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Reading Chen Qiufan's Waste Tide (荒潮, 陈楸帆): Part 3


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On the home straight now! And we start with a Žižek quote, the source of which looks to be: "You see perfection in the imperfect and that's how we learn to love the world."


It was a dark and stormy night...


1) Mimi and Wen Ge in the makeshift hospital. They're planning an attack on the barriers that keep them stuck in the low-speed zone. Mimi's visual virus now has all the 垃圾人 'miring her. He manages to run a facial recognition search on that foreign face that keeps appearing in front of Mimi's. And as we all expected (ahem) it's... Hedy Lamarr. There's a reference here back to a passing bit in Chapter 3, which I'll flag up in that post for future readers. And as expected we learn that Wen Ge is the brother of the girl who's rape caused the island to be placed into a low-speed zone - and he's willing to help Mimi as she reminds him of his sister. Except it's a shame he didn't figure that out before sticking random bits of cybernetics on her head, and isn't it also because of that visual virus? 


2) Scott goes to visit Boss Luo for long descriptive passages of tea. I didn't get 不管是两人,还是四人,都会准备三个杯子, doesn't that mean they're one short if there are four of them? Scott offers Luo a bigger chunk of project pie if he lets Mimi leave. Luo cuts the meeting short when he gets word the hacker has found something. 


3) Chen goes looking for Mimi in the Luo workers' compound (which is actually where she is), but doesn't find her and ends up being found and threatened at knifepoint.



鱼目水 - I found this as 鱼眼水, charmingly meaning water about to boil, or 刚开未开 here. 


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  • 2 weeks later...

Ok, so the above was Chapter 15, the first in Part 3. Here follows Chapter 16, which is quite long at 8,500 characters. I will likely split it in two. 


1) Boss Luo is watching the hacker's map of what's going on. It seems the workers are up to something and have acquired some some new tech, and Luo suspects the Yanks. And Scott has left a mobile there? I don't remember that, not sure if it's an accident, or so they can communicate or what. He gives the hacker 20 minutes to figure out who's coordinating it. 


2) Oh, Scott's using it to eavesdrop? Seems almost low tech for our man Scott. Is 鮀城 on the mainland? I think I thought it was kind of the big town on the island, but now it seems to be joined by a bridge. Scott's waiting for his plan to unfold so he can act. His bug is discovered. 


3) Chen Kaizong, still at knifepoint. His captor is unsure Mimi needs his rescue. And he ends up tied to a pipe with a stretched out rubber penis, because of course he does. A building starts falling on him. 


4) Mimi's coordinating communication (?) between the workers, consciously managing some kind of frequency hopping coded network (which is what Hedy Lamarr developed. I'll give this book £5 if it turns out the virus is actually Hedy Lamarr.) She's using servers in 鮀城 to search the city for something (do we know what?). There's a challenging section here as it describes how she arranges the images from CCTV cameras, webcams, etc to be able to survey the city easier. After some dystopian sight, she finds what she's looking for - a satellite base station, attached to a TV broadcast truck. But she can't access it. Then there's a bit which really confused me, but my current understanding is that she's somehow carrying along with her a bunch of other consciousnesses, which she delivers to a prison security system. Mass prison break. TV station gets alerted. Satellite base station gets turned on. Can't connect while the truck's moving. Cause a mass pile-up, truck stop, satellite base station connects to a server in low-earth orbit (remember the 'Anarchy' server? I think I do.) and Mimi and companions upload themselves. 


Ok, will post this now as it's lunchtime, and I'm not sure if I'll be back in the afternoon.


因陀罗网 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra's_net

硬虎呾有 I couldn't be bothered figuring out

显性文化 dominant culture (显性 is dominant in genetics)

达米安·赫斯特 Damien Hirst. 

拉特兰‧圣乔凡尼大教堂的天顶壁画《圣母升天》 - this is a reference to a picture of the ascension of the Virgin Mary in a church in Rome. Has he referenced any Chinese pictures? I remember mentions of painting styles, that's all. 

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I wasn't. Let's finish the chapter off...


5) Boss Luo's angry at Scott for trying to eavesdrop on him. The hacker's being too slow to track Mimi down, so he decides to find her himself, if he has to flatted the whole place. He brings out 刀子, who I thought / hoped was dead, but who's now being treated as a dog - not sure if he's been mistreated into this state, or some tech has been applied. And just as the hacker finally thinks he's found Mimi, the entire network goes dead. 


