Living In Thailand Blog
Tuesday 15th May 2007
I am enjoying the freedom of being a single man again in Thailand but there are times occasionally when I feel lonely and that loneliness makes me vulnerable. This was a feeling I used to get when I came to Thailand for vacations and it's something I had almost forgotten.
I spoke to two girls yesterday who made me feel quite vulnerable. One, I kind of know, but the other was a beautiful stranger. Even though I didn't know her I felt compelled to speak with her and in Thailand - where it's quite acceptable and a normal question to ask a stranger where they are going - there is no need to think of cheesy chat-up lines.
Both girls were less than half my age and stunningly beautiful. Many Thai girls have such fine bone structure, it looks as if their whole skeleton is made up of the same kind of delicate bones that normally only exist inside the ear.
Both had beautiful hair and skin although both would be considered dum dum (very black) by the crazy Thais who are obsessed with skin colour. They weren't black, of course, just a very healthy and attractive shade of brown.
Both smiled sweetly throughout my conversations with them and although they did nothing to lead me on, neither did they do or say anything to discourage me. This kind of thing can really turn an old man's head - and I'm not even that old!
It's all very well dishing out warnings to foreign men about getting involved with Thai girls but the reality is somewhat different.
Many single men coming to Thailand will no doubt be making the journey because they are fed up with farang women; fed up with being either abused or treated as if they didn't exist. Thailand will provide them with opportunities to have easy sex with prostitutes which will serve a physical need but if they are wise they won't regard this activity as anything other than serving a physical need.
However, there will also be opportunities to meet some very attractive, very sweet girls who are not prostitutes but good, respectable girls. And just like me yesterday, they won't be abused or treated rudely for having the 'audacity' to speak to a pretty, young girl they don't know, as may be the case back home. In fact, they may think they actually have a good chance of forming a relationship with the girl. This is when things can start to get a little dangerous.
After my encounters yesterday I just walked away, as I have done many times in the past after speaking with a pretty Thai girl. They were pleasant encounters but I didn't read anything into them. I will see one of the girls again but probably not the other one.
One of the reasons for being happy to walk away was that there is a good chance today I will meet and speak to some more equally lovely girls. There are lots of them in Thailand. The other reason is that I know these encounters mean nothing to the girls.
Thais are world-famous for their smiles and Thai culture is one of non-confrontation, politeness and respect. Try speaking to a young, attractive farang girl you don't know and she will probably tell you in very plain language where to go but a Thai girl won't.
Ask for her phone number and she will probably give it to you (some girls may actually ask for yours even if they are completely uninterested in you and have absolutely no intention of calling) but if you try calling the girl, there is a good chance that one of four things will happen. 1) She will ignore the call 2) She will say she doesn't remember you 3) She will say she is too busy to meet 4) She will agree to meet you and simply not show up.
If you don't understand what's happening, it can be confusing. The girl may appear to you to be sending out signals but she is just acting normally and probably isn't at all interested. After all, why should a very young, pretty girl be attracted to an old foreigner who is probably a long way past his sell-by date?
I walked away (which is what I always do) but what if I had been on vacation in Thailand with no understanding of Thai ways and had a flight already booked back to my miserable existence next week with no possibility of extending my stay in Thailand? In those circumstances, what would I have done?
I expect I would have acted desperately in a futile attempt to cling on to something that wasn't even there in the first place. I would probably have tried to promise the girl something and the only thing an old foreigner can possibly offer a pretty, young Thai girl is money. There is nothing else.
It may come as a surprise, but not all Thai girls are desperate for money and the majority actually have principles that come above money. Some may tell you they don't want money but some may think that if a farang is stupid enough to offer money to a stranger they might as well take it. However, it won't change their feelings.
It is not unknown for foreign men to fall into this trap and then do all they can to make something out of nothing. Their lives become obsessed and they can end up getting through a lot of money on trips to Thailand and monetary gifts.
What is ironic is that Thailand - because of what it is - attracts lonely, emotionally vulnerable men but the Thai experience can be harshest on those very same men. For such men when visiting Thailand for the first time, it can seem like the answer to all their dreams but they should be aware of some of the dangers.
Emotions run very deep and are extremely powerful forces which have the capability of wreaking havoc to the lives of even intelligent and rational men. If coming to Thailand for a short vacation, enjoy it but don't let it destroy your life.
If you are looking to find a Thai wife, patience is a real virtue. It's not a process that can be regarded lightly or carried out quickly on a short vacation. You need to understand a lot more than can be learnt in a short period of time, regardless of how many times you come to Thailand for vacations. A lengthy spell of continuous living in the country is the only effective solution.
