And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of 75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.
What would be a good way of ending such wars?
Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”
With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?
For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of ‘Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality.
Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.
Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.
Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.
We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it? Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue(2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.
We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumarby Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.
Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”. This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolutionplotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”
There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.
We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.
I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.
Kenny Peavy, an environmentalist, revisits his trip across Asia, exploring the enormous biodiversity and conservation efforts.
An idea is born
Like all good adventures, it started in a pub.
I was attending a weekend workshop on service learning and how to implement service projects with students. One of the other participants, Jamie, had come into Kuala Lumpur from Japan. We’d partnered on a few of the activities during the day and hit it off immediately. I was eager to get to know him better so invited him out for a beer to show him around town. I always liked sharing local restaurants and watering holes with visitors and this time was no exception.
Jamie agreed and we visited a few trendy spots in Bukit Bintang, downtown Kuala Lumpur.
After a walking tour of a few famous walking streets, we hit the town for a bit of street food. As Fate would have it, we soon ended up sharing a couple of drinks at Little Havana, a cool hang out spot on the corner with live music and, pub grub and nice draught beers.
After a couple of drafts of Guinness Stout, I boldly announced to Jamie my intentions to leave classroom teaching and set out on an adventure. I was burnt out and needed a break.
Hiking across Malaysia was being floated around as an idea. Being from the USA, we have plenty of cross-country trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail that, in my youth, had inspired me as bucket list adventures I would aspire to complete someday.
Now was the time. I needed play time. I needed adventure time. I needed to explore and roam for a spell. Hiking across a rainforest didn’t seem as feasible since there really were no trans Malaysia trails to be found. Cycling was also tossed about as an idea. Cycling across Asia had been done before. It seemed a more achievable adventure.
Back in 2012, I was not very Internet savvy and the number of blogs, vlogs and social media sites with information about how to cross Asia on a bicycle was scarce. As a result, we had to rely on our imaginations, grit and a bit of pragmatic know-how and determination to figure out what we would do and how we would do it.
During the excited and rambunctious discussion in the pub we let every wild idea and notion fly. I could ride across China. I could ride around Thailand. Maybe I could venture into Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia. All sorts of options were tossed about and floated around.
After the weekend workshop, Jamie returned to Japan. We stayed in touch.
More ideas were thrown about, and we eventually decided that a trip from Thailand to Bali would be a good course of action and something that could be achieved. Soon thereafter, Jamie announced that he’d join me!
The plan was coming together slowly but surely. An idea was taking shape.
We wanted to do something centered around conservation or environmental issues. We could focus on that during our bike ride. The idea fit because cycling is eco-friendly. No fossil fuels. No pollution. Since Jamie was joining me, it would have to be done during the school holidays which meant we had approximately six weeks to complete the adventure in July and August. Yes. We could do it!
I talked to people in my network. Someone knew someone and they sent the word out to bike shops, cycling enthusiasts and adventurers. Shortly, Sunny from Singapore reached out to us and said he made bamboo bicycles. He asked if we’d like to try them out on our Thailand to Bali adventure.
Sure, why not?!
Sunny himself had ridden a bamboo bike across China and was designing and building bamboo bikes for long haul trips. We’d get to test one out and provide feedback. The experimental science guy in me said YES!
He sent us images and catalogues and we picked a mountain bike model since we figured the roads would get a bit messy at some point and we would want fat tires for any back roads, dirt roads, palm plantations, or gravel we might encounter.
We finally had bikes! Now we just needed a route!
We’d make our way through Thailand on to Malaysia across into Singapore and then onwards to Java and eventually end up in Bali for the grade finale.
We finally had a route! Now we just needed a name!
I honestly don’t remember how the name came about but I do remember quite a few failed attempts.
I wanted something that made us sound like superheroes! Green Warriors! Eco-Adventurers!
Firstly, it was one of the oldest and most biodiverse rainforests in southeast Asia. Secondly, I knew a guy that had a resort, and he could sponsor our first night by giving us accommodation and food!