6) Mimis 0 and 1 are in the low-earth orbit cloud. Mimi 1 has some kind of password to communicate with an actual human, who warns them they're under threat in both cyber and real space. Ah, and Hedy's modeled consciousness becomes a bargaining chip in a rather creepy deal. But just as their about to digitally shake on it, Mimi crashes out of cyberspace and into the hut on Silicon Isle, where Wen Ge is keeping an eye on her. 

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Chapter.... 17 


1) Chen is rescued by his captor, who now has a name: Dao Lan. He's taken to meet Mimi, who seems to be drinking her own Koolaid. Chen throws his lot in with the rebels, just as the Luo attack arrives. 


2) Boss Luo's riding along with the attackers as the search the huts for Mimi. And the typhoon is called 'butterfly'. Ok, that's funny. CKZ unnecessarily interjects himself in a confrontation between Luo and Mimi (which might actually have been interesting). Daozi ends up chucked into the middle as a peace offering, but in the end Luo says he wants the girl alive, and the American not too badly hurt. Fight! The less well-equipped rebels are soon lying battered in the mud (Dao Lan! We hardly knew ye!)


3) Mimi struggles to connect with the battlemech - perhaps she needs to be on the brink of death? The Luo's soon oblige, punting CKZ into a pile of e-waste and scaring Mimi into control of the battlemech. Or is it something the Anarchy satellite has done? Either way, the criminally underused battlemech is back! Mimi destroys the Luo's, tied Daozi to a pipe (being persuaded by the other Mimi to save him for someone who wants to kill him more, then leaves the battlemech and pulls CKZ out of the rubbish pile to give him a kiss. 


4) Scott's on the high ground, watching the battle, and the Silicon Islers' homes flood. He's still got two gifts from Coltfoot, which he seems keen to use. In a burst of St Elmo's Fire, he spots Boss Luo, fleeing the battle - and running right into the flood waters. 

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And... Chapter 18!


1) An exhausted Mimi guides the rebels towards saving the drowning locals and proceeds to teach Wen Ge about the value of compassion, before offering him the chance to kill Daozi, I assume. 

2) Mimi enlightens CKZ by connecting him to the rebels' neural network thing. He gets to watch Boss Luo opt to be carried away by the floodwaters rather than be saved by a rubbish-person. And then... Scott walks in!

3) Wen Ge goes off to find Daozi and rearrange his anatomy in painful ways. Unfortunately, Daozi has already strangled himself on his chains, so Wen Ge has to make do with a vision of his sister as the eye of the storm passes over.

4) Scott explains he's come to take Mimi to safety, stabs her in the neck with a sedative, and chokes CKZ to death or unconsciousness when he protests. Exits stage left, carrying Mimi on his Ducati. 

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Chapter 19. I'm trying to power through this quite quickly now, as it's been... wow, two months... and there are other things on my reading pile I'd like to get to. 


1) Mimi's 0 and 1 meet in some virtual representation of Mimi's brain while she's recovering some energy. Mimi 0 gets a lesson on how useless empathy is nowadays (at least I think that was the takeaway, I kind of tuned out the dreamy stuff).


2) Wen Ge rescues CKZ and they debate how to track down Scott and Mimi. Fortunately, Wen Ge remembers he's been secretly tracking Mimi (!) and there's some handwaving explanation as to why he hasn't used this to help her earlier. And then... oh, NOW Wen Ge can remote control the battlemech? Not earlier, while the rebels were getting their faces smashed into the mud? Off they go, to intercept the boat Scott is on as it passes under the bridge to the mainland.


3) Scott's gone rogue, planning to use his discovery for his own benefit, regardless of earlier alliances and affiliations, heading for Coltfoot's boat (I assume he's going to double-cross them?). Yet, he is haunted by visions of his dead daughter and tries to justify himself - it's best for Mimi, isn't it? And humanity... the bridge approaches.


4) CKZ's having visions of weird animals(?) since Mimi did whatever she did to his eye. He arrives on the bridge, on the shoulder of the battlemech, which Wen Ge is driving from the cockpit. 