Men will often say that they don't want to play emotional games but this is what Thai girls do all the time and in order just to survive it is necessary to play along. In Thailand, more than anywhere, you need to let the girls come to you. Once they sense they are in a position of power - and they will if they sense you are emotionally weak - that is the time when things start to go wrong.
There seems to be a common belief that the mating game is different in Thailand compared to Western countries. There are differences - and some significant ones based on culture and material wealth - but there are also a lot of similarities and as areas of Thailand (notably Bangkok) become more Westernised those similarities become ever more closely aligned.
Don't be a stupid farang and remember the proverb, "There's no fool like an old fool."
You've read the hype, bought the amulet, and now you can wear the T-Shirt. Yes, a Jatukham Ramathep T-Shirt industry has now sprung up. The Nation reveals, 'The facts behind the Jatukam Ramathep talisman nonsense'.
One of my local pharmacies has even started selling Jatukham amulets. On the counter next to the haemorrhoid cream and condoms is a small display case with amulets. Is there no end to the madness?
Monday 14th May 2007
Why can't Thaksin buy a stake in Wigan instead of Man City? He and Dave Whelan deserve each other. Just put a sock in it, Dave, and stop bleating like a little girl. Congratulations to Alan Curbishley for his 'never say die' attitude. This is a great result for East London. After a fantastic season last year, it all went wrong for West Ham this year but hopefully that will be put right in the next campaign.
I promised to cut back on politics but couldn't resist this. From The Nation:
"He is unique and completely different from other Thais. He does not have any intellectual pursuits or good causes to support."
Who could they possibly be talking about?
Sunday 13th May 2007
It's a long time since a news story has upset me as much as that of four year-old Madeleine McCann who was abducted in Portugal recently. Looking at the photo of her smiling on the BBC news site is quite heartbreaking. Her parents must feel as if their hearts have been ripped out while leaving them still alive. How can any human being inflict that kind of emotional pain on other human beings?
Since living in Thailand, it has been mentioned to me occasionally that lots of children go missing here every year. The World Vision Connect web site says that 1.2 million children around the world become victims of child trafficking every year and that it is a multi-billion dollar industry.
"Child trafficking happens in every region of the world, but Asian countries including Cambodia and Thailand are recognised as hubs for trafficking, particularly for sex tourism."
To the list of precautions when visiting Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries, I would add to watch children very carefully and never let them out of your sight.
In the past I have been somewhat critical of modern parents who ferry their children everywhere in 4x4s and don't allow the kids any freedom, but there are some very real dangers, especially in the Third World.
I was searching for Thai language stuff on-line yesterday and saw a ridiculous forum posting from a few years ago that suggested it was impossible for anyone over the age of 40 to learn Thai. That kind of comment just about sums up the mentality of the average expat in Thailand.
I started from scratch at the age of 43 and one of my e-mail correspondents, an educated and cultured man who is also learning the written language, is in his 60's. Learning has nothing to do with age. It basically comes down to motivation and I don't understand why anyone living in Thailand wouldn't be motivated to learn Thai.
Get along to your local book shop and purchase a decent Thai language book for beginners that, in addition to speaking, covers reading and writing. Material by David Smyth or Benjawan Poomsan Becker comes highly recommended. Another very good resource is Glenn Slayden's thai-language.com which is on-line and free.
While in the book shop, wander over to the section for five year-old Thai children and you will find useful wall charts with all the Thai characters as well as 'join-the-dots' books to practice writing. Don't be put off at the thought of becoming a five year-old again because these are useful resources.
Study the spelling of Thai words you already know and try to work out which letters make which sounds. Keep your eyes open and try to read everything you see. There is written material absolutely everywhere in Thailand.
All it needs is a bit of effort and motivation. There is nothing that increases the enjoyment of living in Thailand more than being able to speak, read and write a little.
The only downside is realising that, as a farang in Thailand, you can't go anywhere or do anything without someone making a comment about you or what you are doing. It becomes mildly irritating after a while.
Why do Thais always seem to find it necessary to tell me and each other that I am a farang? Yes, I already know that fact without needing to be told and I'm sure their friends do too. I now tell them in Thai that I already know and it isn't necessary to tell me. In fact, I keep meaning to get a T-Shirt made with the same message written in Thai.
If I go out to take photographs, the minute I take my camera from its bag, I will hear, "Farang taay roop blah blah blah." When it happened yesterday, I just spun around and glared at the woman who then looked mildly embarrassed and tried to engage me in more polite conversation. It's so rude.
If a cash-strapped farang English teacher can find some occasional writing work in Thailand, good luck to him, but he shouldn't just copy other people's ideas he finds on the Internet. It's unethical, it violates copyright, it pisses off the people whose work has been plagiarised and - not least - his employer is paying him to produce original material. Not good.
