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沈宏非《聚众吃喝》英译(2)

2015-08-28    来源:网络    【      美国外教 在线口语培训

On Communal Dining

In Chinese culture, dinning alone is usually thought to be a misery if not a severe punishment--a rather disconsolate, deplorable situation. Chinese phrases describing such a phenomenon are exceptionally few. “I just grabbed a quick, casual bite”, is the most typical answer a man would provide to dismiss a polite inquiry with, after he has finished eating solo. In Chinese society, people love to communicate over food and drink, so much so that they seem unable to develop a sense of fellowship otherwise. For them, communal dining is not only a means, a channel or a process; it is society itself.

The tragic effect of eating a Chinese meal alone is largely determined by the types of its ingredients and the manner of cooking and serving it, and to a lesser degree by such peripheral factors as the shape and size of the dinning table. The granular structure of the staple food, too, reinforces the collectivist nature of Chinese cuisine. Our cooking utensils, whether used over an overt or a covert fire, are designed essentially to produce a meal for a group rather than an individual. Even nowadays, when the Chinese dining habit is beginning to be reformed, the focus is, after all, on the advocacy for having the Chinese meal in a Western fashion—eating from one's own plate rather than everyone picking food from the same plate-mainly for hygienic reasons based on an ideology of “Chinese substance dressed in Western form”. Despite the vastness of Chinese territory and diversity of Chinese cuisine, Chinese people, be they from the farthest north or the extreme south of the country, all embrace the idea of clustering around the same hot pot with a dozen pairs of chopsticks thrust into it all at once to pick up whatever there is beneath the boiling bubbles. This, I believe, is proof enough that they do prefer to dine together.

Chinese cuisine is elaborated into complex and fairly ritualized details. A standard meal must consist of rice, dishes and soup. Besides, a sufficient number of diners are absolutely essential for enhancing the fun. Many Chinese return from the US with dramatically increased waistlines as compared with how they looked when they were about to leave China, probably not because the alleged rounder moon is the American sky has made their bellies rounder, too. An American meal is all set on a very large plate; one has to eat from that same plate all the way through. In such cases, the Chinese stomach has without a doubt been filled, whereas the Chinese sentiment remains hungry. How indeed can this be called “eating”! Far from being contented, the poor misfit has but to go back to his place and eat some more stuff he himself cooks according to his own preference. In another scenario, when actions are taken against those who eat and drink extravagantly on public funds, they are most probably caught as a group. Rarely does one find a government official relishing a sumptuous dinner, without having to pay out of his own purse, in sheer solitude.

In addition to the social function, group dining brings many other benefits as well. For example, it allows one to avoid wasteful consumption while savoring a larger variety of delicacies. It also prevents one from eating so wolfishly as to harm his health and wellbeing. A housewife knows all too well that preparing a meal for several person is much more economical than only for one or two. When she urges an unexpected visitor to stay for dinner by saying, “Just an extra pair of chopsticks and everything will be OK”, she is by no means just putting on a false show of hospitality!

In present-day China, the traditional extended family is giving way to new, more liberal styles of life. More and more people marry late, stay single or simply live alone. Even the so-called civilian society under reconstruction now is hardly the same as it used to be. At least, one will not need to treat the webmaster to a delicious meal when he applies for membership of some website. Opportunities for dining together are no longer abundant. Although the majority of Chinese citizens have become increasingly used to eating in isolation, the sorrow thus caused still plagues them like a gloomy shadow. In view of the current discussion raging everywhere as to the plights of modernization (or globalization), I wonder whether eating along may count as one of them.

(王维东 译)



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