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汪曾祺 卖蚯蚓的人 translation: The Worm Seller, by Wang Zengqi (小说三篇)

This is a translation of the short story 卖蚯蚓的人 (‘The Worm Seller’) by the Chinese author 汪曾祺 (Wang Zengqi). The story can be found in the anthology 小说三篇 (‘Three Novels’).

小说三篇 Three Novels

卖蚯蚓的人 The Worm Seller

我每天到玉渊潭散步。 I go to the Jade Pool every day for a walk.

玉渊潭有很多钓鱼的人。 There are a lot of people fishing at the Jade Pool.

他们坐在水边,瞅着水面上的飘子。 They sit at the edge of the water, looking at the things floating on the surface.

难得看到有人钓到一条二三寸长的鲫瓜子。 It's rare that you see someone catch a carp of two or three inches with melon seeds. [?]

很多人一坐半天,一无所得。 A lot people sit there for a half day and don't get anything at all.

等人、钓鱼、坐牛车,这是世间“三大慢”。 The people, fishing and oxen carts made up the world of "three great bores". [?]

这些人真有耐性。 These people really are patient.

各有一好。 There's something good about all of them. [?]

这也是一种生活。 It's also a way of life.

在钓鱼的旺季,常常可以碰见一个卖蚯蚓的人。 In the busy season for fishing, you often run into the worm seller.

他慢慢地蹬着一辆二六的旧自行车,有时扶着车慢慢地走着。 He'd slowly trudge along on an old 1926 bike, sometimes pushing the bike and walking on foot.

走一截,扬声吆唤: He'd walk for a bit, then raise his voice and shout out:

“蚯蚓——蚯蚓来——” "Earthworms! Earthworms here!"

“蚯蚓——蚯蚓来——” "Earthworms! Earthworms here!"

有的钓鱼的就从水边走上堤岸,向他买。 Some of the people fishing would walk over from the bank at the water's edge to buy from him.

“怎么卖。" "How are you selling them?"

“一毛钱三十条。" "Ten cents for thirty." (Chinese currency has three denominations, each of which is worth ten of the one below. The price here is one mao, the middle denomination. It makes sense to call the largest a dollar and the lowest a cent, which makes this one ten cents.)

来买的掏出一毛钱,他就从一个原来是装油漆的小铁桶里,用手抓出三十来条,放在一小块旧报纸里,交过去。 As soon as the buyer took out the ten cents, he would, from what was originally a little iron pot for paint, pull out three of them with his hand and put them in a little piece of old newspaper to hand them over.

钓鱼人有时带点解嘲意味,说:“一毛钱,玩一上午!” Sometimes the worm seller would use a little touch of up-sell, saying: "Ten cents, have fun for a morning!"

有些钓鱼的人只买五分钱。 Some of the people fishing would only by five cent's worth.

也有人要求再添几条。 There were also people who demanded a few more worms.

“添几条就添几条,一个这东西!” "Just add a few, it's only one of these things!"

蚯蚓这东西,泥里咕叽,原也难一条一条地数得清,用北京话说,“大概其”,就得了。 This thing, the earthworm, squidges around in the soil, and it's pretty hard to count them one by one anyway; in the Beijing dialect it's "pretty much that" and then you leave it.

这人长得很敦实,五短身材,腹背都很宽厚。 This guy looked kind-hearted and honest, and was short in stature, with a broad back and wide belly.

这人看起来是不会头疼脑热、感冒伤风的,而且不会有什么病能轻易地把他一下子打倒。 This guy looked like he wouldn't get headaches or catch cold, and there was no disease that could knock him down too easily.

他穿的衣服都是宽宽大大的,旧的,褪了色,而且带着泥渍,但都还整齐,并不褴褛,而且单夹皮棉,按季换衣。 The clothes he wore were all large and loose, old, faded in colour and covered in mud, but he was still neat and tidy, not shabby at all, and he would switch to a skin or cotton jacket according to the season.

——皮,是说他入冬以后的早晨有时穿一件出锋毛的山羊皮背心。 This 'skin' refers to when, on mornings once winter had started, he would sometimes wear a body-warmer made of bristly goat's skin.

按照老北京人的习惯,也可能是为了便于骑车,他总是用带子扎着裤腿。 As was the custom of Beijingers (and it might also have been to make it easier to cycle), he always used a belt to tie up his trouser legs.

脸上说不清是什么颜色,只看到风、太阳和尘土。 It was hard to say what colour his face was; you could just see wind, sun and dust.

只有有时他剃了头,刮了脸,才看到本来的肤色。 It was only on the occasions when he shaved his head and face that you could see the original colour of his skin.

新剃的头皮是雪白的,下边是一张红脸。 The freshly shaved skin on his head was snow-white, and below was a red face.

