Perempuan Kembang Jepun by Lan Fang (A section of the novel I translated into English)

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Mas Sujono always thought that I dominated him. Once in a while he said I was asking too much from him, demanding more than what he could give. But was I wrong to ask him for some money to feed our child?

Our child…?

Or mine…?

Mas Sujono always said Joko was not his biological son. He repeatedly taunted me because I was in early stage of pregnancy when he married me. He did not believe that the child I was carrying was his. He said Joko was Mas Wandi’s child.

I knew Mas Wandi before I met Mas Sujono. Mas Wandi is a pedicab driver whose base was  Tanjung Perak port. He’s 42. Although he was nearly as old as my father, he still looked sturdy. He was muscular on the chest, back and arms. The muscles lustered as the sunshine fell on his sweaty skin. The smell of his sweat was mixed with that of the sunburned skin and the self-rolled clove cigarette. I like to secretly smell his odor whenever he sat next to me.

Only a few pedicabs waited for customers at Tanjung Perak port. Apart from trams and bicycles, pedicabs were the widely used means of transportation. People would flock to get a pedicab whenever a ship weighs anchor on the pier. Pedicab passengers are mostly the Chinese who come to Surabaya for the first time. I didn’t know for sure why there had been a flow of slanted-eyed and yellow-skinned people coming to the city these days. Some said that these people were the Chinese who left their homeland, which was devastated by the Japanese and the communist ruling system.

I had no idea about it.

But from my observation, tiredness hung over the faces of the Chinese who arrived in Surabaya. They might have been exhausted being in the ship for months. Or perplexed as their country was being torn apart by the war.

The same case with Indonesia. Everywhere I turn to, all I see was mourning faces.

Tanjung Perak port was where I often roamed to sell jamu, herbal drinks. I had a lot of customers there, one of whom was Mas Wandi, my most generous customer. I pointed this out because he always paid more for one botok (coconut shell) of the jamu he ordered. He never asked for the change. He even often embedded some money quietly into my brassiere, and then squeezed my breast.

Of course I was stunned. First, because of the money he put. Second, he squeezed my breast. And third, I realized that his squeezing made me shiver. He was the first man who touches me. I was frozen, not knowing what to do. I became nervous, but the strange sensation spread on. I just let it be as I enjoyed it.

These kinds of things are common among the jamu gendong (carryback) sellers like me. You can even just take a woman or two to a rented chamber in the brothel. Brothels were mushrooming along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets since Tanjung Perak grew into a trade port.

I started by merely offering jamu gendong—where the bottles, small glasses and everything else put in a basket that I carry on my back with a cloth sling—to the women sitting in the dim-lighted chambers. The women who roar at night and sleep in the day. The jamu drinks I carried in the basket were those made of lempuyangan chilies, rice and galingale, betel leaves, and galian singset and sinom mixtures. All were jamu variants for women.

Gradually my customers were not only those women, but also the men who stopped over their chambers. These men were mostly kerani (port coolies) who usually sat around in the stalls along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets, as they rested from work. They drank legen (unfermented toddy) and smoked rolled klobor cigarettes (clove cigarette rolled in corn leaf) that emitted strong clove smell. Their shoulders and backs were powdered with dusts of jute sacks they carried.

As the dusk falls and darkness seeped in, the women stood in front of their chambers, exposing their protruding bosom. They recited pantun, or rhymed poem, in tempting tone.

“Tanjung Perak, Mas… kapale kosong…

Monggo pinarak, Mas… kamare kosong…”

(Tanjung Perak, Mas, the ship is empty…

Come drop in, Mas, the room is empty…)

One poem was replied by another, in giggles. Then palm wine was spoiled all over. The night heated up. The protruding bosoms rubbed against the solid backs that sweated from heavy duty. The bosoms that lured money to be slipped in the brasserie, and men to enter the chamber. The reflections from the dim lights danced as the wind blew.

Moaning, bellowing, wet, sweat.

I met Mas Wandi in one of those stalls. Being a virgin who had never been touched by a man, I was shy, nervous and awkward in the beginning. The skin of his hand felt hot as it touched the skin of my breast. Some sensation crept in me and made me shiver. Gradually I longed for his squeeze. I no longer bashfully sat still and waited. I was bold enough to fixed myself close to him when I yearned for his squeezes.

And Mas Wandi always got my signals.

“You’re so desirous that I want to pinch you, Nduk (small girl)…” he used to say while squeezing my breast secretly.

