Dragon City Mall

by panamericanas

finnegans wake billboard

Joyce on a billboard in China, via

Aidan Johnston recently did a piece for Vice about Toronto’s Chinatown, presenting some pet shops and supermarkets as comic alternatives to Toronto’s new aquarium. His spoof begins at Dragon City Mall and it reminded me of my own exploration of that surreal Spanina landmark.

Last January I read a Toronto Star article about Dai Congrong’s translation of Finnegans Wake that immediately sold out in China. I knew it was unlikely that I’d find a copy in Toronto but I went down to Dundas and Spadina for a bit of Sino-Joycean flânerie. There were a few bookshops around there and it would be fun to poke around with purpose. I started at the little bookshop and stationer’s with the Canada Post outlet at Dragon City Mall (the place isn’t as desolate as Johnston makes it out to be in the Vice bit. When I explored the pet shop I didn’t see any homeless people. Just saying.) People were getting passport photos taken in the shop and the new Year of the Snake stamp sets and silver coins were being pushed hard. The shelves had some interesting translations but no Joyce. Unsurprised, I moved on.

Next was Chan Sheung Kee Book Company on Dundas. I didn’t know Dai’s Chinese title so I showed the shopkeeper the photo from the Toronto Star article (I had it on my BlackBerry) and said “I’m looking for this book, whatever the billboard says.” Apparently it included a transliteration of “Finnegans Wake” but I don’t remember what the rest of the billboard said. Was it a quote from the book? Something about lightning? Why do I seem to recall that? Can someone translate the billboard in the comments section? Anyways, I walked around and visited a few more shops. Some had zany programming playing on TVs and I saw some cool Japanese fashion mags and DVDs I wasn’t familiar with but obviously didn’t find the translation I was looking for. Did I ever really expect to? No. But it’s like I said, I just wanted an excuse to explore Chinatown.

From Chinatown I went to Hart House at U of T for chess club. I think my only opponents that evening were computer engineers from China so I got some of them to translate and phonetically transcribe the billboard image for me (I lost the transcription and have since forgotten what they told me). With the information they provided I called a couple Chinese bookshops in Mississauga and Markham, I think, but the ladies on the other ends of the lines couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. Neither could I. The search ended there.