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Ok, time for the final entry in my increasing slapdash series. Chapter 20. Although actually, I have to do the epilogue too, don't I...


1) Scott's boat gets hacked* (I assume) and drives into the bridge. This seems like a high-risk strategy for rescuing Mimi, but if we get the line "船底朝上,像条被炸死的河豚。", it's all worth it. Although all credit is lost with "曲线平缓的胸部". He resuscitates a half-drowned Mimi, and now it's time to use his last secret weapon (didn't he have two from Coltfoot? Or is it two parts?)

2) Wen Ge can't jump down from the bridge to save her! He's scared of heights. CKZ to the rescue! But first he has to be lowered down by the battlemech to a safe jumping distance. The physics seems to be that if you jump from too high, you die, but 30 cm lower and you'll be able to swim into a sinking boat and rescue your inappropriate crush during a typhoon. He makes the jump, Wen Ge cheers from afar. 

3) Scott wards CKZ off with a "strange gun" - ah, an EM pulse gun. He's threatening to fry her head. Mimi 1 hacks his pacemaker (ah, Chekov's pacemaker. Should have seen that coming) and Scott collapses, apologetically. Mimi 0 thinks this going a little too far, Mimi 1 believes death is inevitable for inferior beings.

4) Mimi grabs the EM gun and points it at her own head, although CKZ still has his hand on the trigger. - she's killed too many, she doesn't want to be a lab rat. She downloads the plot of the novel into CKZ's bionic eye.Mimi 1 overheats his bionic eye to stop him shooting, but.... he pulls the trigger! Mimi 1 is eliminated (we assume), Mimi 0 seems to survive, but collapses and is swum to safety by CKZ as the boat sinks behind them, taking Scott's body with it.


End of main story! Will do the epilogue over the weekend, hopefully. 


*Did I miss something here? I don't recall reference to anyone tampering with the boat, but... the wheel jams, he puts it on autopilot and it steers into the bridge?

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And now, the epilogue. 


A research vessel named Clotho. Chen Kaizong. 金色海豚 is a reference back to one of the odd visions Chen was having when his eye was networked to the rebels. Ah, he's kept his malfunctioning eye for old time's sake. The project is going ahead, minus the Luo's, and Mimi is... ah, now this is disappointing. She's left with the mental capacities of a three year old. 


Chen's got the boat out looking for something... he remembers a mysterious phone call from Hong Kong... it's our old friend Sug-Yi with a job opportunity. Something to do with odd radio signals above islands of waste floating in the Pacific. We get reminded of Mimi 1's catchphrase: 我只是个开始. And then he finds... a huge island of rubbish?


The end. 


Hmmm. I can't say I'm enamored with the ending. Feels like Mimi's been seriously shortchanged, for a start. 

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Chapter 15:


On 4/30/2020 at 5:04 PM, roddy said:

2) Scott goes to visit Boss Luo for long descriptive passages of tea. I didn't get 不管是两人,还是四人,都会准备三个杯子, doesn't that mean they're one short if there are four of them? Scott offers Luo a bigger chunk of project pie if he lets Mimi leave. Luo cuts the meeting short when he gets word the hacker has found something. 


So this section on the tea was in my opinion just another example of the author doing another one of his 'look how special we Guangdong people are, outsiders just wouldn't get it!!' The tradition of putting three cups together (in the shape of a 品 as he quite aptly puts it) is widespread in south China, particularly Guangdong and Fujian (I also saw it every now and again in Guangxi too). The traditional size of a 蓋碗 holds the same amount of 茶湯 (or brewed tea) equal to three small tea cups. When people do business, go out for a picnic, or even on longer travels they will bring a set of one 1蓋碗+3小杯子+1茶盤 as a small set. The point is, regardless of how many people there are, the tea always gets brewed to three cups. This is different to Taiwan, other areas of the mainland, and Japan, who will use cups equal to the amount of drinkers on a particular occasion. This is interesting for a non-Chinese reader for sure, but it just slowed the story down so much for the sake of some local bragging rights...


On 4/30/2020 at 5:04 PM, roddy said:

鱼目水 - I found this as 鱼眼水, charmingly meaning water about to boil, or 刚开未开 here. 