As time passed, his brief pinch and squeeze every now and then were not sufficient for me. I was a virgin budding into a grown woman. I felt torrential passion inside my body, wanting more… and more… and more, something like what those men and women did in the chambers. I wanted his hands to explore my entire bosom longer. So then I had the courage to hold his hand rested there.

“Really, Nduk. You make me excited. Especially these…” he said staring at me while still squeezing my breasts.

Passion possessed me when I sensed his breath on my ear and nape.

“You’re serious? Yu (elder sister) Ning is prettier. Yu Sih even more,” I replied intuitively, flirting.

“But they’re not as desirous as you,” he whispered to my earlobe, full of passion.

Was I flirting, tempting, seducing, or luring him?

I don’t know.

But I liked to be so.

Besides that Mas Wandi often gave me tips so that I was able to buy face powder and lipsticks, I also liked his squeezes. I heard from Yu Ning and Yu Sih—fellow jamu gendong sellers—that men’s accompaniment make you quiver.

Yu Ning and Yu Sih were three or four years older than me. Yu Ning has a pair of dreary melancholic eyes. I heard men talked about her, that in spite of her dreary melancholic eyes, she was hot in bed… on the mat, in this case. Meanwhile, Yu Sih has a beautiful face that is very njawani (Javanese characteristics), and fair skin. Men desired to see the smoothness of her body.

I myself am not too pretty. I am fully aware of this. My skin is sunburnt sawo matang (literally ripe sapodilla) like typical Indonesians, or dark brown. My hands are hefty and my palms rough. My heels crack. My face is not egg-round or njawani like Yu Sih, but squarish with sharp jaws. My eyes are not dreary or melancholic like Yu Ning, but big and glaring. I sometimes cursed my ugly face, that I was not able to gain a lot of customers like Yu Ning and Yu Sih.

“Ning and Sih are nothing compared to you, Nduk. Just take a look at your body. Whoever is not passionate seeing it, is surely not a man,” said Mas Wandi.

Although I was barely sixteen, I was stout, with full, rounded, sizeable breasts, hip and buttocks. If I touched my breasts, the nipples were swollen, firm and lifted.

I came to know that when I wore kebaya (traditional Javanese clothing for female), the bosom part was tight and my breasts were protruding. And the curves of my hip would be apparent underneath the cloth wrapped around me to the calves. When I walked, the bulging top part of my bosom and the sway of my buttocks would seem very tempting.

That was why two women’s pretty face is not a rival for me, since more and more people became my jamu customers. I was no longer bothered with my not-so-attractive face and dull skin whenever men whistled naughtily as I walked before them. I confidently threw a smile at them and offered my jamu.

Then those men turned like bees buzzing the flower. They strived to sit next to or in front of me. As close as they could. Sipping the jamu, they tried to touch my arm, peep into my cleavage, and pat my thigh. Slowly I understood that those were signs that they desired me.

Yu Ning and Yu Sih often told, giggling, about the customers that often caressed them. I heard that the two even exchanged knowledge of how to balance the men’s maneuver. They also exchanged the jamu recipes for men’s stamina. According to them, the recipes were bonus for their customers so that they were able to earn extra money from selling jamu.

But, to me, Mas Wandi was an ordinary customer. He was different. I was not sure, whether it’s because he was the first man that touched me–stroked and squeezed my breast, or I was in fact attracted to him. His every touch streamed to the marrow. Even every night I slept recklessly if I imagined his solid muscles and smelling his odor again.

 

“What’s in me that you desire, Mas?” I asked curiously, giving all of myself to him.

Kabeh (everything), Nduk…”

“Really?” I seduced him more.

“I’ll take you home later, okay?” it was obvious that he desired me.

Mas Wandi gave me a ride home by his pedicab. The man paddled the pedicab and we passed Jalan Kembang Jepun. It was getting dark and less bustling. We rode on passing grand houses owned by rich Chinese people on Jalan Kapasan. Near the railway on Jalan Kendjeran, we stopped. It was dark and quiet. The place was full of trees and bushes. There was not lighting at all.

Mas Wandi parked his pedicab by the roadside. Then he sat in the passenger seat, next to me. His body was so close to mine. I felt his shoulders rubbed against mine, he threw his arm around my shoulder. I sat still, yielding to whatever pleasure that I was about to experience.

Darkness blanketed us, his breath crept on my nape and ear. Then his hand slipped underneath my kebaya. The touch was not light as usual, but

 

 

 

Page 131

People knew me as Tjoa Kim Hwa, the Golden Flower.

