Home > Nonsense, Opinion, Reviews > 向左向右,错错错! (or Left and Right, and Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!)

向左向右,错错错! (or Left and Right, and Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!)

I’ve been learning Chinese for about nine months. The language is okay but I still can’t use chopsticks.

I’ve just started trying to read some very simple Chinese books. Finding material for reading practice in other languages is often very difficult. Most of what’s available is too hard and not really designed for learners, and there’s often not much help in knowing what’s available or where to find it. Learning a language is easy – there are books for that, and CDs, and websites, and classes, and all the rest of it – but what you get in those are single sentences or short paragraphs by way of simple exercises for reading and comprehension: read a short passage, answer a few questions. The gap between that kind of thing and the actual act of reading, say, a website or newspaper, let alone a book, is vast, and there’s often very little to bridge it. Even when you can find ‘simple’ books of the kind that might ostensibly be at your level it can be a frustrating experience when the authors have written with a particular course or range of topics in mind, which may be utterly different from those you yourself learned, presenting a mass of vocabulary you’ve never seen before, no matter how simple it might be.

Chinese is better than most in this regard, because the Chinese government promotes a standardised test – the HSK – with a fixed list of vocabulary and topics covered at each level. A lot of material for people learning Chinese is based on this, so if you’ve got a rough idea of your own approximate level on the HSK you should have a good idea of what you will and won’t be able to manage.

Having only recently ventured so far as to start looking for examples of Chinese to read for myself, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this does actually hold up in practice, and there’s a much bigger, better designed and more accessible range of books for Chinese learners than for students of, say (and this is from experience), Arabic or Russian. What I found specifically was the Chinese Breeze series of ‘Graded Readers’ – a range of about sixty books at eight levels, based around vocabularies of about 300 words up to vocabularies of several thousand.

That just left the matter of choosing the book itself. I hunted around on Amazon, but the search function threw up a bit of a hotchpotch of books at different levels, and of multiple editions of the same book, some of which were out of print and unavailable anyway, so it was hard to make a straight comparison. One of the first ones I came to stood out as sounding like exactly the kind of book I didn’t want to read (or so I thought; bear with me, comedy fans), the vomit-inducingly titled Can I Dance With You? Great, I thought. If I want to learn Chinese I’ll have to wade through the Chinese version of Mills & Boon, if Mills & Boon were written for retarded five year olds. There were a few similar titles amongst the bunch, so in the end I settled on Two Children Seeking the Joy Bridge. If it proved to be a kids’ book, that’d be fine by me.

As it turns out, it’s certainly a story about children. Whether or not that makes it a kids’ book, I have no idea. My level of Chinese is so basic anyway that I’m not sure there’d really be anything to choose between a kids’ book from one for adults. I was really impressed with the book, though. I could read it with just enough difficulty to make it worthwhile but without it becoming frustrating. Great. Cracking. Onto the next one…

Oh yes. The next one.

There’s a short introduction to the series at the start of each book wherein the publishers explain that the series covers quite a wide range of genres (“detective, adventure, romance, fantasy, science fiction, society, biography, horror, legend, etc”); understandably so – not everyone learning Chinese necessarily shares my fascination with, say, the living conditions of the rural poor at the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion, or the ways in which a knowledge of Chinese might be used to foment worldwide popular revolution; some of them probably just want to read Mills & Boon.

So, turning to the back to the peruse the list of other titles, I wasn’t surprised to see our old friend Can I Dance With You joined by the rather ominously similar-sounding I Really Want to Find Her… and Whom Do You Like More?

But what’s this? The first one in the list is called Wrong, Wrong, Wrong! Cue schoolboy giggles from me. How unfortunate, I thought. They’ve probably got no idea what connotation the word ‘wrong’ carries for anyone under the age of about 40.

Oh no, wait. Maybe they do.

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

June 8. Beijing. A pretty girl lies dead on the floor her luxury home. A slip of paper found on her body reads, “I’m tired. Let me leave…” At the bottom of the slip of paper is a signature: Lin Shuang-shuang.

Shuang-shuang has a twin sister called Dui-dui. The two girls look so similar that others can hardly tell who’s who. Is the one who died really Shuang-shuang? Then where is Dui-dui? If the one who Dui-dui as someone claimed, then why is the signature on the slip Lin Shuang-shuang?