看起来就像是一件旧铜器在盐酸水里刷洗了一通,刚刚拿出来一样。 It looked like old copper-ware that had been washed in acid and had just been taken out.

因为天天见,面熟了,我们碰到了总要点点头,招呼招呼,寒暄两句。 Because I saw him every day his face was familiar, and when we bumped into each other we'd always nod and greet each other, exchanging a couple of pleasantries.

“吃啦?” "Have you eaten?"

“您溜弯儿!” "Out for a stroll, eh?" 溜弯 is Beijing dialect for walking for pleasure.

有时他在钓鱼人多的岸上把车子停下来,我们就说会子话。 Sometimes, on a bank with more people fishing, he'd stop his bike and we'd talk for a while.

他说他自己:“我这人——爱聊。" He'd say of himself: "I love a chat - that's me."

我问他一天能卖多少钱。 I asked him how much money he could make in a day.

“一毛钱三十条,能卖多少! "How much can you sell on ten cents for thirty! -

块数来钱,两块,闹好了有时能卖四块钱。" Counting in dollars, about two dollars; if things pick up sometimes I can sell four dollars' worth."

“不少!” "Quite a bit!"

“凑合吧。" "I get by, eh?"

我问他这蚯蚓是哪里来的,“是挖的?” I asked him where he got his worms from, "Do you dig them up?"

旁边有一位钓鱼的行家说:“是贲的。" To one side was an expert fisherman, who said: "They're _bēn_ed."

这个“贲”字我不知道该怎么写,只能记音。 I can't remember how to write this 'bēn' character, I just remember the pronunciation.

这位行家给我解释,是用蚯蚓的卵人工孵化的意思。 The expert explained to me, it means to use earthworm eggs to artificially breed them.

“蚯蚓还能‘贲’?” "You can breed earthworms?"

卖蚯蚓的人说: The worm seller said:

“有‘贲’的,我这不是,是挖的。 "There are bred ones, but mine aren't, they're dug up. -

‘贲’的看得出来,身上有小毛,都是一般长。 You can tell apart the bred ones; there are little hairs on the body, and they're all the same length. -

瞧我的:有长有短,有大有小,是挖的。" Look at mine: there are long ones and short ones, big ones and small ones; they're dug up."

我不知道蚯蚓还有这么大的学问。 I didn't know there was so much to learn about earthworms.

“在哪儿挖的,就在这玉渊潭?” "Where do you dig them up - is it at the Jade Pool?"

“不!这儿没有。——不多。丰台。" "Nope! There aren't any here, not many. At Fengtai."

他还告诉我丰台附近的一个什么山,山根底下,那儿出蚯蚓,这座山名我没有记住。 He also told me that near Fengtai was a mountain, and at the foot of it earthworms would come out; I don't remember the mountain's name.

“丰台?一趟不得三十里地?” "Fengtai? The round trip's less than thirty _li_, right?"

“我一早起蹬车去一趟,回来卖一上午。下午再去一趟。" "I cycle there early, then come back and sell all morning. Then I go again in the afternoon."

“那您一天得骑百十里地的车?” "Then you must have to ride a hundred and ten _li_ in a day?"

“七十四了,不活动活动成吗!” "I'm seventy four - if you don't keep moving then you won't keep moving, right?"

他都七十四了!真不像。 He was seventy four! He really didn't look it.

不过他看起来像多少岁,我也说不上来。 But how old he did look I couldn't say.

这人好像是没有岁数。 The guy seemed like he didn't have an age.

“您一直就是卖蚯蚓?” "You've always sold earthworms?"

“不是!我原来在建筑上,——当壮工。退休了。 "No! Originally I was in construction - heavy labour. I've retired. -

退休金四十几块,不够花的。" My retirement payment was about forty dollars, not enough."

我算了算,连退休金加卖蚯蚓的钱,有百十块钱,断定他一定爱喝两盅。 I did the sums, adding the retirement payment to the money from selling worms, there was a hundred or so dollars, and came to the conclusion that he must love drinking a cup or two.

我把手圈成一个酒杯形,问:“喝两盅?” I made a wine cup with my hands and asked "Drink a cup or two?"

“不喝。——烟酒不动!” "I don't drink. If you smoke or drink you can't move!"

那他一个月的钱一个人花不完,大概还会贴补儿女一点。 So he couldn't spend his monthly earnings on his own; he was probably supporting his children a bit.

“我原先也不是卖蚯蚓的。我是挖药材的。 Originally I didn't sell worms. I dug up medicinal ingredients.

后来药材公司不收购,才改了干这个。" Later the medicine company stopped buying, and that was when I switched to doing this."

他指给我看: He pointed to show me:

“这是益母草,这是车前草,这是红苋草,这是地黄,这是稀莶……这玉渊潭到处是钱!” "That's motherwort, that's plantain, that's red amaranth, that's foxglove, that's swine liana... there's money everywhere at this Jade Pool!"

