happening in the store.
  7. 錯漏百出 (cuò lòu bǎi chū)-To be filled with errors and omissions. 錯漏: error and negligence. 錯: mistake, wrong. 漏:  to leave out by mistake. 百: hundred. 出: to occur.
    例句: 他的算數錯漏百出。沒有一提是正確的。
    Example: His math is filled with mistakes; none of the questions are answered correctly.

Literature in Translation: 〈事物〉 by 瓦歷斯.諾幹

“Objects” by Wǎlìsī Nuògàn

Poets say that poetry is an out-of-body experience….It is a state of tugging and pulling of the soul. When observing objects, you’ll notice that everything appears to be a reflection of your own self-centered ego. Scythes symbolize your eagerness to harvest your work, statues seem to embody your vulgarity and disdain toward the world,  flutes are in fact hollow tibia, and tombstones, well, let’s not even go there. It’s difficult to dig deeper into the meaning behind objects because what we see is often a reflection of ourselves, the same way history is a reflection of humanity. Even external experiences can stir up something within us, and there is no escape.

For more information about the author, please click here for his bio in Chinese.



  1. 事物 (shì wù)- Things, objects.
  2. 離散 (lísàn)– Separation.
  3. 不置可否 (bù zhì kě fǒu)- To show indifference; not agreeing nor disagreeing. 不: not. 置: place. 可: agreement. 否: disagreement.
  4. 鍛鍊字句 (duàn liàn zì jù)- 鍛鍊: training. 字句: words, expressions, writing.
  5. 本質 (běn zhì)- Nature, essence, innate character. 本: origin, root. 質: material.
  6. 拉扯 (lā che) Tug and pull.
  7. 不知天高地厚 (bù zhī tiān gāo dì hòu)- Literal: Oblivious to the sky’s limit and the earth’s deepness. Used to describe one’s arrogance and naiveness. 不知: doesn’t know. 天: sky. 高: high. 地: ground厚: thick; deep or profound .
  8. 慾望 (yù wàng)- Desire, longing.
  9. 雕像 (diāo xiàng)- Sculpture; (carved statue). 雕: to engrave, to carve. 像: figure, image.
  10. 猥瑣 (wěi suǒ)- Wretched, vulgar. 猥: cheap, vulgar, obscene. 瑣: fragmented.
  11. 睥睨 (bì nì)-  To look disdainfully out of the corner of one’s eye; to look down upon.
  12. 鐮刀 (lián dāo)- Scythe. 刀: knife.
  13. 墓碑 (mù bēi)- Gravestone; tombstone. 墓: grave. 碑: monument; an upright stone tablet.
  14. 長笛 (cháng dí)- Flute.
  15. 脛骨(jìng gǔ)- Tibia. 脛: lower part of the leg. 骨: bone.
  16. 卒讀 (zú dú)- To finish reading. 卒: to finish. 讀: reading.
  17. 遁逃 (dùn táo)- To escape.

*Original piece published in 《二行詩》筆記/事物 in United Daily News (聯合報) on November 21, 2011.

Chinese-English Vocabulary Builder: Chinese Idioms

1. 鋌而走險 (tǐng ér zǒu xiǎn)- to take a risk out of desperation; taking a risk as the last resort. 鋌: to walk really fast. 走險: to go in the direction of danger.
例句: 阿拉丁為了填飽肚子,鋌而走險,到處偷取食物。
Example: Desperate to fill his stomach, Aladdin had no choice but to steal, even at the risk of getting caught.

2. 忍俊不禁 (rěn jùn bù jīn)- Cannot help but laugh. 忍: to hold, to restrain. 忍俊: to smile. 不禁: unable to control oneself.
例句: 他說的笑話總讓人忍俊不禁。
Example: His jokes are always so funny people cannot help but laugh.

3. 賠了夫人又折兵 (péi le fū rén yòu zhé bīng)- Used to describe a loss on both fronts; to lose to a bargain. 賠: to suffer a loss, to pay. 折: to lose, a loss.
例句: 她花了一大筆錢加入健身房,希望能夠擁有窈窕身材。但她不但沒用她的健身房會員,體重還連連上升,真是賠了夫人又折兵。
Example: She spent a huge chunk of money to join a gym in hopes of getting the perfect body. However, she didn’t used her gym membership and  continued to gain weight; even though she spent the money, she still didn’t lose the weight as planned.