We spent the first night in a small bamboo chalet next to a gorgeous turbulent river amidst the sounds of cicadas, swirling rapids and a myriad of jungle critters making their nightly sojourn throughout the forest by moonlight. It was paradise on Earth. The next morning, the sound of gregarious chirping birds welcomed the morning through the open-air bamboo chalet and mosquito nets.
With brand spanking new bamboo bikes, way too much gear, an adventurous spirit, and no idea on how the adventure might play out, we hit the road. Within a hundred meters my bike rack fell off and eagerly dispersed its burdensome contents onto the rich humus of the rainforest floor! Apparently, the marriage between an overburdened metal bike rack and a bamboo bike frame was not a match made in Heaven.
With plenty of laughing onlookers from the launch of Green Riders, Jamie and I made short work of the repairs and set off on the road.
During the six-week adventure we saw numerous indescribably beautiful and wild places.
We made acquaintance with numerous interesting and intriguing people and immersed ourselves in a wide array of cultural diversity ranging from the village life of rural Thailand and Malaysia to the hyper-developed modern city state of Singapore on to the chaos of the port of Jakarta and finally the super touristy island of Bali. With a tip from a local at a roadside food stall and coffee kiosk, we ended up visiting the first rubber tree planted in Thailand. Apparently, the rubber sapling had been stolen from the botanical gardens in Singapore and smuggled across borders in 1899 that eventually resulted in the booming and habitat destroying rubber industry of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
We spent the night in a pristine an efficient locally run Eco-village situated in a mangrove on the Isthmus of Kra which lies on the border of Thailand with Malaysia. There children roamed freely playing, exploring, and jumping in the brackish water as part of their daily free time. A place where a deep connection with the rhythms of the tides, the moon and the daily fishing harvest are intimately woven in the psyche of the Thai villagers that inhabit that ecosystem.
With yet another tip from a local in a pizza joint in Krabi, we made an unplanned sidetrack to see a very cool playground in a small village in Thailand that had been built from recycled and repurposed tires pulled from their local river. We ended up helping a nearby village copy the design and build their own playground and plant shade trees at a local school.
We ferried from Singapore to Jakarta aboard a defunct cruise ship, full of deportees and work permit violators from Java and Sumatra that were being deported back to their country of origin. Another crazy adventure we could not have planned.
We learned the hard way that Baluran National Park in East Java was dry and had not even a single measly roadside stall to sell water or food, making an arduous trek uphill even harder. Within the first hour of that particular day, we quickly depleted our supplies and road around for six sweaty, throat parching hours in search of liquids and sustenance. On the last leg of the ride, we sprinted as fast as we could to exit the park and crashed into the first shop to empty their barren stock of the bottles, water and soft drinks!
When we finally landed on the shores of West Bali National Park, we stood in amazement of all we had seen, done and accomplished.
We spent the last days wallowing in the company of Menjangan deer, water monitors, mangrove trees, wild boar, ebony langurs, various shore birds and the coveted Bali starling, an endangered endemic species of gorgeous bird in its protected habitat. Green Riders provided more explorations and adventures that we had counted on or even imagined!
On the road, we became absorbed in a Zen like trance that comes from 8 to 10 hours of singular focus on pedaling and riding. We learned the value of clearing the mind through the monotony of riding all day every day with a single purpose to keep pedaling.
The experience of being connected with self, with others and with Nature were priceless and life changing.
Keith Lyons introduces us to Kenny Peavy, an author, adventurer, educator and wilderness first-aider who has travelled far and wide and wishes everyone could connect with the natural world right outside their door.
American Kenny Peavy has spent three decades getting people outdoors. He believes that by playing in and exploring the natural world, we can discover or re-kindle a deep connection with Nature and learn to respect and take care of the planet we all share.
For the last twenty one years, he’s been based in Asia, working in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. He’s currently at possibly the coolest school in the world, made of bamboo and nestled in lush jungle, the Green School Bali. Kenny is an advocate for education and learning outside the classroom.
