Varying Degrees of Lost
by Jeremy Tiang
This is part of the Walking Norwich series.
Living in New York and translating from Chinese, I’ve never had the good fortune to live in the same place as an author I’m working with—until the strange summer, first chilly then sweltering, when I found myself in Norwich, on a residency at the National Centre for Writing. I’d not long ago signed a contract to translate Yan Ge’s Strange Beasts of China for Tilted Axis Press, and Yan just happened to live here too, working on an MFA at the University of East Anglia as she switched to writing in English.
During my time in Norwich, I walked from Dragon Hall to Yan’s house off the Unthank Road a few times, always managing to get varying degrees of lost—I have no sense of direction and also no smartphone, an unwise combination. A couple of those times, I was in the company of Korean translator and fellow resident Anton Hur, but felt it was my responsibility to get us safely there—after all, we were going to visit my writer. The first time, I had a cake with me, still warm from the oven in its tin, that I held in front of me with both hands—giving the whole thing the stately air of a procession.
The start was easy enough: striking uphill from the Dragon Hall cottage, away from the water. There were a number of possible routes, from clearly-marked paths to secret shortcuts, say a courtyard with a back exit leading to a steep flight of stairs. One way or another, you left the older part of town behind, with its centuries-old buildings and twisty streets, and arrived at the section that I thought of as ‘generic high street’.
(I feel duty-bound here to mention that Norwich has some wondrous independent shops, where I spent many happy afternoons distracting myself from work, but there’s also a stretch that’s all Tesco and WHSmith and Greggs, and there’s nothing wrong with that, the consistency of the British high street is a small comfort in an ever-shifting world.)
This is where things inevitably got sticky. The road ends in an underpass I can only describe as a below-ground roundabout, walls festooned with an amazing quantity of municipally-sanctioned graffiti. The first time I went through, I confidently took us up the wrong branch and we walked along in an unhelpful direction, until I caved and asked Anton to look it up on his smartphone.
I can visualize every step of the route up to here, and I can picture Yan’s actual house clearly, but the bits in between collapse into a tangle of suburban cul-de-sacs and terrace houses, the sort that make me feel like a character in a Betjeman poem. I never minded being lost here. It was soothing to wander the narrow streets, no two at a right angle, admiring the cats lounging in front gardens and small attempts at individuality expressed through paint choices. Later, I found out this area is known as the Golden Triangle—a name apparently coined by estate agents to emphasise its desirability—and sure enough, I had many fantasies about settling down here and starting a new, glossier life.
In the end, I always got to Yan’s house. It was initially tempting to construct a metaphor for translation out of this—wandering a varied series of landscapes, trying to find my way to my author—but that would be cheesy. Sometimes, a walk is just a walk, and this was always a particularly enjoyable one, taking me through so many different parts of Norwich, allowing me to amble and get pleasantly disoriented and clear my mind, until I arrived where I needed to be.
Jeremy Tiang is the translator of Li Er, Chan Ho-Kei, Zhang Yueran, Yeng Pway Ngon, Yu Qiuyu and Jackie Chan, among others. He also writes and translates plays. Jeremy’s novel State of Emergency won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2018. He is the managing editor of Pathlight and a founding member of the translation collective Cedilla & Co. In 2019 he was the inaugural Translator of the Fair at London Book Fair. He lives in Brooklyn.
Jeremy has been on our podcast twice. You can listen here: