This month, Cypress Books caught up with Carl Gene Fordham, an Australian translator currently based in Xiamen, Fujian province. After learning Mandarin Chinese in primary school, Carl was lucky enough to enrol in one of Australia’s first Asian language immersion programmes back in 2000. He’s passed HSK Level 6, and wants to one day play his part in sharing the wisdom of ancient Chinese philosophy.
Throughout Years 8 to 10 at Urangan High School in Queensland’s Hervey Bay, Carl took his maths, social science, and information technology lessons in Chinese, alongside Mandarin as his ‘LOTE’ (Languages other than English) subject. “Most students in the programme had studied Chinese in primary school, but there were some who hadn’t and were somewhat ‘thrown in the deep end’. It was a very special opportunity.”
Carl passed the HSK Level 6 exam around six years ago and says it’s a great way to work towards a personal goal and motivation for learning and progressing. “I remember the listening part being quite difficult, as the pace of the recordings was fast and the content itself was quite dense. In the writing section where you are given ten minutes to read a short story and are required to write a summary from memory, I thought I did a pretty poor job – in fact, I was pretty sure I failed that section!”
The most common jobs he works on, as a NAATI-accredited translator, are legal and immigration documents, as well business texts such as contracts, websites and advertisements. “The most challenging translation projects are always the ones where there is ambiguity in the source text. This occurs more often than you might think,” says Carl. He landed his first few translation jobs through the NAATI online directory and would one day like to try something creative like a literary work, or subtitling.
Carl’s favourite Chinese philosophies and thinkers, he says, are “pretty much anything from the Golden Age of Chinese philosophy – that is, any of the schools of thought that came about before the Qin dynasty. I find Daoist philosophy particularly fascinating, as I feel it is one of the few philosophies in the world that manages to describe a massive range of universal experiences without ever coming across as historically or culturally biased. And of course one can’t deny the phenomenal impact Confucianism as had on China, and other civilizations in East Asia. Essentially, any of the Hundred Schools of Thought are worthy of serious study, by scholars and the layperson alike.”
Carl’s favourite idiom is 塞翁失马，焉知非福, literally, ‘When the old man from the frontier lost his horse, how could one have known that it would not be fortuitous?’ “I’ve always liked the idiom because it alludes to a truism in life – that just because something doesn’t turn out well, it doesn’t mean all hope is lost.”
“Sometimes, a setback may in fact turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Just like in English, we often say, ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’. And yet, by the same token, good fortune may not always give you an ideal result. The Chinese idiom hints at the ever-changing nature of our existence, and reminds us not to jump to conclusions when things don’t turn out the way you planned,” he says. “It is, however, just a small taste of what we can learn from ancient Chinese philosophy. I hope one day I can help with the task of unearthing that wisdom and communicating it to a new audience.”