Sunday, September 16, 2007

Old Chinese Classics

I am an ethnic Chinese but has been schooled in English all my life. My mother-tongue is Chinese and I learnt Chinese as a second language. Though I take tremendous pleasure in reading, I have never thought of reading Chinese language books as pleasurable. The reason is that I would be plodding along and skipping words and thus, meaning, because I may not recognise the Chinese characters and phrases. This handicap has restricted my access to the many Chinese language books that are published and its Chinese social, cultural and historical thought. As a Chinese, that was and remains a great loss. So imagine my delight, as I was passing through Beijing Capital Airport to find full English translations of the Chinese classics "Three Kingdoms", "Outlaws of the Marsh", "A Dream of Red Mansions" and others being sold. Actually, I shouldn't be surprised as, after all, the bookstore is in Beijing Airport, which catered to the travelers' interests in China and the Chinese.

You might be surprised at my 'discovery' for surely, such books are available in metropolitan Singapore, especially where roughly 70% of its inhabitants are ethnic Chinese? But truth be told, I have never been able to find a full translation of these books in the more popular bookstores, not even Popular Bookstore - a bookstore that began its business selling Chinese language books. The best there was were books written in the graphic style (think comics), and thus were abridged versions. I suppose if one looked hard enough, one would find them sold in some obscure bookshop. Strangely, I never looked up the public libraries. In any case, I bought the "Three Kingdoms" for RMB130, which is roughly S$26. This particular translation came in three volume hardbacks. I also put my money down on the 3-volume hardback "Outlaws of the Marsh" at a similar price. It was really a bargain. Considering that the same "Three Kingdom" books cost US$40, before shipping, on, it was a steal. So when you next in Beijing Capital Airport, be sure to drop by the bookshop (sorry, I did no notice its name) for these invaluable translations of the Chinese classics at bargain prices.

But why buy anyway? Because the stories in these books are gripping...

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