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Archive for the ‘English’ Category

The Kasikorn Bank Russian roulette

In English on 26/05/2017 at 2:26 pm

My yearly retirement visa was due to expire today Fri 26 May – it’s been extended another year, thank you. But it was touch and go, and not because of Immigration, who provided speedy streamlined service as never before in my almost four-decade-long experience.

Immigration insists, in this particular option, on being provided with a letter from a Thai bank certifying that at least 800,000 baht (about 21,000 euros) has been held in the applicant’s account for the past three months.

Ahead of time, I had obtained from Pattaya Immigration a model of that letter. On Tue evening, armed with that model, bank book and passport, I went to the nearest Kasikorn Bank branch along with my daughter who had just driven up from Bangkok. She had taken leave for a day and a half (and was imperatively due back at her office by Thu afternoon) to help her helpless father through this and a couple other administrative hurdles.

How lucky for me that she did!

When we stated our case at the bank branch, we were told that such a letter could not be delivered, because my account was elsewhere – specifically, in Bang Lamphoo, Bangkok, where it’s been for the past twenty-six years. It was a new regulation from the National Bank… So, we had to go back to Bang Lamphoo next day.

As previous experience showed that such a letter might well take days to be issued, my daughter insisted that the bank contact right away the Bang Lamphoo branch to arrange for the letter “to be ready for pickup first thing tomorrow morning”. This was kindly done.

Back on the pavement, we were flabbergasted at the prospect of a 340 km return trip to Bang Lamphoo to get a bloody piece of paper.

But then my daughter said, “I’ve got doubts about this regulation about not certifying money in another branch account, because at first she said it was from the National Bank but then her boss said it was from the bank’s central office. So let’s try another Kasikorn office, you never know.”

Again, we explained what we were after. Five minutes later, we had in hand the letter signed and sealed, and even written more formally than the model provided by Immigration!


A tale of two friends

In English on 28/03/2017 at 10:34 am

Among the Thai writers I consider my friends, there are two I appreciate especially. One I call Khun Chart, the other Khun Saneh. I’ve translated most of their works. They both live upcountry, the former in Pak Chong, the latter in Phetchaburi. Both are being provided, partly through my good offices, with a French literary agency.
As it happens, on February 24-25, the bosses of that literary agency, Pierre Astier and Laure Pécher, were in town on their way back from China and I was asked to arrange for them and their Langkawi-based local agent, Jérôme Bouchaud, meetings with a few local publishers and authors.
The evening before, over the phone Khun Saneh agreed to take the first bus on the morrow and be in town in late morning to join us in the Khao San Hotel some time past noon. We waited for him way past 2 pm.
He never showed up and hasn’t called since.
When I incidentally mentioned to Khun Chart over the phone that I was about to move to Jomthian, he offered right away to help me move my things. He explained he couldn’t handle packages because of his bad back and thus wouldn’t go all the way to Jomthian with me but he’d come over to my townhouse with a friend driving a van to make sure everything was alright.
He did just that.

Moving to Paradise

In English on 25/03/2017 at 2:57 pm

It’s been a week, but with my daughter’s active complicity and Chart Korbjitti’s most appreciated help, I’ve finally settled down in a new nest. Overnight, my living quarters of a quarter century have shrunk by two-thirds – from the 92 sqm of a Thon Buri townhouse with token land to the 36 sqm of the current one-bedroom flat, a broad expanse still, compared to the 1 sqm of the final stretch.

Books donated, the week-long battle has been fitting too many things brought over to such confined space. I’ve learned to streamline: I really don’t need three dozen shirts or decades-old stacks of bills. Kilos of old paper files (all those articles in Libération, Le Monde diplomatique, South, etc.) have been sold at the price of paper. I’ve shed my past as snakes slough off their skins. I feel better in phakhama.

The mini-universe I now inhabit has all modern amenities, including telephone line for les intimes, large-screen TV with Roku stick and high-speed internet, hence hundreds of TV channels and movies to choose from to kill time and self. Market and supermarket are within walking distance and the seashore is five minutes away on the newly acquired lady’s bicycle parked downstairs.

This seventh-floor flat nestled between silent staircase and lift cage is a pleasant set of space-expanding mirror panels and slabs of coordinated colours and fine grain: snow white, off-white, straw, walnut, tan, maroon. The balcony opens onto a wall of four dozen sets of flats – and twice this much if I lean out – over the eight floors of a twin residential project some fifty yards away, with a slice of sky above to greet the morning sun.

