Friday, November 11, 2011

Asian Literature by Women

The Japanese view recent Thailand floods as if it happened in our own country. We see hundreds of Japanese manufacturing plants submerged under water, causing severe supply chain shortages in key electronic/automotive/medical industries. It invokes the same feeling as the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami disaster that hit Japan this past March. It’s unbearable to see Thai priests working hard with sandbags in the water. We sincerely pray for an early relief.

I saw a dozen books of Asian women literature on the shelf of the Kitakyushu University Library I often visit. They look very different because of their non-commercial style binding, no fancy artwork or book belts around them. All the books acknowledge that the translation, printing and free distribution to educational institutions was made possible by the generous contribution of the Daido Life Foundation. I looked up the Daido Life Web page which said the foundation was established in 1985 as its 80th anniversary project to promote international understanding and to bridge the language barrier between Asian nations and Japan. Translations were done both ways. The books I saw were the Japanese translations from Tagalog, Malay, Thai and Burmese. Now, for its 100th anniversary event, Daido’s project has entered its second phase by moving into construction of school facilities. In Thailand, for instance, 16 schools were built in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, etc. by mid-2000 and the effort is going strong.

One book that stood out for me was a book titled “When Sarapi Flowers Bloom” written by Suwannee Sukonthiang (1932-1984), a Thai woman of my generation. The translator is Mineko Yoshioka, who taught at the Bangkok Japanese Language School (1981-83) and is now a lecturer at Tenri University in Nara.

The author Suwannee was born in Bangkok but at the age of 11 she moved to Phitsanulok Province, about 400 km north of Bangkok as her father had to serve as the village doctor. Phitsanulok is a midpoint between Bangkok and northern Thailand, surrounded by several National Parks. The village must be a pretty place. Suwannee wrote in her message to the Japanese readers that she would not have been a writer if she was not raised in Phitsanulok. Her family kept a number of livestock and she dearly cherished memories of a horse named Kee-oo.

That is the horse her father had to ride to visit patients’ homes. She was very attached to him. She fed him, played with him in the stables, and took him out to nearby pastures. She could never have imagined being apart. The horse had to be offered to the Japanese army.

The following is a partial translation from the book:

As the war spread, news came that Japanese soldiers landed. First a glimpse of them but soon we began to see them everywhere we went. They were deep in our turf. I knew some Japanese - “Arigato”, “Banzai” and Konnichiwa”. I learned more Japanese and those words still come to the tip of my tongue even now. The Japanese were inside coconut palm orchards, vegetable farms, and when the village was fully filled with the Japanese, my father moved Kee-oo to outside the village. The Japanese bought up bamboos to make beds, set up bivouac camps, like neighbors. Rumors ran that the Japanese buy up horse as they needed horses to transport military supplies to Mae Sot, by the Thai-Burmese border, with no other way to do so in those days. They said they would buy but we Thais knew it was mandatory and we were unable to oppose… Kee-oo was no exception. Most Japanese soldiers behaved, were disciplined, frugal as well as friendly. They excited us children greatly with the conversation mostly through body and hand gestures. We liked them.

Then one day march began. Horses and soldiers marched westward with many troops and in long lines. Marches, however, seemed lackadaisical and cheerless. Perhaps soldiers were weary away from home and families for many years with no ceasing sign of war. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers marched on and disappeared. I was there on and along the roadside eager to catch a glimpse of Kee-oo. And luckily, I found him among the herds. How could I not recognize him? Alas, he was overloaded and weighed down with things. The luster of his hair under our care was gone. I screamed “Kee-oo!” and ran to him. A couple of bearded soldiers looked back at me. Kee-oo shook his tail towards me as he always did to me and I took it as his good-bye.“Kee-oo!” I shouted again in my quivering voice with sobs and tears.

l) Sarapi is a species of flowering plant in the calophyllaceae family. “Mammea Siamensis or Ochrocarpus Siamensis” bearing sweet scented, jasmine-like flowers.

Known in Thai as “Sarapi,” it is a small evergreen tree distributed in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The flowers of this plant have been used in traditional Thailand medicine as a heart tonic. Investigations of different parts of the plant have revealed the presence of several coumarins and xanthones.
(Source: The Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society, Vol. 18, No. 5, 2007)

2) County of “Sarapi” is in Chiang Mai Province. Chiang Mai is known as the rose of the North.

3) Mae Sot
Thailand and Myanmar are attempting to establish relations. The Friendship Bridge) connects the two countries across the Moei River.

4) The Bridge over River Kwai, known as the Death Railway Bridge during Word War II, is near Kanchanaburi, 130km west of Bangkok.

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