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How much does this cost? A practical question of the marketplace that can also reach into deeper waters. Holding an item, assessing its worth, giving its value an equivalent number—how might such acts parallel the essential exchanges that occur across acts of reading and making meaning? Trans:Act, the latest folio of the Transpacific Literary Project, brings together seven pieces of bilingual writing contextualized around marketplace experiences, each containing multiple layers of commercial and linguistic exchange.

In បង្កងទឹកសាប និងឈ្មោះប្លែកៗ | Freshwater Lobster and the Trouble with Names, Khmer writer Phina So gives a two-language account of a visit to the illusory named Phsa Chhouk Meas | Golden Lotus Market in Phnom Penh, turning her attention to the gap between what something is and what something is called at the market.

It is this kind of obscuring marketplace language that can be acquired, sometimes with great fluency, at a young age. ตลาดนัด | The Flea Markets by Duanwad Pimwana, translated from Thai by Mui Poopopsakul, follows a group of entrepreneurial children as they navigate their roles as pawns and players in competing rural flea markets.

Childhood and the space of memory emerge elsewhere throughout the folio, with a market’s sensory experiences and associations often linked to home and family. In Tiangge by Nikka Cornelio-Baker, the raw lessons of the tiangge in Dumaguete City, Philippines are cemented early on during walks through its “tableau of gore” with her mother. And Nguyễn Thanh Hiện, translated by Nguyễn Hoàng Quyên, looks back at coastal Vietnam of the 1940s in Những tin tức về một ngôi làng | Chronicles of A Village, when the simple trade of fabric for rice comes with the vulnerability of fates tied to rain.

Tracing other vulnerabilities linked to the market, Zedeck Siew writes in two languages of the mobile market operating out of a van parked in front of the oil refinery in his hometown of Port Dickson, Malaysia. Van Runcit Putih | Neighborhood Sundry Van details the complex layers of migration directed by capital, which moves and removes the bodies that sustain it.

And in the poem Kaemon accho? Shob thik?, Jonaki Ray also explores the market as a site where migratory paths culminate. Based in the market of CR Park in New Delhi, fish from distant waters are gathered on a selling table, where the image of their dripping blood naturally becomes a line of ancestral blood having traveled across borders.

Wrapping up the folio is a collection of various translations of the same poem, Menukar Rindu by Indonesian poet Annisa Savitri. This poem, in which the body itself is a site of trade, passes through the hands of multiple translators: Ninus Andarnuswari (Homesickness Exchanged), Norman Erikson Pasaribu (I Swapped This Longing for Ringgit), Madina Malahayati (To Pawn a Longing), and Fajar Santoadi (Exchanging My Longing). In this gathering of exchanges, the slight negotiations between words and meaning bring out a new sense of what it can mean to Trans:Act, and perhaps recast the marketplace in fruitful new lights, as a space of reading and being read.

—Kaitlin Rees
 

Some equivalencies for Trans:Act (on June 4, 2019):

20 Thai Baht = 33 Philippine Pesos = 44 Indian Rupees = x bolt of fabric = y square vuông of rice = 15,000 Vietnamese đồng = 2,600 Cambodian Riel = 2.6 Malaysian Ringgit = 9,100 Indonesian Rupiah = unquantifiable sweat

Transpacific Literary Project is an ambitious online editorial initiative of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) that is poised to foster literary connections between East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Asian diaspora, and a broader American reading public. The project has taken the shape of a series of portfolios published on AAWW’s online magazine The Margins. These portfolios comprise poetry and prose written by East and Southeast Asian writers, with an emphasis on works in translation, curated around broad themes, and seek to traverse geographic and other boundaries.

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