Modern British Art: Bashir Makhoul and his “House of Cards” Exhibition

John taking a shot at IWM

John taking a shot at IWM

Last Friday, John and I returned to Manchester for a very special occasion – we attended the successful launch of Asia Triennial Manchester 2014, and more specifically, we were there to witness the highly regarded artist Bashir Makhoul’s exhibition in various locations in the city of Manchester.

We have known Profession Makhoul for a while now, ever since he took up the post of Pro-Vice Chancellor at Birmingham City University and has direct responsibility for BCU’s International development. So we were very honoured to see first hand his other great achievement as a practising artist, who makes creative work ranging from oil paintings to wonderful, gigantic installations.

High and Mighty Construction

High and Mighty Construction

It was a warm and bright day, rather unusual for Manchester, from my experience of that northern city, making our traffic heavy journey a little more interesting. Our first stop was the Imperial War Museum (IWM North) located in Salford Quays, next to the BBC and ITV. The sunshine was beautifully reflected on the waters right behind the museum.

View of Salford Quays from the IWM

View of Salford Quays from the IWM

On entering the museum, we were greeted by the most impressive art installation I have ever seen: Bashir Makhoul’s spectacular creation of a mock Gaza, which, as I understand it, was first shown at the 55th Venice Biennale Exhibition in 2013, entitled “The Occupied Garden”. The new and current exhibit was a village constructed out of ordinary cardboard boxes, embodying the temporary nature of human dwelling and encampment, created by the occupation of Palestine and her people. We could easily see the amazing amount of work that had been put into this installation by the artist himself and his hard-working construction team.


Whilst at the museum, our brief browsing took us to a painting depicting British medics collecting wounded soldiers from the bloody Battle of Ypres. By coincidence, John’s great granddad was among the wounded there and we visited his grave in Northern France three months ago.

The artist's family and friends gathered to appreciate his art

The artist’s family and friends gathered to appreciate his art

We later met with the artist himself at Granada Studios where his oil painting collection “House of Cards” (The Netflix series with the same title happens to be our favourite TV programme too) and textile objects were on display. All of his works delivers emotionally-charged, powerful messages: occupation and colonisation of cities and countries. The mixture of different colours, the bullet holes in the cardboard boxes and through the textiles brought vivid images of war and today’s politics in the regions where the artist comes from. It was a heady and powerful combination.


"House of Cards" Exhibition

“House of Cards” Exhibition

This Exhibition is open until 23 of November 2014, so pop to Manchester and check them out. There are fabulous works from other artists too, in different venues across the city. For more about Bashir Makhoul and his work, visit his website.

Summer Lin anther friends (BCU students) attended the Exhibitions

Summer Lin with her friends from BCU  

Posted in Arts & Culture, Politics & History, Social Media & Photography, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My First Visit to #Scotland

Cold weather, pure joy in Scotland

Cold weather, yet pure joy in Scotland

On New Year’s Eve, we made our way to George Square in Glasgow’s City Centre.“You’ll get free kisses from handsome young men, I’m sure,” Hongmei did not look serious, but neither was she joking.

“What do you mean?” I responded with a question.

“You’ll see. A pretty girl like you… ”

“C’mon, Hongmei. Stop flattering me,” I cut short Hongmei’s comments. Ever since my arrival, every time Hongmei introduced me to her many acquaintances and friends, she would refer to my good looks. She meant well, I knew, but still, it began to get on my nerves. I was not some kind of walking vase for Hongmei to show off.

Treasured picture with two friendly strangers

Treasured picture with two friendly strangers

Arriving at the square, we joined a huge crowd gathered around the massive Christmas tree, illuminated by colourful and sparkly lights. I posed for the camera in the beautifully lit, cheerfully packed and buzzing with happy clattering, city square.

“Hey, beautiful!” Two good-looking young Scotsmen, smiled their friendly smiles and stood next to me, one with his arm wrapped around my shoulder, while the other put his hand on my waist. There went the flash. Before I knew it, they each planted a kiss on my cold cheeks. “Happy New Year!” They laughed heartily.