The only annoying thing I found out too late about is the constant noise of the frigging mega-Jacuzzi surrounding that project like a moat, turned on from 9 am to 6 pm with a one-hour reprieve over lunch: it feels like being next to the Niagara Falls. Makes me drowsy, too.

Perhaps only one-tenth of the hundreds of living units around are inhabited, mostly by mujiks, it seems, judging from the occasional Russian exchanges down corridors and around the free-shaped swimming pools. But there are also birds – and few mosquitoes.

My new address:

B3/729 Paradise Park Residence Jomtien, Mu 12, Soi Wat Bun Kanjanaram, Nong Prue, Bang Lamung,  Chon Buri 20150, Thailand.

Email, as before: Phone: use my Facebook page (works only when the computer is not snoozing).

Bulan Sastra

In English, Reading matters on 18/09/2016 at 9:45 pm

bulanThat’s the title of a superbly produced and edited anthology of short stories and poems by Thai and Indonesian writers published in three languages by the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture (OCAC) of the Thai Ministry of Culture. I edited the English section. This 660-page-long trade book is available free of charge upon request to OCAC, whose mission is to distribute it to all manner of public libraries for the promotion of regional literature. Trust me, it’s a great gift.

No Englitch, please!

In English, Reading matters on 19/07/2016 at 11:04 am

If you had only the would-be-English poem introducing Part 1 of Rossanee Nurfarida’s first collection of Thai poems entitled Far away from our own homes, what would you make of this?
Only see own self in boat
Paddle none destiny
Maybe lost
In homelands we lost
Or in the one introducing Part 2, of this:
Both we passing
And owned empty space build a kingdom of melt suffering
I’m owned silence and tear drops hiding
But you?
Fear not, the answer is down below.
But then, the poem introducing Part 3 has no Thai version. In it you find “migratory birds well smiley” and “The lover every night stars mapping | Let the moon take North Star guiding | Up-down Sea tiding never know”. The reference to MH370 (the Malaysian Airlines flight lost at sea in March 2014) is clear enough, though not quite the ending: “How many sun set and rise | MH370 back a butterfly”.
Since there is no mention of a translator, one must assume Ms Rossanee penned those herself, more’s the pity. Why parade such mastery of pidgin? Fortunately, on the Thai side, she actually makes sense, sort of:
Lost in one’s homeland
No Zheng He’s fleet
No colonialist armada
Just someone lost
A little boat mast lost
Of no known nationality
Crossing a lake
No waves
No lotuses
No flock of Asian openbill storks
Fleeing the cold
Just a drifter without an aim
No sunshine
No parting line between night and day
Telling of dawn and dusk
Seeing oneself in the boat
As if adrift
Lost in one’s homeland
Homeland lost to one and all
The place frangipanis shade all day
Long time no see, hey, sea
But the sea remembers me
Asks the sea: you all right?
I smile
Answer I’m fine
You’re fine on a white piece of cloth
Eyes closed tight amid a scent of frankincense
Like it?
You don’t answer
Like it or not, you must lie there
Drowsy or not, you must sleep
Sleep forever
Waiting for the day of waking up in front of someone
Who one day might be me
Included on that white piece of cloth
Under the shade of frangipanis
they come and visit each Friday

Long time no meet
The sea asks the meaning of happiness
I am someone passing through
You are someone passing through
We each travel
And claim empty space to build a world
Where suffering melts down
Hiding teardrops
Lest the sea see them
You occupy a space that fits you
Lying on a white piece of cloth
I carefully kept a fine stitched five-piece fabric
For you to sleep comfortably
Intending to fold the bottom into a lotus
As a memento of our last meeting
The Yasin surah is read
Like a muttering from a distant land
Stuttering Arabic grammar
Faltering through the throat
Heard yet far from clear
Shahada whispered repeatedly
Soft as the wind at Maghrib time
The heart as light as a feather
Life as fragile as soapsuds
Under the frangipanis
Can you hear my voice?
The term ‘miss you’ has never faded
With the sound of the waves
It covers the place
Frangipanis shade all day

Out of the toy box

In English, Reading matters on 18/07/2016 at 11:08 am

In Apichart Jandaeng’s collection of poems Trapped in the toy box, the poem at the back of the cover is one of three Englitch translations stuck at the end of the volume. Each has been translated by a different (female) translator. Besides “Trapped in the toy box”, there is “Till the demon is killed” and then there is “Riding to the eternity”! Here they are … revised.