魚目 is indeed water about to boil, but its one of a number of different ways used to describe the size of bubble as water boils in the 茶經, I just searched and found this, which on a cursory glance seems to explain pretty well: https://kknews.cc/culture/6bkgz6p.html


Nothing else to comment on this chapter really, surprisingly short, and lots of prepping for something to happen.




鋌而走險, make a reckless move

重新編程, (IT) reprogram

八仙桌, Eight Immortals table — old-fashioned square table seating eight, note that this actually came up as 八仙茶几, a square shaped table used especially for drinking tea

斟茶, pour tea note actually turned up in the phrase 低斢, pour tea into a cup from a low height so that it makes no noise or bubbles as the tea fills the cup.

抿, purse (lips) 他抿了一小口

啞然失笑, can't help laughing

髮綹, dreadlocks

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Chapter 16:


On 5/10/2020 at 12:06 PM, roddy said:

Then there's a bit which really confused me, but my current understanding is that she's somehow carrying along with her a bunch of other consciousnesses, which she delivers to a prison security system.


IMO the author doesn't even understand this section. It appears we will never actually understand what the 游客 actually are, but the author clearly feels thats not important, just that we know 小米1 can control them and they can do all sorts of cool things like make confusing noises and open prison doors. Here are the only clues we actually get to what they are:


...“复眼”系统 - 人工智能图像识别技术 (pattern recognition technology)








I mean its intentionally vague, but its so frustrating to have to read so much about something which the author avoids defining, clearly because he needs the whole thing to be some mini deus ex machina for this part of the plot. In fact the author seems to tell us directly that we should give up trying to understand, when he tries to make the reader sympathise with 小米0's position - "她永远无法理解另一个自己如何做到这一切". Based on the religious imagery around 小米1 during the searching for the satellite bit, we should be seeing her as the all-seeing eye, the unknowable, ineffable 'god'. In all, it makes for a really unsatisfactory read. But at least it didnt make me cringe up as much as having to read about CKZ being tied up with rubber penises...


On 5/10/2020 at 12:06 PM, roddy said:

硬虎呾有 I couldn't be bothered figuring out


And you were right to. I asked some friends, some said they'd never seen the character 呾 before, others said they also didnt get what was funny (“硬虎呾有,那就是硬虎(一定)有。”硬虎说了个冷笑话,).


But then, yes,. you guessed it, "在潮汕方言里,“呾” 是 “说、讲” 的意思。“ Its dialect (which means its super difficult to understand!).




So if Yinghu says hes got it hes definitely got it, cos his name means 'definitely'. Lol.




投影, projection

傳立葉主義, fourierism

恆河沙數, innumerable as the sands in the Ganges

因陀羅網, Indra's net (ie 'everything is connected')

實相, {Buddhism} dharmadhatu

璀璨, {literary} (of jade, etc.) bright; resplendent

耀斑, {astr.} solar flare

荒腔走板, out of tune; to describe something that has deviated very far from what is appropriate “對自己荒?走板的翻譯信心不足” (he listened along} and was not confident with his interpretation which deviated further and further from the source

雨刷器, windscreen wiper (on a car)

橡膠陽具, 假陰莖 (work it out yourself)

邵氏硬度, “Shore scleroscope hardness”

羈絆, fetters; shackles; be tied up

法寶, magic weapon/formula, Buddhist sutra; figures of Buddhas

連環相撞, pileup

稜形, corrugated

拾音器, {elec.} pickup

延宕, procrastinate; delay





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Chapter 17 (starting to feel the burn, nearly there now...)


I'm happy to see the resurrection mechamimi question resolved, similar to you Roddy I was thinking, yes. finally the mech is back, some fun to be had, I don't care why anymore, maybe you could just accidently knock out CKZ with your rusty mech skills too, he's been so fumbling and embarrassing lately, god knows how on earth he earned a kiss out of it...


“他下意識去摸仿水包裏的東西“ caused a bit of a problem for me, as 水包 was unfamiliar to me. I guessed it as water bomb on first sight, which didnt make sense in context. I then guessed some type of 包子, which turned out to be correct: apparently 水包 are made in 台山 and are stuffed with an assortment of different things, so the sentence comes out as something like 'his subconscious was all....mixed up like dumpling stuffing'? I don't know, feels a bit like I'm missing the meaning here.


