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Thai Language Thai Culture: The Why? Series

Thai Language

Book Review – The Why? Series…

To many people, the search for the holy grail of learning to read Thai is finding a book that fulfils a number of requirements.

  • It is at the appropriate reading level for the learner.
  • It is written in straight forward language, and if possible, more spoken Thai than literary or newspaper Thai.
  • Has clear print.
  • Hold ones interest and is age appropriate.

Some really good learning material, such as the Manee Books are very good for the person just beginning to learn to read Thai. But they are basically children’s books and one can keep ones interests in the comings and goings of little children for just so long. The same goes for the “Two Language” books (สองภาษา) you can find in the children’s section of your local Thai book store.

What’s an old codger to do to find good Thai reading material past the beginner’s level that will not only hold my interest but also help me to learn how to read this fairly impossible-to-read language?

I was with a friend the other day who had just retired to Thailand. In his younger days he had spent quite a few years here and his Thai became fluent enough so the he had passed the Prathom 4 exam – something that I would probably have a hard time doing even now.

We were at a bookstore and he came across some books that he knew well. He said that they had helped him when he was first learning to read Thai.

And just like that, I had found the Holy Grail.

This was the Why” series, or in Thai สารานุกรมความรู้วิทยาศาสตร์ ฉบับการ์ตูน (Science Knowledge Encyclopedia, Cartoon Edition), Published by Nanmeebooks. The books were first written in Korean and then translated into Thai. The series contains dozens of titles such as Birds, Fish, Reptiles, Electricity, Space, Transportation, and many more.

I chose the one on birds (นก) to take for a test drive.

Thai LanguageIt’s by Nam, Choon-Ja, illustrated by Choi, Ik-Kyu, and translated into Thai by Chontichaa Pothong. Nanmeebooks. Baht 180.

Most of the books in the Why? Series have basically the same format. There are a couple of inquisitive children who ask lots of questions and an expert or two who are there to answer them. When they get down to specific descriptions there are really good drawings or photographs to help illustrate the point.

In The “Why?” Bird Book, Robin and Eagle have a long holiday weekend and are given the homework to go bird watching. And from there we learn everything and more about birds.

I chose this book because I have been an avid birdwatcher for many years so I thought that it would hold my interest. And that it did.

This book covers everything from bird behavior and bird anatomy to their feeding and nesting habits – all in colloquial Thai. It ends with information on conservation and ecology. These are not fairy tales and stories of little children’s adventures, but topics that will hold an adult’s interest.

For my vocabulary level I knew most of the words but ran into lots of new ones. When I encountered a new word I usually underlined it and then tried to decipher it in context. Then for good measure I did a dictionary lookup.

Thai Language

The above conversation goes something like this:

Let’s go see the migrating birds.
Migrating birds?
Migrate means the birds move their home during certain seasons.
They migrate to where there is food to eat.

In this case I underlined the word ถิ่นฐาน and looked up the meaning (homeland). Other interesting words were อพยพ (migrate) and ฤดูกาล (season). So you can see that even though there are children doing the talking and it is in cartoon form the vocabulary and the topic being discussed here is definitely at the level that an adult would appreciate.

Some of the really nice features of this series are:

  • The drawings and photos are clear and really help to illustrate the topic.
  • The print in the balloons is very readable.
  • The Thai in the balloons is conversational and in everyday speech.
  • There are many side bars with discussions in more technical Thai.

Thai Language

The illustration above is titled “The Many Shapes of Bird Beaks”. Here I found the word หอก (javelin, spear), and the word จะงอย was a new to me and turned out to be the very bird-specific Thai word for “beak”. The word ปาก (mouth) and จะงอย (beak) were used interchangeably which is really good for helping us to guess a word in context.

The series is written for students (Korean and later Thai) to help them increase their scientific knowledge. They probably never guessed that it could help an adult foreigner learn to read a foreign language.

