marcel barang

Rainy days

In English on 03/08/2010 at 9:00 pm

Il pleure dans mon cœur comme il pleut sur la ville…

Each time the sky cries the Bangkok traffic stalls, or so I read or hear. Meanwhile, there were reports on Belgian TV the other night of embouteillages cinq cent septante kilometres long in sun-drenched France in one of the ritual migrations of suburbanites come August.
I wouldn’t know, surviving indoors, daily schedule out of kilter, yet sticking to the grind, talking to myself and the house lizards.

I’ve given up on big plans. You know, the best Thai novels and all that trash.
Oh yes, those five copies of Four Reigns are in the making, come what may.
But to hell with the Bunluea Foundation which, at last approach a month ago, after months of expectations and a verbal green light, was still busy drawing that promised contract which would allow Thutiyawiseit to see the light of print, at least in the dim catacombs of thaifiction.com few visit and fewer still buy from.
This reminds me that the pain in the neck that was getting permission to air The fallen woman hasn’t brought the novel a single buyer. Nor has Noblesse oblige (Phoo Dee) found one, which is much more disconcerting and depressing.

Thanks to a helpful, well-meaning common friend, I’ve offered, once again, Suchart Sawatsri cooperation on an anthology of Thai short stories. It turns out he’s busy putting together his own, over one thousand pages long, he says, and threatens to go back full time to what he calls ‘artwork’ and film-making, besides resuming writing fiction: let’s see if the old man can finally keep the literary promises of his younger self. Maybe he should give me access to those thousand pages and let me take my pick of great stories.

Meanwhile, I either stultify myself with reading sessions of Chor Karrakeit back issues in search of good material to translate or enjoy myself translating that material. To me, the rule of thumb for that priceless quarterly collection under Suchart’s enlightened editorship is a dozen short stories read to one worth translating. CK 45 had none, CK 47 has three. Special issue CK 46, calling on major talents, has four. Two-thirds through the other special issue CK 51, which calls on top CK writers, I find two passable ones. I have yet to tackle current issue 52 – last but one of that review’s three-year revival, we are told – and a few back ones.
In older former issues, I skipped the longer stories (over 4000 words), as I had to go first for what could be printed in the Bangkok Post. Brevity is no guarantee of quality. Some long short stories, even at novella length, can be masterpieces. Think The old man and the sea or Brokeback Mountain – in local versions: The path of the tiger and – uh.
What I find exhilarating in the exercise is that, more often than not, I haven’t a clue who the authors of the stories I pick are. They could be absolute beginners in the boondocks or town slums, or established talents I haven’t heard of. Their stories set standards. And if translation into English is a consecration (the traditional view in this language-ghettoised land), here I am, blindfolded, anointing the worthy. That’s how Saneh Sangsuk came to matter … and Kanthorn who? … and…

So what have I unearthed lately?
Of course there was Riam Eng/Malai Chupinit’s ‘Flood Waters’ (Narm Nuea) that went into the Post last Monday. (That came from a collection of ‘classics’.) But also, without asking for permission, for my own pleasure as it is too long for the Post anyway, and in homage while it still matters to a great writer I hear is fighting cancer, Paithoon Thanya’s ‘Death in the month of October’ (Khwamthai Nai Duean Tularkhom). (Tom Glass somewhat laboriously translated a dozen other of Phaitoon’s stories under the title Paradise Waves, published in 2001 by Nakorn [Publishing] in Thai and English on facing pages, which is how I know it’s laborious.)
After that came, as promised to myself months ago, Sarkhorn Phoonsuk’s ‘The woman kite’ (Wao Nang), and, minus a few pornographic sentences a neighbour will help me straighten out presently, I’m done with Yan-yong Tulyanit’s crafty ‘The identity card’ (Bat Prajam Tua) and ready to proceed with Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa’s ‘A tale without a name’ (Rueang Lao Mai Mee Chue). All three stories come from CK 47. The first two are short enough to make the Post, but their contents would have the Outlook saintly team running for cover.

What will I do with these? It’s an open question. I have in mind a series of light books on the same principle as Glass’s (i.e. bilingual) that would appeal to general readers, farang learning or improving their Thai and Thais learning or improving their English, and even, if small enough, as mementos for tourists to take back home: ‘Hey, look, that’s what Thai looks like!’ But I need a structure. Anyone interested out there?

PS: By the way, remember that black and yellow ringed baby snake? At Siriraj Hospital, I’m told, they said it was a common green snake, which comes in many colours. Anyway, by then, the creature had turned green. Yeah, right. Next time, if you have a problem with snakes, go to the Red Cross instead.

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