Chinese Stories in English
I've been working in the Liuzhou Public Library for a while now. My main job is putting returned books back on the shelves, two days a week, four hours a day. (I'm using the words "job" and "work" loosely. It's an unpaid volunteer position – my visa won't allow me to take a real job. And during a four-hour shift I average about 15 minutes of actual work. The rest of the time I sit around reading.
The chief librarian says the days I work happen to be the slowest days of the week. She also says things will get busier during the summer when the kids are all out of school. I think she misunderstands me. I'm not complaining about having nothing to do, not in the slightest. In fact, except for the lack of substantive remuneration, 15 minutes of work in a four hour shift is just about my idea of a perfect job!
I did spend a couple of days sorting books, and that kept me pretty busy. Fortunately the librarian in charge of that project is a chatty sort who encouraged me to take multiple breaks so he'd have someone to talk to. He didn't have to encourage very hard.
The free time gives me a chance to explore the library. I've noticed that lot of shelf space in the nonfiction stacks is devoted to Marxist-Leninist studies, including the thoughts of Chairman Mao et al. There aren't many books on those shelves, however. At first I wondered if they might all be checked out. (Ha!) It turns out most of them have been moved to the research stacks, where two old retired guys spend their days reading them.
On the other hand, the open stacks have shelves and shelves of pop psychology books (like "100 Things a Woman Wants") and business management texts (even Dale Carnegie). The bookstores are filled with those things, too. They seem to be all the rage in China these days.
I was a bit surprised to find that the library has Chinese translations of a fair selection of Western fiction. George Carlin's "Last Words" caught my eye, as well as a one-volume set of "Animal Farm" and "1984". That latter book didn't look like it had ever been opened, though. Too bad.
The librarian says they also have some foreign language books, but they're kept in a special room that's not open to the general public. The open stacks do have a smattering of Chinese/English "ponies" (where the two languages are juxtaposed as an aid to language study.) For example, you can get transcripts of the TV show "Friends" with Chinese translations, if you're hard up for something to read.
The other day I picked up a copy of "An Illustrated History of America". I read very slowly, especially in Chinese, but since this book was mostly pictures I was able to get through it in three hours or so. Up until 1945, it was actually quite well done – about as objective as the typical U.S. high school textbook, but from the other point of view, naturally. After 1945, though…. Well, let's just say I learned some things about the U.S. that I never would have imagined were true. Did you know, for example, that the period of American economic prosperity lasted from 1946 to 1979? Since then, the U.S. economy has been "hovering". Hmmm. I wonder why I never noticed that. Some of the books have English titles, even though they're written in Chinese. I saw one called "Erotic Movies". Not illustrated, though. What fun is that?
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