Tuesday, July 29, 2008

camping for real

i have been meaning to put these pictures up here for a good minute, but something keeps getting in the way. but here they are: camping in the sierra national forest with salio, lue, dee, chanh, t, phan, ann, salena, justin, and jocelyn. (this is from a couple weeks back when i was in california.) life was good then. i aint gonna do descriptions like i originally planned. nobody really reads um anywayz. but i will say this - you aint never ate so good on a camping trip. this aint your normal everyday trip. this is the real deal, with real food. not no tin-foil dinners- feels like you're in prison kinda food. it was the good stuff. so thanks everybody that cooked for me on this trip. (my responsibility -self imposed- was to pick up all the trash.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

8 pages of colin cotterill

this ain't a book review. how could it be when i am only 'bout 8 pages into the thing. but for some time, i've noticed on the spl website that when i do a book search on "Laos" this guy colin cotterill shows up with 4 or 5 books... fiction, by the way - and mysteries at that. so i finally checked one out: anarchy and old dogs. and it's part of a series of whodunits 'bout an old doctor, siri paiboun, running around in 1970s communist Laos, solving crimes, seeing ghosts, etc. so i started reading it, and this is my 8-pages-in report... and admittedly, maybe i'm being overly critical 'bout all this, but here are my initial issues with the book, all of which are linguistic in nature:

1) i kinda wish that cotterill had tried to romanize the names of his characters in a more consistent way. on page 2 is the name, dr. buagaew. i am not sure how to say that... is it the same as bouakeo? and is siri paiboun the same as phaiboun? and if bouakeo is buagaew, then shouldn't phaiboun be paibun? and is nurse dtui the same as tui, like fat? and is tawon of the severed scrotum the same as tavanh? i just think that the french, for all the bad things people say about 'em, had a pretty good system for spelling Lao names, and so you might as well stick to it. besides, the spellings are kinda nice when you look at them - nice in their consistency and also aesthetically. to cotterill's defense, he does live in thailand where the romanization of thai names has become this grab-bag, free-for-all nightmare. thai names are spelt however you want, whenever you want, whatever you want, with a seemingly random positioning of english letters - sometimes its jun, then its chun, then its jan... (when really it's chan). but enough of that, on to number...

2) this may not be an important point for most, but neither was my first complaint: cotterill uses idiomatic expressions that are kinda weird in the context of the Lao language - like, "bet my socks on it (pg. 7)" and the phrase from whence the books title comes, "the old dog might learn a few tricks (pg. 8)" ...socks, dogs, feet... i don't know what the Lao equivalents would be, but i don't think they would reference such topics as dogs and feet unless they were cussing at someone. and finally,

3) nurse dtui makes plans to go to her palm-reader, a transvestite, who gives free readings. this becomes an opportunity for dr. siri (pg. 8) to make the comment, "are you saying that she ... he doesn't charge?" i think that we're to believe that this conversation is originally spoken in Lao, and that what we're reading is a translation of sorts, but if this conversation was in Lao, then the whole he/she thing is a non-issue. the pronoun for he/she is gender neutral - its the same for both men and women (Lao). and i bet that cotterill's gotta speak some thai and Lao... (and it's the same in both languages) so how did this sneak through?

i am gonna stop at number 3, although i could continue. in fact, i am slightly embarrassed to post this - i mean, i'm a jerk: he's writing a mystery novel, which really ain't meant to be literary scholarship academic professor indy jones kinda stuff. so read the book if you like mysteries, and try to stop yourself from thinking about how european the character's jokes sound or, "how would this be said in Lao?"

he's got a nice website - it's http://www.colincotterill.com/

Sunday, July 06, 2008

fresno is the center of everything

i am in fresno california, the center of everything. and here are some pictures to prove it.

seattle's got its share of small asian markets, but vietwah and uijimaya dominate with their overpriced produce and slighty uppity selection. whereas this feels like talat sao in viengchan, although indoors. also, i enjoy walking up and down the ailses hearing Lao, hmong, (and Kalome) spoken freely.

and also, i was able to go get some khaopoun at the store (and the restaraunt sells it too) and that just aint gonna happen in seattle. i either have to bribe somebody to make it for me or try to make it myself. and that never works out so well. so i aint moving up here or nothing, but its hard not think about it. here they got food, stores, sun, khaopoun - and 1 out of 3 homes have padek in their cupboards. (that is only an approximation and is not to be quoted for academic research articles.)

chanh is eating khaopoun - at first everyone said they wanted pho, but once you get khaopoun in the house, everybody wants some. ha!

and this is a donut shop that i remember from 1992. we even ate in there on one occasion. i don't remember if it was good, but it couldn't be that bad if its still open.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

jaed coffin's "chant to soothe wild elephants"

i just finished this memoir, purportedly written in the style of hemingway. jaed coffin is half thai - half white, and spent a summer in thailand as a monk, attempting to find his thai identity. i enjoy books with bi-culturalism as a theme; with my job, i am confronted by this issue daily, and i am reminded regularly of my whiteness through the my interactions with the families i serve. (the "i am american" movie we made addresses this issue as well.) i especially liked jaed's reflections on his airport experience (where he "hates" the american tourists and attempts to view himself as separate from them,) and the book is full of this kind of insight.

the one thing that some people may find offensive: he describes his monk friend narong as being "dark like the Lao." he goes on to make other references to the dark Lao people as if this is a trait that distinguishes them from the thai. this could signify jaed's lack of knowledge of the relationship between the thai and the Lao, the history of the isan region, and the oppression and social stratification that comes with the darkness of one's skin. also, i wonder if jaed has met any Lao in america and noticed the great variation in shades and skin colors of those he has met? or is he just relying on stereotypes that some thai people have used to describe the Lao?

i think he also coulda checked some of his romanizations of thai - or even the grammar - like "will you 'jam dai' lek?" or his use of "unsure heart" as a translation for mai neh jai... but these are minor points. i didn't really intend to write a book review - especially not a negative one. the author really does an excellent job of telling his experience, especially for someone like me who is off to the side, looking in from the secure sidelines of my whiteness.