In this conversation, we are going to learn about growing up in the South of the US, how his environmental awareness was instilled, what brought him to Asia, and some of the biggest cultural differences (including breakfast). In addition to his questioning memoir Young Homeless Professional, in 2007 Kenny co-authored the pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places.
In efforts to raise awareness about conservation and sustainability in Southeast Asia, he’s paddled around the island of Phuket in Thailand, and ridden a bamboo-frame bike from Thailand through Malaysia to Singapore and Bali. As well as being a nature guide, project fundraiser and science teacher, Kenny is also a qualified wilderness first responder and first aid trainer. In Bali, he had to flee with his family when an erupting volcano threatened their village.
Kenny has some advice for city-dwellers afraid of the ‘sometimes scary’ world away from concrete and mobile phones.
Tell me about growing up in Georgia, as I only know it being famous for peanuts, and being the birthplace of Julia Roberts, Kanye West, Martin Luther King Jr, Ray Charles, and Hulk Hogan?
I was born in 1969 so, essentially, I was a kid in the ’70s and ’80s. Since the ’80s were my high school years, I consider myself a child of the ’80s in all its hair metal, boom box, Pac Man and Donkey Kong glory!
It was very rural. A lot different then. We weren’t as aware of the outside world and didn’t have access to a lot of things like we do now.
I distinctly remember going to my first ‘real mall’ in about 1984 or maybe 1985. It was Gwinnett Place Mall. A huge commercial shopping centre. Up until then, we only really had local mom-n-pop shops. So, it was astounding. One of my friends could drive and he had a car.
None of us had much money so we all pitched in a couple of dollars for gas. The parking lot was dizzying and the mall was an amazing place to watch people. We tried this new thing none of us had ever heard of called a Gyro wrap and it was absolutely delicious and strange. Then afterwards I had an Oreo ice cream. Something I had never experienced before since we only had vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream at the local shop. It was all brand new.
Growing up in the countryside we didn’t have that sort of food or flavours so even those simple things we take for granted today were fascinating novelties back then!
Aside from that, as I said, it was very rural. Most folks had land and cows or chickens. A lot of pine trees which means pulp mills to make paper. Plenty of dirt roads. Atlanta was the BIG CITY and most of us were kind of afraid to go there because we never heard anything but bad news about city folks.
What was the environment you grew up in like?
Most folks were into fishing, hunting and other similar recreations. I went to a public school and took the free bus to school. We definitely had jocks, hicks, geeks and other ‘distinctive’ social groups. Me and all my friends were into hard rock and heavy metal and we saved our money so we could see all the shows from AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne and White Snake when they came to Atlanta (even though we were scared of the Big City and fast talking city folks).
Our big entertainment was cruising the strip mall where they had a McDonalds and a hardware store. We’d all just drive in circles wasting time and gas while blasting The Scorpions so we could wave at people we’d seen at school the very same day.
I think most families were basically Blue Collar with jobs in construction, factories or some kind of farming. We all grew up working and my first job at age fifteen was washing dishes at a steak house in town. Other jobs we had as teens were cutting grass, painting curbs, running cashier in a gas station and other similar tasks.
How did you get into writing, was it something you developed a talent for early on, or did you have some inspiration and guidance from others?
I always wanted to be a poet and swoon the girls with poems and fancy quotes from far-flung novels. It never worked.
I also wanted to be that professor with the patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket and a pipe dangling from my mouth as I pontificated wise philosophical diatribes to impress the masses. I’m still working on that one!
Your interest in Nature, the environment and science, where did that come from?
Essentially, from growing up and playing outdoors. We were always outside and not allowed in the house during the day. So, we’d get bored and flip over logs, explore the creeks, go fishing and ride our bikes all over the trails in the woods.
This lead me to get curious about the critters we found under the logs and hiding out in the rocks in the stream. Combine that with a love for hunting and fishing and I eventually studied biology at university.
