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Home away from home

Updated: Aug 16, 2016 Print


When Abbas Kdaimy made his first trip to China, his knowledge of the country was limited to what he had read in schoolbooks.

But now, 18 years later, the Iraqi translator and editor, who has been working in Chinese media and the publishing industry, says China and the Arab world have developed strong cultural links.

He moved to Beijing from Baghdad as a news editor for the Xinhua News Agency after the Gulf War of the 1990s and the ensuing UN sanctions on Iraq that took a heavy toll on his country's economy.

"I wasn't sure how Chinese people would receive me," recalls Kdaimy, 54, deputy editor-in-chief of the Foreign Languages Press' Arabic department.

Kdaimy arrived in Beijing alone in the summer of 1998 and was struck by the booming economy that stood in contrast to his country, he says.

His wife and three children soon followed him here.

In the early days, the family had to overcome challenges like finding an Arabic-language school for the kids, and halal food.

"We all feel the hospitality and understanding of the Chinese people," Kdaimy says, adding that the food problem was soon solved after they found restaurants in the city that catered to Muslims.

Despite living away, Kdaimy says his heart is with the Iraqi people and he always looks out for news about his country.

One of his life's difficult moments came on March 19, 2003, when the United States decided to invade Iraq.

"I was crying in my heart," he recalls, adding that his Chinese colleagues helped him with their emotional support.

Kdaimy has won the respect of his colleagues in China with his talent and hard work. He was invited by the Beijing Olympics' organizing committee in 2008, to write articles on China targeting Arab tourists and athletes.

He witnessed the city's development in a short time and says the event's experience remains unforgettable.


Kdaimy went to enjoy the Games and shared his knowledge of China with people from other countries when he had the time.

The following year, he joined his current organization as a translator and editor, and has been amazed by Chinese literature since.

"It's a pity that for a long time very few Chinese literary works were translated into Arabic, compared with Western classics. I am very excited to share this treasure and build a bridge between Chinese literature and Arab readers."

In the past years, he has participated in translation projects of Chinese classics, such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, from English into Arabic.

Impressed by author Luo Guanzhong's narrative style and the portrayal of the novel's characters, he fell in love with it, he says.

"There were hundreds of characters in the novel. But no one is like the other," he says. "I was deeply involved and could even feel the dust of the battlegrounds."

It took him and his colleagues three years to complete the Three Kingdoms project, and an Arabic version is scheduled to be published later in the year. He worked closely with Chinese scholars and also read extensively to learn about historical backgrounds to ensure accuracy in translation.

During the translation process, Kdaimy would often go back to the finished pages when he came up with better phrases.

"I'd even wake up from sleep to note down my ideas, and put the note under my pillow to make sure I remember to change my translation the next morning," he says.

Kdaimy has also worked on many other translation projects that aim to introduce Chinese society to the Arab world. Although such translations aren't as intriguing as literary ones, he gets the benefit of learning about different social topics and events and has gained a deeper understanding of China, he says.

Kdaimy, who compares translation with cooking, says: "It is a challenge to strike a balance between different ingredients and to find the right combination for the readers."

Language, cultural backgrounds and readers' psychology are all important factors to be considered while undertaking such work, he says.

Kdaimy says understanding between the Chinese and Iraqis-especially of their societies-is still limited.

In 2006, Kdaimy invited his friends both in China and Iraq to help rejuvenate the Beijing-based China-Iraq Friendship Association.

The association had been paralyzed for years due to social chaos in Iraq. It has since made efforts to boost mutual understanding and has organized exchange activities between the two countries.

For his contributions to cultural exchanges, Kdaimy was given the Friendship Award in 2014. The award is the highest honor presented by the Chinese government to foreigners who have made significant contributions to the nation's social and economic development.

Kdaimy's love for China is getting stronger with time, he says.

"I have seen both my kids and the city growing up. All my family members love Beijing and want to stay here."

His children-the eldest was 8 when they arrived-can speak and write fluently in Chinese. His two daughters and son are studying for bachelor's and higher degrees at universities in Beijing.

"My biggest dream is that all my kids find good jobs, fit into Chinese society and enjoy stable, happy lives," he says.

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