Spot Shelf: English Translation of It’s A Mens World Is Still Funny and Comforting

Ken Ishikawa translated Bebang Siy's collection into English.
by Rita T. Dela Cruz
May 23, 2023

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( For a book that is beloved by readers for its distinct style and structure, capturing cultural nuances and social contexts of the original language is a tall order. This was the challenge that Ken Ishikawa skillfully carried out with the English translation of Bebang Siy’s It’s a Mens World—a collection of 20 Filipino essays, published way back in 2011.

The book endows readers with the life and struggles of a girl reaching adulthood, growing up as a Filipino-Chinese in the Philippines. The original language has delighted thousands of readers with Siy’s style of telling stories in a humorous way, which is distinctively Pinoy. We, Filipinos, are known as happy, resilient people, we manage to smile amid the difficulties.


Perhaps, some main concerns of the readers would be: Is Siy’s distinct tone and style reflected in the English narrative? Are her puns and linguistic playfulness effectively replicated? Will the translated work have the same buffoonery?

These concerns were valid, especially for those who have read and loved the original work. But as Ishikawa said in the introduction of the book, "It’s not possible to achieve total equivalency between the work in the original language and the translated work."

What is commendable about the English version is that Ishikawa is able to find a fine balance in maintaining the voice of the author and the work, while simultaneously navigating through the culture and context of the narrative.

Translating Bebang Siy's It's a Mens World

Different languages have distinct structures, idiomatic expressions, and styles of writing. A translator must make choices to convey the meaning and essence of the original text while adapting it to the target language.

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Ishikawa’s obvious concern is to replicate the gaiety and inflation in Siy’s voice, which makes the original work click and comical to readers. He resolved this by following the syntax of the Filipino language, using sentence fragments, instead of the usual subject-object verb structure. So, reading the essays feels like hearing Siy’s voice in English but not the Western way.

"Di I really hear anything? It might have just been my imagination. Or it might just have been me. My guilty feet. Or gut. Maybe a guilty gut would not sound like kruuuuuk. But kreeeeek." (from "A Stolen Moment")

Another choice that Ishikawa employed is his use of gendered nouns, which makes the narratives specific and appropriate. For example, rather than using the non-gendered "siya," Ishikawa opted for the pronoun "she" or the actual name of the character.

Siy’s distinct writing style is observed in her frequent use of is the use onomatopoeic words and repetition of sounds to exaggerate meanings. Such nuances are retained in the English version making the text dynamic, more imaginable, and graphical Sometimes, Ishikawa sees it fitting to transliterate words to retain the "caricature-ness" of the colloquial language, the likes of "buoooong buhay" ("whoooole life") and "tagumpahahahahay" ("succeeeesssss").


No Pun Intended

Literary devices including puns, wordplay, alliteration, or rhymes are challenges in translation. This is because oftentimes, linguistic playfulness in the original text is not fully replicated.

The original language has both puns and wordplay that make Siy’s stories her trademarks. In the essay "Asintada," for example, translating the word into English would extenuate the pun and the fun in the original text. So, instead, Ishikawa retained the root word, "asin" and the English translation in parenthesis.

There are untranslatable Filipino words, idioms, or concepts that may not have a direct equivalent in the English language, leading to challenges in conveying precise meaning or cultural significance. Ishikawa ingeniously resolved this by supplementing an extensive glossary at the end of the book. This addresses loyalty to the original text while providing non-FIlipino readers the tools to fully understand the cultural context in the essays. 

Translator’s Take on the Text 


The strong connection between the author and the translator helps in maintaining the original work’s distinct voice and style as well as its artistic and literary qualities. For Siy and Ishikawa, their friendship and similarities in background and emotional connections obviously work to the advantage of the book. They both belong to the same generation, both grew up in Manila, both are mixed-race, and both are poet-writers. And as Siy claimed, they both have issues with their (foreign) fathers and are a result of a broken home.

Necessity for the English Version

The intention was clear from the beginning: to introduce Siy to an even bigger audience, to bring to the foreign palate her unique humor and distinct way of storytelling. Ishikawa recognized the inherent charm and comforting familiarity found within Siy's work.

As he noted in the book, "There’s only that funny and comforting familiarity with her. It’s something I am sure that you will find in her prose."


It’s a Mens World (English Translation) (Isang Balangay Media Productions, 2021) by Bebang Siy and translated by Ken Ishikawa is available on Lazada for P500.

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