Only other thing to write about this chapter is that it contains yet another example of poor storytelling rhythm: why on earth is there the better part of a page dedicated to describing how much better Scotts ducati bike is than cars. Right after the cool battlemech activation. Is the author receiving sponsorship money from Ducati? Its like a pointless sponsored cutaway in a big budget movie, it seems to serve no other purpose than to sell bikes to the reader, and sadly in this case at the expense of slowing down the pace of the story once again.


At least I learnt some fun words:


目空一切, be arrogant and conceited, look down one's nose at everybody

血脈僨張, blood vessels swell wide - to get excited

家什, utensils, furniture

斷續, intermittent

肋部, rib region, intercostal region

飛出數米開外, flew back a few metres (this caused some comprehension issues for me, not really sure why but I was reading 米 as rice, not metres)

元凶, chief offender, main culprit

三六九等, various grades and ranks (various degrees in this context?)

兵不血刃, with blades unstained by blood—win victory without shedding a drop of blood or firing a single shot

車床, lathe

龜縮, retract like a turtle drawing in its head and legs; withdraw into passive defence; hole up

涕泗橫流, tears and mucus flowing, sniveling

劏豬, slaughter a pig. This appears to be in common use in Guangdong, maybe a dialect-specific usage. Here Mimi says she plans to slaughter Daozi like a pig, cutting him in half. But the phrase itself also means a woman who is believed to bring bad luck and misfortune to her husband / partner, or a woman whose partner will die before she will.

械鬥, armed confrontation; bust-up between gangs

泅水, swim

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Chapter 18


So I made no notes for this chapter. I figure that anything I wanted to say about the style or content I've pretty much already said before in earlier chapters. What I can say now that I'm reaching the end of the book is, Chen Qiufan seems to have an unhealthy preoccupation with anything octupus related. I don't think I've ever read a book with so many tentacled, slimy, creeping and crawling descriptions before. So if you're into that, here's a book for you to (try to) enjoy.




虛脫, to collapse from dehydration or loss of blood (as in this context)

兵分多路, "the troops go by several separate routes"—take several different approaches (here it actually appeared as 兵分幾路)

美杜莎, Medusa (monster of Greek mythology)

無垠, boundless; vast

鈍刀, blunt knife (noted this as I only knew 鈍 from 鈍角, so guessed ‘sharp knife’, which turned out to be quite the opposite)

幻聽, {med} ‘phonism’, auditory hallucination

湍急, (of a current) rapid; torrential

像素, {comp.} pixel

匍匐, crawl; creep

扳機, trigger (扣扳機 pull the trigger)

掃堂腿, manoeuvre in which a boxer squats with one leg extended while managing a quick spin to fell his adversary (in Chinese boxing)

巋然, towering; lofty

觸鬚, feelers; antennae; tentacles

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Chapter 19


I read this chapter in one sitting, don't think I've done that since the middle of the book. I noticed that when CQF is actually storytelling, he has a fairly gripping style, and I'm gliding across the pages, very much engulfed in the story. But his habit of going off on long tangents about life and expositions on human nature, as well as feeble attempts to fool the reader into thinking they are having futuristic tech 'explained' to them (really just cherry-picking random obscure terms and putting them in a list of related things you might understand...量子退相干 comes to mind as one that annoyed me in this chapter) really ground this chapter to a halt once more. Couple this with more gloopy descriptions and its another par for the course chapter unfortunately. Oh and throw in a whole bunch of plot holes and inconsistencies left unexplained (seriously, when was 文哥 a battlemech master...?)


量子退相干, quantum decoherence

徹悟, understand completely

參透, thoroughly understand

靈長目動物, primate

群交, group sex, orgy

亂倫, commit incest (or just general ‘depravity’ judging by the characters)

習性, habits and characteristics; (innate) behaviour of a species

崢嶸, lofty and steep; deep (of a chasm)

衍射, {physics} diffraction

詐屍, corpse come to life (from the superstitious belief that the bodies of the dead, before being placed in coffins, may rise suddenly from the bed and dash out of the house in pursuit of sb.) 2 dialect as if being chased by a corpse come to life [said of sb. running or screaming like mad]

茬, {dialect} something just mentioned or words just said by others “我怎麼把這茬兒給忘了”

舷窗, porthole (of a ship or aircraft)