Happy learning!

Literature in Translation: Prostate-Specific Antigen

The Key Number: PSA ≦ 6.5

Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) is a type of protein produced by the prostate gland. Its levels increase with age, and the normal rates are 3.5 for those under age 59.; 4.5 for those between ages 60 to 69; and 6.5 for those between ages 70 to 79.

High PSA levels could be a sign of prostatitis (infection of the prostate) or benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate). In some, it may even be a marker for prostate cancer. However, diagnosis of prostate cancer is usually determined by digital rectal exams and ultrasounds of the rectum and prostate.

If the possibilities of prostate cancer cannot be ruled out, a biopsy would be done for pathological diagnosis. Patients who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer can use PSA to assess and track their response to therapy.


  1. 攝護腺 (shè hù xiàn) or 前列腺 (qián liè xiàn)- Prostate gland.
  2. 攝護腺炎 (shè hù xiàn yán)-Prostatitis, or infection of the prostate. 炎: infection.
  3. 攝護腺特異抗原 (shèhùxiàn tèyì kàngyuán)- Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA). 攝護腺: prostate gland. 特異: distinct, peculiar, specific. 抗原: Antigen.
  4. 數值 (shù zhí)-Number, level, score.
  5. 良性攝護腺肥大 (liángxìng shèhùxiàn féidà)- Benign prostatic hyperplasia. 良性: positive, good, benign (tumor). 攝護腺: prostate gland. 肥大: swelling, hypertrophy.
  6. 標記 (biāo jì)- Marker.
  7. 排除(pái chú)- To rule out.
  8. 直腸指診 (zhí cháng zhǐ zhěn)or 肛診 (gāng zhěn- Digital rectal exam. 直腸: rectum. 指: finger. 診: exam. 肛: anus.
  9. 切片檢查(qiē piàn jiǎn chá)- biopsy. 切片: slice. 檢查: examination.
  10. 效果(xiào guǒ)-Results, effect.
  11. 超音波 (chāo yīn bō)-Ultrasound. 超: ultra, super. 音: sound. 波: waves.
  12. 確診 (què zhěn)- To make a definite diagnosis.

*Original article “PSA ≦ 6.5” from 聯合報D2。Date: 中華民國一〇〇年十一月十六日。

English-Chinese Vocabulary Builder: Cosmetics

Face- 臉 (liǎn)

Foundation- 粉底 (fěn dǐ). 粉: powder. 底: foundation, bottom, base.

  1. Liquid Foundation- 液狀粉底 (yè zhuàng fěn dǐ). 狀: shape, condition. Here it refers to the base of the foundation.
  2. Mineral Foundation-礦物粉底 (kuàng wù fěn dǐ), or 礦物狀粉底 (kuàng wù zhuàng fěn dǐ). 礦物: mineral.
  3. Cream Foundation- 膏狀粉底 (gāo zhuàng fěn dǐ). 膏: cream, paste, ointment, balm.
  4. Powder Foundation- 粉狀粉底 (fěn zhuàng fěn dǐ)
  5. Foundation Sponge- 粉底海綿 (fěn dǐ hǎi mián). 海綿: sponge. 海: ocean. 綿: cotton.


  1. Loose Powder- 蜜粉(mì fěn). 蜜: honey.
    Used to set the makeup so that the makeup lasts longer/用來定妝以讓妝更持久(yònglái  dìngzhuāng yǐ  ràng zhuāng gèng chíjiǔ)。
  2. Pressed Powder-粉餅 (fěn bǐng). 餅: flat cake.
  3. To apply powder- 撲粉 (pū fěn). 撲: here it means to pat on.
  4. Puff (for powder)- 粉撲 (fěn pū).

Concealer- 遮瑕膏 (zhē xiá gāo). 遮: to hide, to conceal, to cover up (short coming). 瑕: same as 瑕疵 (xiá cī), which means blemish, flaws. 膏: ointment, paste, or cream.

Blush/Rouge- 腮紅 (sāi hóng). 腮: cheek. 紅: red.

Eyes- 眼睛(yǎn jing)

  1. Eyeshadow- 眼影 (yǎn yǐng). 眼: 眼睛, eye. 影: 影子, shadow.
  2. Eyeliner- 眼線 (yǎnxiàn).
  3. Eyeliner pencil- 眼線筆 (yǎnxiànbǐ)
  4. Eyeliner, Liquid-  液狀 (yè zhuàng).

