疫情随笔(中英双语)

罗宾·史蒂芬·吉尔班克是英美国文学教学与中国作品外译的专家,现任西北大学外国语学院副教授、硕士生导师。他也是我市荣誉市民,陕西省翻译协会海外理事。2011年荣获陕西省“三秦友谊奖”;2018年4月,获评全国“改革开放40周年最具影响力的外国专家”。罗宾·史蒂芬·吉尔班克从事陕西文学英译及海外出版事业逾十年,致力于“向世界讲好中国故事”,在向国际社会推介中国和陕西作出了积极贡献。他先后翻译了贾平凹、陈忠实、高建群、叶广芩等陕西优秀作家的上百篇作品,并在海外出版。他参与了《中国古戏台研究与保护》《关学文库》等国家重大翻译项目的审校工作。他积极参与中国文化的海外推广,出版《探究中国》《罗宾博士看陕西》《最美丽的谎言家》等英文专著,并利用假期在英国故乡的学校、社区内开设中国文化主题讲座。他从英国带回珍贵的研究资料,与西北大学的同事们一起探讨科研教学方法,通过外语小剧场、互动式写作中心等创新项目的建设,推动英美文学授课水平的提高,连续八年被评为西北大学“最受学生欢迎的外籍教师”。他所获得的成就先后被中央电视台、新华网、中国日报、凤凰网、陕西卫视、华商报等多家媒体报道。

今年2月,罗宾先生依然从英国家中返回西安,亲历了中国人民抗击新冠疫情并取得令人瞩目成绩的过程,并写下了自己整个疫情期间的经历与感受的随笔,在征得鲁宾先生本人的同意后,我们现将原文及译文一并刊载,与广大市民和外国友人一同分享。

皆因世有黑暗,故较之光明愈显。有些人,如蝙蝠或猫头鹰般,面对黑暗拥有更为敏锐的瞳力。对于我们这些没有这种瞳力的人,当那些曾度过漫长孤独岁月的先见者们短暂沐浴在阳光照耀下时,更应该由衷的向他们投去最后一瞥。

连我都未曾想象,《匹克威克先生外传》的最后一章会成为我多年来春季学期教学大纲的固定内容。当朋友问我“你如何能一遍又一遍地教授同样的文学作品,却从不感到厌倦?”我的答案很简单:纸上的文字可能保持不变,但学生和语境每次都在变化。

这句话从来没有比这学期更真实过。左手拿着一杯普洱茶,右手拿着手机,我靠在阳台的安全栏杆上。“我们可能在想同样的事情?”我在我的QQ空间里写道。“关了这么久,今年春天的花看起来不是更漂亮了吗?当我们这些居家隔离的人怀着渴望的心情看着潜藏在院子里的壮丽景色时,狄更斯的乐观情绪迸发出新的力量。

六个月或更早以前,没有人想到过新冠病毒(这种在临床界以外尚不得而知的名称)会极大地改变我们的生活和工作方式。

模糊了物理距离和即时应答的在线教学课程,将我的工作活动与家庭生活几乎融为一体。从3月底开始,由于建议我的母亲待在家里并谢绝访客,我和妹妹要求她每天都发送电子邮件用以向我们确认她的健康状况。相较于通风不济的公寓和狭窄的城市露台的住户,她与猫一起在空旷的英国乡村独自生活会更安全。不久之后,我突然发觉母亲其实很珍惜这次机会。母亲在二战结束的一年半之后出生,小学时代里持续的肉、面包和糖的定量配给经历使她在很大程度上更享受烹饪的过程,并且不怎么爱吃甜食。为在线送货服务可能停止而未雨绸缪,她掸去父亲旧锄头上的灰尘,把花圃开辟出一块种上了蔬菜,这也使她重拾对园艺劳动的信心。更重要的是,如今各大媒体都突然聚焦于那些可能违反隔离规定的行为。对于那些当场被抓的违反者,不管是不付小费的人,还是在后花园举办烧烤聚会的人,亦或是为了寻找廉价酒不惜多走一段路的驾驶者,他们都会受到严厉的谴责。曾经只有她一个人透过网帘的缝隙,以一种萨沃拉人式的目光盯着她那嗜酒如命、印度外卖上瘾的年轻邻居,现在整个国家都同样警惕起来。

