Translator: Mui Poopoksakul | Author: Prabda Yoon | Work: Kwam Na Ja Pen | Original Language: Thai | Genre: Short story

… ฉันนั่งเฉยๆอยู่ได้ไม่กี่เดือน ดั้งจมูกของฉันก็ต้องทำหน้าที่รองรับแว่นกรอบดำ เพิ่มความมั่นใจให้ฉันเป็นกอง ใครถาม ฉันก็บอกว่าจู่ๆสายตาของฉันมันก็เล่นตลก เกิดผิดปกติขึ้นมาเองโดยไม่คาดฝัน ไม่รู้เหมือนกันว่ามันสั้น หรือยาว หรือเอียง แต่ที่แน่ๆคือมันมองอะไรไม่ค่อยชัด ยิ่งเวลาต้องมองผลิตภัณฑ์สินค้าที่ฉันมีหน้าที่ต้องขาย สภาพสายตายิ่งขุ่นมัวอย่างไรชอบกล ไม่ได้ไปถามความเห็นจากจักษุแพทย์ที่ไหนหรอก ตัดสินใจซื้อแว่นใส่เองเลย ถือเป็นเรื่องของจิตวิทยามากกว่า ใส่แล้วโลกทัศน์ชัดเจนขึ้น ทำงานสะดวก ขายของเก่ง เจอใครๆก็เรียกพี่ ฉันเพิ่งรู้สึกถึงรสชาติของการได้เป็นพี่ของคนที่ไม่ได้เกี่ยวดองปรองญาติ ช่างเป็นความรู้สึกที่สร้างพลังลึกลับมหาศาลระหว่างทรวงอก ช่วยเพิ่มเติมความฮึกเหิมให้กับชีวิตประจำวัน แต่บางทีฉันก็ต้องระงับความรู้สึกนั้นเอาไว้ ไม่ให้ประเจิดประเจ้อจนออกนอกหน้า ฉันต้องแกล้งบอกไปว่า ไม่ต้องมาเรียกพี่หรอก อายุก็ไล่เลี่ยกัน แต่ในใจของฉันบอกว่า ถ้าเจอกันคราวหน้าแล้วมึงไม่เรียกกูว่าพี่ละก็ กูจะไม่คบกับมึงอีก …

… I sat there for no more than a few months before the bridge of my nose acquired the job of holding black-rimmed glasses. They gave me loads of confidence. Whenever anybody asked, I said my eyes suddenly started playing tricks on me. They went bad out of nowhere. I didn’t know if I was nearsighted or farsighted, but I knew for sure that I couldn’t see very clearly. My eyes were suspiciously blurry in particular when I had to stare at the products that I had to promote. I didn’t consult any doctors. I just decided to buy my own glasses. It was more of a psychological matter. When I wore them, my view of the world was clearer. It was easier to work with them on. I was better at selling. People showed respect and called me pi as if I was their big brother. For the first time, I experienced the taste of people addressing me as pi despite a lack of actual relation. It put me on a high horse. My chest was mysteriously pumped up. But sometimes I had to hold those feelings in and not flaunt them in people’s faces. I had to pretend to say, There’s no need to call me pi. We’re not far off in age. But in my head I’d be saying, If you don’t fucking call me pi next time we run into each other, I’m done with you…

In Thai, forms of address and pronouns are extremely nuanced. There are more ways to say “you” or “I” than one could productively count, especially since a person, in specific circumstances, could use his or her own first name to mean “I” without creating the effect of referring to oneself in the third person as would happen in English. To give a very general flavor, when not using the formal form of address, which is khun (roughly equivalent to Mr. or Ms.), Thais often address others using words that indicate familial relationships such as older or younger sibling, aunt, uncle, grandma, etc., depending on the addressee’s age relative to the addressor’s, and the addressee’s gender. It would be uncommon and impolite not to use these honorifics before a person’s first name when addressing an older person. I am grouping pronouns and forms of address as constituting the same problem because in Thai, a particular form of address usually comes with a specific set of pronouns. For example, if someone addresses you as khun, you would use the (more) formal pronoun for “I” depending on your gender, and khun also becomes the term for “you.”

In contemporary Thai author Prabda Yoon’s short story “Kwam Na Ja Pen” (which I have translated as “Pen in Parentheses”), the narrator revels in the fact that people at his office start calling him pi (meaning older sibling) after he starts wearing glasses. The use of pi often connotes seniority and respect which can somewhat be detached from age, and so the narrator starts gloating after he earns the honorific, as relatively young people sometimes do when being addressed as pi for the first time outside of family relationships. Since this specific concept does not exist in English, it was a difficult point in the translation to choose the appropriate solution. I toyed with the idea of using a footnote to explain the concept, and I then thought about eliminating the Thai word altogether and using a different narrative gesture. In the end, for the version that ran in Asymptote, I kept the Thai word but put in a few in-text explanatory words in hopes of maintaining a Thai flavor in a non-didactic manner. Still, because there is no perfect solution, there is not one “right” answer (but perhaps better or worse ones depending on the text being translated and the translator’s aim).

Mui Poopoksakul is a lawyer-turned-translator promoting Thai literature through translation and writing. She is currently wrapping up an M.A. in cultural translation at the American University of Paris and previously studied literature as an undergraduate at Harvard College.

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