If you are in search of Thai reading material that will not only help you with reading flow and vocabulary building but will also give you lots of examples of regular conversational Thai, go on down to you local Thai bookstore and take a look at the Why? series. The cover says that over 50 million have already been sold, so I think you’ll be able to find something that will peak your interest.

Since I have raised turtles and helped to keep them off the Thai dinner tables and return them to the wild, I’m think going to go back to get a copy of the Reptile Why? book.

Hugh Leong
Retire 2 Thailand
Retire 2 Thailand: Blog
eBooks in Thailand

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Book Review: Maid in Thailand

Book Review: Maid in Thailand

Maid in Thailand (tri-lingual guide: English-Thai-Burmese)…

When Kristen Rossi moved to Thailand she hired a Burmese housekeeper. I’ve never been brave enough – struggling with one Asian language is more than I can handle – so kudos to her!

Book Review: Maid in ThailandTo give instructions on how to cook western food Kristen would write out recipes in English and have her maid give the Burmese translation. Word by word.

This proved to be slow going so Kristen decided to make it into a full-blown project that’d help others in similar situations. Friends suggested making the book into an all around guide for working with household help. Then Thai translations were added. And after a lot of hard work, Maid in Thailand was born.

Kristen: I wrote the book to help increase the harmony between employer and employee, in the setting where your life should be the most harmonious, the home. Enjoy!

What attracted me to Maid in Thailand is how well it compliments my HouseTalk series. Both explain what is required of a maid working for a western employer; how we present the translations is where we differ. HouseTalk aims to teach select Thai phrases, whereas Maid in Thailand is written in same style as Thailand Fever, with chunks of instructions for both sides to read.

Here’s a sample of what you’ll find:

Chapter One: Hiring a Maid
Chapter Two: Post Hire
Chapter Three: Culture Chock
Chapter Four: Time Management
Chapter Five: Squeak Clean
Chapter Six: Laundry
Chapter Seven: In the kitchen
Chapter Eight: Party Time
Chapter Nine: Let’s Get Cooking

For the very reasonable price of US$5.50, Maid in Thailand can be downloaded in pdf format here: Maid in Thailand.

Here’s where you can find more of Kristen:
Web: Kristen Evelyn Rossi

Congrats to Kristen for an excellent product (it’s prodded me to get of my butt and finish the HouseTalk series).

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Xmas Present for Language Learners: Breaking Through to Fluency

Breaking Through to Fluency

Breaking Through to Fluency…

Every Xmas, when struggling to buy ‘the’ gift for the people in my life, I end up with stuff for myself. Yeah! I like stuff. Especially stuff about language learning. This week, after downloading the Kindle version of Breaking Through to Fluency (how to naturally learn a new language with the right teacher), I thought of someone besides myself. You.

No, I’m not going to gift the ebook via a free giveaway. No need. At a mere $0.99 it’s affordable (and I can save my pennies for another day). So could my title possibly be misleading? Not really. I’m working on the assumption that you too buy yourself stuff at Xmas.

What impressed me about Joshua Smith’s ebook is 1) it takes us through his language struggles, and 2) a free audio book is included, and 3) it has an AH HA worth knowing about.

Breaking Through to Fluency: If you’d like to learn another language wisely, and thus more efficiently, then this book is for you.

The last 10 years of my life’s journey has been spent learning new languages and teaching people – over 200 in the last 6 years – to become fluent. These 200+ people were just like me: they had studied in schools, traveled abroad, etc., without achieving the fluency they had always dreamed of.

This booklet tells my story. It took me more than 3 years to finally experience a substantial breakthrough speaking a second language. Although I was sometimes humiliated in the process the first time around, following my discovery, I used the same method to learn a 3rd language with greater focus and ease. Now it’s time to share this process with you. I call it ‘natural conversation’.

Breaking Through to FluencyHaving plans to incorporate Joshua’s AH HA into my own language studies, I contacted him with a few questions.