我必须承认,在共同庆祝新年之后,为我返回西安的决定我们有过激烈的争执。“这与您习惯的不同。人们不会在山区和市场周围闲逛。 看看武汉的那些病房,病人像生产线一样轮流进出,也没有已知的治疗方法。”

事实是,整个1月和2月初,英国人普遍认为这种病毒只是“中国的麻烦”。数周以来,国内病例总数稳定在9例,无死亡病例。直到我去谢菲尔德参加市政厅的春节联欢晚会时,我才注意到有人在采取预防措施,防止国内爆发大规模疫情。可以肯定的说,这些人大部分是学生,而且无一例外都是中国人。在大学校区,医师会在门上贴告示,说明是否有口罩存货。如果你想在网上购买同样的防护装备,那么零售商们会对那些只值邮费10%的商品加收40或50英镑的“特快邮资”。

从希思罗机场起飞的第一个航班不得不中止。当天,西安市不仅宣布了禁止外国人入境的禁令(注:实际为英国暂停飞中国航班,西安市并未宣布禁令),而且强风也使整个伦敦的航班停飞。我不知所措的从国王十字车站经过布卢姆斯伯里广场来到罗素广场,在一家铺满了叮当作响的床罩的经济型酒店里住了下来。

在随后的一个晴朗的早晨,先前纷乱的情势看似已趋于平静,而我却下定了决心——一旦恢复外国人入境,西安长安区重新开放,我就设法飞回中国。毕竟,每天从欧洲大陆飞来的数百名乘客没有接受健康检查,新冠病毒入侵英吉利海峡能要多久?一旦欧洲大陆上的某个国家爆发疫情,就没有办法控制疫情。而不仅仅是像武汉这样的单一震中,疫情在英格兰、苏格兰、威尔士和北爱尔兰的每个城市和零星角落都会如雨后春笋般涌现。

接下来的两个星期就这样过去了,各种计划想出来又随即束之高阁。我的一位从事旅游业的朋友不合时宜地建议我不要在中国大陆转机,因为他担心我会被迫在抵港城市被隔离。他还用首尔之夜的想法逗我开心——在地平线霓虹闪烁的摩天大楼顶上尝着泡菜品着鱼汤。结果没两天,就爆出韩国新天地教派聚会导致疑似传染数千名信徒及其家人的新闻。

借由几通拨往北京的电话确认,只要遵守各项规定,时刻戴好口罩,我的西安之行便无障碍。路途上,同行之人几乎全是中国人,机上的气氛相当平静,既没有逃离灾难的焦虑,也没有即将重逢的兴奋。当遮着嘴只能读取眉眼时,陌生人的脸比平常更难以捉摸。我猜,和我一样,大家都希望能顺利通关,不被工作人员留下或询问任何细节。

就这样,我搭着一辆铺着塑料防护膜的出租车,花了四十分钟回到自己在西安郭渡镇的公寓。困顿于室内自然光不足,很难迅速倒过时差,我在最初几天里总是心绪不宁。直到第五天才出现转机,当地政府将英国人员列为低风险,这意味着我可以自由步行到办公室,协助同事翻译有关COVID-19的预防手册。

当公寓幽闭恐惧症尚未因一缕缕茉莉花香而有所缓解,带着口罩漫步在空荡荡的校园里时,会让人有一种超现实主义的感觉。我想,除非未来发生核危机,否则我们永远不可能看到中国的居民区如此空旷。但这不会一直持续。国内实时感染和死亡人数在不断攀升,影响正呈指数级增长。

出乎意料的是,开学两天后,有四个同事同时联系到我,通知我现在属于“红色风险”。“离你半个月的隔离结束还有三天。左敏会来负责你的隔离。门外将设置一名警卫,以确保无人员和物品出入。”屋子前门已被假期期间用于密封部门办公室和档案封口的胶带粘牢。这就好像我不是一个公共健康威胁,而是个只有在上级批准下才能释放的贵重物品。

