marcel barang

Out of the cattle shed and into the visa vortex

In English, Reading matters on 10/05/2012 at 10:16 pm

Sorry for my absence from this riveting blog forty-five subscribers follow on tenterhooks: I’ve spent the last three weeks almost exclusively in the company of water buffaloes, at the rate of six to twelve hours a day of hard labour shaping up over 60,000 words of the worst literary translation I’ve ever had to endure at such length. You know the kind, where cows have ‘breasts’ and whose ears and ‘tales’ ‘drop’ when they are sick, every jungle plant or bird’s common English name has to be hunted or checked, every idiom is mangled, and summary and learned exegesis or gloss rather than honest-to-goodness word-by-word rendition are the rules.

Here is a sample paragraph:

The trees’ black shadows were seen under the sky of the waning moon, their structure so distinguished. The branches of different trees were on top of or wing with each others. They were not in order but not so untidy, the old trees were so tall. Orchids were sitting atop of the branches of the tree. Below, were low thorny bushes, and creepers whose branches rested on one another, making complex tall and low bushes. This became a habitat of many kinds of animals including birds of different breeds, reptiles, squirrels, spiders, rats, geckos, civet cats, foxes and so on. There was a small brook caused by rains eroding sand, soil, and marbles. Clear water flowed along the course through the bush during the rainy season and winter but dried up in summer. This bush was beneficial to both people and animals. There was some fruit on tree branches as well as mushrooms for Tuen to make food with. Sometimes when he felt confused and depressed, he used this place to rest and relax.

Which, once revised against the original text, reads like this:

The line of trees [forming the edge of the forest] stood dark against the waning moon sky, their outline chiselled by the moonlight. Their tangle of branches, complex in the daytime, was not orderly now but not so untidy either. The old tall trees that stood on the earth mound at the end of the field looked all the more prominent. Orchids clung to branch forks. Below were low thorny bushes. Tangled creepers and vines with dangling limbs formed intricate clusters high and low, near and far, as dwelling places for many kinds of animals including birds of different species, reptiles, spiders, squirrels, civets, rats, monitor lizards, chameleons, geckos, skinks and foxes. Brooklets born of rainwater eroded tracks of sand, soil and gravel. Clear water flowed along these courses through the undergrowth during the rainy and the cold seasons but dried up in the hot season. This wooded mound was a source of food for man. Apart from its animals, there were also tart or astringent young leaves, some kinds of fruit and various species of mushrooms for a young man like Thuean who had grown in these parts to make food with. Sometimes when he felt depressed, he relied on these shady woods to clear his mood and even out his breath.

[Please note that ‘many kinds of animals including birds of different species’ is the translator’s summary (I’m just the editor here). The Thai text actually says: ‘…many kinds of four-legged and two-legged animals: egrets, crow pheasants, partridges, woodpeckers, redstarts, owlets, eagles, crows, squirrels’ and so on – unfortunately, the writer also lists spiders and snakes among the bipeds and quadrupeds, so the translator wisely deleted the reference to legs and, while she was at it, saved herself some trouble over those pesky bird names, but taken by remorse bravely tackled the long list of those animals she thought she could handle, mistaking or missing a few. Good grief, Charlie Chan!]

Emerging from the cattle shed, as it were, less than three weeks before my visa and work permit expire yet again (on Saturday 12 May 2012, I’ll cheerily mourn my being in this country as a ‘non-immigrant’ for thirty-four full years), I’m told that the financial statement whose absence sent me scurrying to Laos end of March is still not properly audited. Will it be signed on time? The answer to that question, ladies and gentlemen, will be known next Wednesday, or so I’m told. I’ll keep you posted, if I don’t give up the ghost beforehand.

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