I was a prima donna there, so my rate was high. I was very picky about the guest to host. For ordinary guests, I only accompanied them drinking sake, singing and by playing shamisen. But for the important ones, especially those Shosho Kobayashi ushered, I had to provide extra service. Surely I pocketed extra fees, too!

You have to entertain men, give them the perfect pleasure and satisfaction, that was Yuriko’s order that had been fixated in my mind.

As long as I had been a geisha, I have practiced all the lessons and instructions Gion and Yuriko gave me on entertaining men. As such, my savings were piling. But there was one thing I had never done, lip kissing!

Yuriko told me once, “The task of a geisha is only to entertain. Giving men pleasure in perfection. Don’t involve your emotion. Only kiss the lips of someone you love, because it involves you emotionally.”

After accompanying the guests drinking sake, chatting or singing, I usually offered them taking a bath in ofuro. My guest would be in the bathtub that was filled with hot water, then I would scrub his back and chest with wet napkin, or, to be precise, scrubbing-cum-patting. After that, I put a fresh kimono on him and followed him to the chamber. Once we’re inside, I took off his kimono as well as mine, piece by piece as gracefully as a dancer. Then I started massaging him gently. Or, to be precise, massaging-cum-stroking.

I started massaging from the back, to the neck, chest, through the entire body to the feet. While massaging and stroking, set my bare naked body against his. Slowly but sure, his skin would be warm, his breath heavy like the train’s locomotive, and I would remain controlling the game until he reaches the full satisfaction!

Yes, I pleased men…

I give full satisfaction!

I always followed Yuriko’s advice.

Followed? I cried silently. My hand which were writing so many words that took so many pages then stopped as the heavy guilt hung over me.

Did I really follow Yuriko’s advice? My eyes were burning and my heart aching.

No! Ever since I knew Sujono, I had never done what Yuriko told me. Sujono had made a lot of changes to my life, the bitter and the sweet ones. The man had turned my wheel of life 180 degrees, now that I was at the peak of my career and became the most popular geisha ever.

I did not know how it started, how I liked to have a conversation with him. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have any friend to talk to in Hanada-san’s nightclub. All the male guests came for my service. They did not need to have a chat with me. Meanwhile, all the girls here were only concerned with rivalry and jealousy toward each other. Especially as they knew Shosho Kobayashi and Hanada-san treated me differently. The girls suspected I was a Japanese, but they couldn’t prove it. In the club we were all required to speak Japanese and wear kimonos.

“I am actually Japanese. My real name is Matsumi. Tjoa Kim Hwa is only a fake name I used when I was smuggled here. A Japanese girl becoming a hostess in another country is considered shameful. The Japanese would not degrade their own women in other countries…”

It just happened… I started to trust Sujono. I also learned Indonesian language from him. I revealed to everybody the identity that I had kept secret.

I needed someone who I could have a chat with without any prejudice and fear. I had wanted this long but I kept it to myself. It’s true that as long as Shosho Kobayashi was there, everything was easy and safe for me. But some restlessness still lingered, captivating me.

Restless by myself. Being afraid by myself. Who could bear that?

“Do you like this job?” Sujono asked me once in an afternoon when he was delivering fabrics, but Hanada-san was out.

“I have been a geisha since I was fourteen.”

“That’s not what I asked!” he shouted. “Do you like this job?” he repeated.

“Why?” I asked him back. “Is it wrong to be a geisha?”

“Do you have an idea of what you do now?”

“I’m an artistan.”

He burst into laugh.

“In Japan it’s not easy to become a geisha. We are trained in schools. We have to be able to sing, dance, play the shamisen, make poems and accompany the guest during the tea ceremony,” I said, trying to explain, as his laugh sounded belittling to my ears.

“Also accompanying them in bed,” he went on.

I furrowed my brows, displeased with his tone.

“Here, that kind of job is the most disgraceful!” he said blatantly.

“Why so?” I could not accept it. I worked hard for years become a geisha. And now, as easy as that, this profession was considered so low in Indonesia.

“Do you know of the women in kurubu?” he asked again.

I nodded.

“Have you heard the stories of what happened to them?”

Again I nodded.

“So what’s the difference between you and them?”

This time I did not nod, but I could not dispute it either.

“The difference is they are used as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, while you, high-ranked officials. And one more, they are not paid, while you are highly paid!” he concluded, answering his own question.

How dare he talked that way to me, without a single bit of courtesy. Am I so low from the perspective of a grudge? I felt insulted.

