marcel barang

Burglary in Pak Chong

In Uncategorized on 27/02/2013 at 10:53 pm

It seems I’ve developed tunnel vision in life: when I get into gear over some lengthy written undertaking, there’s no life outside that work tunnel, no sparkle beyond the computer screen, no women in poetry, no neighbours to chat with. Hence the 22,000 words I translated from the Thai in the past couple of weeks to help out an academic friend, leaving me time only for feed and foodstuff shopping, income tax filing, plant watering every other day, and semi-catatonic nightly stays in front of screened inanities, waiting for pastis to lull me to sleep. A sure recipe for disaster, but heck, give me a break, I still go without smoking – just fuming, okay?

Next are the 65,000 words of translation into English of a Thai novel I must check against the original and make to sound native.

And after that, lo and behold, I’m commissioned to render into French Saneh Sangsuk’s latest masterpiece: it took only five months since Le Seuil got from me Lonely under a demented sky for them to give me the green light for Seule sous un ciel dément.

And in between, of course, the two stories a month for the bilingual blog whose authors I have such a hard time contacting more often than not.

If I don’t post here now, then when? So, here goes.

Chart Korbjitti has long given up imagination and invention as literary engines. For years since his masterly Time fireworks display, his pen has been running on sheer reality, things that happen to him. And he has lost none of his verve.

The story he just wrote and sent a gaggle of groupies beside me the other day is not a flight of fancy: entitled ‘Thief – cops – homeowners’, it tells how his house was burglarised ‘last month’ while his back was turned.

Actually, his house wasn’t burglarised: his kitchen (a separate building) was. Coming from behind, the clueless or hurried thief broke a window when he could have opened the front door which wasn’t locked. He helped himself to pricey foodstuffs in the freezer you wouldn’t think an unassuming man like Chart would stock up yet duly records while leaving out of his 5,000-word account that bottle of apéritif I left there years ago I’m sure was still for the taking given that pastis has the smell and taste of a laxative as popular with Thai children as cod liver oil was with us kids in my days.

The burglary, a first since Chart and Soi settled down there twenty years ago, only happened because Chart was Thai-fashion foolish. You see, he was late coming back from Bangkok where he had gone to get a cell phone (given by a friend sometime earlier) reprogrammed and it turned out that phone must have fallen from the back of a lorry, so the operation to, as it were, launder it took longer than expected. Chart had no real use for that phone, but out of gratitude for that generous friend he had to get it fixed. In Thai, it’s called krengjai.

Tough luck.

Besides, the burglar is known to all – a petty thief beyond redemption living a coconut throw away on temple grounds with the unhappy and powerless blessings of the abbot – but he cannot be arrested, even though evidence piles up against him, thanks to a cadastral conundrum. Chart’s manor (how else to call an abode accessed through a suspension bridge with a stream feeding a swimming pool and other frills?) is set at the exact meeting point of three provinces in the hills of Pak Chong, two hours’ drive or so northeast of Bangkok. As with states in the US or as with districts in Bangkok, cops from one province don’t want to know what goes on in the next. The two police officers who come to investigate hail from the same province as the thief, whom they know well, but if Chart wants the police to intervene over such a, frankly, sir, petty larceny, he should go and waste half a day reporting the matter at another province’s main town whose cops, frankly, sir, have better things to do anyway. But what if the cat burglar is caught at it in the weekend villa in the right province next to Chart’s abode?

Ah well, I wouldn’t want to give away the whole plot. Suffice it to say I emailed Chart I’ll definitely translate that snapshot of what a certain rural Thailand is all about, but not just now.

PS: This morning in the mail, publisher Siriworn Kaewkan for the third time sends me a copy of Siriworn Kaewkan’s A weird world in the history of sadness, as well as [sic] Color of the Dog by Chamlong Fungcholjitr [I love those zany transliterations: it’s pronounced jam.long, thank you].


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