marcel barang

Posts Tagged ‘Sondhi Limthongkul’

Weather report

In English on 23/02/2011 at 8:33 pm

Three nights ago, I closed the bedroom window and turned on the air-con. Yesterday afternoon, the first storm of the year – three and a half drops under much rumbling – made the end of this year’s tepid season official.
Oh heck, I must get that upstairs backdoor replaced before slanting rain finishes lashing it to shreds. That, or a thick plastic sheet pinned to it outside – foin de l’élégance !
The creepers need cropping – every other month or so. They grow faster than my hair, which thins out and recedes while they thicken and spread.
The resident ghost won’t move away: the water pump runs of itself a dozen times a day, all taps turned off, yet the water bill is still the same, whatever the season, whether or not I water the plants. The consensus is that there must be some leak underground, not big enough to show anywhere. A suspect wet spot at a corner of the back garden had me digging the earth just now: nothing to report.

All this to avoid mentioning the approaching nightmare in broad daylight of visa renewal early next week. For a month now, Personnel have been gathering the mountain of documents needed for that purpose. This one farang employee is giving these three staffers more work than the hundreds of (Thai) employees of the company put together.
(One good thing is that they found that I, now past 65, am entitled to a substantial rebate in income tax. Every year I’ve had to fork out a couple thousand baht to balance accounts and get that payment slip from the income tax people Immigration insists upon. This year, a few tens of thousands of baht are being returned to me, fancy that! On the other hand, now past 65, there goes my collective insurance coverage – my own decision: the cost of a yearly examination to quality for this saintly scheme outweighs the advantages it might offer. I guess I’ll have to pay my own way to old age and death.)
I wonder whether I’ll be treated this year to the same nonsense as I was last year concerning my non-reporting myself to authorities every three months. You know, that regulation in the books for over twenty years Immigration has rediscovered now that they have that spacious new abode allowing for this new department, instead of, say, moving those pen pushers en masse to man immigration counters at the airport, where fast passport processing is surely more of a national priority than treating already visa-granted ‘non-residents’ as potential criminals.
Last year, two officials suggested to me to disregard the regulation until I went out of the country and got the three-month clock ticking as of my return (cf. ‘A day in history’, 27.2.2010). Well, I did arm myself with a re-entry visa just in case, but I haven’t left home for the whole year (not even on a holiday out of town). So, where does this leave me? We shall see.
Meanwhile, the routine goes on: dusting and waxing, doing the monthly washing and shopping, blogging on and off, translating songs for a lark, watching (too much) TV, copy-editing Gavroche, reading Thai short stories (ten to twenty as a rule of thumb to find one I deem worth translating), and also, yes, translating the odd one.
The latest two: ‘Conversation’, which the author, young Jirat Chalermsanyakorn, emailed me even before publication, and which still needs work; and ‘When I received the Nobel Prize for Literature’, by Boonchit Fakme, the deliberately rude-sounding (if perfectly alright in Thai) pen name of Kla Samudavanij.

Which reminds me.
Since the Bangkok Post in its shrinkage no longer has room for translated Thai short stories and prefers instead to splash on ‘book reviews’ of farang potboilers by the unsinkable B (for Penultimate) Trink, I’ve decided to do a favour to my boss, Sondhi Limthongkul, by working for him and he has wearily agreed: soon the website will have a new page featuring Thai short stories in translation – Thai on the left, English on the right, either text readable from top to bottom or paragraph per paragraph, and assorted in the right margin of comments on translation problems and solutions. (Cf. ‘En avant-première | Preview’, 19/02/2011.)
I figure this should interest various kinds of readers: those who want to read good fiction; those Thais who are learning English; those foreigners who are learning Thai; and those of either breed who are particularly keen on translation techniques. This educational and literary project could be of interest to the powers that be in government or academe, whether or not they approve of the contents of the rest of the website.

But not so fast!
When I asked Boonchit Fakme for permission to publish my translation of his short story, he answered ‘you may display [sic] the short story in all the media in the world (website, blog, journal, etc.) except at Manager or ASTV’ (‘Vous pouvez exposer la nouvelle dans tous les médias dans le monde (site web, blog,journal etc) excepte chez Manager ou ASTV.’)
How’s that? ‘Personal and political reasons’ that have to do with this former contributor to Manager (in its Phoojatkuan section), son of a Manager senior editorialist, Chaisiri (with whom I happen to share the same – and only ‘smoking allowed’ – office at Barn Phra Arthit although we both mostly work from home these days), and currently pursuing law studies in France on a French scholarship, making public his personal and political immaturity. Resentment, discrimination and excommunication in the name of ‘human dignity, democracy and equality’ (‘de la dignité humaine de la démocratie et de l’égalité’)… Boonchit Fakme indeed!

The shape of things to come? I certainly hope not, but yes, I might have to contend with too many of those minds that, however talented, cannot differentiate between political and literary concerns.