It was not yet midnight, but their show of love deeply touched me, their warmth on that chilly night spread from my cheeks to my heart. It was there to stay.

I wanted to play bagpipe :)

Edinburgh: I wanted to play bagpipe :)

Beautiful Scotland: Queen's View

Beautiful Scotland: Queen’s View

During my ten-day break in Scotland, Hongmei accompanied me to Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Loch Lomond. While Edinburgh and Glasgow offered grand architecture and sites full of historical heritage and cultural significance, St. Andrews and the Scottish lochs brought wonderful, rather dramatic impressions of Mother Nature. I fell in love with Scotland on that very first visit; her hospitality and beauty, despite its severely wintry weather and almost unintelligible accent. SSBFTOLEXCERPT


The above short excerpt from The Same Moon recorded part of my very first visit to Scotland in 1988, the year when I arrived in the UK. With Scotland in the news recently and last Thursday’s public vote to stay or leave the United Kingdom, I thought it is appropriate for me to share a little bit of my personal feelings towards that beautiful country.

I am mightily relieved that Scotland did not break away, as I had feared. I would be genuinely saddened if she became independent, not because she does not deserve it, but because of my enormous emotional attachment towards her. I always tell people the Edinburgh is the most beautiful British city, and Glasgow is one of my favourite cities on earth. I am glad that I can continue to make the same claims and visit that dear, enchanting land whenever I feel like it.

SO glad that Scotland is still in the UK!

SO glad that Scotland is still in the UK!


Posted in Book Reviews & Excerpts, Politics & History, Reading & Writing, Travel Logs, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#Interpreting: “You Can Lead a Horse to Water But You Can’t Make it Drink”

A Professional Translator & Interpreter

A Professional Translator/Interpreter & Trainer

We have a member of staff who speaks Chinese and English and we use her as an interpreter. She never had any interpreting training. I wonder if you can train her and make her more effective?

The request email came to me from a far-sighted company manager.

With more than 10 years of professional interpreting experience under my belt, and having run workshops for MA interpreting & translation students, naturally I said yes.

During the initial phone consultation, the potential trainee said to me: “I don’t have good vocabulary in English, because I am lazy. Are there any short cuts?”

Short cuts to build one’s vocabulary? I was a little taken aback. “You’ll need to read more, perhaps watch English news. You’ll have to work on that.”

Following workshop with enthusiastic MA students in Leeds University

Following workshop with enthusiastic MA Interpreting students at Leeds University

“I have a problem when people speak for too long, and I can’t remember. Any suggestions what I can do?” She continued.

“Have you ever taken any notes?” I asked.


“Well, that’s something you can do. You can also ask the speaker to pause at an appropriate moment.” I offered my advice.

When asked if she would like some training, she didn’t sound too keen but replied: “If the company wants to pay, guess I’ll do it.”

Before our meeting, I spent many hours preparing for it. I searched on-line and found some very useful links and training materials. I also dug out the training manual which I went through when I started out, as well as a few bilingual books which have texts in both Chinese and English, in a business context. I was ready.

“I was actually trained to teach English in China but I didn’t want to be a teacher, because it would not allow me to make a lot of money. I came from a poor family,” She introduced herself.

Judging from the brand new, top of the range convertible super brand car she drove to see me, I could see that her decision paid off handsomely.

“What do you think are the essential requirements for a good interpreter?” I began.

She shook her head.

“Anything at all? Such as knowing two languages well and cultural awareness?” I prompted.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 09.41.57After several prompts, I showed her the Interpreter Skills Map, a wonderful guide provided by National Network for Interpreters.

“What is tact?” She asked. She did not understand the word in English.

I could see what she meant by having limited vocabulary.

We went through some of the explanations on the Interpreter Map and we watched some examples.

IMG_4510Following examples of how an effective interpreter took notes, we sat down and began a little note-taking exercise.

I read very short paragraphs from the bilingual book, Chinese first. Not too difficult, just a short piece of news.

She started writing down but managed only a couple of words. When I finished, she looked lost. So I read it again, asking her to concentrate on listening to what was said.

