Letter from a Burmese lost in translation


It was a really great time we had spent together here. After you went back to Yangon, the room became quiet, boring and not that messy anymore. Are you doing okay there? I hope you are fine and happy with your lovely family and friends.

Over here, loneliness disoriented and stressed me out. You can say it’s a cultural shock and it will soon pass. Most of my friends are surprised that I feel lonely in Bangkok. They perceived that Thailand shares the similar culture and tradition like in our country, Myanmar. I hope you’ll understand my conditions. That is, I had never thought that I would be this far away from home, Mandalay, for a long time.

One difference between Mandalay and Bangkok is the people. As you know, they speak their mother language and it can’t help ease my homesickness even though they say “Sawadee” with a big smile. I am just longing for the word, ‘Mingalapar’. To me, Mingalapar is a complete term for a genuine manifestation of what is good, bringing about fortune and luck. I tried explaining this to one of my Thai friends but he didn’t seem to take ‘Mingalapar’ more than a kind of greeting just like ‘How do you do?’ or ‘Bonjour’. So, I tried again to explain to him in a different way about its deep meaning. When I literately translated it as “May you be blessed with auspiciousness”, it became even more complicated to understand for him. Advise me how I could make them understand that the term ‘Mingalapar’ represents Burmese code of conduct and social behavior in Myanmar.

In Mandalay, the sentence “အားနာလိုက္တာ” (Ar nar lite ta) is commonly heard, its literal meaning is ‘my strength is pain’. Here, I’ve never heard this sentence in a Thai equivalence. The sentence will sound quite senseless to people who don’t understand Burmese. We normally use this sentence when we describe a mission of a certain act, an unwitting negligence, or failure to fulfill an obligation. Though we generally used it as an apology or a good escape of valve to ease tensions and bring harmony, there is no similar sentence or proper equivalence here.

Moreover, there’s another different way in saying ‘Thanks’. Personally I prefer saying ‘ေက်းွဇူး’ (Kye Zu), ‘ေက်းွဇူးပါ (Kye Zu Par), ေက်းွဇူးေနာ္ (Kye Zu Naw), or ေက်းွဇူးပဲ (Kye Zu Pe) as a way to express thank-you. It also depends on situations and contexts. I don’t know how to do that in Thai…

It seems to me that I’ve written enough to express my recent homesick feelings for Mandalay. What I want to say the most is “I miss you”. You know sometimes I heard your voice reading your favorite poem, “A Letter from Heaven” written by Ruth Ann Mahaffey. It goes like;

“To my dearest family, some things I’d like to say.
But first of all, to let you know, that I arrived okay.
I’m writing this from heaven.
Here I dwell with God above.
Here, there’s no more tears of sadness;
Here is just eternal love.”

However, my letter contains a totally different content. Bangkok is no heaven and there is no eternal love and happiness. Only one thing I share with Ruth Ann Mahaffey is that it’s a letter from a writer who is far away from home and his beloved one. Anyway, I’d better end my letter here. Hope to see you real soon!

With Love,

Aung Ph Zaw