marcel barang

The Murky Sea

In English on 14/08/2009 at 1:35 am


Oh, heck, I need new glasses, or a large magnifying glass!

Plodding on valiantly through Talei Namnom tonight, I realised I had earlier misread and thus mistranslated one word (at least). I read dam nam (to plunge into water) instead of tam nam (to pound water): ‘d’ and ‘t’ in Thai are almost written the same, just a little wriggle apart, as are ‘l’ and ‘s’, ‘ch’ and ‘sh’, and a few others. When a Thai text is in 14-point, as is the case here, I get things wrong. My eyes need at least 16.

I keep repeating this to those youngsters who kindly send me texts only their lynx’s eyes can read with ease.

Of course, I corrected the ‘ancient ceremony of immersion’ to a ‘ceremony of pounding water’, even though I still haven’t a clue what this entails.

If I were born into the language like my daughter, I’d readily decipher handwritten Thai: in most cases I can’t, and this can be quite frustrating. My apologies again, Khunying Kanita.

Anyway, I’ve reached page 41, one-fifteenth of the ordeal.

Two things strike me at this stage: a language tic and muddled dating.

The language tic is an overabundance of nae la, which translates as ‘sure’, ‘of course’; the muddled dating is a constant shift between Buddhist and Christian eras, compounded by a constant shift of dates going back to the ‘11th century BE’ (mid-6th century to you, or is it 5th?). For instance, pages 34–35 are particularly heavy with dates: BE2501–2518, BE 2436–2516, BE 2337, BE 1896 and then a Christian 1945 (plus two ‘nae la’). Quite a stroll down the Buddhist calendar!

Of course the question for the translator would be: should these BE dates be kept, twinned with their Gregorian equivalents or converted? The answer is, I suppose, that in most cases they’d be converted right out, not to tax the reader’s patience, unless there’s overwhelming reason to stick to the Buddhist Era dating.

As I read on and the title’s meaning became clear, I started to entertain strong doubts about its translation. Talei = sea; namnom = milk from the breast. So The Sea of Milk, right? Not quite. Talei namnom keeps occurring in the text as shorthand for the current of life we all swim in: something that feeds us but isn’t clear, has the consistency of ever-sustaining milk, the opacity of milk as opposed to the translucence of ideals. So how about The Milky Sea, as there is a Milky Way? If it were French, the answer would be a resounding Yes: La vie lactée, almost as poetic as Clair de Femme, that awful failure from an ageing giant of French letters, Romain Gary, aka Emile Ajar.

But where was I? Ah, yes, the milky sea. Nah! The word we need is ‘murky’. How about it?

The Murky Sea.


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