Eyelashes- 眼睫毛 (yǎn jié máo)

  1. Mascara- 睫毛膏(jiémáogāo).
  2. Brush- 刷子 (shuāzi).
  3. Eyelash Curler- 睫毛夾 (jié máo jiá).
  4. False (eye)lashes, Falsies- 假睫毛 (jiǎ jié máo).

Eyebrows- 眉毛, 眉 (méi mao, méi)

  1. Eyebrow Pencil- 眉筆 (méi bǐ).
  2. Brow Gel- 眉膏 (眉膏).
  3. Tweezers- 鑷子 (niè zi). Used to pluck one’s eyebrows/用來拔眉毛的 (yònglái bá       眉毛 méi mao de). 拔: to pull out.

Lips- 嘴唇, or just 唇.

  1. Lip Liner- 唇筆 (chún bǐ). 筆: pencil, pen.
  2. Lipstick- 口紅 (kǒu hóng). 口: mouth. 紅: red.
  3. Lip Balm/Chapstick- 潤唇膏 (rùn chún gāo). 潤: moisturizing, smoothing. 唇: lips. 膏: balm, ointment, paste.
  4. Lip Gloss- 唇蜜 (chún mì) . 蜜: honey.
  5. Lip Color- 唇彩 (chún cǎi). Can refer to lip gloss or lipsticks. 彩: colors.

English-Chinese Vocabulary Builder: “Is Adding Fiber To Food Really Good For Your Health?”

Here’s a short list of health- and medical-related vocabularies I compiled from an NPR article, “Is Adding Fiber To Food Really Good For Your Health?”, dated February 13, 2012.

  1. Fiber- 纖維 (xiān wéi).
  2. Synthetic fiber- 人造纖維 (rén zào xiān wéi). 人: man, human. 造: made.
  3. Public health- 公共衛生 (gōng gòng wèi shēng). 公共: public. 衛生: health, hygiene, sanitation.
  4. Food additives- 食品添加物 (shí pǐn tiān jiā wù). 食品: food. 添加物: additive. 添加: to add. 物: object, matter.
  5. Scurvy– 壞血病 (huài xuè bìng). 壞: bad. 血: blood. 病: disease.
  6. Ingredient- 成分 (chéng fèn).
  7. Disease- 疾病 (jí bìng).
  8. Prevent (diseases)- 預防 (yù fáng).
  9. Cure (diseases)- verb: 治療 (zhì liáo)、醫治 (yī zhì)、根治 (gēn zhì)、治癒 (zhì yù). 根: root.
  10. Rickets佝僂病 (gōu lóu bìng) or 小兒軟骨病 (xiǎo’ér ruǎn gǔ bìng).  小兒: children. 軟: soft. 骨: bone. 病: disease.
  11. Iodine- 碘 (diǎn).
  12. Goiters– 甲狀腺腫 (jiǎ zhuàng xiàn zhǒng). 甲狀腺: thyroid gland. 腫: swelling, swollen, to swell.
  13. Carbohydrates- 醣類 (táng lèi), or 碳水化合物 (tàn shuǐ huà hé wù). 碳: carbon. 水: water. 化合物: chemical compound.
  14. Colon cancer- 大腸癌  (dà chángái). 大腸: the large intestine. 癌: cancer.
  15. Cardiovascular disease- 心血管疾病 (xīn xuè guǎn jí bìng). 心: same as 心臟; the heart (organ). 血管: vein/artery. 疾病: disease.
  16. Heart disease- 心臟病 (xīn zàng bìng). 心臟: heart (organ).
  17. Food scientist- 食品專家 (shí pǐn zhuān jiā). 食品: food. 專家: specialist, expert.

Happy translating and stay healthy!

Literature in Translation: On Diary Keeping

My earliest and most vivid memory of my grandpa (爺爺 yéyé) has been this: “爸爸從三年級就開始寫日記。(Your dad has kept a diary since he was in third grade).” My grandpa is a proud father who raised a smart, hard-working, educated son. Since my dad was young, my grandpa made sure that my dad focused on school work, made sure that he ate well, and tried his best to provide my dad with everything he needed to succeed as an educated man. When my dad was in third grade, my grandpa told my dad to start keeping a diary. I asked my dad recently if there was a reason why grandpa made him do so, and he said he was only following what he was told and never asked why. He did however, benefit from this exercise as it created the foundation for his thinking and writing abilities.