Till the demon is slain

The war has begun
A demon appears
Adorning ruthlessness
Piecing fear together
Creating a new set of memories
Hurled to the opposite side
The war must go on
Legit and righteous
Till the demon is slain
Telling the story of peace
Leading the people to quiet ease
The only possible way
Is to get together and
Deal death to the demon
Let’s go
And slain the demon

Riding into eternity

For every battle
We get a hero
For every death
A monument
A story has it that
Every rice grain
We lost
Many people fought with their bare hands
And fell and died like autumn leaves
Our hero riding a white horse
Awaits the time to appear
Time and time again
We walk away from ruins
Amidst hoorays
The last fistful of rice grains strewn
To welcome our hero
Riding his white horse into eternity

Stop and read for yourselves

In English, Reading matters on 15/07/2016 at 5:51 pm

Siriworn Kaewkan, who heads PajonPhai Publishing, is not a responsible publisher. He does his very best to devalue his books by imposing Thaiglish texts on them. Among other examples I’ll deal with later, take Jadet Kamjorndet’s latest salvo of poems, Phuea Mi Mek Tam Rao Ma (In case clouds follow us). The collection opens on a (fortunately lone) poem in would-be English entitled ‘Office Accessories’ a responsible publisher would have had edited or dismissed. Its last stanza, as bad as the six previous ones, reads:

My afternoon ended
Stuffed myself into a coffee cups drawer and dreaming
about name and nationality to enter in some form.

And yet, when he is not stuffing himself in coffee cups drawers and writes in Thai, Nai Jadet is a pretty good poet attuned to the noisome noise of these Thai military times. For instance, this:

Stop. I’ll read it out to you.

I am a poet who loves democracy.
I have three poems I’ll read out to you,
But first you must vote which one you want to hear.
When you’ve voted, I’ll read.
All right, I’ll start reading,
But let me ask you first what kind of tone you want:
Gentle or firm?
Vote and let’s see if you want music as well.

…Now that Bin Laden is a Jedi, what are we going to do?
Revenge will proceed freely,
Fire after fire lit without respite.
All right, you must tell me if you like Bin Laden
Or if we should change to another villain.
What did you say? You want a new vote?
Why? So that I stand down, is that it?
What? That the election was rigged?
Come, now, this is just about reading a poem
And I want it to be democratic.
What was that? Bin Laden had no democracy?
That’s the very question. I’m against it.
What now? You want to phrase the question yourselves and then have me read?
What? You want to read yourselves?
Enough. Keep quiet.
This is a gun.
I want everybody to keep quiet.
I’ll hold the gun in my right hand and the poem in my left.

Poetry time at the SEA Write

In English, Reading matters on 13/07/2016 at 3:02 pm

Thanks to Siriworn Kaewkan for sending me these four volumes of poems, by Jadet Kamjorndet, Apichart Jandaeng, Wisut Khawneam [Khaoniam] and Rossanee Nurfarida – all Southerners, the latter a womanand a newcomer.

Must be poetry year at the SEA Write casino. Must be the rainy season as well, given the covers’ lack of sunshine.

Publisher Siriworn keeps insisting putting what he believes to be English on his covers rather than consult his listed advisor – me! If he had, I’d have told him the correct translation of Jadet’s book’s title is not “As if clouds follow us” but In case clouds follow us. A good case can be made for Rossanee’s Far away from our own homes, although a closer translation of the Thai title would be Beyond the fences of our homes.

And then there is Jadet’s 10 lines at the back of his Trapped in the toy box: he should change translators or get a real one.

Those 10 lines say this:

Amidst the sound of guns
Boys grew into young men
Amidst the sound of bombs
Girls became young women
Each night and each day passed
Walking amidst gunshots
Breathing amidst bomb blasts

 Dust-clad in the toy box
Where children kept paper
Birds never to turn real

Diatribe of the deaf

In English on 16/05/2016 at 1:38 am

My Thai-born French daughter is worried about my getting killed out of cultural misunderstanding.