I basically wanted to know how Nature worked. What made it tick? How did all the pieces fit together? That also lead to jobs at the Institute of Ecology at the University of Georgia where I learned a heap about aquatic macro-invertebrates, ichthyology (fish) and ecology — and had a private lunch with the Father of Modern Ecology and author of the very first ecology textbook, Professor Emiritus Eugene Odum.
That’s why I firmly believe that a childhood spent outdoors playing and exploring will later lead to an insatiable curiosity for Nature and an ethic for conservation and stewardship.
You document in your book Young Homeless Professional about a time in your life when you immersed yourself in the natural world, and were searching for answers. What did you learn from that time about the world and yourself?
I essentially have many of the same questions today. I think I understand the inner workings of Nature and life’s mysteries a bit better now. With a modicum more insight and quite a few more experiences under my belt than 20+ years ago, I think what’s most important is the process of questioning. The ability to stay open to life’s possibilities is key. We most likely will never fully comprehend or understand life, our roles in the cosmos and Nature’s mysteries, but if we stay curious, keep exploring, stay open to the possibilities and keep questioning then I think that’s the key to finding a place in this world we all share.
How did you end up moving from the US to teaching in Asia?
On a whim. I wanted adventure. I wanted to see and experience new cultures, try weird foods, learn about different religions and philosophies. Speak strange languages. So with US$ 8,000 in the bank, a teaching degree and a hankering to see the world I set out for Kuala Lumpur in the year 2000: I’ve never looked back!
What are the biggest differences between life in the US and your current life and environment in Bali?
The biggest difference has to be that it’s a majority Muslim country. My wife is Muslim and I’ve grown quite comfortable being married into a different culture and religion. And here in Bali, it’s mostly Hindu which is vastly different from Islam. Growing up in the Southern US, I was only ever exposed to Methodist and Baptist forms of Christianity. All of this was new to me 20 years ago when I moved here.
I think the tropical climate and easy-going beach lifestyle are also very different from growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Another HUGE difference is having rice for breakfast! I was always a hash browns and eggs or better yet, grits, kind of guy. We don’t really have either one of those here. But instead, they eat rice with a spicy sauce and crispy chicken or fish for a typical Indonesian Breakfast!
As well as being a teacher, you’ve done a lot of activities, organising events, initiating projects and raising funds. What’s your motivation for doing these?
I feel like we should give back. Whatever we have to share, to teach, to give to others is valuable. Being part of something bigger than ourselves, whether it is a project, a group, a movement or an ideology is fundamental to achieving a sense of fulfilment and belonging. When we give, we receive back way more joy and happiness than we originally gave. It gets multiplied! Through giving of ourselves and sharing what we have, we receive a sense of being part of a larger cause and a sense of contentment which is multiplied many times over.
One of your most notable achievements, in addition to your writing and educational work, is riding a bamboo bicycle across Southeast Asia from Thailand to Bali to raise awareness on sustainability. What was the hardest part of that adventure?
It was all fun with plenty of excitement and adventure. There were actually very few hiccups and hardships. But I would have to say that cycling some of the monotonous palm oil plantations through peninsular Malaysia from the Thai border to Singapore was hot, boring and so sad. It was heartbreaking to see what was once a beautiful rainforest converted into endless palm oil plantations and a never-ending paved highway.
You also kayaked around the island of Phuket to raise awareness about marine conservation. How important is tangible action to bringing about change?
Taking action is paramount. We can say anything we want. We can project an image of being eco-friendly and sustainable. We can GreenWash anything. But if you want to see what someone truly believes, watch what they do. Pay attention to their actions. Tangible action, hands-on, in the field, is where it’s at! Especially, if we truly want to bring about change and make a difference we have TO DO, not just SAY or BELIEVE.
Environmental education seems to be at the heart of your mission, how do you encourage students, teachers and adults to re-connect with Nature?