“The difference is the Japanese restrain themselves from degrading their women so much that even you were told to disguise yourself as a Chinese. But do they care about the other nation’s women’s honor? About the Chinese and Korean women who were brought by force to Japan, to Indonesia, to any country where the Japanese soldiers are as sex slaves. Now Indonesian women are enslaved, too. Don’t you know that the Japanese are very cruel?” his bitter tone persisted.

I felt like raging. But how could I? My conscience was restless and I was reluctant to disagree with him. My feminine heart cried whenever I heard a story of the jugun ianfus at kurabu. Regardless that they were Javanese, Chinese and Korean, they were also women. Like me. Plus they carried out the duty because they had no choice, they were threatened. Being proud to be a prima donna at the most exclusive nightclub on Jalan Kembang Jepun was actually shameful and improper.

“How much I have to pay to get such service that you give to your guests?” he asked.

I was stunned. Speechless. How could I possibly say that with his pay as a coolie he won’t be able to afford even the cheapest service of the Hanada-san’s club girls. Let alone my service…

But since then he had been bothering me. From his glances to his odor mixed with clove cigarette smell, everything about him kept popping in my head. One day Hanada-san said an ‘unusual’ guest asked me to entertain him. And that person is… Sujono!

 

 

driven insane by a geometry book

I will quote a passage from a BULK novel I am reading.

Just two sentences. Read on.

From that day on or that night on, not a week went by without the four of them calling back and forth regularly, sometimes at the oddest hours, without a though for the phone bill. Sometimes. it was Liz Norton who would call Espinoza and ask about Morini, whom she’d talk to the day before and whom she’d thought seemed a little depressed. That same day Espinoza would call Pelletier and inform him that according to Norton, Morini’s health had taken a turn for the worse, to which Pelletier would respond by immediately calling Morini, asking him bluntly how he was, laughing with him (because Morini did his best never to talk seriously about his condition), exchanging a few unimportant remarks about work, and later telephoning Norton, maybe at midnight, after putting off the pleasure of the call with a frugal and exquisite dinner, and assuring her that as far as could be hoped, Morini was fine, normal, stable, and what Norton had taken for depression was just the Italian’s natural state, sensitive as he was to changes in the weather (maybe the weather had been bad in Turin, maybe Morini had dreamed who knows what kind of horrible dream the night before), thus ending a cycle that would begin again a day later, or two days later, with Morini calling Espinoza for no reason, just to say hello, that was all, to talk for a while, the call invariable taken up with unimportant things, remarks about the weather (as if Morini and even Espinoza were adopting British conversational habits), film recommendations, dispassionate commentarry on recent books, in short, a generally soporific or at best listless hone conversation, but one that Espinoza followed with off enthusiasm, or feigned enthusiasm, or fondness, or at least civilized interest, and that Morini attended to as if his life depended on it, and which was succeeded two days or a few hours later by Espinoza calling Norton and having a conversation along essentially the same lines, and Norton calling Pelletier, and Pelletier calling Morini with the whole process starting over again days later, the call transmuted into hyperspecialized code, signifier and signified in Archimboldi, text, subtext, and paratext, reconquest of the verbal and physical territoriality in the final pages of Bitzius, which under the curcumstances was the same as talking about film or problems in the German department or the clouds that passed over their respective cities, morning to night.

I first heard about the author from my boss. I did a short review of his latest book then, only from reading other reviews, not really reading the novel. I thought he was more into criminal novel or science fiction. But we’ll see, once we finish this 898-page piece. hehehe *grin. Yeah, it’s thick. Maybe I picked up the book as I thought Murakami’s 1Q84 was…. ehm… too expensive (but as thick). But so far, I like it. Don’t you just love when you find something that suits you? Realizing that this is gonna be the one that puts a great deal of influence on your style, or anything. Read this if you would like a concise review of this one of the best books in 2008.

Imagining an Indonesian Literary Translation Body

To translate is to transfer a text into another language, to put it simply. But this carries a lot of problems with it. For example, in relation to literary translation, which books to translate and why? How to value the quality of translation?

How far a translator is recognized? What is the position of the translator in connection with the author’s text, and copyrights? And what about censorship, the relation among the translators, editors, publishers as well as agents?

These were some of the questions that the “Towards an Indonesian Literary Translation Center” seminar was trying to answer. Held in Erasmus Taalcentrum Jakarta from October 8 – 12, 2012, the seminar was part of the effort to found an Indonesian literary translation body, as initiated by Eliza Vitri Handayani. The seminar ran simultaneously with translation workshop and was organized in cooperation with British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT).

