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Reading Chen Qiufan's Waste Tide (荒潮, 陈楸帆): Prologue


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Introduction and sources for the book.  I'll reiterate that as far as I can see, there's no reason you couldn't read along in either the Chinese or the English, and at the moment, all you need is the free Amazon sample on Kindle, phone or tablet.


A short sharp start today, as the prologue (楔子 )is only 3,300 characters long. I would have combined it with the first chapter, but that's relatively long at 10,000 characters. The chapter average is about 7,000 characters, and yes, I did spend too long working all this out. 


Basically what I'm doing is reading this while noting interesting vocab (not necessarily everything I look up) and plot points that I think are needed to follow what's going on. I'm also, eg, doing a search for character names to see if they come up later and are important, or are bit parts. 


We're thrown right into the middle of the action here* - eco-terrorists from the group 款冬组织 are aboard a 冲锋艇 (lit assault boat, but I'm thinking rigid inflatable) attempting to board a container ship, the “长富”号, carrying electronic waste into China. We get a bit of background on our POV character, 何赵淑怡 (Sug-Yi)** and the organisation while we watch a high-risk boarding attempt unfold.


I'm not yet sure how important the prologue is for the rest of the book - Sug-Yi is mentioned a couple of time later on, and the events here are referenced a few chapters on. As far as I can tell (I'm about 1/3 of the way through the whole thing) you can sit back and enjoy the show, look out for first mention of our main location, 硅屿  (Silicon Isle) and note the overall outcome of the assault.


Some questions to keep your eyes open for: 

1) Sug-Yi used to wear a product sourced from an endangered animal. Why? What's the link between that animal and the weather?

2) What indications of high / futuristic technology do we get? I spotted one, there may be more. 

3) The team member attempting to board the container ship (托马斯) has, by my count, three things to help him. What are they? What sport does he like?

4) The crew of the container vessel use two (? - I'm writing the questions some time after doing the reading, but I can think of at least two) strategies to foil the boarding attempt. What are they, and what ultimately determines the outcome.


Vocab and other notes: 

The painting referenced is this one. 

香腺 is scent gland

曾几何时, not long ago

霍迪尼 , Houdini

恶魔的馈赠 - is this a reference to something? 


I should maybe  be capturing more vocab, actually. 


*don't worry, we get thrown right back out of it soon

** I'll use whatever's easiest to type most of the time, some English names have come from the Ken Liu translation. 


Next chapter - I'm thinking Friday. If there's much interest I'll start a new topic for it, if not I'll continue in here. 

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Great questions, as they seem to draw out the most problematic areas. Answering going off memory (although I did just skim read it again quickly to check):


1. Sug-Yi is wearing Saola musk and the name of the incoming storm is Typhoon Saola. I have until now been unfortunately unaware of the plight of the Saola, it is a highly endangered mammal found in Vietnam and Laos. It was first photographed in 1999 according to wikipedia, and in the book the author states, "从发现头骨到农民报告看见活物,科学家们花了18年的时间,然后再等上5年让它彻底灭绝。" So if that does refer to the 1999 photograph, in the narrative the Saola went extinct by...2004? Obviously it's part of a story, but wanted to check I was getting this right as Wikipedia says it isn't extinct


2. The only thing I didn't get, which I'm left to presume is some hi-tech contraption, is the 吸附型绳梯, some sort of 'absorption ladder'. This is also described as having 磁性基座, a magnetic base. I mean, I couldn't find anything online about this thing, but perhaps I have overlooked something blindingly obvious. If not, then the magnetic absorption ladder goes in as my guess for futuristic tech.


3. Thomas has some shoes with hooks on them I think, then there was the facemask, and his suction gloves


4. Strategies were spraying with a high-pressure water hose, changing the course of the ship and changing the speed. Maybe I missed one earlier, something about trying to detach the ladder from the side of the ship (and failing)?


My vocab:

三防夹克 (triple protection coat, although it seems nobody can agree what three things are being protected, my own guess is water, wind, and sun)
天文台 (astronomical) observatory
葵涌码 (Kwai Chung Container Port in HK)
煞白 'deathly pale'
鮣魚 Remora, or 'Suckerfish'
非暴力直接行动 'NVDA' (non violent direct action) is a popular approach advocated by Greenpeace, eg https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/six-greenpeace-non-violent-direct-actions/
声名狼藉 'notorious' works as a quick usable translation
郭启德博士 (何赵淑怡的导师, “款冬组织”发起人)
桅杆 mast
惊惶失措 panic stricken
熊熊燃烧 blazing (I've not seen this description before, but that may be because I do very little novel reading, so not used to these kind of descriptions. I actually read this as 'all the bears were on fire' then laughed at myself and went and checked a dictionary)
哗众取宠 sensationalist (+'nonsense')

勇士 seems specific in this context referring to a 'greenpeace or eco warrior'
吸盘 sucker
围追堵截 "encirclement, pursuit, obstruction, interception"
支点 fulcrum
钟摆运动 pendulum motion
迷惘 perplexed
规避 evade, evasion


Additional notes:


I thought it was likely the author was being proleptic at the beginning of the prologue using the description 好比一条吸附在姥鲨腹部的鮣鱼. I've never heard of a 鮣鱼 before, but according to wikipedia is a Remora, aka a 'suckerfish', that can suction itself to larger marine animals. This not only echoes the description of the tiny boat drawing near to the large container ship, but also the suction gloves that Thomas is meant to use to stick himself to the side of the ship.


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You're definitely being a lot more conscientious with the vocab than I am.


I'm also unsure about 吸附型, but I note Ken Liu's just called it magnetic in his translation. I did wonder about some kind of telescopic ladder, but that didn't really make sense. There's a bit about Sug-Yi reading data off her googles ( 何赵淑怡从护目镜上读出数据 ) which is what I was thinking of for high / futuristic tech. 


" my own guess is water, wind, and sun" - I think cold, rather than sun, although you also see 防污, which I'd think of as stain-resistant. Or maybe with a built in facemask.


熊熊燃烧 - burning bears are funnier. Maybe there'll be some later. 



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ah yes the dragonball z scouter goggles, how did I forget that. Regarding 防污, I did see quite a lot, but 'oil-resistant' was enough for me to write it off as a Chinese-specific selling point, but phrasing it as 'stain-resistant' seems right.

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  • 1 year later...

I wasn't sure where to post this...


For those of you interested in Chinese science fiction, there is a very good article in last month's WIRED magazine about Chen QIufan and the sci-fi scene in China generally.  I don't generally read science fiction, but I found this article engrossing.



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