Ironically, I spent 2 years researching this question as part of my MS degree and what I discovered and concluded after hundreds of peer-reviewed papers, conferences, surveys and questionnaires is that the best way to connect to Nature is simple… get outside and play!
Free time, exploring and playing in Nature are way more effective than any curriculum or lesson plan. When we take time to just wander and wonder we connect in ways that can’t be facilitated through constructed lessons or planning. It happens naturally and spontaneously when we get lost in play, discovery and exploration.
What are people’s (particularly city-dwellers) biggest fears about the natural world?
I think the main thing people are afraid of is boredom. They don’t know how to wallow in boredom until the sense of wonder kicks in. We’re so used to instantaneous entertainment that we’ve become afraid to just sit, observe and take things as they come.
Another big one is mosquitos! And leeches. People are terrified of leeches!
It’s basically a teacher training manual and activity guide. We wrote it back before there were any resources to train teachers in Southeast Asia. So, the activities are meant to get kids connected to nature through exploration and engaging the senses. We put an emphasis on showing Southeast Asian flora and fauna as well as locals in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia as instructors and participants to make sure it would have a multi-cultural approach to environmental education.
I am hoping to take some of the activities in the book and update them and create a much smaller activity packet. I think it’s now more important and relevant than ever that we try to connect kids and adults to Nature.
As well as working as a nature guide, trek leader, science teacher, you are also a wilderness first aid instructor. What inspires you to be so active?
I think the main driver and inspiration comes from a sense of curiosity. I always wanted to be a National Geographic explorer, or some kind of adventurer!
When I was young, I was inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, David Attenborough and TV shows that featured people exploring exotic places, getting lost in mysterious jungles, landing in the middle of some kind of misadventure or a quest.
Those images stuck with me and keep me excited and curious to this day! There is always something new to learn, a new place to see, a new style of music to hear, and new flavours to be tasted.
You’ve also done some personal service projects, such as in Bali helping those affected by the volcano eruption. How challenging is it to initiate projects, particularly in a foreign country?
It’s easy to do a project but it’s incredibly difficult to do it right.
The key seems to be relationships. If you have a relationship with someone in the village or even someone that knows someone in the village then things tend to go well.
The main issue I see is that many foreigners want to help in some way but they simply don’t know how. During the Mount Agung crisis, we were at a refugee camp and saw a car pull up and start tossing food into the crowd. The local villagers were then forced to run around and grab the donations up off the ground. It was very demeaning. I vowed to never approach any type of service project that way.
Essentially, you just need to ask the village what they truly need. This is the crucial step and it’s often overlooked. What I mostly see are people with good intentions making assumptions about what a village needs and then donating completely irrelevant or unwanted and unneeded stuff. Whether this is inappropriate food items that won’t be used, hot thick blankets in the tropics or painting a wall at a school when the funds and volunteer time could be used much wiser the missing ingredient is always communication with the locals to find out their true needs.
In the case of Mount Agung, what we discovered after meeting the heads of the villages is that they wanted fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, spices, electric fans and N95 masks. They said everyone had donated rice and instant noodles and that they needed something they could cook to go with it! In the end, we delivered those items based on their needs and wants not on assumptions.
So, if and when folks want to help out and do service projects it’s most helpful to find a trustworthy local that can help facilitate communications to ensure that the project is effective and truly wanted and needed.
How much do you feel you are an American in Asia, or a global citizen of the planet?
I don’t feel very American anymore. Aside from my mom, dad and sister, I don’t have many connections to my country of birth these days.
I’ve been overseas for more than 20 years now. I’ve changed quite a bit personally and the USA has also changed a great deal in that time.
I would say nowadays I definitely feel more like a global citizen and can be comfortable in almost any situation. These days I’m used to being surrounded by, working with and keeping company with locals of whatever country I am working in.
Being surrounded by people of diverse cultures, exploring and learning about different peoples, traditions, foods and ecosystems are what keep me happy!