Too difficult, she complained.

Okay. A short passage in English then. “My Chinese is better,” She told me earlier.
Again, she could neither note down anything or repeat what I just read out, very clearly and slowly.

“Let’s try something really simple.” I offered.

A very basic interview exercise, such as telling one’s name should work. It started to look a lot like an English lesson to an unmotivated student.

During the course of the session, I asked if she knew what types of interpreting there were. No. So we went through different types, consecutive, simultaneous, whisper etc.

Her lack of basic interpreting knowledge was quite shocking. But no problem. I was there to help.

Business Interpreting between Chinese & English

Business Interpreting between Chinese & English

Time for interpreter ethics and professional conduct. I explained the importance of confidentiality, impartiality, and that an interpreter should interpret what was said exactly, without deviation, even interpreting something that is rude.

“No, I can’t do that.” She started arguing vehemently. “I am a member of staff, not a professional interpreter, so I can’t do what professional interpreters do. I certainly would not translate some things said by my clients.” She was adamant.

I just wanted her to know what are required as a professional interpreter. Guess that did not go down too well. She made it quite clear that she would do no such thing. “I very often did not interpret what Chinese clients said to my English employer. Or what the English people said to Chinese clients.”

She continued: “I have a good life and it’s easy, and I don’t want to work too hard to stress myself. I am lazy.”

Lazy, that’s a confession I never expected to hear from a fellow interpreter, or a trainee, or anyone I just met professionally. It did not bode well when she kept repeating that she was not a professional interpreter, nor intending to be.

Was I wasting my time? Was the company wasting their money?

From "The Incredible Dr. Pol" Via Facebook

From “The Incredible Dr. Pol”, via Facebook

Posted in China & East Asia, Short Stories, True Life Story, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

More Hilarious Signs of #Translation: #Chinese and #English

Am I a fruitcake? I LOVE interesting signs :-).

Am I a fruitcake? I LOVE interesting signs :-)

Having worked as a professional interpreter and translator for more than a decade, it is not surprising that I have acquired a new hobby: collecting interesting translation signs. Thanks to many unknown, ingenious Chinese translators, or perhaps it’s the fault of machine translation, there has been a constant supply of translation errors, to entertain and educate those who are competent English speakers, native or otherwise. It is entertaining because you had no choice but to laugh. It is educating because you know that if you ever commit similar mistakes, you could be the laughing stock, and then the joke is on you!

The machine not working?

The machine not working?

As we know, humour is probably one of the most difficult things to translate from one culture to another, due to the complexities of languages as well as cultural nuances. It could be funny and witty in one language but could totally get lost in translation.

Be careful! Caution is hard to translate :-)

Be careful! Caution is hard to translate :-)

Products for Adults

Products for Adults

Some of the translation signs I am sharing here are funny, hilarious even, or weird, not because the ‘translator’ intended to deliver humour – they simply come out wrong, grammatically or they make little or no sense.

It is possible that English speaking people will have a good laugh when spotting some of these signs. Bilingual Chinese and English speakers probably find them most interesting, since we are the ones who can tell exactly why and how translation went wrong.

To eat is a blessing, and to save is a virtue

To eat is a blessing, and to save is a virtue

It's rather poetic, isn't it? Don't step on grass in China!

It’s rather poetic, isn’t it? Don’t step on grass in China!

You see, it’s not always possible to translate word to word. A translator needs a great deal of knowledge of two different languages and a deeper understanding of two cultures to make a sensible and successful translation. It is not enough to simply understand what each word means in another language – a translator has to construct a meaningful message, which not only conveys what the original words/phrases/sentences try to say, but also makes perfect sense in another language. Any misunderstanding should be avoided.

I hope you are enjoying these little gems from China. You can see more at:Have a Hilarious #Holiday in #Beijing Which You’ll Never Forget;  and How Good Are Your English Translations? Hilarious English Signs Around the World.

Can you guess?

Can you guess?

Are you going to stay in that hostel?

Are you going to stay in that hostel?

Posted in Arts & Culture, China & East Asia, Humour, Social Media & Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment