More of Zürich and The Water Margin

A semi-holiday. Oh Zürich, when did you get so expensive? 4Fr. for a ‘cheap’ coffee? I used to defend you to friends you said, “Zürich is really expensive,” but since I last lived here, wow, I pity anyone trying to live here on less than 6000Fr. a month.

Lucky I’m semi-working so won’t experience the distractions of the outside, and also have a door-stop of a book to keep me entertained (plus conveniently acquired cold) and can pretend I’m in some Suisse mountain village with no nearby amenities.

And on the book, digging a trench through The Water Margin still. I gave up shortly after beginning because in all truth the translation and edition have a lot of “weaknesses”. Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and continuity errors abound (and I have an irrational disposition when encountering an obvious error that any half-arsed text editing app would automatically find), and the writing style is stilted in the way that only a semi-literal translation from Chinese can be.

Then, having finished almost everything on my shelves and knowing I’d be on a train for an entire day on my way to Bregenz, and having re-begun it a week or so ago, decided I’d kick my way through it somehow. Let’s pretend for a minute the translation was superb, and that it kept the original ribaldry.

In this case The Water Margin is a hilariously violent, morally depraved, drunken brawl masquerading as Confucian morality tales of honest and upstanding scholars who have, through their commitment to said Confucian morality have been disadvantaged with no recourse other than to become violent, morally depraved, drunken but nonetheless upright bandits and brigands.

Recurring themes include: bribing of all and sundry with between 5 and 15 taels of silver as a starting amount, which is seen as a signal act of uprightness; on meeting, going between 20 and 50 rounds against each other with cudgels before recognising each other as honourable and then; drinking minimum of three cups of wine, and upwards of 30 in an evening; accompanied by at least a few kilos of beef, and other meat, vegetables and fruit; subsequently leading to the slaughter of a pig, sheep, or less frequently larger ruminant which is then consumed with buckets instead of cups of wine; at some point in this declaring each other “older brother” and “younger brother”, and the former bestowing small fortunes on the latter, who initially must refuse and then says they would dare not refuse; all of these characters either over 6 foot tall, or broad as an ox, or both, and tattooed, explosively red of face or otherwise garrulously marked when not obviously upright and noble; more bribery, coercion, standovers, dishonesty, covering up of murders, adultery, cannibalism, beatings, beheadings and other violent crime, all of which is revealed to be the necessary acts of an honest Confucian displaying the correct piety; punching to death of large wild animals such as man-eating tigers while very, very drunk; being beaten with bamboo staves, tortured by rope suspension, branded on the face, shackled in cangue and exiled to the far outposts for their crimes which can’t be covered up with aforementioned stacks of silver and gold (but nonetheless all the punishments are performed with requisite leniency as befits their correct moral standing); righteously joining bands of outlaws; repeating all of this for 800 pages with the “108 heroes of Liangshan Marsh” and another 28 or so who don’t join the marsh heroes.

It’s also full of hilarious lines like, “… his heart was beating like fifteen buckets being hurriedly lowered into a well for water — eight going down while seven were coming up.” and “Last year I was very ill with fever for three months, but when passing Jingyang Ridge I being somewhat tipsy killed a tiger with only three blows of my fist and a couple of kicks.”

It makes Game of Thrones look cheerful and delicate.