Bridge and Ladder Blogs

From the Global Voices Wiki, here is the explanation for a bridge blog:

Hossein Derakhshan (aka. Hoder) proposed three models for ways people can use weblogs to communicate between cultures: windows, bridges and cafés. Windows allow us to look into another culture, but not interact - an example might be a weblog of someone in another country, talking about her daily life to her friends and family. We've got a chance to look in, but we're not invited to interact.

Cafés are complex spaces where groups of people can meet to discuss in ways that they can't meet in the real world, due to geography, politics or language. Joi Ito's IRC channel is a good example of a café.

Bridges are more interactive than windows, but less complex than cafés. They're usually the project of a single blogger, or a small group of authors. Bridge bloggers write for an audience outside their everyday reality - for instance, when Ory Okolloh writes about corruption in Kenya, reaching family at home and readers at Harvard, she is bridge blogging. (And when people comment on her blog from outside Kenya, they're bridging back.)

In some sense, EastSouthWestNorth is a bridge blog between China and the English-reading world.  However, this is China and nothing is ever straightforward.  In the following, there are three posts made by different people.  The first post appeared on the Hong Kong blog Knowing N Doing.  The second post is a translation of the first post into English and appeared at Curbside @ WTO.  The third post is a translation of the second post from English into Chinese and appeared at the mainland China blog Our World.

Why is this detour necessary?  Why couldn't the Chinese just read the original blog post, which is written in Chinese?  That is because Knowing N Doing is hosted on blogspot, which is inaccessible inside China.  In this case, EastSouthWestNorth is a ladder blog -- it allowed someone to climb over the firewall.  Unless told otherwise, I lay claim to be the first person to come up with this definition.

Another interesting aspect is just how the blog post got distorted during the two translations.  With a machine translation program, this is usually the way to test how good it is: take any article, get it translated one way and then backwards, and compare it against the original.  The current machine translation programs usually deliver results that are good for a laugh.  I have included all three posts below.  Indeed, the original Chinese and the bridged Chinese posts are quite different.  Ah, but it has less to do with the translators than the fact that the original contained a lot of Hong Kong Cantonese colloquial expressions!  A mainland Chinese person actually would need some translation help with the original.

So maybe certain details were lost in the process.  But what is undeniable that there was a train of emotions and sentiments.  The first blogger would not have written the post if there was not something in the event that gave him thought.  The second blogger would not have translated it if there was not something that touched him.  And the third blogger translated it because he found something in the story too.

Oh, let me remind you that this sort of exchange would not be possible without the Internet.

(Knowing N Doing)  December 11, 2005.





(Curbside @ WTO)

This post appears at the Chinese-language Knowing n Doing blog. The blogger named Wing describes himself as someone who "likes to sleep, read, watch movies and do nothing."

The blog post is titled "My mom, or terrorist."

Here is the translation:

My mom is telling that me that the terrorists want to send a big 'gift' to Hong Kong. I have not been reading the newspapers for a few days, so I don�t know how she got that idea. So I have to ask: "Are they really terrorists?" She says, "Yes. They are terrorists." I get suspicious. There is no reason for terrorists to get mixed up in this. So I ask again: "Are they terrorists, or are they here to protest against the WTO." My mom says, "That is it. Anyway, they are here to cause trouble." I think to myself, "Hey, you change your mind fast enough."

Since the WTO is almost here, I want to get any supporter, one at a time. So I try to preach to her: "Why do they want to create trouble? They are just expressing their discontent. You think about it. Why do they set themselves on fire?" 

"They are crazy." My mom is obviously rational above all.

I say: "They must be very hateful and dissatisfied, to the point that they give up their lives in order to protest. The WTO is very evil. The United States sell cheap rice to South Korea. The South Korean farmers work very hard to grow their own rice, but they can't compete. If they have no income, they become very very poor and they cannot make a living. They lose their land, and this is forcing them to die."

I expect that my mother would say the usual "Then I don't know about that" to conclude the conversation. Unexpectedly, she says, "In that case, their government is bad then. The government is unable to protect them. So they should not set themselves on fire. They should burn the government down."

My mother turns from an anti-terrorist into what she calls a terrorist, and the process took two to three minutes. Usually, she detests all politicians and she does not approve of any behavior that is against peace and security. Yet, during the discussion, she somehow jumps from peace-above-all to advocating using violence to express discontent (no doubt, this includes a certain attitude that "better burn South Korea down instead of creating trouble in Hong Kong"). 

I think in her mysterious logic, there must be something that cannot be explained rationally. I know that if anything should happen this week, she would still wince. But I hope that she can remember that she had one moment in which she felt that even violence is sometimes legitimate.