Saturday 12th May 2007
Let's take a look at the sign here as an example of this. The first word is:
The first character ซ is one of the four consonants that has an 'S' sound. It looks a little like the 'CH' sound character we saw earlier ช but if you look closely you will see another notch on the left hand side.
There is a vowel above this consonant that makes an 'EE' sound as in 'see' or 'jeep'. It's similar to the 'i' vowel we looked at earlier but there is a small line on the right hand side and the two vowels are fairly easy to distinguish.
The next letter ค makes a 'K' sound and the next two you should recognise from previous lessons. First there is an 'L' sound ล, followed by a long 'AA' า. The final letter ส is another 'S' sound.
This is not a Thai word. What it's actually attempting to say is C-Class (as in, for example, a type of Mercedes Benz car). It doesn't really work though because Thai words never end with an 'S' sound. An 'S' character at the end of a Thai syllable or word becomes a 'T' sound so a Thai would actually say C-Claat.
Poor transliteration systems will tell learners of Thai that to say hello you should say, "Sawasdee," whereas, what you actually say is, "Sawatdee." OK, what about the next part of the sign?
The first character is a vowel 'AI' (eye or aye) which is followed by three letters we have already learnt. First the zero consonant which means that we just want the 'AI' vowel sound and nothing else, then a 'T' sound and above the 'T' sound an 'EE' vowel. What we actually have here is I.T. as in the commonly used acronym for Information Technology.
Now for the final part:
By now, you should be getting very familiar with that first vowel เ but here it is used in conjunction with the character that comes above the next letter. When you see these together, it's a very easy 'E' sound as in 'pen' or 'met'.
เ-็ = 'e'
The first consonant is the same letter we just saw ซ which makes an 'S' sound and it is followed by another character we have already covered น which is an 'N' sound.
These two consonants, plus the 'E' vowel make the first syllable 'SEN'. Next we have that familiar vowel yet again เ but this time it is combined with อ a bit further along and the two (used together with the consonant or consonant cluster in between) make an 'ER' sound.
The consonant they are either side of ต makes a sound that falls in between a 'D' and a 'T' when it is used as the initial consonant in a word or syllable. Better transliteration systems transliterate it as 'DT'. We therefore have 'DTER' and when we add it to the previous part we get 'SEN-DTER'.
In fact, it's a Thai transliteration of the English word 'CENTRE' or 'CENTER' depending which side of the Atlantic you come from. Once again, the Thai transliteration has added an 'R' sound at the end of the word to preserve the original format but as this is unnecessary the consonant killer has been used. See blog below for more details about this.
What this sign written in Thai script is supposed to say is 'C-Class IT Centre'.
The purpose of my blog tutorials this week was to demonstrate how easy it is to read basic Thai words so I deliberately chose some simple words to make that point. Don't be misled though.
Once you start reading any kind of text, the first thing you will notice is the lack of spaces between words which makes things a little trickier. Written Thai also tends to be a more formal language than the common spoken variety and therefore you may run into some vocabulary problems.
As I have mentioned a few times already this week, unusual fonts can be a problem and I still come across fonts where I can't make out what the letters are supposed to be.
What I've covered this week has been logical but sometimes that isn't always the case. Take the formal Thai word for 'wife', for instance, (as opposed to the informal word mia).
When I look at this word, I can see that it begins with a 'P' sound and that the final syllable (the same as we learnt earlier for pharmacies) is 'YAA'. To me, it looks like a two syllable word where the first syllable begins with 'P' and the second is 'YAA'.
There is a special rule for two ร characters together. If they come at the end of a word or syllable, they make an 'UN' sound. Therefore, I would normally have said this word is pronounced 'PUN-YAA'. But this is not the case.
It is actually a three syllable word. The first ร ends the first syllable so changes to an 'N' sound instead of a being an 'R' as it would be if it came at the beginning of a syllable, and there is an implied vowel between the first and second consonants.
The next ร begins the second syllable so remains as an 'R' sound and it is used with another implied vowel. Then comes the final syllable which is straightforward.
Phrase books and dictionaries will tell you 'PAN-RA-YAA'. But it's actually more complicated than that. The 'N' sound isn't voiced and in colloquial speech, 'R' sounds often become 'L' sounds. What you are more likely to hear in everyday speech is 'PA-LA-YAA' which is quite different from my first guess which was 'PUN-YAA'.
Thought for the day. Why do so many foreigners living in Thailand who clearly lack the mental capacity to learn even a few basics about the language presume to be experts in all other matters related to living in the country?
Please do not read into this comment that I consider myself as some kind of an expert, because I don't, but the number of arrogant farangs I come across who consider the number of years they have spent dossing in Thailand as being more valuable than actually learning anything tangible never ceases to amaze me.