When it comes to communicating and writing, what’s your process?
Ideas always come to me at the strangest times. The best ideas seem to come when I am not thinking about writing but instead, when I am on the motorbike, bicycle, drifting off to sleep or distracted or focused on something entirely different. To catch those ideas, I always keep a pad of paper and pen next to the bed, my phone has a note-taking app and I have a zillion sticky notes. I even e-mail ideas to myself sometimes! So that’s step one. Catch the idea and record it.
Then I tend to forget about it until I come across a similar thought or idea through reading, listening to a podcast or hearing something or someone that triggers more thought. That’s when I tend to gather up those ideas from the emails, sticky notes and note-taking app and start to map them out and write an outline. Then I forget about it again for a while.
Finally, when I revisit those ideas, I try to develop them into an essay, poem or even a book!
For the writing, I try to use my Southern American voice and interject colloquialisms. I normally write it. Edit it. Re-write. Edit again.
I find the editing is ongoing and every time you ‘rest’ in between versions and then look at your writing with fresh eyes you catch phrases that could be written better, sentences that can be shortened and different ways to say and express things that make them more interesting. Lastly, the thesaurus is my best friend!
What advice do you have some someone reading this, who wants to find their purpose, and also make a difference in the world?
Stay curious. Stay open. Seek out adventure. Don’t be afraid to fail. Keep learning new skills and spend long periods of time reflecting on who you are and what you have to contribute to the world.
Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on early morning slow-lane swimming, the perfect cup of masala chai tea, and after-dark tabs of dark chocolate. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com). .
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL
Avery Fischer Udagawa is an American, who lives in Thailand and translates from Japanese. She is like an iconic bridge that links diverse cultures with her translations. Avery grew up in Kansas and studied English and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She holds an M.A. in Advanced Japanese Studies from The University of Sheffield. She writes, translates, and works in international education near Bangkok, where she lives with her bicultural family.
Her latest translation, of the fantasy novel Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, is forthcoming in July 2021 from Restless Books, Brooklyn, New York. Described by the publisher as “a fantastical and mysterious adventure featuring the living dead, a magical pearl, and a suspiciously nosy black cat named Kiriko”, it features illustrations by Miho Satake.
Avery’s other translations include “Festival Time” by Ippei Mogami in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018, “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction–An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories; and J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani. Her translations have also appeared in Kyoto Journal and Words Without Borders.
You are an American. What moved you to learn Japanese? Why did you pick Japanese instead of some other language?
My parents took pains to expose my siblings and me to the world’s cultures, through the arts and artifacts and by having us spend time with AFS ( American Field Service) exchange students in Kansas, where I grew up. Some of these students were Japanese. It did not seem a huge stretch, then, to try an introductory Japanese course when I was an undergraduate. I quickly found that I enjoyed the language.
How many books have you translated? Do you enjoy translating? What are the challenges you face?
I have translated two novels, a number of short stories, and materials such as the English-language guide to a permanent display on Japanese children’s literature at the National Diet Library, Tokyo.
I deeply enjoy translating children’s literature or literature that foregrounds children’s perspectives. A child’s-eye view reveals our world in accessible, yet wise ways, I find. The chief challenge I face is low demand for children’s literature in English translation.
What kind of stories do you translate? Do you translate non-fiction too?
I often gravitate toward stories for (or foregrounding) children in upper elementary and middle school, roughly ages eight through twelve, but I also work with young children’s and teen literature. I am definitely open to non-fiction.
When you translate a story, do you get to pick the story, or do you get commissioned to translate?
Some of both. I was commissioned to translate the historical novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani, and I proposed translating the fantasy Temple Alley Summer by Sachiko Kashiwaba, which I am proud to say is coming out in July 2021.
Do your translations find a home among Western audiences? What kind of reception do Japanese stories have among them?
