Mr. Cha Buduo -- a translation


#1

It occurs to me that probably many of you have never read the classic Story of Mr. Cha Buduo 差不多先生傳 by Hu Shi 胡適. So here is my translation. Read the original (in awful awful simplified characters) here. It dates back to the 1910’s and still rings true today.

The Story of Mr. Cha Buduo

Do you know who the most famous person in China is?

When you mention him, everybody knows instantly who you’re talking about because of his fame. His family name is Cha, and his given name is Buduo, and he lives in every village of every county of every province. You have certainly seen him at some point and heard others discussing him. Mr. Cha Buduo is on everyone’s lips all the time because he represents each and every individual in China.

Mr. Cha Buduo looks, well, more or less like you or I do. He has two eyes, though he doesn’t see particularly well; two ears, though he doesn’t hear very clearly; and a nose and a mouth, though he isn’t vary discerning about scents and tastes. He has quite a brain on him, too, though his memory isn’t very attentive and his thoughts aren’t well organized.

“‘Close enough’ is quite enough in all matters,” he often says. “What need is there for attentiveness?”

When Mr. Cha was a boy, his mother once sent him out to buy some brown sugar. She scolded him when he came home with white sugar instead, but he just dismissed it with a shake of the head, saying: “Brown sugar and white sugar are basically the same thing.”

When he was in school, a teacher once asked: “Which province is located west of Zhili?”

“Shaanxi,” Mr. Cha answered, to which his teacher said: “Incorrect. It’s Shanxi, not Shaanxi.” Mr. Cha responded: “Shanxi, Shaanxi; they’re basically the same thing.”

Mr. Cha Buduo later made his living working at a bank. He was capable both with a pen and calculator, but he was never precise. He often miswrote 10s as 100s and viceversa, and every time he faced the wrath of his employer, he would laugh it off and say to himself: “It’s just a difference of a zero; close enough!”

One day, he had to catch a train to Shanghai for an urgent matter of business. After casually making his way to the train station, he found himself two minutes late and missed his train. Staring vacantly at the smoke bellowing from the now distant locomotive, he shrugged it off: “Well I guess I’ve got to go tomorrow. Today, tomorrow, it’s all the same, more or less. But boy that train operator takes time way too seriously. 8:30, 8:32, it’s all the same! More or less.”

He blabbered to himself as he slowly made his way home, wondering out loud why the train did not wait those two extra minutes for him.

Later in his life, he came down with a sudden illness. He instructed his family to call over Dr. Wāng from East Street. They ran with haste but couldn’t immediately find any Dr. Wāng on East Street, so they instead found Dr. Wáng, a veterinarian specializing in cattle, from West Street. From his sickbed, Mr. Cha Buduo knew they had brought back the wrong doctor, but he was gravely ill and in great pain and could not wait any longer. “It’s a good thing that Dr. Wáng and Dr. Wāng are basically no different from each other,” he mused to himself. “Let’s let him have a look.” And so the vet approached the bed and used his knowledge of treating cattle to heal Mr. Cha. The sick man was on the verge of death within the hour.

As Mr. Cha was more-or-less dying, he heaved difficultly as he spit out his final words: “Life and death… they’re… practically the same… Close enough… is quite… enough… What need… for being… so… serious…?” And thus was his last breath.

After he had passed, Mr. Cha Buduo was remembered fondly for his insight and ability to think through problems. He was called a man of great virtue for never taking things seriously, never “settling the score,” and never being petty, and he earned the posthumous Buddhist title “Master of Flexibility.”

His fame spread further and wider as more and more people learned from his example. And that is how everyone in China became a Mr. Cha Buduo – and how China became known worldwide as a country of lazy people.


#2

I read this in Chinese after Hansioux mentioned it. Really is a great story.


#3

That’s a great translation and a very interesting cultural piece! It would be nice if this and other pieces of similar cultural value - providing insight on certain aspects of Chinese culture - were translated and put together as some sort of collection.

I’ve just read a collection of Chinese ghost stories called Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異). I read the version translated by John Minford. It was also full of cultural treasures and quirky tales which shed some light on culturally embedded concepts and so forth.


#4

I’m not a huge fan of Minford’s translation; check out the newer one by a no-name scholar called Sidney L Sondergard. I wrote my Master’s thesis on Liaozhai in translation. :smiley: But that’s a topic for another day.