I knew how proud my grandpa was for my dad’s diary keeping  because of how many times he told me that my dad did. When I became a third grader, being the eldest child, I had to continue on the “family legacy.” I, too, started keeping a diary. At first, I did so begrudgingly, with the purpose of simply having something to hand to my dad at the end of the day. But somehow, over the years, this chore became a habit, and by the time I was in seventh grade, I couldn’t live a day without writing in my diary. As a student in Taiwan, middle school was hard, with long hours of classes and studying, but even if I came home after 9 p.m. and still had more studying to do, I would rather stay up late than not write in my diary. It was how I released stress, how I recorded my life, and how I documented the changes I’ve been through over the years. Now as an adult, I continue to keep a journal. My entries are not always as detailed, but I do try my best to write a little each day.

I recently came across an article called “看見往日忽視的細節” (Noticing the Details We Missed from the Past) from 聯合報, a Taiwanese newspaper. The article documents the meeting of authors who participated in a diary series that Elite publishing house started. It talks about how the writers approached their commissioned diary publications and what went on through their minds as they recorded their daily lives for the public eye. Some take a non-personal approach, while others are more risky and reveal their personal selves. Below is my translation of the article. Enjoy!

“Seeing Details I Would Have Overlooked in the Past”

A Realistic Life Performance
At the beginning of the session, Yǔ​ Wénzhèng (宇文正) who had hosted numerous literary events in the past said that this really was a special discussion; she laughed as she expressed her relief for having finally published an essay collection, New Mom and Little Apple 《新媽和蘋果籽》, a “themed diary” that documents the process of pregnancy, and gave her  the ability to sit here and discuss this topic amongst other authors. Speaking of diary literature, the first books that  come to mind are books she read in her youth, Xú​ Zhì​mó‘s Diaries《徐志摩日記》, Zhū Tiān​xīn’s (朱天心) Jī Rǎng Gē 《擊壤歌》, and a journal written by a thirteen-year-old girl in hiding from the Nazis, Annie’s Diary. But what she was most curious about was where author Yǐndì (隱地) found the courage to publish a series of diaries by authors, and what his motivations were in publishing these diaries.

Yǐndì mentioned that the idea of keeping a diary and publishing it came from Liú Sēnyáo (劉森堯), and the implementation led to surprising rewards: “keeping a diary has kept me busy,” “keeping a diary has made me even more sensitive to my surroundings…seeing details I would have have overlooked in the past.” Since submitting his first article for publication forty years ago, Yǐndì has continued to write, without a break. In the past, he would on average publish one book every two years, but since he began keeping a diary in 2002, he’s published fourteen books over the past eight or nine years. The speed at which he writes had increased after his year-long “training” in diary keeping.

The year he kept a diary, whenever Yǐndì found that he was out of ideas, he would go see a movie or listen to a song, simply for the sake of writing in his diary; because of this, life was even more eventful, even more proactive. His diary entries are a true reflection of life, but are also a performance of life.

Not Real, Nor Fake
Xí Mùróng (席慕蓉 ) wrote at the beginning of her book 2006/Xi Murong 《2006/席慕蓉》 that: “This is not a real diary, but it also isn’t a fake one.” Contrary to Yǐndì’s frank, emotion-filled diary entries, Xí Mùróng admits that she did not write down anything that negatively described others. It’s not because she never complained about people, but because she only wants to keep the most precious aspects of life in her diaries.

In January of 2006, Xí Mùróng joined the effort of  the diary series (日記叢書) at the invitation of Elite Books [of Taiwan] (爾雅). She admitted that her joining of this effort wasn’t without selfish motivations:  that July marked the 800th year since Mongolia’s founding, and it would be wonderful to be able to participate in this important event while recording the experience in a diary. Xí Mùróng said: “2006 was the most complete year in my life.”

Slanted Personal Perspectives
Yǔ​ Wénzhèng compared everyone’s diaries: Yǐndì’s diaries recorded life, food, and also included some examination of current affairs, which are often filled with biting criticism; Xí Mùróng is like a traveler, recording the footprints of her travels in her diaries; and Chén Yùhóng’s ( 陳育虹 ) 2010/Chen Yuhong 《2010/陳育虹》is strongly thematic. In citing an array of literature, her entries embody the style and feel of poetry, a good means for introducing young readers to literature.

