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"Malaengyon" and the historical twist in "The Insects and Women Sing Together"

Response to a short from the reading series "The Sea is Ours"

Published onOct 07, 2019
"Malaengyon" and the historical twist in "The Insects and Women Sing Together"

For this week reading response I opted to read two shorts from the series “The Sea is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia”, one of the readings is “Ordained” by L.L. Hill and the other “The Insects and Women sing Together” by Pearl Nualluck.

As a Thai myself, reading these short sci-fi steampunk stories within the South-East Asian contexts is very exciting and refreshing. The concept of combining both sci-fi and south-east Asian contexts create a juxtaposition of a whimsical stories that, I’d say, position the story genre somehow lean more towards fantasy than science-fiction, or at least from the two stories I’ve read.

Both shorts have their stories narrated within the context of Thailand. While both do have different story lines, I personally expected the narration of contexts and narrative elements of both to somehow be different and more sci-fi-ish. Yet they both carry almost identical ambiances, though one is more mystical and the other more historical. Both play with vivid narrations of Thai’s rich histories, whimsical myths and creatures, religious belief, and the mundane and ordinary rural lives. Reading both have brought me back to the same feelings one ought to experience watching Apichatpong’s independence films of surreality and rural mundanity.

Illustration from the series “The Seas is Ours”, “The Insects and Women Sing Together” story by Pearl Nualluck

Of both readings, I picked the story “The Insects and Woman Sing Together” by Pearl Nualluck to do a response since the story carry a more coherent body of narrations with a very interesting historical twist based on a real story widely told of a Thai national female heroine, Lady Mo of Korat.

The story of Lady Mo or Thao Suranari was a triumphant story of a female heroine who helped save the people of Korat from being forcefully resettled by the invading Lao soldiers during 1826. Through an interesting narration of characters and their relationships as mother and daughter, the story simply retells this historic moments of Lady Mo anecdotes but spiced with occasional drops of exciting subtle scientific elements and artifacts. In the real historical anecdote of her triumph, Lady Mo, along with other Thai women, were ordered by the Lao invaders to cook for them and so she asked them for knives and cleavers to prepare the food. Subsequently that night, instead of cooking, she gave the knives to the imprisoned men who then rebelled the troops with surprise attacks and thus safely evacuated all of the locals back home. Based on almost identical story, the steampunk-funk version of the this adds a more exciting involvement of characters and science-fiction elements which integrated into the story smoothly as part of this historical triumphant.

Image of the statue of Lady Mo in Korat, Thailand (source:

Despite the story context which set in a pretty historical past period of north-eastern Thailand, it introduces an interesting technological object of a hybrid robotic insects which played a very vital part in helping lady Mo achieved her victory. This robotic insect is called “Malaengyon” (or from the very literal Thai translation as insect machine) which helped distribute a family-owned recipe of medicine sedating the invading troops to their defeat. These half-machine half-creature insects are created and fabricated by the knowledge of Lady Mo family and they are attached within her belt as part of her garment ornaments.

My sketch of Malaengyon as described from the reading

Apart from the imaginative twist of the national historical anecdote, I also enjoyed the writer’s vivid descriptions narrating the main ‘daughter’ character day-dreaming of her mom heroic actions riding the reinterpretation of the mystical Thai creatures as, of course, hybrids of machine.

Cover image source:

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