他说他能认识北京的七百多种药材。 He said he could recognise more than seven hundred kinds of medicinal plants in Beijing.

“您怎么会认药材的?是家传?学的?” "How can you recognise medicinal plants? Are you an expert? Have you studied it?"

“不是家传。 "I'm not an expert. -

有个街坊,他挖药材,我跟着他,用用心,就学会了。 I had a neighbour, he dug up medicinal plants, and I'd go with him, pay attention and learn it like that. -

——这北京城,饿不死人,你只要肯动弹,肯学!” In this Beijing city, you won't starve, you just have to be willing to move and willing to study! -

你就拿晒槐米来说吧——” Just take dried pagoda tree rice, for example-"

“槐米?”我不知道槐米是什么,真是孤陋寡闻。 "Pagoda tree rice?" I didn't know what pagoda tree rice was - I really was ignorant.

“就是没有开开的槐花骨朵,才米粒大。 "It's just pagoda tree buds that haven't opened, only as big as rice grains. -

晒一季槐米能闹个百儿八十的。 If you dry out a crop of pagoda tree rice you can get about a hundred. -

这东西外国要,不知道是干什么用,听说是酿酒。 There's demand for it in other countries; I don't know what they use it for, I hear it's for making wine. -

不过得会晒。 But you have to dry it out. -

晒好了,碧绿的!晒不好,只好倒进垃圾堆。 Once it's dried out, it's jade green! If it isn't dried properly, you can only chuck it on the garbage heap. -

——蚯蚓!——蚯蚓来!” Earthworms! Earthworms here!"

我在玉渊潭散步,经常遇见的还有两位,一位姓乌,一位姓莫。 When I walked at the Jade Pool, I'd often encounter another two people, one surnamed Wu, the other surnamed Mo.

乌先生在大学当讲师,莫先生是一个研究所的助理研究员。 Mr Wu was a university lecturer, and Mr Mo was an assistant researcher at a research institute.

我跟他们见面也点头寒暄。 When I saw them we'd nod and exchange pleasantries too.

他们常常发一些很有学问的议论,很深奥,至少好像是很深奥,我听不大懂。 They'd often had very knowledgeable discussions; very profound, or at least they seemed profound - I didn't really understand.

他们都是好人,不是造反派,不打人,但是我觉得他们的议论有点不着边际。 They were both good people, not rebellious, didn't hit people, but I felt that their discussions were a little irrelevant.

他们好像是为议论而议论,不是要解决什么问题,就像那些钓鱼的人,意不在鱼,而在钓。 They seemed to discuss for the sake of discussing, and not to solve some problem; it was like those people fishing - the desire wasn't the fish, it was the fishing.

乌先生听了我和卖蚯蚓人的闲谈,问我: Mr Wu heard my conversation with the worm seller, and asked me:

“你为什么对这样的人那样有兴趣?” "Why are you so interested in someone like that?"

我有点奇怪了。 I was baffled.

“为什么不能有兴趣?” "Why can't I be interested?"

“从价值哲学的观点来看,这样的人属于低级价值。" "Looking from the philosophy of value, this kind of person belongs to the category of low value."

莫先生不同意乌先生的意见。 Mr Mo didn't agree with Mr Wu's opinion.

“不能这样说。他的存在就是他的价值。你不能否认他的存在。" "You can't say that. His existence is his value. You can't deny his existence."

“他存在。但是充其量,他只是我们这个社会的填充物。 "He exists. But at best, he is just padding for our society. -

就算是填充物,填充物也是需要的。 "He counts only as padding, and padding is necessary. -

‘填充’,就说明他的存在的意义。 'Padding' explains the meaning of his existence. -

社会结构是很复杂的,你不能否认他也是社会结构的组成部分,哪怕是极不重要的一部分。 The structure of society is complex, and you can't deny that he is part of the fabric of society, even if it is an unimportant part. -

就像自然界的需要维持生态平衡,我们这个社会也需要有生态平衡。 It's like how the natural world needs to maintain ecological balance; this society of ours needs to maintain ecological balance. -

从某种意义来说,这种人也是不可缺少的。" In some sense, this kind of person can't be done without."

“我们需要的是走在时代前面的人,呼啸着前进的,身上带电的人! "What we need is people who are ahead of the times, who call us forwards, with electricity in their bodies! -

而这样的人是历史的遗留物。 And this kind of person is a historical legacy. -

这样的人生活在现在,和生活在汉代没有什么区别,——他长得就像一个汉俑。" This kind of person living in the present is no different to them living in the Han Dynasty - he's just like a Han figurine."

