Globs of Elbow Grease: A Test of Editorial Prowess

For the university newsletter, I've possibly gotten myself into deep waters by attempting to recruit students and faculty as contributors. I was hoping it would serve as a venue for them to express their ideas while opening the doors to talking about issues hovering around the university. I still have this hope, but I believe that in my typical fashion, I've delved into something and failed to realize the consequences. (Perhaps its my inability to fully realize consequences that keeps me from hiding under my covers every morning.)

As I'm sitting here trying to edit a couple submissions, I hold in my hands prime evidence that Khmers don't have a reading and writing culture. Now, I in no way hold this against them or their society. In Cambodia, we hear time and time again that Pol Pot's regime destroyed the education system in Cambodia and rid the country of its intellectual elites. It's a tired mantra, but it's a fact. Some societies express themselves in words, others do so in other ways. But this is a fact that I apparently chose to ignore when I made the decision recruit writers for the newsletter. I'm confident that encouraging these writers will make a healthy contribution to the university, but I failed to realize the globs elbow grease I'll be contributing to the effort. (That's a pretty metaphor, isn't it?)

Despite the fact that I have to edit for English grammar, which is an obvious given, I'm having to really work with the contributors - faculty as well as students - to develop complete thoughts. Ideas that can fit into a 500- to 1,000-word article. Ideas that are logically thought out, have some sense of direction and aren't lifted from a writer of another article or book. (Plagiarism means nothing here.) It's funny, and I think I mentioned this before in this post, but Khmers can say very little in a lot of words. So this channeling and tapering of language is really testing my editorial prowess.


KBrock said...

Yikes, good luck with that. It's kind of how I feel when I agree to edit my 16 year old brother's paper. Those three pages can take an hour and be very painful.

Katherine said...

This reminded me of a diagram I saw in a book about China and Western thinking and education. For Western it had a straight line, and the Chinese one was a spiral. meaning that Westerners like to be logical and get to the point, but Chinese way of thinking is to hover around. I asked Soeun if he thought that was the same for Khmer. He said yes. Story telling is very important in the khmer way of thinking. When he was studying in Australia, not only did he have to learn English, he had to learn a different way of thinking/writing.

Rachael said...


That's a good point to keep in mind, that the eastern way of telling a story is different than western way of telling a story. I wish I knew more, though, about how to get the young writers to develop their stories. They have good ideas but something gets lost in translation, from brain to paper and from Khmer to English. I'd like to know more about the Khmer way of storytelling if you have any references.

alison said...

I have similar feelings about editing Khmer writing... I once turned 3 pages into 1 paragraph. It's hard to let people keep their voice and yet get it to make sense in english.
There's a book in toul tom poung market of khmer folk stories that have been translated into english. It might help with understanding Khmer story telling. I foret what it's called, but the cover is green.