Breaking Through to Fluency: Question one…

How can students find a teacher who will give them time to speak?

I think these points will give someone the best chance; of course, we’ll never really know, until after we start working with the person.

1. Independent teachers. This way the teacher is their own boss. Thus they create or collect the curriculum and can use the teaching style (natural conversation) they want. Plus they have the liberty to change things, even in real time, if something isn’t working well.

If you go to a chain school, the teacher has to use the curriculum and style that the school administrator says: book 1, book 2, unit 1, unit 2, etc.

2. Private classes. When we’re just starting to speak another language, our vocabulary is much smaller than our native language. So we need time to think creatively how we can express ourselves with the vocabulary we have. With private classes, the student pays a little more for the class, but doesn’t have to share that time with other people. Thus the student has all the time in the world, or that class, to formulate and express their ideas. In group classes, there are all sorts of other issues that take place in the dynamics of the group class: shyness, students ahead of other students, etc., all of which are eliminated with the private classes.

I have found that one group class per month is good to practice listening to other accents and the group class dynamics, which are important.

3. Interview. Make an interview or meeting with the teacher before starting the course. If the teacher doesn’t give you an opportunity to speak during the meeting, there’s a good chance that they won’t in the classes. This one is difficult for the teacher, because they’ll want to show you how good they are, as they want to get a new student. Naturally they’ll anxiously speak a lot, but when the student tries to ask a question or speak, does the teacher just keep speaking, or does he/she pass the microphone?

Other thoughts:

• The teacher must really care about the success of their student(s).

• I know without a shadow of a doubt that the system – natural conversation – is one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient to improve fluency. I know/understand that who needs to speak most of the class time is my student, not me. Therefore, I am patient and ask question after question about their weekend, work, hobbies, etc. making them paint me a Picasso, until I know every last little detail. If they ask about my weekend, I sum it up in a few sentences. Depending on the student, and how long we’ve been working together, I might give them more information, but I certainly won’t take more than 5 min of their class time to talk about me.

• Sometimes the teacher is so concerned about “teaching”, that they teach (blah, blah, blah) the whole class, or most of it anyway. Who needs to speak or blah, blah, blah is the student to develop fluency. Does your language teacher understand this?

• I have heard many people say that you have to think in your new language. How in the hell can you think in your new language when you’ve just started learning it, and probably only have a few hundred word vocabulary? …You can’t. Of course, we’re going to translate when we begin. After we learn some of the differences in the languages, then we can start trying to think in our new language. When we are rolling along pretty good, then we start thinking in our new language.

Breaking Through to Fluency: Question two…

Do you generally ask for X amount of experience in a language before taking on a student with your method? Or do you give the student a set of phrases/vocab to begin with?

No I don’t ask for x amount of experience to use my method. If a student is starting from zero, I’ll just ask the same questions in their native language, limiting this conversation to 5 min. Next I’ll ask them which verbs they used: for the weekend example they will be go, buy, eat, etc. Then I need to teach them the basics. Obviously, with someone that’s only had a few classes, the conversation will be very short. The next class, I’ll ask them the same questions in the same sequence: how was your weekend, what did you do?

I tell them that next class I’m going to ask them the same questions, so they can prepare the vocabulary before the class.

Breaking Through to Fluency: Question three…

What advice would you give teachers who’d like to use your method? The reason I’m asking is that I have a group of Thai Skype teachers just who might be interested in implementing it.

Advice for teachers is just to be patient. As long as the student is working to formulate sentences and speaking then you can continue with the conversation. If there is just silence, and the student doesn’t have anything more to say or can’t say any more, then the teacher can start the lesson they’ve prepared.

Best tip: Let the conversation go as long as you can keep the student speaking. If that is the whole class, fantastic! The teacher can use the lesson he/she prepared in the next class.