由于没有时间去购物,到隔离结束时,所有的鸡蛋,牛奶,黄油,糙米,面粉和小扁豆都吃光了。冰箱里剩有半个红洋葱,一个西红柿,些许西兰花和几汤匙的自制泡菜。 从乐观角度来说,橱柜里至少还有能吃三周的谷物和干木耳。

如今三个月后再来回看,我个人在这场疫情中的体验还算不差。然而,即使是最温和的逆境也能成为鞭策。临近最后解除隔离的几天里,我下一个课题终于取得了进展——从被困在城墙里的英国居民的角度来描述1926年的西安围城。河南军阀刘镇华无情地包围了古都近200天(如果算上初期的小规模冲突,则是228天),民众损失惨重。尽管这样的人间悲剧剧令人不知还能如何形容,但幸存者的话语却能教会我们很多关于复苏的力量。一位英语老师的一段话让人难以忘怀:“每逢晴朗的傍晚,我便时常望着那些耸立在城市南边的群山,它们揭示着永恒,给予我们围困结束自由到来之日的希望”

1920年代描述下巍峨不变的秦岭群山如今也构筑着我2020年代的生活背景。

                                                           罗宾.史蒂芬.吉尔班克

                                                            写于2020年6月8日

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.  Some men, like bats or owls, have better eyes for the darkness than for the light.  We, who have no such optical powers, are better pleased to take our last parting look at the visionary companions of many solitary hours, when the brief sunshine of the world is blazing full upon them.

The closing section of The Pickwick Papers has been a fixture of my spring term syllabus for more years than I care to or even dare imagine. When friends ask me how come you never tire of teaching the same literary texts again and again? my answer is simple: The words on the page may remain the same but the students and the context change every single time.

This statement has never rung truer than in the present semester. With a cup of Puer tea in my left hand and my mobile phone in the right I leaned against the safety railings on the balcony. We are probably thinking the same thing? I typed into my QQ classroom. After so long being cooped up doesnt the blossom look far prettier this spring? Dickens optimistic sentiments took on fresh potency when we the self-isolated looked with longing at the splendour lurking in our courtyards.

Six months or more ago nobody conceived that coronavirus - a name then unknown beyond the clinical circle - would so profoundly alter our lives and working routines.

Teaching courses online, with its mixture of physical distance and quickfire response, yanked my professional activities into almost the same gear as my family life. Since my mother was advised to stay at home and receive no visitors from the end of March onwards, my sister and I made her promise that she e-mail each day to reassure us about her well being. Living alone with her cat for company in a spacious plot in the English countryside placed her in an advantageous position, at least when compared to the occupants of poky ill-ventilated flats and cramped urban terraces. Before very long, it dawned on me that she probably cherished this as an opportunity. Born a year and a half after the end of World War II, the ongoing rationing of meat and bread and sugar during her primary school years left her largely inured to the charms processed food and without a sweet tooth in her head. Giving over some of the flowerbeds to vegetables lest the online delivery service stall and dusting off my fathers old hoes must have revived her faith in georgic toil. What is more, the media at every level had all of a sudden become vigilant as to potential breaches of the lockdown rules. Excoriating words were meted out at violators caught in the act - be they fly-tippers, back garden barbecue hosts or motorists who went the extra mile reconnoitering cheap booze. Where once she alone had cast a Savoranolaean stare through the crack in the net curtains at her lager-swilling, Indian takeaway-addicted young neighbours the whole country was now similarly on the alert.

I must admit that we had rowed fiercely about my decision to return to Xian after celebrating New Year together. It wont be the same as you are used to. Theyll be none of that gadding about up mountains and around markets. Look at all those wards in Wuhan - patients being wheeled in and out like a production line and theres no known cure.

The reality was that throughout January and early February the virus was widely seen as a Chinese problem by people in Britain. For weeks the total number of cases on home soil stood steady at nine with no fatalities. Only when I visited Sheffield to attend the Spring Festival Gala at city hall did I notice anyone taking precautions against a large-scale domestic outbreak. Suffice to say these were mostly students and invariably Chinese. In the university quarter pharmacists affixed notices to their doors indicating whether or not face masks were in stock. Try to purchase the same protective gear online and the retailers would slam a 40 or 50 pound surcharge for express postage on goods worth barely ten per cent of that amount.