Always be wary of bums who begin their argument, "I've been here 20/30/40* years ....," as if that statement is supposed to make what they are saying valid. Every village idiot on the planet has probably been in that same village for a very long time but it doesn't change what they are.
(* Delete as applicable).
Traffic accidents are a common sight in Thailand but what is rare is seeing vehicles that have broken down. Of the millions of cars and motorbikes on Thailand's roads, it is unusual to see one not functioning. This is probably because most of them are Japanese (even if they are assembled in Thailand).
The only reason I even thought of this was because today I saw a guy trying to push his broken-down car to the side of the road after the engine had died at a set of traffic lights. He was driving ..... a Land Rover Discovery.
I predict that if there are still cars on the road in 20 years time, there won't be any British or American ones.
Back in February I wrote about how I had attended an art exhibition by a well-known Thai artist, Ajarn Pratuang Emjaroen, and how I was the only visitor. Locally, there seems to be very little interest in any higher art forms.
Today I attended an exhibition of Asian photography in the same building. It's a beautiful building - a classical Thai saalaa - and like before, the work exhibited was of a very high quality. Also, like before, visitors were conspicuous by their absence.
I was personally greeted by a man who turned out to be the photographer behind the exhibition, Charn Wareerat. We ended up walking around the exhibition together discussing photography. Some of the work on display was from locations I have also visited, including Penang, Malacca, Thale Noi and Sangkhlaburi.
Charn's work can be seen at Asia Photo Net.
Friday 11th May 2007
Thailand has a high literacy rate and you will find that most Thais can also read and write basic English. Even the ones who don't appear to be able to speak a word of English can normally read and write basic English words without too much of a problem.
Being able to read and write in both Thai and English is a nice advantage the Thais have over the majority of foreigners in Thailand. Your Thai girlfriend can read all your SMS messages (which she will do as soon as you go to the bathroom) but the phone messages and love letters she receives from her Thai boyfriends mean absolutely nothing to you so she doesn't even bother to hide them.
Dual prices are openly displayed at historic monuments, except that the pricing information for Thais is written in Thai with Thai numbers.
However, word got around that a few foreigners were learning to read Thai and urgent measures had to be taken. A series of weird fonts were developed to hinder their progress.
In this sign, you should be able to spot the word I covered yesterday - borigarn the Thai word for service. But can you?
The บ character looks like a 'U', the ร looks like an 'S', the ก looks like an inverted 'U' and the 'i' vowel is just a straight line.
After you have patiently studied the Thai writing system from books, you find that you can't read anything outside because of the fonts the Thais insist on using. It's all a big conspiracy and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
Here's the word again in a more conventional font. Compare it to the font used in the sign above and see if you can work out the letters:
The word before service reads:
The first character ศ is one of four consonants in Thai that has an 'S' sound. Next is a vowel. So far, we have seen vowels written before, after, over and either side of consonants, but this one is written underneath.
It makes an 'oo' sound, as in 'look' (depending on which part of the English speaking world you come from). I have used 'uu' in order to distinguish the sound from 'oo' as in 'boot'. English uses the same vowel combinations for different sounds in order to confuse foreigners, just as Thai uses weird fonts to achieve the same thing.
This is yet another example of why transliteration is to be avoided. Many transliteration systems will use a single 'u' for long 'oo' or 'uu' sounds but isn't a single 'u' the same sound as the 'u' in 'but' or 'fun'?
Twenty years ago, or so, English people were just starting to hear about Phuket and many thought it hilarious that somewhere existed called 'FUCKIT'. This is all down to bad transliteration. I think that Pooget would have been a better choice.
But I digress. The next character น is one I have covered already and it's an 'N' sound.
After this you will see a ย (a 'Y' sound) but you should also have spotted the consonant killer above it so it can be ignored. What this tells me is that this word has been 'borrowed' from another language.
The word is 'SUUN' which is Thai for 'centre' as in 'Shopping Centre' or 'Food Centre'. Remember that in Thai the word order is noun-adjective so 'centre' comes first. The sign in the photo above - as you will have worked out already - is for a 'Service Centre'.
Will I ever understand Thai women? I have a self-confessed weakness for Thai nurses who, to me, epitomise everything that is good about the female of the species. I am positive that if I ever get married, it will be to a Thai nurse.
I met one recently through another girl who I've been getting friendly with. They are old school friends. She's 32, very pretty and - like many petite Thai girls - has a body similar to that of a 16 year-old farang girl who is into gymnastics in a big way.
Ever since we met, she has flirted quite outrageously, both in person and via SMS messages. A few days ago however, she told me she had been to Nakhon Sri Thammarat for the weekend and when I asked why she said to visit her husband. She then showed me some wedding photos. They both have very demanding jobs, live separately in different provinces, and don't see each other very often.
