Sometimes when I’m with the Li family Daoists I wear my SOAS T-shirt, which bears the name “SOAS, London University” in most of the Oriental and African languages taught there. The Chinese version, on the back, reads
伦大亚非学院 Lunda YaFei xueyuan,
Lunda being short for Lundun daxue (London University),* Yafei short for Yazhou (Asia) and Feizhou (African), and xueyuan meaning academy.
What’s Lundaya feixueyuan supposed to mean?
We all burst out laughing, as usual. He was reading it not as three binomes (Lunda—YaFei—xueyuan), but as Lundaya—some weird transliteration of a foreign name, perhaps?—and feixueyuan, “anti-academy”. But his interpretation has stuck; it has a further resonance when adorning my own back, since with my championing of more earthy folk sounds I’m (ever-so-slightly simplistically) notorious for my anti-conservatoire stance… On my next visit to Yanggao I just had to bring a SOAS T-shirt to give him.
In similar vein (my book, pp.331—2), Li Manshan and I have a lot of fun with the name Intangible Cultural Heritage. The Chinese translation Feiwuzhi wenhua yichan is itself flagrantly at odds with, um, the Chinese heritage. I set the ball rolling by wilfully getting the name wrong, calling it Feiwenhua wuzhi yichan, “Anti-cultural materialistic heritage.” Li Manshan, now designated as a Transmitter of the ICH, takes up the riff: when I joke with him, “You’re an Intangible (feiwuzhi)!”, he comes back with: “Ha, I’m a Waste of Space (feiwu 废物), more like!” This becomes our regular name for the project.
*Another regular sources of giggles on visits to rural latrines is the common re-formation of Lundun with the characters 轮蹲, “taking turns to squat”, further elaborated in our revision of Lundun dashiguan 伦敦大使馆 “London embassy” to 轮蹲大屎馆 or “Taking turns to squat in the big London shithouse”…