Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm | The benefit of translating daily for 6 years (279)

Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm, the poet and translator, born 1971 in Phu Nhuan, Saigon, Vietnam. The pharmacist currently lives and works in Western Sydney, Australia.

I’m translating a short in Vietnamese by Nguyễn Văn Thiện, the translation gets easier and easier by the day, smooth like room temperature butter. Even my grammar have improved! It’s a beautiful thing when I’m one with the language. I’ve only one short story left in my archive by NVT. I feel rather anxious, his stories have been like my childhood “security blanket”, but, I believe I should go back and re-edit the other fifty odd bad translations of NVT’s work..

The work I’ve been translating in 2022, have benefit so much from my daily translations of NVT’s work in the last 6 years other than of course Lê Vĩnh Tài‘s body of work..

A beautiful turning point.


Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm

June 2022




Inside me is a resident zombie, it’s true, I’m not making this up. It also wants to eat, sleep, make love, and it’s obsessed with slogans, a continuous pain in the neck. I tried to reason with it, you have to let me get on with my life, I have to work, make money to support you! It said nothing, shifted ever so lightly then fell asleep, it seemed I was able to reason with it, not the kind of zombie completely out of its mind. Sometimes for reasons unexplained, my soul would leave its body, all I know is that it would leave Mount Chư Mang, and the zombie would take over. You find him shouting things like: “Oh bells of hell, ring louder, come on, louder, louder than that!”.

There, it just screamed…

My lips puckered, I tried to sound like the echoes of bells from hell: U…u…ri…ri… It would then shut up. It seems like it was quite afraid of the sound of the bells from hell, things like that, for reasons unbeknownst to me. No matter how many times I’ve asked, it remained silent.

Have you ever felt anxious for no reason at all? It is very possible, inside you is a resident ghost. They also want to eat, sleep, make love, and they are obsessed with slogans.

Hence, it’s an intense battle for me day after day. In my bed each morning, I would wake up with a plan on how to subdue this annoying resident zombie, or ways to trick it, reason or threaten it, so it can stay still. After that, it’s a different kind of battle beyond my bed, I’m exposed to the bare essentials of trying to make a living.

I’ve not mentioned the bloody battlefield out there. Born in an era when power is worshipped, it’s more than often we must make use of our muscles. We’re always ready for a fight anywhere, any time for any reason at all, big or small. If you’re still questioning such facts, all you need to do is open any page of the newspaper and you can see the evidence for yourself, so I don’t have to repeat myself. There were days when I would return home with a bloodied mouth due to a fight at the council. Now, there’s something rather interesting which has never been in the papers: My eyes are rather confronting, more white than black, tiny irises, they’re egging for a fight! Hence I’m always ready for a fight, a thrashing. Day in and day out, I was lucky if I had made it home. To then start my battle with the resident zombie!

Exhausting? Yes.

A trial? Yes.

Depressing? Yes. Then, what is the point of living?

To fight with zombies!

By Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm

There's magic in translating a body of work from one language to another.

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