The first flight from Heathrow had to be aborted. Not only did the authorities in Xian announce an embargo on foreign nationals entering the city on that very day, but gale-force winds grounded the entire London air fleet. Nonplussed, I stalked my way from Kings Cross to Russell Square via Bloomsbury Square and bedded down in a budget hotel replete with clattering counterpane.   

Not a hint of the preceding tumult was evident on the still clear morning that followed. My resolve was sealed - I ought to aim to fly back once foreign entry rights have been restored and as soon as Changan District reopens its borders. After all, how long would it be before coronavirus invaded these shores? Health checks were not being conducted on the hundreds of passengers jetting in daily from Europe. Once one country on the continent suffered an outbreak there would be no means of containment. And then not just single epicentre, as in Wuhan, but cases springing up in every city and scattered corner of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The ensuing fortnight wore on with schemes being hatched and rapidly shelved. With little perspicacity my friend in the travel industry suggested avoiding transferring flights in Mainland China for fear I was compelled to quarantine in the city of arrival. Briefly he regaled me with the thought of a night in Seoul - kimchi and fish soup atop a skyscraper with neon lights flickering across the horizon. That was literally a day or two before the news broke of the Shincheonji sect and its suspected role in contaminating thousands of adherents and their families.

A few phone calls to Beijing confirmed that my passage to Xian would face no obstacles, providing each rule was obeyed and a mask worn at every minute of the day. Travelling as I was with an almost entirely Chinese contingent, the atmosphere on board was subdued. There was none of the anxiety of fleeing disaster, nor the excitement of impending reunion. Strangers faces prove more inscrutable than usual when one has to read the eyes and brow without a mouth for assistance. I suppose, like me, most people hoped to glide straight-spined through customs and immigration without being hauled over by staff or queried on any detail.

And so it was, after setting up an erwaima and a forty-minute ride in a polythene-lined taxi, I reached my apartment just outside Guodu township. The next few days were agitating since jet-lag does not attenuate swiftly when one is deprived of natural light. On the fifth day there was a moment of eureka as the county authorities announced that UK nationals were considered a low-level risk. This meant being free to walk to the office and assist colleagues in the translation of a manual on preventing COVID-19.

After the claustrophobia of the apartment which was not alleviated much by copious coils of jasmine incense, the freedom to tramp face-masked about the empty campus felt surreal. Unless there were a nuclear emergency in the future we would never be likely to see a residential precinct of China so denuded of people. It wasnt to last. Online infection figures and casualties back home were creeping up and the impact was soon exponential.

Quite out of the blue, two days into the term-time proper four colleagues simultaneously made contact, notifying me that I was now a Category Red risk. There are three days until your half-month quarantine will end. Zuomin will come and seal you in. A guard will be placed outside the door to ensure nothing and nobody passes in or out. The front door was duly secured with the same adhesive strips used on the entrance to the departmental office and archive during vacations. It was as though contrary to being a public health threat I was some precious commodity that could only be released on the behest of a higher authority.

Having not had time to shop beforehand, supplies dwindled so that by the end of day two all eggs, milk, butter, brown rice, flour and lentils were spent. The fridge contained half a red onion, one tomato, a serviceable cauliflower stalk and several tablespoonfuls of home-fermented kimchi. To look on the bright side, the cupboards had at least three weeks worth of grain and dried tree ear mushrooms.

With the benefit of three months hindsight, my personal corona experience was ultimately benign. However, even the mildest adversity can be a spur. Within days of my final release I was at last making headway with my next project - an account of the Siege of Xian in 1926 from the perspective of the British residents trapped inside the city walls. For almost 200 days (228 if preliminary skirmishes are factored in) the Henan Warlord Liu Zhenhua mercilessly encircled the ancient capital, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths. It is hard to portray these events as anything save for a human tragedy, but the words of the survivors can still teach us a great deal about the power of resilience. One passage by an English teacher is oddly memorable:-    

I often look on the mass of the mountains as on a clear evening they stand out to the south of the city reminding us of the things that last, and giving hope of the days when the siege shall be over and we shall be free.

Those same peaks of Qinling described in the 1920s form the backdrop to my life in the 2020s.