December 13, 2005

Major Events in the Life of Sanmao

I recently read Sanmao's Crying Camels. Searching for information about Sanmao and her works in English, I found very little. There was a reference to Sanmao speaking in support of the existences of UFOs. (There is a very short description of a UFO appearance in the book Crying Camels.) I did find one essay in English, called Foreign Characters in San Mao's Short Stories, which was worth reading . This essay, like other references I have seen in English, refer to her writing as "autobiographical fiction" or "travel fiction." Personally, I would not attempt to classify her writing because I do not know how much is true and how much is fiction. When talking to a Chinese coworker about Sanmao, he even doubted that Sanmao's husband Jose (Hexi) existed. This is definitely an overreaction, the kind of cynicism of someone afraid of looking overly credulous.

Instead of writing a review of Crying Camels, which is the third and best book by Sanmao that I have read, I decided to translate a timeline of her life. This timeline is taken from an appendix in Sanmao's Crying Camels (哭泣的駱駝).

Major Events in Sanmao's Life

Original name: Chen Ping (陳平) [Note: In the introduction to Sahara Stories (撒哈拉的故事), Sanmao's father writes that her given name was Chen Maoping (陳懋平), but the middle character was dropped because Sanmao did not care for it.]
From Zhejiang Dinghai. Born March 26, 1943.
Sanmao's love of reading was evident in her early childhood. At five and a half years old she read Hong Lou Meng (A Dream of Red Mansions). By middle school, she had exhaustively read almost all the great works of world literature available on the market.
In her second year of middle school, she discontinued schooling, and under her parents' tutelage, she established a firm base in the subjects of poetry, the Chinese classics, and English. She studied painting under the teaching of painters Gu Fusheng, and later Shao Youxuan.
In 1964 she received special permission from the founder of Chinese Culture University to audit classes in the philosophy department. She obtained outstanding grades for her class work.
In 1967, she again left school, and traveled to Spain, alone. In the following three years, she studied at Spain's Madrid University and German's Goethe Institute. Later, at America's Illinois University, she worked in the library of law. These experiences were greatly beneficial in her life and further language studies.
In 1970, she returned to Taiwan, and was employed by Zhang Qiyun to teach in Chinese Culture University's German department and philosophy department. After her fiancé died, in anguish, she left Taiwan once again, and went to Spain. She reunited with Jose, who had been in love with her for six years.
In 1973, she married Jose at a courthouse in the Spanish-controlled Sahara desert.
Her time in the desert stimulated her latent writing talent. Under the encouragement of Ping Xintao, editor in chief of the United Daily News, Sanmao began producing a stream of works, which were then collected in book form. Her first work, Sahara Stories, was published in May of 1976.
On September 30, 1979, Sanmao's husband, Jose, died in a diving accident. Sanmao returned to Taiwan under her parents' support.
In 1981, Sanmao decide to end her 14 years of wandering the globe and settle down in Taiwan.
In November of the same year, United Daily News sponsored Sanmao in half a year of traveling in South America. After returning to Taiwan, she wrote about her experiences in the book Qianshan-Wanshui Zou Pian (千山萬水走篇), and went on an island-wide lecture tour.
Sanmao then returned to Chinese Culture University, this time in the arts and literature department, teaching creative writing and essay composition. Her classes were well liked by students.
In 1984, Sanmao resigned due to health reasons, and focused on writing and lecturing.
In 1989, she returned to her native home in China for the first time, and found that she had many readers there. While in China, she fulfilled a long-term wish and met Zhang Leping, the author of the Sanmao comics.
In 1990, she completed her first movie script, Red Dust (滾滾紅塵). This was to be her last work.
Sanmao died in April of 1991 at 48 years old.

Note: Although her name is written as "San Mao" in much of the English writing about her, I prefer to use "Sanmao" so that it does not appear that her surname is "San." Note that this is the same nickname as Jackie Chan's opera school big brother, Sammo Hung (洪金寶). "Sammo" is the Cantonese pronunciation.

Related post: Review of Sanmao's Nao Xue Ji

December 02, 2005

Taiwan's Yahoo! auctions as flea market

I have not posted in a while because I have been researching portable mp3 players. I eventually opted for assimilation into the iBorg collective, so I got an iPod. My iBorg name is Pesto. I was hoping for a cool name like Locutus, but Pesto is what I got, so what's a borg to do?

In researching prices, I made the mistake of doing the research on American-based web pages. When I finally got around to checking out the prices on Yahoo! Taiwan's auctions, I found that prices are lower than America's eBay. I also discovered that Taiwan's Yahoo auctions have a very different flavor than eBay. It feels more like a flea market, with lots of bartering going on, than an actual auction.

If you check the question and answer section on Yahoo's auction pages, you will notice that this section is much more active on Yahoo auctions than on America's eBay. (I did not check Taiwan's eBay site very thoroughly because it is far less active than Yahoo auctions.) There were people trying to trade their cell phones, PSP, and other electronic devices in exchange for an iPod. There are an even greater number of people trying to talk down the price, trying to get free shipping, or trying to buy only a portion of accessories up for bid. One of the auctions even encouraged bartering, stating that the buy it now price was negotiable. There were one or two scammers trying to get the seller to ship to an international address. (I'm not sure exactly what the scam was.) There seemed to be a greater proportion of buy it now auctions than on eBay. There were also many auctions where the sellers do not state how old their used product is. One auction was billed as an "extremely new ipod." What does "extremely new" mean? That means it's not actually new, right? I asked the seller when he got it, but he ignored the question, even though he answered other questions. Questions that the seller ignores do not show up in the Q&A section. And yes, there are some good deals. There are 20-gigabyte iPod Photos, still sealed in the box, for NT$5000 (about US$150).

Products are not categorized as finely as eBay. On eBay, for common products, you can classify your product very precisely. On Yahoo auctions, all iPods are categorized as simply "iPods." Items included in this category include many products that are not iPods. This is bad for sellers, who will miss out on sales to buyers who try to find a product by searching, but creates opportunities for buyers with a lot of time to sift through all the products. If I want a 40-gigabyte iPod, I will search for "40gb +ipod." This will exclude all the products listed as "iPod 40G." (Actually, in Chinese, the latter choice is used more often, but they are both used, so you should search for both.) The greatest drawback of Yahoo auctions is that I could find no way to search past auctions. On eBay, that is an option that puts a lot of power in the buyers' hands. Overall, prices are cheap and shipping charges are always very cheap in Taiwan, so I'm happy with Yahoo auctions.