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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Tangled Translations part 2: Naxi Narratives

On a more serious note, tonight we were faced with a new challenge – translating a traditional Naxi tale. Since coming to the Nanyao homestay, we have had difficulty understanding the local accent, but as the few students who know some Chinese, we were determined to help the group understand the grandmother’s story.

When it got to telling the story, though, the grandmother was hesitant to share, and explained only how the roads had improved from muddy paths, how there were no cars, and how they wore different types of shoes in her childhood (all of which we were able to successfully translate). Her husband took over, but he too had forgotten all of the Naxi tales we were expecting to hear. Before he left, he also told us about the muddy roads, the lack of cars, and the different shoes. His daughter then came over to fill in for her parents, and we were eager to translate either the Naxi origin story or childhood memories. Unsurprisingly, she repeated these three facts, and then the next person took over.

Eventually, Madeleine took over and translated a local teacher’s interesting facts about ethnic groups in Yunnan. Even though we did not get to translate a story, we saw how difficult translating for a large group was. Both of us hope to one day be able to do as good of a job as Madeleine, Guy, and Thavry, whose translations have made this trip so special.