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A Little Princess

January 25, 2009

sunny -10 °C

Since I am on winter vacation until possibly March 1, I have been given plenty time on my hands. One day I spent letting time pass through my hands—sleeping eating little, and watching a bit of television. However, I have realized what a mistake that was and have since picked up a 英汉对照, English-Chinese novel called “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. When I was in 6th grade, I read this book. This time around, I am revisiting the story in Chinese. Therefore, I would recommend students with advanced foreign language skills to use one of these books and to read something they had read in the past. Having the past to guide the reader makes reading a favorite book exciting.

What makes reading “A Little Princess” interesting is that I have a fuzzy memory of the details but I’m sharpening my image by rereading. I had expected reading a novel in Chinese comparable to watching satellite T.V. on a rainy day. However, I found I had a pretty clear image and the English version on the left –hand side of the two pages. During reading, I have two tools: A highlight and a pen. The highlight marks unfamiliar words. The pen writes pinyin, underlines phrases, and writes the English translation for the words. I hope that when I finish this novel, I will reread and translate the Chinese into English. Though my English skills will not be as fluent as Burnett, I will enjoy the experience because it will feel like solving a jigsaw puzzle.

I am already on page 133 and a few paragraphs away from the novel’s major turning point where the protagonist Sara Crewe finds out her father has died and left her penniless. Sara’s immediate downfall brings her from the status of princess to pauper. However, she does not lose her princess-like grace. And how she will keep her head high at the young age of 11?

As I was intrigued 6 years ago with Sara’s character, I have often thought about how pretending is necessary. Sara pretends to be a princess because it is her form of escape from the present’s troubles. She can overcome the grief of her father’s passing and still be charitable to others even when she is needy. I bet if you were having a drink with Sara is her poor state, she could cheerfully say your glass of water is half-full. In a few more paragraphs when she becomes a pauper and a scullery maid, she will need her pretending ability more than ever.

Imagining Sara pretending to be a princess gave me a stronger appreciation for my environment and motivated me to show more grace. However, it made me wonder if I had a host family who could barely provide for me—burnt green beans and sticky rice every night—could I pretend? Pretending might sound like silly business, but it can shift one’s perspective for the better.


When I was in Yunnan, I enjoyed the bus rides—even though most days we sat in the bus for over 6 hours. Looking out at the scenery, I thought about the lives of Chinese peasants. I thought about the millions of farmers who worked tirelessly and rarely if never have enjoyed the comforts of a shower in a bathtub like those found at a hotel or the one found at my house. Then I thought, those who lived their life in the city was surrounded by sparkling skyscrapers and fancy automobiles. Citizens of the city were as a Chinese proverb describes best, “frogs sitting at the bottom of a well”. When frogs look up from the bottom of the well, their view of the sky is limited. Both countryside and city folks have their limited perspectives. However, I would like to step into a farmer’s home and spend a night. Any opportunity to experience another’s life brings me closer to their roots. I believe that to truly understand someone, you have to begin at their roots.
I will have to write another blog entry about this.
Anyways, I have never experienced such a drastic shift from class. But if Sara can pretend to be a princess, I can pretend I am one too if I am in the same situation.

Posted by myscope 04:22 Archived in China

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