我不得不承认,他对这个卖蚯蚓人的形象描绘是很准确且生动的。 I had to admit, his description of this worm seller's image was accurate and vivid.

乌先生接着说:“他就像一具石磨。 Mr Wu continued: "He's just like a grindstone.

从出土的明器看,汉代的石磨和现在的没有什么不同。 Looking at Ming devices that have been dug up, Han dynasty grindstones aren't any different to those of today. -

现在已经是原子时代——” Today is already the atomic age..."

莫先生抢过话来,说:“原子时代也还容许有汉代的石磨,石磨可以磨豆浆,——你今天早上就喝了豆浆!” Mr Mo interrupted: "The atomic age still permits Han dynasty grindstones; grindstones can be used to make soy milk... The soy milk you drank this morning!"

他们争执不下,转过来问我对卖蚯蚓的人的“价值”、“存在”有什么看法。 They could argue no longer, going on to ask me what I thought about the worm seller's "value" and "existence".

我说:“我只是想了解了解他。 I said: "I just want to get to know him. -

我对所有的人都有兴趣,包括站在时代的前列的人和这个汉俑一样的卖蚯蚓的人。 I'm interested in everyone, including those standing at the front of an era and that worm seller who's like a Han dynasty figurine. -

这样的人在北京还不少。 There's quite a few people like that in Beijing. -

他们的成分大概可以说是城市贫民。 Their composition could be said to be something like the urban poor.

糊火柴盒的、捡破烂的、捞鱼虫的、晒槐米的…… Match-box sellers, junk collectors, fish-bait gatherers, pagoda tree ricer driers...

我对他们都有兴趣,都想了解。 I'm interested in all of them; I want to understand all of them.

我要了解他们吃什么和想什么。 I want to know what they eat and what they think.

用你们的话说,是他们的物质生活和精神生活。 In your words, it's their material life and spiritual life.

吃什么,我知道一点。 What they eat, I know a little bit.

比如这个卖蚯蚓的老人,我知道他的胃口很好,吃什么都香。 For example, this old man selling earthworms, I know know that he has a big appetite - everything tastes good to him.

他一嘴牙只有一个活动的。 His mouth and teeth only have one movement.

他的牙很短、微黄,这种牙最结实,北方叫做‘碎米牙’, His teeth are short and pale yellow - this kind of tooth is the most useful; in the north they call it 'rice-crunching teeth' -

他说:‘牙好是口里的福。’ He says: 'Good teeth are a blessing in the mouth.' -

我知道他今天早上吃了四个炸油饼。 I know that he ate four deep fried dough cakes this morning. -

他中午和晚上大概常吃炸酱面,一顿能吃半斤,就着一把小水萝卜。 In the afternoon and evenings he usually eats _zhajiang_ noodles, and he can eat half a pound in one sitting, along with a little water radish. -

他大概不爱吃鱼。 He doesn't really like to eat fish. -

至于他想些什么,我就不知道了,或者知道得很少。 As for what he thinks about, I just don't know, or only know a little. -

我是个写小说的人,对于人,我只能想了解、欣赏,并对他进行描绘,我不想对任何人作出论断。 I'm just someone who writes novels; as for people, all I can hope to do is understand, appreciate and make descriptions of them; I don't want to make assumptions about anyone. -

像我的一位老师一样,对于这个世界,我所倾心的是现象。 An old teacher like me looking at this world, what I admire whole-heartedly is appearance. -

我不善于作抽象的思维。 I'm not good at describing abstract thoughts. -

我对人,更多地注意的是他的审美意义。 What I pay attention to most in a person is their aesthetic significance. -

你们可以称我是一个生活现象的美食家。 You could call me a gourmet of life's phenomena. -

这个卖蚯蚓的粗壮的老人,骑着车,吆喝着‘蚯蚓——蚯蚓来!’不是一个丑的形象。 This old man who sells earthworms, rides a bike and calls out 'earthworms! earthworms here!' isn't an ugly image. -

——当然,我还觉得他是个善良的,有古风的自食其力的劳动者,他至少不是社会的蛀虫。" Naturally, I think he is a kind-hearted, old-fashioned laborer who lives off his own effort, or at least isn't a social parasite."

这时忽然有一个也常在玉渊潭散步的学者模样的中年人插了进来,他自我介绍: At that moment a middle-aged man with the look of a scholar who often walked at the Jade Pool suddenly jutted in and introduced himself:

“我是一个生物学家。——我听了你们的谈话。 I'm a biologist. I heard your conversation.

从生物学的角度,是不应鼓励挖蚯蚓的。 From a biological point of view, we shouldn't encourage the digging up of earthworms.

蚯蚓对农业生产是有益的。" Earthworms are very helpful to agriculture."

我们全都傻了眼了。 All of us stared, dumbfounded.

Further reading

Contact me: mhg@eastasiastudent.net