Chén Yùhóng said she knew from the outset that her writings would constitute a journal and not a private diary. With the  knowledge that her diary was to become published and public, she knew that there would be some reservations; but also because it was indeed a diary, it didn’t need to follow a specific format, so she could write about whatever that came to mind. Her writings followed the flow of time. Besides memoranda, writings on travels, and her thoughts, current affairs were a large component in her diary. She believed that keeping a diary is like writing poetry in that it must be topical. She laughed when she said that after finally completing her year-long diary entries, she suddenly felt as if she could live life casually and realized what a great motivator diary keeping could be.

In response to the debate on whether the diaries are  “real or fake,” she quoted Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” Although these diaries are real, they also have a personal slant.

Write it However You Want
Professor Liáng Xīnróng (梁欣榮), an expert of Western literature, summarized the different styles of diaries he’s read. Puritans routinely wrote diaries addressed God; these entries were serious in tone but tedious to read. Benjamin Franklin, whose diaries were published [in his autobiography] as the first diary literature, only wrote about his good side and it thus became known as “President of Ethics” in the genre. Some people on the other hand, such as Heiner Müller, was unreserved in revealing everything, even descriptive expressions of lust

Liáng Xīnróng said that for a while, he had also kept a diary to keep track of his life by recording the meaningful moments. Through diary keeping, he was able to reflect and be more introspective. At one point, he even left a pen by his bedside and recorded every detail in thirty or so of his dreams, the movements, the colors, all sorts of minute details. Although he no longer keeps a diary, he still spends thirty minutes before bed reflecting on the day—it’s always as if he’s living the day all over again.

At this point of the discussion, Yǐndì began to encourage the participants, both old and new members, to keep a diary. He said that people tend to feel nostalgic about good memories from the past, and by keeping a diary, one will have the means to revisit these memories in the future. Not only so, keeping a diary can strengthen one’s writing skills; young writers also can use diary keeping as a way to explore different subject matters. Xí Mùróng mentioned that when she saw the amber moon on one of her walks along the Gobi desert, she was inspired to draw the horizon and the moon in her journal. But when she returned, all she saw in her journal was a squiggly line with a circle on top. Fortunately there are words [to accompany her drawing], which helped her to remember the sight of the rising moon. Chén Yùhóng concluded by saying that maybe one day when a person passes away, people will not ask whether he left a will, but whether he kept a diary. Yǔ​ Wénzhèng closed the discussion by encouraging everyone to start a diary.

Original Chinese article was from D3 of 聯合報副刊 dated May 6, 2012.


  1. 座談 (zuò​tán)- Discussion, informal.
  2. 主題日記 (zhǔ​ tí rì ​jì)- Themed diary.
  3. 日記文學 (rì ​jì wén ​xué)- Diary literature.
  4. 付梓 (fù​ zǐ)- 引申為印刷書籍。To send (a manuscript) off to a press or printers.
  5. 眾家 (zhòng jiā)- All families, everyone.
  6. 針砭  (zhēn ​biān)- Literal: needle made of stone. In ancient times, stone-made needles were used to treat illnesses (acupuncture). Now the phrase is used to mean the act of encouraging a person to change for the better. 針砭時事 would mean to criticize or comment on current affairs.
  7. 手札 (shǒu zhá)- Personal notes or journal.
  8. 套公式 (tào gōng ​shì)- To fit into a formula.
  9. 見機行事 (jiàn​ jī ​xíng​ shì)- To act on opportunities/ to play by the ear.
  10. 驅動力 (qū​ dòng ​lì)- Driving force.
  11. 琥珀色 (hǔ​ pò sè)- Amber color.
  12. 收穫 (shōu​ huò)- Literal: to harvest. Used to define gains and rewards.
  13. 創作 (chuàng ​zuò)- To create, to write, to produce (creative work).
  14. 積極 ( jī​ jí)- Active, proactive, positive (outlook).
  15. 率真 (shuài ​zhēn)- Frank, sincere.
  16. 叢書 (cóng​ shū)- Book series or collections.
  17. 辛辣 (xīn ​là)- Spicy. Figuratively meaning biting criticism.
  18. 檢討 (jiǎn​ tǎo)-  Self-criticism, review
  19. 幸好 (xìng​ hǎo)- Fortunately.
  20. 備忘錄 (bèi​ wàng​ lù)- Memorandum; written reminders.