I am probably beyond the point now where much surprises me in Thailand but I was kind of taken aback a little. A little later she gave me a lift in her car and on the way asked if I could swim. When I told her I could she asked if I could teach her.
I'm sure I could (and I'm sure it would be a very pleasant experience), but I don't think that hubby would be very happy about this arrangement. I could probably get away with teaching her English but not being her swimming instructor. It's a bit like the Thai guys I see walking around wearing T-shirts that say 'Sex Instructor - 1st lesson free'.
Later this year it will be 20 years since my first visit to Thailand and on that trip I had a fling with a married Thai girl although at first I had no idea she was married. Her husband was a Brit working in the oil industry in the Middle East who came to Thailand every couple of months but he had gone AWOL and she was feeling abandoned.
I got the impression it was a sham marriage and that was the only reason I let things continue after I found out.
Getting involved with married women is against my principles and in Thailand it can be a very dangerous game so I'm not interested. I am now trying to convince her to introduce me to some of her single nurse colleagues and trying to get an invite to the staff Christmas party at the hospital where she works.
The other thing, of course, is that all the flirting and asking if I can teach her to swim are probably completely innocent and she has absolutely no intention of being unfaithful to her husband. Thai girls can send out very mixed signals which, in turn, can confuse farang men who are not used to dealing with them.
I have experienced enough of this strange behaviour now to the point where little surprises me but it has taken a while.
When I said recently that the spoken Thai language exasperates me and that I will probably never really get to grips with it, one of my e-mail correspondents asked why. I wasn't sure at the time but this evening I think I may have realised the answer to his question.
It is because of where I live in Thailand. I went for a massage this evening and the masseuse was from Chiang Mai. We spoke at length and apart from a few words I didn't know, the conversation flowed very well. She could understand me and I could understand her.
On my last border run I had to wait around for about 15 minutes for the minivan to leave and I was listening to a group of southern Thai men speaking at full flow. In that time, not only didn't I understand a word they said but the language they were speaking was barely recognisable as Thai.
They weren't speaking Yawi or anything like that (I'm not quite that far south); it was Thai but with a heavy southern dialect. The people down here speak at 100mph in a very sing-song fashion and mix in a lot of weird and wonderful vocabulary.
This was something I talked to the massage girl about and it was quite reassuring to hear that at times she can't understand them either - and she's Thai.
I can guarantee that farangs in Thailand living in the central or northern regions who are considered fluent in Thai will also have the same problem with the southern dialect. It's impossible to comprehend and all of my learning materials are in the central (phaasaa glaang) dialect.
I have often heard it said that the northern Thai dialect is easiest to understand and it is probably because the northerners speak relatively slowly. That was confirmed tonight talking with the massage girl.
If you want to learn Thai, don't go any further south than Chumpon.
There's a little speciality that some of the massage girls will sometimes perform. OK, I will rephrase that. There are a couple of specialities that Thai massage girls will sometimes perform.
One is where they pluck out a strand of their own hair, tie a knot in it and twist it around inside your ears. I first experienced this about four or five years ago. It's an unusual experience and it normally makes me want to scratch my ears for ages afterwards.
It's popular with the Malaysian and Singaporean tourists who flock to this part of Thailand. A few years ago, I saw 'Thai ear tickle' advertised at a Singapore massage shop and that seems to be a fairly accurate description.
I never request this particular service but sometimes the girls just do it when they are giving you a head massage as you lie back with your head resting on their lap. In Thai it's known as 'bpun huu'. 'Huu' is ear and my dictionary tells me that the verb 'bpun' means to spin, rotate or turn. A more accurate translation would probably be 'twiddle'.
If you want to experience the Thai ear tickle you should ask, "Can you twiddle my ears, please?". In Thai this would be something like, " 'Bpun huu, dai mai krup?'
This is not a phrase that you will find in many Thai/English phrase books. You saw it here first!
I try to treat my host country with respect but sometimes I probably take Thailand more seriously than it deserves. I think it would be fair to say that the general situation in the country at the moment is less than ideal.
After yet another military coup last year, the country is being led by an interim government with a Prime Minister who is constantly under attack for not having the stomach for the job. An election has been promised before the end of the year but there is no firm date. The main problem seems to be that the Thais are squabbling about what should be included in the new constitution.
The man that caused most of the problems has been sent into exile but not a day goes by without Thailand feeling his presence in some way as he continues to stir up trouble from abroad. There is a civil war raging in the three southernmost provinces with people being murdered every day.
Foreign supermarkets, naturally, have been singled out as one of the causes of the problems and measures are being taken to stop them expanding. Foreigners living in Thailand are seen as a general problem and measures have been taken to get rid of some of them (actually, not a bad thing). Thailand isn't the easiest place now to come and live and if you want to work there are lots more barriers.