The workshop was a kind of sequel of a summer school of group translation conducted by Writer’s Center Norwich last July. In Jakarta, three classes were offered, Dutch – Indonesian, Dutch – English – Indonesian and Norway – English – Indonesian. The works to translate were Old People’s Home by Norwegian author Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold and the novel Dover (2008) by Dutch author Gustaaf Peek, which were already translated by groups in Norwich. The English translator group leaders were brought to Jakarta, Kari Dickson and David Colmer, both are award-winning translators.

The workshop was an experiment, to quote BCLT’s International Program Director Kate Griffin. The class translation leaders for each class were Widjajanto Dharmowijono, Anton Kurnia and Arif Bagus Prasetyo. The names of the last two are quite famous among the literary translator circle. At the closing night, the groups performed the consented translation.

The workshop was aimed to grow appreciation of literary translation, which takes a great deal of process and thus is an art in itself. Regarding its complexity,

Melani Budianta, an English literature professor at the University of Indonesia wrote in Kalam journal, that to translate is an ‘intertextual strategy’ to process the source text into a text of its own. The translation text may be different from the original as it carries the cultural ideology and the age developing within the translator. Translation is never neutral.

Translation also demands skills. In the past the Indonesian translators themselves were authors. Sophocles’ Oedipus was translated by dramatist WS Rendra, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea by poet (and lecturer) Sapardi Djoko Damono, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Tortilla Flat by Djoko Lelono. We actually had our golden moments, consuming works translated into Indonesian, which were published long ago by now a losing state-owned Balai Pustaka, and Pustaka Jaya.

As regards translation of Indonesian literature, John McGlynn, co-founder of Lontar Foundation which has published the English translation of select most important modern Indonesian writers’ works, said Lontar aspired to introduced Indonesian literature to the international world. Yet, I was a bit surprised to hear that Indonesian works can be translated into another language bypassing English. For example, Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Bumi Manusia (This Earth of Mankind) was directly translated from Bahasa Indonesia to Filipino by Thelma Kintanar. This is despite, Lily Rose Tope, who teaches Southeast Asian studies at University of the Philippines, argues that Southeast Asia hardly read each other’s literature. Her paper focused on colonial history that influenced the country linguistically and culturally. Her colleague, Corazon D. Villareal, shared her method of teaching translation and examples of how her students approach translation, as part of creative writing or literary and cultural studies. This is where literary translation by practitioners goes hand in hand with research and academic insights on translation.

In order to enliven literary translation, the working conditions must be far improved. Handayani highlighted the condition in Indonesia, including the short time for translation (even a book is divided into sections for several translators for speed, yet at the cost of quality and consistency) and low fee. In addition, the translator’s name is hardly acknowledged in the publication. She envisioned an award or prize for literary translators, perhaps an Indonesian version of UK’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, of which Griffin was one of the judges. The prize, £10,000 annually, is divided equally between writer and translator.

One way to improve the working condition surrounding translation is by providing professional assistance. PEN Translation Committee’s guide can be reference for translators in a contract negotiation, wrote Olivia Sears from Center of the Art of Translation, in her paper. Nicholas Jose, who teaches creative writing in University of Adelaide, informed that Australian literary translators have AALITRA, Australian Association for Literary Translation. In Norwegia, freelance translators were even able to go on strike for better pay and a better agreement with the publishers. Cecilie Winger, chairperson of the Norwegian Association of Literary Translators (NO), showed how the translators managed to reach an agreement with the publishers’ association for increasing the basic fee per page, something that translators can benefit from a union.

Cooperation across translators’ organization becomes favorable. Eddie R. Notowidigdo from the Association of Indonesian Translators (HPI) said one of the benefits of this is that the future literary translation center can have access to HPI’s member database. But do we see Indonesian government fund on the horizon? Jose told about Australia-India Literatures International Forum in Sydney which was organized by, among others, the Australia Council for the Arts and the Australia-India Institute of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is a subsidy program to fund the translation and publication of Australian literary titles into other languages. Journals are indeed effective to nourish translation practice and discipline.

Overall, it was a great week of engaging in Indonesian literature and cultural exchange. We must be reminded that Indonesia is bound to be the guest of honour in the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, so it is hoped that a possibility to body established to facilitate these can be realized soon.

Indah Lestari

A translation practitioner, earned MA in English Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India, and currently teaches Creative Writing at Unisma Bekasi English department.

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