UMM Thailand Ch. 8: Translation without Representation
Charlie floated in what must have been somewhere between a dream and awake state, but the sing-song language was right in front of him. Not some background, piped-in, hotel-lobby music, this was a conversation and it seemed that he was a part of it — or at least was supposed to be a part of it. It might have helped had he understood a word of it since it was all in Thai.
“I think he is waking up now,” came the voice of a man in English while Charlie kept his eyes closed, still unsure if he was awake or asleep.
Hands worked on his calves, churning and sliding, but then there was a burning as if she turned her fingernails into the flesh between the muscle and the bone on the front of the leg. This got him to open his eyes.
There no razor blades or even small paring knives, but just the same young woman who looked as if she was effortlessly massaging his legs. Why did it hurt so much then?
“Soft,” she said as the pain subsided.
He wanted to say, If this is soft, I don’t want to experience strong but knew that would be lost on her, so he didn’t say anything but smiled.
Seated next to her was a monk. Complete in the draped orange gown, bald head, and a face so warm and welcoming, you could set him up in front of a battle-hardened evil menace and the monk would crush him with nothing more than a blink of his eyes.
“You are now awake,” said the monk in a monotone rhythm that sounded like he was reading from a textbook. He kept going in the same style. “Would you like to speak English with me? I learn English.” He waited for Charlie to respond.
Charlie was wondering how to say ‘softer’ in Thai and if bracelet girl could ease up on the kitchen torture utensils, but decided it was safer to just answer.
“Yes,” Charlie said and then added in slow and clear rhythm, “I would like to speak English with you.”
“Oh, very good,” the monk responded and said something in Thai to the woman. She smiled at Charlie now too. As she smiled, she eased up the pressure on his legs and it went back to feeling good rather than as if a wall-supporting steel beam was resting on his shin bones. But as soon as it that warm and fuzzy feeling arrived, the smile departed from her face and with it the joy of silky Thai hands and they were back to blood-curdling knuckle work.
The monk gestured towards the woman and said, “Her name is Apinya.” As he said her name, she again smiled and looked at Charlie. Charlie smiled back.
“My name is Somsak,” as he brought his hand back towards himself. He waited and looked at Charlie.
“My name is Holiday,” he said and paused and regretted it already that he started out with his last name, but it was almost like an addiction, a forbidden fruit that he just couldn’t help. “Charlie Holiday.”
“Charlie is on holiday?” Somsak asked as usual in his monotone cadence.
Charlie went into another round of regret at trying to be witty with his name. He promised himself then and there that he would never do it again and immediately after that promise broke the promise because he knew just how much fun he had saying it and that would truly deprive him of joy in his life if he wasn’t allowed to do what took such little effort and gave him such great joy then what was life worth living? He could fix this.
“My first name is Charlie,” he spoke slowly and clearly as he looked at both of them back and forth, putting his flat palm to his chest. “My last name, my family name is Holiday. So together, my name is Charlie Holiday.”
“Charlie on Holiday,” Apinya repeated and Charlie knew exactly what he needed to do: change the subject soon.
“Yes, very good,” Charlie said. “Charlie is on holiday.”
Apinya looked pleased and seemed to look directly into Charlie’s eyes, but on the other hand, her gaze was something of a stare. She dropped her eyes from Charlie’s eyes back to his legs.
“You speak very good English,” Charlie said to her, but she didn’t look up.
“She doesn’t speak English,” Somsak said matter of factly.
“She knows ‘soft’ and ‘strong,'” Charlie immediately stuck up for her and then continued a little too quickly. “Although I have to say that if this is soft I don’t know what strong would be like unless she’s going to completely stop the blood flow below my knee so maybe she actually has no idea what the difference between soft and strong is at all and she just does what she does and it’s all going to work out.”
As Charlie said this, he was instantaneously reminded that he very occasionally said out loud what he was thinking. It was, occasionally, a problem. As he was about to apologize to the two blank stares in front of him, he thought that this particular incident he might get away with.
“Soft,” Apinya said as she continued to work her fingers now under his kneecaps, a feather caressing nerve endings.
“Strong,” she said and her fingers, with the strength of those ‘Jaws of Life’ that police rescue teams use to pry open steel doors, went up and under his kneecap and if she wanted to or even thought she might feel like it or even accidentally applied a tiny bit more pressure, could pop off Charlie Holiday’s kneecap, it would rocket from his leg, bounce off the ceiling and he would never play beach volleyball again.
“I think she speaks excellent English,” Charlie managed to say after he regained consciousness from the excruciating but thankfully brief pain.
“Yes,” she said and smiled.
She seemed to know more than Somsak was letting on. Maybe he didn’t know how much she knew. Maybe he didn’t know her at all.
“Where are you from?” Somsak kept going with the English lesson.
“I’m from the United States,” Charlie said clearly. “Where are you from, Somsak?”
“I’m from Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya,” he said and met with Charlie’s blank stare. “You know Ayutthaya?”
“Yes,” Charlie was thrilled to recognize something he said.
“Real name is Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya,” Somsak said with pride.
“Fra Naykong See Ayuttaya,” Charlie tried to repeat the extended name of the city back to Somsak although he might have just said that Somsak’s aunt has warts on her big toe, he wasn’t sure.
“Very good,” Somsak said, either an excellent liar, a friendly monk or both.
It seemed as if Somsak was about to whip out another textbook English question, but Charlie beat him to it.
“Where are you from, Apinya?”
Somsak interrupted before anyone else could speak. “She doesn’t speak English.”
“Oh, that’s right. I forgot,” Charlie said although he kept his gaze on the top of Apinya’s head. She continued to work on the area just above Charlie’s knees and she had toned down the dial from ‘Bone Crushing’ all the way down to ‘Pleasant with a twinge of misery.’ But he knew she heard him and, maybe it was just his imagination, but she seemed to be thinking over her answer. Or at least how to formulate the words.
“What Thai food do you like to eat?” Somsak asked, but Charlie barely heard it. He was waiting for Apinya.
Somsak wasn’t going to give up. He was determined to practice his English.
“Do you like green curry? Or maybe Tom Kha Kai?” Somsak continued.
“Green curry,” Charlie said and slipped a quick look back to Somsak to be polite, but then went back to the top of Apinya’s head. It was as if something was brewing as if she was stirring up the force to give a reply.
Finally, she raised her head and started into Charlie. While her hands kept going, she spoke. It was clear, beautiful, and completely Thai.
“ฉันมาจากที่ไหนสักแห่งที่อยู่ห่างไกล,” she said.
It sounded something like, “Chan ma cack teen sak he ning klai” and meant absolutely nothing to Charlie.
“What did she say?” Charlie asked Somsak.
“She said that she likes green curry, too,” Somsak said with a straight face, but then it turned to something of worry. Just a tinge, but it was there.
“Ah,” was all that Charlie said then no one said anything. Then Apinya spoke again. Charlie wasn’t sure, but it sounded like exactly what she said before.
“Did she say that she liked the green curry again?” Charlie asked Somsak, trying to not to be difficult, but he was having a hard time believing him as if Somsak was protecting her. Or maybe he was just really, really serious about his English lesson and didn’t want to get into whatever it was that Apinya said.
Charlie opted for one of the best interrogation techniques he knew of: a heaping tablespoon of silence with a pinch of patience.
Somsak dropped his head and let out a sigh. Apinya didn’t turn her gaze from Charlie’s eyes although Charlie was again unsure if she saw him. Somehow she was looking past him or through him or didn’t see him at all — or saw all of him.
“She said,” Somsak started as he raised his head up to look at Charlie. “She said, ‘I am from somewhere very far away.'”