Foreigners wanting to teach in Thailand not only have lots of bureaucracy to overcome but they won't get paid very much either. The economy is suffering as other developing countries surge ahead and part of the problem is poor English skills. The country is generally suffering from a lack of teachers with Thai teachers earning even less than foreign ones.
The Thais are suffering from moral schizophrenia and they can't work out how to handle international censorship issues on the Internet. There are more issues coming down the line that no one is even allowed to discuss.
Climate change is affecting Thailand, as it is the rest of the world. There was no real rain to speak of during the last rainy season and this year has been exceptionally hot. For a country with an agricultural-based economy, this is a little concerning.
As I said, the current situation is less than idea. So, what are the answers? Well, the first thing you do - obviously - is go out and buy yourself a Jatukham Rammathep amulet. Secondly, everyone can stop worrying now because the Sacred Cows used in yesterday's Royal Ploughing Ceremony have predicted that everything is going to be OK. From The Nation:
"During the ceremony, the Sacred Cows ate paddy and maize, giving a prophecy that the harvests and food produce would be abundant.
The cows also ate grass, which predicted that water would be abundant while food supply would be rich."
OK, everyone in Thailand can relax now. Phew, what a relief.
Thursday 10th May 2007
The word is 'air' and it's normally used as an abbreviation for air-conditioning.
By now you will be familiar with the characters at the beginning of the word. This common vowel is sometimes used on its own or with other characters to form vowel combinations. When two are used together, it makes an 'air' sound.
Transliteration systems normally use 'ae' for this vowel but I don't instinctively think of 'ae' as an 'air' sound. As I have said many times before, transliteration systems are a nightmare and best avoided but the only way you can do that is by being able to read Thai.
In English, the words 'air' and 'hair' are almost two syllables - air-uh and hair-uh. If you speak these words while looking at your mouth in a mirror you will see the shape of your mouth change as you finish voicing them. In Thai, just use the first part and don't change the shape of your mouth. The end is like a soft 'h' rather than an 'r' (if that makes any sense).
OK, we wanted an 'air' sound and that one Thai vowel gives us an 'air' sound so why all the other stuff? As I said yesterday, words starting with a vowel sound need the zero consonant อ and with this vowel the consonant follows the vowel so that's why you see:
But there's more. Thais are very considerate people and when they borrow words from other people they like to retain the original form of the word as much as possible. Not only does this apply to English words but also to the many Pali and Sanskrit words that have been 'borrowed'.
The English word 'air' ends in an 'r'. The Thai vowel being used makes an 'air' sound already, with the 'r' being unnecessary but the kind Thais have added one anyway. If you remember, the Thai 'r' sound is the ร character.
What this means though is that there is now an unnecessary consonant at the end of the word and this could be confusing. Fortunately, the clever Thais have the perfect solution. The character above the ร is what is known as the 'consonant killer' (gaarun in Thai).
When you see this character you can just ignore the letter it is above. At first it might seem strange to have a perfectly complete word; then to add an unnecessary letter, and then to 'kill' it but it's all because the Thais have tried to preserve the original format of borrowed words.
Of course, if a word begins with a consonant you don't need the zero consonant and if it's a Thai word you don't need any unnecessary consonants or consonant killers. Can you tell what this word is?
It starts with the 'air' sound vowel and the next character ม is an 'M' sound. The word is 'mair' which is Thai for mother. The 'M' consonant is low class and used with the mai ayk tone mark, this results in a falling tone.
Here's another very commonly seen word in Thailand. In fact, if you click the 'AIR' sign above, you will see it written in the bottom, left-hand corner. The font is different though and there is a good example of what I was saying before about the ร character often appearing like an English 'S'.
Already this week I have covered all the consonants this word uses. The only item I haven't covered is one vowel.
From this week's lessons you should know that the first two characters are consonants and that they are 'B' and 'R' sounds respectively. However, in Thai these two characters together do not form a 'BR' consonant cluster, as in 'brush'.
They need to be separated with an implied 'o' as in 'lot' so you actually get 'bor'. The vowel above the first ร makes an 'i' sound as in 'lid' or 'pin'. It's a lovely, easy vowel.
After this, there are two more characters that I have already covered:
The first is a hard 'G' followed by a long 'AA' so we get 'GAA' or 'GAR'. At the end is another ร but if you remember, I said that Thai consonants have different sounds depending on whether they come at the beginning or the end of a syllable.
An ร at the end of a syllable makes an 'N' sound. If we piece this word together we get: BO-RI-GARN. It's the Thai word for service and if you can read a little more you will understand from the sign what kind of service is being offered.
With a little more practice you should be able to pick out 'ROT YON' underneath, which is Thai for car.