I’d absolutely love to do literary translation, but I’ve never had any offers. There are a few reasons, among them: it’s a big investment and a small circle so publishers like to stick with translators they know; few people know Chinese well enough to translate so they tend to favor superstars like Minford and Mair, and who am I compared to them?; few Chinese works ever see major circulation in English in the first place. However, as a result of this trend toward famous scholars, most translations (including Minford’s) are rather stilted. You can read about it all in my thesis some day. :stuck_out_tongue: At any rate I still hope to one day do a full-length literary translation if someone will let me. Chances seem kind of bleak though.


#5

[quote=“Hokwongwei”]
"‘Close enough’ is quite enough in all matters," [/quote]

nice touch :bravo: :bravo:

for the original traditional version: skhsbs.edu.hk/chi/ref/Artical/166.htm


#6

It sounds like me :smiley:. Or well, that’s what I thought when I read the part about the memory.


#7

I’m not a huge fan of Minford’s translation; check out the newer one by a no-name scholar called Sidney L Sondergard. I wrote my Master’s thesis on Liaozhai in translation. :smiley: But that’s a topic for another day.

I’d absolutely love to do literary translation, but I’ve never had any offers. There are a few reasons, among them: it’s a big investment and a small circle so publishers like to stick with translators they know; few people know Chinese well enough to translate so they tend to favor superstars like Minford and Mair, and who am I compared to them?; few Chinese works ever see major circulation in English in the first place. However, as a result of this trend toward famous scholars, most translations (including Minford’s) are rather stilted. You can read about it all in my thesis some day. :stuck_out_tongue: At any rate I still hope to one day do a full-length literary translation if someone will let me. Chances seem kind of bleak though.[/quote]

I haven’t read the other translation, but I’d agree with the Minford one being a bit stilted. I bought that version because it stood out on Amazon UK. I still really enjoyed the stories, but there were lines that seemed a bit dull or not quite right, especially relating to any action scenes, for instance - “he boxed a few rounds” and “he danced the whirligig”. I remember these lines describing the actions of martial artists. I know a little bit about martial arts, and was a huge fan of martial arts movies - nobody boxed a few rounds or danced the whirligig. The funny thing is that Minford is supposed to be translating The Legend of the Condor Heroes. I sincerely hope he can come up with better descriptions of fighting scenes than “a dash of fisticuffs” or something else that would probably only make sense to an Etonian.

Yeah, literary translation jobs are hard to come by. You need to know the right people, or be prepared to work for almost nothing. There is actually an other option - and that’s self publishing on Amazon. I’ve heard of other translators doing it. It’s supposed to be fairly straightforward (if you already have something you want to publish). If you wanted to publish work as an ebook, it would be easier again. Last year I tried contacting a Yami (Tao) author about translating a collection of his Tao myths and legends - cool stuff about fish monsters and magical sweet potatoes. I even did a few sample translations for him. He was interested and it seemed to be going well. He passed me onto his editor, we chatted for a bit, that also seemed to be going nicely, and then she passed me onto the person who held the copyright, but he never got back in contact. I gave up after a few emails. After that nothing else happened. I didn’t really feel like bothering these people any more. I’ve just been doing my regular stuff ever since.

You can still keep things like your translation of Mr. Cha Budou, and collect other things you find interesting and possible consider publishing yourself. I (and probably many others) find things like this really interesting, and if the price was right, would happily download it to my Kindle.


#8

I wonder if Camphor Press is interested in publishing any translations? Eh? Eh?


#9

I’m familiar with the text but nevertheless wanted to say thanks to Hokwongwei for the impeccable translation.

:bow: :notworthy: :bow: :notworthy: :bravo: :bow: :notworthy: :bow:
:notworthy: :bow: :notworthy: :bow: :notworthy: :bow: :notworthy:


#10

Interesting. Our people will call your people.


#11

I don’t know how I missed this, but I just now found it. I really enjoyed it, Hokwongwei. Thanks!


#12

We just had an “incident” in the office that makes me think – I’d like to write a sequel to Mr. Cha Buduo called Mr. Mei Banfa. There could also be a spin-off: Ms. Xiang Taiduo.


#13

I enjoyed the translation, well done.