Hmm, yes, pretty wrong – a perception not helped by a cover as tasteful as this.
Not at all what I would have expected, so I move on to number two – I Really Want to Find Her… A tale of heartbreak after holiday romance? Love at first sight glimpsed through the window of a moving train? Oh no.

I Really Want to Find Her…

She is really beautiful. Just one look at her photo and three guys, Dai-wei, Jie-fu, Qiu-tan, are all determined to find her! The photo was given to them by their professor before he died. And nobody knows where in China this girl is. How can the guys find her? And what happens when they finally see her?

I couldn’t begin to imagine. Especially considering there’s three of them. Is this what dying professors do in China? I’m beginning to sense a mild Chinese obsession with pretty girls and dead people. (Okay, that’s a universal obsession; maybe I’m just gaining first insight into a peculiarly Chinese version of it.) Then it’s Can I Dance With You? Cheesy titles, it seems, are not always what they seem.

Can I Dance With You?

A smart young man suddenly gets into big trouble.

Oh, here we go… Something to do with a pretty young girl by any chance?

He just fell in love with a pretty girl a few days ago, but now the police are at his home and want to arrest him.

She’s dead, isn’t she?

The bank he works for lost 10 million dollars, and the police list him as a suspect.

No! Curse these unpredictable Chinese and their narrative wiles.

Of course he is not the robber! He even knows who did it. But can he find evidence to prove it to the police? It’s all just too much. Also, will he be able to see his girlfriend again?

Not if her name’s Shuang-shuang. Or Dui-dui. Or if the professor with the weird dying wish has got anything to do with it. Maybe I’m complicating things. I’m so confused.

There’s one obvious snorer in the bunch – Whom Do You Like More – which really does sound like the kind of romantic drivel I was trying to avoid in so unwisely writing off Can I Dance With You? (And where does the dancing come into it anyway? Oh, wait, that must be when he met the girl, mustn’t it? And it was her who robbed the bank, wasn’t it? What a bastard.)

Anyway, then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the book I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to discover…

Left and Right: The Conjoined Brothers

Left and Right are two brothers.

(Those are actually their names. They’re written in characters in the title so it’s not just the vagaries of translation or anything. Put them into Google translate if you don’t believe me. Obviously, if you find yourself the parents of a pair of Siamese twins what you really want to do is make their life even easier by giving them names like Left and Right.)

Left and Right are two brothers. Even their parents don’t know who is older and who is younger, as they are Siamese twins.

(I’m reminded here of the way in which English laws on royal succession would reckon the first twin born as the eldest, and hence the rightful heir, whereas the French would reckon it to be the second, as he must have been the one conceived first. Anyone want to proffer any suggestions as to the prevailing logic in the matter of ‘oldest’ and ‘youngest’ as it pertains to Siamese twins? No, please, don’t. Anyway, is this a thought that pops into your head if you have Siamese twins? “Hmm, I wonder which one is the eldest…”)

They must do everything together. They play together, eat together, and sleep together. Most of the time they enjoy their lives and are very happy. When one was sick, the other helped his brother take his medicine and he got better. However, it’s no fun anymore when they sit in class together but one brother dislikes the other’s subjects…

What? Wha…? I’m just…

Left and Right. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

(I’ve ordered the lot, obviously.)

UPDATED: With links.

Categories: Nonsense, Opinion, Reviews
  1. Graham
    August 7, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I think I’ll wait for Hollywood’s take on these. As for Left and Right, that’s got to be pretty confusing. Is Left the one on their left, or our left? Could be a screwball comedy.

    “Meet our sons, Left and Right.”
    “Hello Left! He-”
    “Actually, that’s Right.”
    “I know, you just told me.”
    “No, I mean that’s wrong. That’s Right, and that’s Left.”
    “Oh. Why is Left on the right?”
    “It’s probably easier if you stand behind them.”
    “Okay. So which one’s the eldest?”

  2. August 7, 2011 at 7:01 pm

    I’ve just updated with links to the covers of the books. They make for an interesting study in themselves.

    The two new ones arrived on Saturday. Perhaps I’ll post select translations later in the week. Can’t wait for Level 2. I’ve seen one called After the Accident…

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