I still maintain that this is fairly basic stuff and that six months is more than adequate to get to this level. Anyone who has been in Thailand for 5, 10 or 20 years and can't read to this level needs shooting. What have they been doing? Ah, OK, no need to answer that question.
At work last week someone had posted flyers in the lifts and around the building of a politically sensitive nature. The flyers depicted the big foreign supermarket chains that operate in Thailand with a caption stating that 99% of their profits go back to foreign countries whereas only 1% stays in Thailand.
I can't believe these figures but it is a topic that comes up regularly in Thailand. What is a bit disappointing about the Thais is that they will all too easily blame foreigners for things that are wrong in Thailand.
All countries do it to some extent. If the economy is in a mess or if there are social problems, it's easier to find a convenient scapegoat than to tackle the real issues, and foreigners in the country are always an easy target.
The government has now stepped in by introducing legislation to curb the expansion of the retail giants (who all happen to be foreign-owned). I do have some sympathy with the so-called 'Mom & Pop' stores who are hurt by the giants but this kind of thing smacks of xenophobia.
As a role model for open business in Southeast Asia, Thailand should probably be looking at Singapore. This kind of thing, however, is one step closer to Malaysia where racial discrimination is officially government sanctioned by means of the Bumiputra laws.
In a similar fashion to Thailand's dual pricing policies, ethnic Malays are entitled to certain discounts in Malaysia (as I found out at a hotel in Penang a couple of years ago) and companies are legally enforced to employ a certain ratio of ethnic Malays. The Malaysians want to export Protons - the main selling point abroad being their low price - but foreign car companies wishing to sell cars in Malaysia are subject to huge import duties.
Thais themselves love the big foreign supermarkets, not least because they provide air-conditioned playgrounds when the weather is very hot. But not only this; the food is hygienically prepared, prices are cheap, they sell lots of Thai produce, and they employ lots of Thai people.
A local restaurant owner I spoke to some time ago told me she shops at Carrefour because it is actually cheaper than the local fresh market. (You also don't see the huge rats running around at Carrefour like you see at the fresh market.)
When the Thais see foreigners succeeding in Thailand the normal reaction is to bring in a law that restricts them in some way or that gives Thais an unfair advantage. They seem to be unable to compete on a level playing field so they make sure that the playing field isn't level.
Instead of this, what I would like to see is fair competition. Surely, if foreign companies such as Tesco or Carrefour can set up successful supermarket operations in Thailand, the Thais can do the same thing and they should actually be able to do it better.
I am convinced that the generally poor level of English skill in Thailand is no accident. Poor English skill in the country ensures that Thai remains as the predominant language of business and this, naturally, gives Thai nationals a huge advantage.
Also, what is interesting is that there has been no legislation introduced to curb the expansion in Thailand of foreign companies such as BMW, Mercedes, Nokia, etc., etc. I wonder why this could possibly be?
Honestly, there are times when I really worry about this country. I like the general principles behind Sufficiency Economy as an antidote to unchecked capitalism and I like the way the Thais have been taking on the pharmaceutical companies but Thailand has to decide whether it wants to be a part of the globalised world or not.
Countries can't cherry-pick but that's what seems to be happening. Thailand is happy to export goods abroad and to receive as many free-spending, 5* Phuket tourists as will come, so long as they don't stay for too long and they spend a fortune while in the country.
However, foreigners staying in the country longer term who perhaps don't spend so freely aren't being made very welcome and neither are foreign companies wishing to do business in Thailand. Taking measures against cultural imperialism is to be commended but racial discrimination is not a good thing.
Wednesday 9th May 2007
Of all the Thai government departments, I'd love to spend a morning in the Culture Ministry to see just what goes on inside. First though, I would need to find out which planet they are located on so I can book a space rocket.
The Thais love beauty in all forms and, like many different cultures, they very much appreciate female beauty. And so they should do too; being responsible for producing some of the loveliest women in the world.
Thai magazines and newspapers like to publish photos of beautiful girls because people appreciate looking at beautiful girls. The photos are never nude but sometimes the girls aren't wearing much. This, however, has upset the Culture Ministry. Permanent secretary Vira Rojpojchanarat stated:
"The images could arouse viewers and encourage youths to have sex."
I can almost hear the gasps of shock and horror. Youths having sex? Perish the thought.
As a Brit, Khun Vira, all I can say is that it is far more preferable for the nation's youths to be having sex - which is the most natural thing in the world, anyway - than shooting, stabbing and robbing people as happens on a daily basis in the UK.
And furthermore, it doesn't take newspaper images to encourage us to have sex. It's the way human beings have been programmed to behave ever since humanity existed. This clever little piece of biological programming ensures that we won't go the same way as the dinosaurs.
I was a pretty obnoxious youth and most of my problems were caused by sexual frustration, not being able to get anywhere near a female at a time when my hormones were going crazy. Some sex at that age would certainly have made me a nicer person.