Saturday night, she took me out for a Japanese dinner to celebrate my thirty-eight years (and two days) of sustained non-residency in Thailand, and a good thing she did: I was about to blow a casket over the deafening music washing through my house since five o’clock from the terrain vague at the back where, for the second weekend running, whole chunks of shanty houses were being torn down at Wagner volumes, except it was lousy local yodelling.

By the time we came back, silence reigned and we watched TV and by midnight my Cinderella went back to mummy’s and by two am, as usual, I was out for the count.

Only to be woken up at 7 by Esan fare at full blast.

I took refuge on the other side of the house, all windows and doors shut down, to read the Bangkok Post on the front porch, but then, unable to stand the racket any longer, got dressed, went round the block, entered the terrain vague and walked over to the source of the din.

A couple of guys in the open air were dismantling this and that, but the deafening noise would prevent any parley. So I went into the hut where the sound came from and, seeing it was empty, with a TV cum sound system with baffles turned in the direction of my kitchen five yards away across a low wall, unplugged the damn thing and came out to glorious lack of sound. I then told the middle-aged chap next to me up in the air that it was all right to listen to music but not at deafening levels; he kept nodding his head in assent and the other fellow further along actually apologized as I left.

But then, perhaps ten minutes later, a young man on a motorcycle came to my gate, of the type Thais call a jikko, a hooligan, under thirty, IQ included. He started to berate me, saying he was the owner of the huts that were being dismantled and that he was leaving soon, so there – or that’s what I understood, given that he wasn’t very articulate. At one point, he kept shouting Nan ban koo, That’s my fucking house. Third time around, I raised my voice and shouted, Nee ban koo na mueng – answering in kind, And this is my house, you fucker. That shut him up for a moment. What to make do of that athletic farang who knew the lingo, bloody hell? In a normal tone of voice, I told him I’d gone to bed at two, been woken up at seven and had a right to feel unhappy, no? I too had loud sound systems but kept them at low volume at all times not to disturb neighbours. Eventually, he left, with an irrelevant parting insult I can’t recall.

When I told my daughter this, she blamed me for having walked into that hut and plugged off the sound system without asking for permission first. That’s what the fucker meant by ‘Nan ban koo’. I was exposing myself to being shot or worse.

Which reminds me of another happening at the very same place some twenty years or so ago. At the time the former-orchard terrain vague only had one hut, which happened to be precisely where the jikko’s hut stood, and from my kitchen I had a view of its back room and so, one evening, witnessed the occupant, a plain cop called Somkit, punching his wife and she seizing a mega knife and he grabbing her by the hair and dragging her into the front room and I hearing punches and knocks so that I ran over to the police station five hundred yards away to disturb a ring of officers having dinner together only to learn they couldn’t possibly intervene in a dispute between man and wife.

A non-poem by a non-writer

In English, French, Reading matters on 22/04/2015 at 6:29 pm


De Phuket, Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa m’envoie deux plaquettes : une longue nouvelle déjà traduite par moi en anglais (“Another day of 1984 happiness” – la nouvelle qui ouvre mon anthologie de nouvelles 2014) et un recueil de poèmes intitulé bien entendu Mai Chai Bot Kawee – (This is) not poetry.

Alors, pour passer le temps, j’ai traduit le tout premier non-poème, et, par habitude peut-être, c’est sorti en anglais :

History cursed to never reach old age – Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa

History cursed to never reach old age
The month of May torn off all calendars
The first rays of dawn never remembered
The tuneless songs on many lips now vanished

Dreamers were mass-murdered in their sleep
Their blood has dried up the time it takes for dewdrops to evaporate
Man who has been cursed with freedom
Redeems his sins binding his legs with goodness

Only domestic animals believe that a cage is cosy
History which is old repeats itself for the seventy-sixth time
There is only sin – wash this slave super-clean
Feed me with deceptive words in the long journey to the truth

Going at the right target in the wrong way
With fragrant carnivorous flowers we never planted
I like your dream
Your eyes space-lost like a blind worm eating poison ivy
I like your beauty
Ripe like a fruit that falls to spoil and slowly turn putrid
I like your love
Hugging me tight like the embrace of a venomous snake
I like your memory
Because it is cleansed white like the skin peeled off a corpse

History has been cursed to never reach old age
Man has been cursed to seek freedom
We have been cursed to struggle
To struggle for victory time after time

Struggle alone is a victory in itself
Because there is only struggle until there is defeat a little at a time
There is only struggle of man young yet
Along the chain of history that never reaches old age