Of guts and gutters

In English on 28/06/2010 at 10:33 pm

Seventeen years ago, I undertook to select, translate and publish the twenty best novels of Thailand under the label Thai Modern Classics.
One of those twenty was See Phaendin (Four Reigns) by Kukrit Pramoj.
So, prior to publication of my anthology (the 20 best novels of thailand, TMC, 1994 – revised edition 2008, see that started the TMC publishing programme, as I did with every author or their heirs, I sent the relevant chapter of it to MR Kukrit for permission to publish. Each chapter consisted of a biography of the author, a presentation of the story with substantial excerpts, and my own assessment of the work.
As a journalist during the previous decades, I had known MR Kukrit, indeed in the early days (1976) had been briefly his neighbour in Soi Praphinit and had witnessed his fabled residence being ransacked by drunken police officers, had interviewed him a couple of times and failed to please him and his dog Samsee.
To my consternation, the author had his secretary send me a short note in hemiplegic Thai denying me the right to translate his work on the grounds that my translation approach couldn’t possibly do justice to his work.

No need here to retrace the history of Thai Modern Classics, its premature demise in 1988 and resurrection in due time, but as a set of eBooks available on Suffice it to say that, by early 2009, having translated all but two of the twenty novels and having decided not to retranslate Nikhom Raiyawa’s Taling Soong Sung Nak (very well translated already by Richard C Lair under the title High Banks Heavy Logs) I was left with Four Reigns.
By then MR Kukrit was long dead.
As the yearly pilgrimage for visa renewal took me for the last time to Soi Suan Phlu in March 2009 I just sauntered over to Kukrit’s Heritage Home, as it is now called, and was lucky to find there its managing director, ML Rongrit Pramoj, who, in the course of a most pleasant conversation around his father and this book, declared himself wholly in favour of my translating the novel. He told me, though, that the copyright holder wasn’t him but his sister, ML Visumitra. He called her on his portable (she was in England that day) and I briefly talked to her, to the effect that she was concerned about possible complications given the existence of another book in English purporting to be a translation of See Phaendin, which was being reprinted.
That book, Four Reigns, by ‘Tulachandra’ (the pen name of a now deceased husband and wife team who were distant relatives of the author’s on his mother’s side) is, as I explained at length, an adaptation in English of Kukrit’s novel, written in their own style and at times quite at odds with the original. It is by no means the faithful literary translation such a masterpiece deserved and I proposed to undertake. I left and got to work.

Sometime in late November, having completed Book I (‘First Reign’, amounting to almost half of the entire work), I went to leave a copy for ML Rongrit and ML Visumitra at Kukrit’s Heritage Home, with a letter welcoming comment, suggestions and corrections. As the taxi neared the house a late season downpour blinded us. There were a few women in the reception pavilion. To my shame, I was racked with colic and had to use the loo. I was told to take my shoes and socks off and was provided with an umbrella: the loo was just beyond a cataract from adjacent gutterless eaves.

I went on with the translation of Books II, III and IV and rounds of checking against the Thai, English editing and, on June 14, with a printout of the 350,000-word-long translation ready in Word format, I called ML Rongrit.
I reminded him of our conversation of fifteen months earlier, told him I had completed the translation and would be happy to come over and give him a printout of it, and what did he think about Book I anyway?
What Book I? When? Never heard of it. He’d inquire about it. He did mention again the Tulachandra book objection and ended the conversation by saying he must consult with his sister.

That was two weeks ago.

Last week, I got fed up waiting for an answer. Mulling things over, I decided: to hell with the right to publish – let alone the right to translate, which is mine regardless. Maybe I’ll get it eventually. In the meantime, I’m going to format the book and get it printed, at my own expense, in just a few copies with the mention on the cover: ‘Complimentary copy – not for sale’.
I’ll drop one at Kukrit’s Heritage Home. I’ll reward my four editors with one each. I’ll give one to my boss, Sondhi Limthongkul, without whom I’d never have been able to translate not just Four Reigns but the whole TMC series anyway. Perhaps I’ll keep a copy to present at the October book fair to the Crown Princess, who has been known to complain that See Phaendin has never been properly translated. And I’ll keep a copy or two for me to gloat over and leave eventually to my daughter as keepsakes.
That’s what I was busy with these past few days: formatting 908 pages and a cover ready to go to print. Now you know.
Tomorrow, I’ll get in touch with the printer.

PS: On that same day, June 14, I called up Prof Nittaya Masawisut, after hunting her phone number, to find out what was happening about Thutiyawiseit and permission to publish by the Bunluea Fund now that the red storm is momentarily over. She told me they would meet on June 23 and let me know about the modalities of the contract. I’ve just realised today is June 28. If only I could afford a secretary!