雨刮器, windshield wiper (of a car) (雨刷器 came up in an earlier chapter, this is just an apparently lesser used variant)

失靈, malfunction; be out of order

穩紮穩打, go step by step and make sure progress, do sth slowly but surely

公海, international waters

實驗品, guinea pig (for testing)

擬態, {biology} mimicry, camouflage

薛定諤之貓, Schrodingers cat

臨界態, {physics} critical state (here used as 臨界狀態)

寬吻海豚, bottle-nosed dolphin



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Chapter 20 + epilogue


I also did not get why exactly the boat crashed...there's probably some obscure hint in there I brushed over, but I just can't be bothered to go back and reread now...maybe another time...but probably not. Maybe we're meant to assume he lost control in the storm...?


The battlemech got brought back into the story for the completely pointless use of dangling CKZ off the bridge (I get the impression CQF is imagining he is writing the ending to some epic Michael Bay Transformers film). Whoever knew a few inches separates certain death and a perfect high diving performance. I was really disappointed to see we hear nothing of 文哥 as soon as his little section on the bridge is over. For me at least he was the mysterious genius with the plan to bring down the authorities' grip over the island. Instead he just turns into a relatively pathetic character.


Mimi loses her mental capacities, but is still alive. But unless I missed something, CKZ seems to declare its such a shame that she now has the mental age of a 3 year old (not to mention because of his 'electro-stun-gun'), then just leaves the island saying its such a pity he'll never see her again. Why can't he go back and see her? Is there a reason he can't go back to the island? I must be forgetting to add something together here...


The epilogue in itself is so unnecessary, it appears to be a shout out to anyone who might be looking forward to 'Waste Tide II: Rise of the Rubbish'. Or maybe the mystery island that appears before CKZs eyes is in fact Silicon Isle...and the whole story was simply him seeing into the future, downloaded into his brain by Mimi.


Or maybe  it was all a dream...




脫臼, dislocate

紮, to plunge (into water) “紮在水中”

胸廓, rib cage

膂力, muscular (or physical) strength; brawn

金絲雀, canary





荒朝 masquerades as an 'eco-thriller', where the downtrodden 垃圾人 are really just an empty plot device, the huge potential of 款冬 is skipped over in favour of erotica and slimy tentacles, and any ecologically-related discussion is almost entirely displaced by a seedy 'love' story and some light 'people vs machine' analysis. I can only assume 'eco-thriller' was a buzz word for the publishers, and perhaps the author himself may not have even had a say. Set in the future on an island which can't wholly benefit from the tech that the future brings creates a really interesting backdrop for a story. But the story is poorly constructed, and in my eyes was surely originally written to be an online serial, it doesn't seem to have the rhythm of a novel somehow, its so stop starts, with mini crescendos at strange intervals. And anyone who has read this book will not need me to elaborate any more, but the rape scene is so gratuitous and weird, it really made it very difficult to enjoy the story after that, from which point on reading this book became a reading practice and vocabulary gaining exercise I'm afraid to say.


Verdict: I wouldn't recommend this book. Unless you love octopi.




Prior to this lockdown, I very rarely read novels, I'm very much a read the news and non-fiction kind of guy. But now I find myself really looking forward to getting stuck into 草鞋湾! What I have noticed is is that reading novels is like the ultimate revision and learning experience for advanced learners - I couldn't believe how much my Chinese is lacking 'stylistically' until I really started reading fiction in Chinese. Sounds like common sense I guess, but I always thought of novel reading as too 'specialised' to be of any use for professional use. I now think that is totally wrong: reading touches on every area, and is often written in, dare I say it, 'novel' ways that you rarely hear on TV or read in other forms of written Chinese. I look forward to a long habit of reading novels in Chinese from now on!

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4 hours ago, Tomsima said:

What I have noticed is is that reading novels is like the ultimate revision and learning experience for advanced learners

Yup. I’ve been saying this in one form or another for 10 years now - which roughly coincides with when I started reading novels and discovered the same thing :mrgreen:

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Yeah, I'd broadly agree with that. I'm not sure if I'd have finished it if I hadn't been so determined to get to the end, and been reading it in public. I might have had some form of Stockholm Syndrome. 


I find myself really looking forward to getting stuck into 草鞋湾! 

I think I said in a PM, but it's like balm for the eyes after 荒潮. 

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