May 24, 2006

Going rates for hongbao

I recently received an invitation to a coworker's engagement ceremony. Although I barely know her, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see what an engagement ceremony is like... until I found out how much it costs to show my friendship. I was told by multiple people that the I need to bao hongbao (包紅包), to put some money in a red envelope for her. The rates are:

not attending ceremony: NT$1200 (US$37)
attending ceremony: NT$1600 (US$50)
attending ceremony with guest: $1800 (US$56)

But of course you get something in return. You get a box of cookies. And the other party will be required to return the favor at your own wedding and the weddings of all your children. I'm not sure, but they are probably also obligated to send you money for your children's manyue (滿月) (one-month old) celebration. Going rates for that are NT$500-NT$600 (US$15.50 - $18.60) , although close friends or wealthy aquaintances might give NT$1000. And of course, you get something in return: oily glutinous rice (油飯), and possibly red hard-boiled eggs, cake, fried chicken, and rice-wine (?) chicken soup (雞酒).

One of the invitees to the engagement ceremony was a new coworker who has probably never even talked to the coworker who is getting engaged. When asked, he said that he gave NT$1600, and he would not attend the ceremony because he hardly knows her. When everyone else heard this, they laughed at him and berated him for his foolishness. Everyone knows that he only needed to give $1200! He went to see if he could get his red envelope back and remove the excess $400. But it was too late.

What's the price for opting out of all this reciprocity? It sounds a little dangerous, but I think I'm going to find out.

May 11, 2006

Almost finished with translation

For the last couple months, I have been really busy translating a book. The book is not very long, but it is, after all, book-length. I expected to learn a lot from the process, but the main thing I learned is that it takes a long time to translate a book when working only on evenings and weekends. It bugs me when people say they "learn" obvious things, like "bad things happen to good people," but I didn't quite grasp the fact that I needed to give up most leisure activities to get it finished in a reasonable time frame.

I had imagined that the most difficult part of translating would be to find natural ways of expressing the meaning of the Chinese in English. However, the most difficult and frustrating part of translating was dealing with logical inconsistencies, shifting subjects in sentences, and half-completed thoughts. Many of these problems might not bother you if you weren't reading the text too carefully, but I couldn't bring myself to duplicate the structures in English.

I'm pretty sure it was a gamble by the author to get the book translated. Unless the potential publishers are bilingual, they cannot decide whether to publish the book in English before the author has paid to have it translated. The author tried to translate it, but it was too rough to allow anyone to make a judgment about it. So I wish the author the best of luck in getting it published, and I wish myself to soon be able to reclaim my free time.

Taike's analogue

After reading a blog entry on the meaning of "taike" (台客), I finally realized something about all the attention that this subject has been getting lately. In all the newspaper articles and discussion about taike, there is some interesting social analysis, but the reason people are interested in this topic is humor: Taike are Taiwan's version of rednecks, and describing them is Taiwan's version of the "You might be a redneck if..." joke. Conditions are ripe for a Jeff Foxworth-like comedian to make a whole career off the joke. It goes something like this: You might be a taike if... you have a picture of Vivian Chow on your scooter's mud flap. You might be a taike if... you find yourself playing pachinko at one in the morning.