Not only do I find this attitude puzzling but considering what is allowed to go on quite openly in tourist areas of Thailand, I find Thai attitudes quite hypocritical, confusing and contradictory.
During my stroll a couple of days ago looking for signs written in Thai, the biggest building I walked past - in ultra-conservative Thailand where young people aren't allowed to look at pictures of pretty girls in newspapers - was the local bath and massage (ab op nuat) establishment.
Bath and massage is one euphemism; another popular euphemism is Turkish massage (something that has upset the Turks in the past). These places advertise in the free map given away to tourists alongside other more conventional businesses but when you drop the euphemisms, all they are is brothels.
The existence of such places doesn't bother me in the slightest. I'm all for having places where you can jump into a warm bubble bath with a lovely Thai girl for the price of a short train journey in England while she gets to work with her sponge, but I just wish the puritanical Thais would stop being so hypocritical and face up to reality.
The font here is a little tricky (weird fonts are one of the biggest problems I have when reading Thai). It says:
What I mean by a tricky font is that the loops and squiggles you are normally used to seeing aren't present. For example, the character ร that I covered yesterday is often written as an English 'S' and the character ว which has a 'W' sound is often written like a back-to-front English 'C'.
In the sign, the first character ท is a 'T' sound. From my previous blogs, you should already know the next two characters, even though they may not be very clear in this font. They are าง - the long 'AA' and the 'NG' sound.
The fist part is therefore 'TAANG' which means 'way' in Thai. You should also recognise the second part. There is the same vowel combination that was used in 'chao' the Thai word for rent. The characters เ-า either side of a consonant are a vowel combination and make an 'AO' or 'OW' sound.
In this sign, they surround another character we have already covered; ข which makes a 'K' sound. The word is therefore a 'kao' sound but there are lots of words in Thai with this basic sound.
You will notice the same tone mark we saw yesterday called mai toh. The 'K' character ข is a high class consonant and the rule for a high class initial consonant and mai toh is a falling tone.
The word 'kao' with a falling tone means 'to enter' so this sign translates to 'Way In'. Problem solved. You can now have that bath.
It seems almost criminal to leave behind the lovely girl with the soapy sponge who has been making sure your body is spotlessly clean for the last hour-and-a-half but perhaps the wife is cooking lunch and she will be angry if you are late so you have to leave. You now need to find the way out.
Observant readers among you will have noticed that this sign says 'OUT' in English but often signs will only be in Thai. The first part 'TAANG' you already know from what we have just learnt but what about the second part? ออก
The first two characters are the same but they are being used in this word for different purposes. The second one is a vowel that makes an 'AW' sound.
The final character ก makes a hard 'G' sound if at the beginning of a syllable (like 'G' in gate or gap; not like 'G' in giraffe or gentle) or a 'K' sound at the end of a syllable. In the majority of transliteration systems it is transliterated incorrectly (in my opinion) as a 'K' at the beginning of syllables.
The sound of this word is 'AWK' (with the final 'K' left unaspirated) which means 'to exit' in Thai so this sign says 'Way Out' but what about that first อ ? It's actually more logical than it seems.
Some Thai vowels are written above or below the preceding consonant. This is OK if a word begins with a consonant sound but what if a word begins with a vowel sound? If there is no consonant before the vowel, what is the vowel written above or below? It can't just hang there on its own.
This is where the 'zero consonant' comes into play. The convention says that if a word begins with a vowel sound then it should be written with the 'zero consonant' at the beginning. This also happens to be the same character as the 'AW' vowel but, as I said, in this word the same character is used twice for different purposes - once as a vowel and once as a zero consonant.
'TAANG' begins with a low class consonant and it is a live syllable so the tone is mid. I am a little confused about the tone rule for 'AWK'. The zero consonant is mid class and it is also a live syllable (I believe) so the tone rule says it should be mid tone but my books tell me it is actually a low tone.
If anyone can offer some help or tell me where I've gone wrong, I would be grateful to hear from you.
I received an e-mail to the effect that reading Thai is maybe not as easy as I think it is. I've been learning for a while now and it's a passion of mine. I try to read everything that I see. However, I can remember a time when everything looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics.
I think that it does help to be passionate about a subject in order to really learn it. You're not going to be able to learn to read Thai unless you are genuinely motivated to do so.
The good news is that of the many characters, only a small subset are used most of the time. You probably only need to learn 25 commonly used consonants and vowels to read 75% of what you see. However, consonants change sound, depending on where they appear, and some of the vowel combinations can be tricky. There are also certain rules to learn.
For the sake of completeness, I've been including tone rules but these are not important at first. Initially, all you need to do is get the right basic sound and you can think about tones later.
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand