After a short hibernation, Saigon City Life is back on the newstands with an updated format and design and the once quarterly is now a monthly. I was glad to see it back in press as it is one of the only bilingual, locally published magazines focusing primarily on urban living in Vietnam. I was aghast, however, with the recent play of editorial chicanery.
Case in point, an article in the current issue on Phnom Penh. The article, Saigon Phnom Penh by Bus shares almost identical title, Đi Campuchia Bằng Xe Buýt (Going to Cambodia by Bus). As I have just returned days ago from my exhibition in Phnom Penh to Saigon, I was interested to discover if I had missed anything interesting during my short stay. I was pleased to read in the English text that the author included a short paragraph about the visual arts:
"The relative freedom of press and the extensive and centuries old heritage of Cambodia lends itself to a creative feel and various artsy streets have sprung up nearby around the Royal Palace and the National Museum precinct. Street 178 is one such street featuring commercial art together with works from up and coming artists. A recent 15 day visual arts festival of 15 installations, among them from Van Nath, the brilliant artist of Tuol Seng (sp) genocidal museum fame, is creating a flurry among the arts community in Phnom Penh."
It wasn't the mispelling of Tuol Sleng (also elsewhere in the article mispelled as Toul Sieng) that had me. I was interested to see know how, in the Vietnamese translation, they would tackle wording for "The relative freedom of press". Turning back to the Vietnamese translation, as I began to read, I noticed not only the whole paragraph missing, but it was entirely a different article altogether - authored by an entirely different writer. Saigon Phnom Penh by Bus is written by Dennis Coleman, the Vietnamese language counterpart Going to Cambodia by Bus by Vu Nhat Tan. Not needing to translate either of the articles saved the editors the inconvenience of speaking of sensitive social issues. However, the layout and indeed the title of the two articles are practically identical as you can see from the image above.
To confirm that this simply wasn't an oversight, I then turned to the magazine's table of contents which lists:
(page) 122. Đi Campuchia Bằng Xe Buýt/Saigon - Phnom Penh by Bus - Vũ Nhật Tân.
There is no mention of Mr. Dennis Coleman's name on the contents page nor the "Our Contributors" page. Both pieces, on the contents page, are explicitely attributed to Mr. Tân.
The reader assumes assumes that bilingual magazines make the best and sincerest efforts in their translations. The problem above is not simply a matter of mistranslation (indeed, there was no translation involved) but one of deception. It was clearly and editorial decision to match page layouts, titles and omitting the name of the author of the English language article in the contents and contributors. I'm not saying that decision was malicious or intended to do harm - only that it was a very poor decision. This bait-and-switch seriously compromises the journalistic integrity of the the publication and its reincarnation.
In the "From the Editor" section (page 4), Editor-in-Chief Mr. Hoài Vũ writes, "Saigon City Life has returned to the newsstands after a brief period of absence, with a new stylish look and exciting content, ready to satisfy the expectations of the most demanding readers". They underestimate how demanding readers can be.
Sidenote: Although I have yet to meet Mr. Dennis Coleman, the author of the English article, I have met Mr. Tan, talented musical composer and good friend. We've worked together on audio-visual collaborations in the past. Vu Nhat Tan had months earlier been invited to Cambodia to participate in a performing arts festival. In fact I had met him in Saigon upon his one day layover between returning from Phnom Penh en route to Hanoi. Both articles, though entirely different, are informative and a pleasure to read. Also, I had over a year before met the editorial staff at Saigon City Life and found them extremely bright and friendly. I've always had high hopes for the publication. The editorial staff should reconsider the future direction of their magazine.
Posted by on February 13, 2006 11:27 AM | Permalink