Not only mine, but many translations into English face an uphill battle, because the anglophone markets tend to focus inward. In children’s publishing in my native U.S., the most coveted prizes—the Newbery and Caldecott Medals—are required to go to U.S. persons who write and publish in English. Another prize, the Batchelder Award, garlands translations from Languages Other Than English, by authors from anywhere, but most consumers have not yet heard of it. Another award I hope the book-buying public will discover is the Hans Christian Andersen Award, often called the Nobel prize for children’s literature, which is given biennially to one author and one illustrator. Jacqueline Woodson of the United States won the most recent Andersen Award for Writing, but the three prior winners were from Asia. I hope that readers of English will pick up their books in translation!
After the Pearl Harbor incident, Japanese Americans are said to have been isolated. In the current world where xenophobia is again rearing its ugly head, how are your translations received by Japanese Americans?
Satsuki Ina, a Japanese American filmmaker born in the Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II, was kind enough to praise J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965. Translating literature that humanizes Japanese children (my own children are Japanese, as well as American) is how I join the fight against xenophobia.
Is it easy to translate from Japanese to English? Are the languages compatible culturally?
Japanese and English are quite far apart, in terms of both linguistic features and cultural origins. Veteran translator Cathy Hirano has described the Japanese-to-English translator’s job as “fairly strenuous cultural and mental gymnastics.” Mitali, I believe you also translate between dissimilar languages.
Yes, I do. There are normally nuances in each language that are different and essentially belonging to that culture intrinsically. It becomes difficult to translate those words to another language, at least it is true when you translate from Bengali or Hindi to English. Is it true with Japanese to English too? Do you have to do cultural studies to do a translation?
Absolutely! Japanese features many forms of indirectness and intentional ambiguity, so awareness of cultural context is crucial to translation. The Japanese writing system also presents a challenge, in that the visual effects of thousands of ideograms (kanji) and two phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) can be hard to replicate using only 26 English letters.
Finally, there are the many concepts and objects without ready English equivalents. In Temple Alley Summer, for example, a teacher is nicknamed 演歌 (Enka), which refers to a style of ballad singing that is popular yet steeped in tradition. The closest equivalent in U.S. English might be country music, but the genres are totally different. The teacher in the book is a minor character, so I had to weigh whether to explain Enka or go with the shorter, imperfect translation for flow.
Do you translate from English to Japanese? If no, then why not?
Just as someone who speaks, reads and writes English might not choose to write it for publication, I use Japanese daily but do not translate into (write) it for publication. In a competitive publishing environment, I prefer to work with the language I write better. I also perceive a greater need for translations from Japanese to English than vice versa; Japan has long had a robust appetite for world literature, and many fine translators already specialize in English-to-Japanese.
What do you see as the future of Japanese literature? How much has been found in translation?
In children’s literature, which I know best, Japan is second to none. Authors and illustrators regularly win international awards; noteworthy children’s titles continue to be published despite population aging; and Japan (as mentioned) boasts a vigorous market for translations. I wish that all of the world’s children had access to global stories like Japanese children do.
You have lived in the US, Japan and Thailand. Which country left the deepest imprint on you and your work? Is it difficult to translate from Japanese while living in Thailand?
I spent my formative years in the U.S. and in Japan, where I was fortunate to receive funding to study in my early twenties. I would still say that the U.S. and Japan made me who I am.
Marrying a Japanese man then ironically led to living outside of Japan: two years in Oman, and fifteen years and counting in Thailand. (My husband teaches music at international schools; he and I met in college concert band.) While here in Thailand, though, I have earned my Master’s in Japanese, and I use it in my work and family life. I struggle more with Thai, which I speak daily but do not use at work or at home. My children are more literate in Thai than I am.
As for whether it is hard to work from Thailand—before Covid, I would have said that the Internet offsets the distance between countries, making it easy to work from anywhere. Since the pandemic put the brakes on international travel, however, I have learned how much I need visits to our family’s home countries, both for work and for my spirit. Many people have been far more adversely affected than we have, of course. May we soon see strides in stamping out the virus.