Double standards

In English on 02/06/2010 at 2:58 am


I am a well-educated man, a former journalist, a literary translator. I am French, have lived in Thailand for nearly half of my life so far, grown roots here, begotten a daughter who’s a practising associate lawyer with a future, and consider this country as my own, even though I’m yearly reminded I’m here on sufferance, supposed to report to authorities every ninety days on a yearly visa, and denied the basic rights of voting and opening my gob on what goes on here. My work of the last sixteen years, thanks to the sponsorship of my friend and boss Sondhi Limthongkul, has resulted in unprecedented recognition of Thai literature in the western world. Who cares?

As a former journalist and a free mind, I’ve tried to keep abreast of political developments in Thailand through all manner of outlets: the press, the internet, private talks, lizards on the wall. I occasionally suffer the Thai TV mind-numbing fare, occasionally also indulge in yellow ASTV and, lately, red PTV. It takes some mettle. I read the Post, from editorials to cartoons, every morning and The Nation online all day long for news breaks. For years, to keep informed in a challenging, intelligent way, I’ve regularly consulted on the World Wide Web political websites and blogs, selected after a lengthy process, such as Political Prisoners, Prachatai, New Mandala, Bangkok Pundit, FACT and Thai Crisis, which remind you that there are still men who think straight, for all their quirks.

Save for New Mandala, which might be next, they all, along with PTV, have been banned by the benighted powers that be of this land in the last couple of months – along with tens of thousands of other blogs and websites.

Give me a break, man. It’s such a hassle having to find programs that allow you to bypass local censorship, but bypassing it I must, to keep my self-respect and balanced views.

What motivates this posting is this: I’ve spent the last couple of days virtually enslaved to the TV screen watching the no-confidence debate in the House after the events we know, while trying to go through 140,000 words of a translation of mine – going to bed after 2 am last night to hear what the redshirt firebrand, Jatuporn Promphan, had to rant about, now that he’s back in parliament from his murderous capers in Ratchaprasong and before his arrest later today.

I cringed at his lies and insults.

But cringed even more at the treatment he received in that hallowed institution, where all sides are supposed to get equal treatment to establish the truth: none of the video clips and photographs he presented to state his muddled case was decipherable by the TV audience (I checked on both channels broadcasting them), even though those clips and pictures had been cleared for viewing by some parliamentary subcommittee – never mind that this was institutional preliminary censorship: they didn’t zoom on them, you see, and we saw nothing. All video clips and photos by the government side, on the other hand, were splendidly broadcast.

Self-defeating double standards.

By refusing to highlight his pathetic evidence, the powers that be gave him credence in the eyes of his supporters. No wonder Jatuporn was smirking.



In English on 13/09/2009 at 10:28 pm


Migraine has been me grain in life since I turned adult – or is it that as a child the only word available was ‘headache’?

Migraine may be gone for months but then it strikes again. Lack of sleep? Too much reading, especially on screen? Too much boozing? Something I ate? All or none of the above? Never could figure it out.

Migraine struck again Friday morning as I unsaddled the street mo-tersai (motorcycle) taxi to hop into a taxi to get to the office and I asked the taxi driver for a drop of his water to swallow my two Cafergot pills and he told me to get a bottle he hadn’t opened yet and I said ‘No need, thanks’, took his own and showed him how we do it thumb-wise in the French boondocks without the lips touching the bottle, to which he remarked, ‘Yes, I do that too,’ upon which I concluded he wasn’t Bangkok-born.

And again last night before dinner, after hours reformatting for e-book consumption my own anthology, the twenty best novels of Thailand (1994), which I had simply forgotten about.

But I’m not complaining: I belong to the aristocracy of migraine sufferers. An aura serves as a warning: a bright point right in the centre of my eyesight develops into a sizzling arc of blinding light, usually in the shape of half an eye that keeps growing until it disappears from the orbit in about twenty minutes, plenty of time to take painkillers, the two Cafergot (caffeine and ergotamine) pills aforementioned. This leaves me with a somewhat woolly brain for the rest of the day, sometimes with a vague queasiness at meal time, but I suffer no pain unless I cough and can go on with whatever it is I have to do, though I usually treat myself to some rest, meaning some easy reading.

The hoi polloi of migraine, usually women, has no such luck: without warning migraine strikes and painkillers don’t kill pain, so that all hell breaks loose, for a day or days at a time, and any noise or light leads to excruciating pain and torrents of vomit.

I was impressed by the Friday morning spectacular: as one aura left another came round. This seldom happens. I took the time to cool off on a chair in the ASTV hall (Comrade Sondhi was on TV) in the company of three middle-aged women, one assiduous in rouging her lips, and a scrawny old man in shorts who kept dozing off as he held on to an umbrella, before I went inside and told Nai Ben how to go about the next improvement of that cursed website of mine,, which I impressed on him must be online by the end of the month.

Which got me working on that anthology, which got me a second dose of the same…

Well, all right, I’ve switched back to Four Reigns, to get that second tome out of the way before I court migraine again polishing the anthology. And so it goes.