Obviously, if you want to learn more about the AH HA, you’ll have to get your own copy of Breaking Through to Fluency. Go on. You deserve it. Oh. And before I forget… “Ho Ho Ho and Merry Xmas to all!”

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Remembering Tsunami 2004: And Then One Morning

And Then One Morning

Remembering the Tsunami of 2004…

What happened on Boxing Day 2004 was horrific. Even though I wasn’t on the ground, it marked my life. And because of that, every year I’ve put aside time to honour those caught up in the events.

This year I made a point to read And Then One Morning, an eyewitness account written by Aaron Le Boutillier (interviewed earlier this month on WLT).

Aaron’s book saddened me but gave hope as well. It underlined how fragile life can be, but it also brought home how an event so massively terrifying can change lives forever. And not always for the worst.

I didn’t have an easy time writing this post so please forgive its faults.

And then one morning…

When the tsunami hit I was on the island of Borneo, wandering around packing boxes bound for Thailand. My Thai visa being delayed, I was experiencing the simmering limbo well-known to seasoned expats.

On the same side of the world Aaron was visiting Phi Phi, Thailand, to help a longtime friend and his family of five relocate to Phuket. It was meant to be their last Christmas on the island, with Boxing Day being moving day.

At about ten the next morning I was in that comfortable slumber zone… Suddenly my brain was registering the sound of children screaming. At first I thought some idiots were trying to scare them, but the screams were genuinely frightened, so much so that they were frightening me… Now fully awake, I could hear that the screaming was mixed with another sound – a crunching, grinding, roaring kind. It would be almost another two days before I would sleep again.

So while I was casually sipping coffee and recovering from Christmas dinner of the night before, Aaron was waking up to the fight of his life.

Through the noise I picked up the words “wing wing” which means “run run” in Thai and I heard the sound of feet pounding on the sandy street outside my room.

I jumped out of bed and pushed open my wooden window.

Down on the street, the first thing I saw was Heinz with Anna under his arm and Tina holding onto his hand. I shouted down to him and he looked at me for a brief second with eyes that will haunt me until the day I die.

An hour after the tsunami hit I was most likely moving slow, perhaps wondering what to wear that evening at Barnaby and Luciana’s. Or maybe, just maybe, I was thinking about what leftovers to reheat for lunch. But whatever it was, was not life threatening.

All I knew was that I was alive and badly cut up. There were many people who were alive but in desperate situations. Some would die but there were many, many who were already dead. Ten? Fifty? A hundred? Possibly more. But did I think tsunami? The answer is no… Life had truly been reduced to its very basics – trying to stay alive – certainly not trying to analyse what might have caused this hell. This was an obscene soup, not a tsunami wave.

For me, the quiet of lunchtime came and went. And as far as I knew nothing out of the ordinary was happening. It was just a typical day on yet another Christmas holiday.

I had lost count of how many dead bodies I’d seen already. Curiously, although my mission was now to find Heinz, Oiy, Tina, Anna and little Dino, it didn’t occur to me to look to see if any of these bodies were theirs. It never entered my mind that they might not have survived.

I scrambled up the hillside to join the crowd making their exodus from the beach and suddenly I saw them – Oiy and Dino side by side. Dino looked completely blank, like so many others. Oiy looked to be in total despair and I could see she was suffering from some nasty wounds… It was just the two of them – no Heinz or Tina or Anna.

That evening at Barnaby and Luciana’s I celebrated with friends made during nine years of Borneo living. At some point late in the evening there was a whispered mention of a tragedy somewhere in the region but the discussion never took hold. Too many rounds of holiday cheer? I honestly don’t know.

It was only when I checked emails that I read how serious it was. Arriving home I found an inbox filled with friends panicking at my lack of a response, some even posting alerts on design forums to see if I’d survived. But I was not in Thailand. Yet.

The day after the tsunami hit I bounced between the BBC and the Internet. The day after the tsunami hit Aaron continued his search for his dear friends.

Nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see. There must have been ten rows of bodies with a short gap between them for walking down. In total, there was about six hundred bodies. All of these were from Phi Phi: babies, toddlers, children, adolescents and adults… We stood there for some time with our own thoughts. After the spell was broken we made our way to the front of the row and then up and down six hundred corpses looking for Heinz, Tina or Anna.

From the quotes I selected above, it’s obvious that ‘And Then One Morning’ is not an easy read. Especially if you are reading this during the holiday celebrations of Boxing Day, 2010. But if you too want to understand just a bit of what happened during the Tsunami, then I highly recommend grabbing a copy.

Interview: Aaron Le Boutillier…

Aaron, one year, two years, three years… as time marches on, each year the impact from a life changing experience morphs. Looking back over the six years, how do you see the influence of the tsunami on your life?

And Then One MorningLooking back, while although I wished all those lives were spared, experiencing the tsunami gave me a unique insight into people and the fragility of life that we all take for granted.

In the space of a few hours, I saw the best and worst of humans, ranging from pure heroism that a person can have for a complete stranger to the human instinct of people benefiting from the misfortune of others.

To have faced death square in the eyes, then through sheer luck survived, is a rewarding experience. It gives an inner peace that you can never truly understand unless you have experienced such an event.

On a negative, I cannot stop my mind from playing games. Quite frequently in a crowded environment where everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves, I will imagine a tragedy, go through how everyone will cope and the horror of the aftermath.

I think all survivors have their demons and when you have been so closely linked to so much death it does affect your imagination. As a result it occasionally becomes quite dark.

All in all, I gained from the experience and have used it to make my future more rewarding.

Aaron Le Boutillier
And Then One Morning | Le Boutillier Group
Successful Thai Language Learner: Aaron Le Boutillier

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From the Diplomatic Bag: Parting Shots at Thailand

From the Diplomatic Bag: Parting Shots at Thailand

British Ambassadors going out with a bang…

Going around the Thai expat community this week are scans from Parting Shots, a collection of parting comments from British diplomats. Diplomatic opinions such as these were popular with expats when I lived on Borneo, and back even further, when I lived in France (only via snail mail, not email). And they were often sorely needed.

Parting Shots, by Matthew Parris
When leaving a foreign posting, Britain’s ambassadors were encouraged to write a valedictory despatch until the practice was abolished in 2006. Unlike the usual style of the diplomatic bag, these last reports from foreign posts were unbuttoned, indiscreet and often very funny.

Being able to laugh at cultural snafus, misunderstandings, and the day-to-day frustrations that come from a foreign post does help to release building tensions. And tensions are always in evidence, whether they are minimal to mediocre to grand slams.

I remember back when… oh… well… never mind… (I’ll wait until I’m far away from it all – or everyone is dead – one or the other or all three).

Some British ambassadors let it all hang out:

Ambassadors going out with a bang: There is, I fear, no question but that the average Nicaraguan is one of the most dishonest, unreliable, violent and alcoholic of the Latin Americans.

Roger Pinsent, Managua, 1967

Parting shots at Thailand…

While some of the ambassadors’ last words towards the countries they were leaving were quite scathing, one ambassador to Thailand showed his clever in other ways:

… but since it is now immaterial whether my superiors consider me better fitted for a lunatic asylum than for a diplomatic post, I shall try to describe the Thai way.

First the idiom. If I were a Thai official in the presence of my superior I would stand at deferential attention while he spoke, then when he had finished would bend low and hiss his ear the one word: “Crap!” For in Thai this basic four letter word is not only the appropriate but the mandatory expression of total submission.

And, on another plane, what can one make of a language where the word for dentist is “more fun” or where, at least to the foreign ear, the words for “near” and “far” are exactly the same?

There are indeed separate and distinct expressions for “yes” and “no”, but since it is impolite to use the latter the former is used for both…

Sir Arthur de la Mare, Thailand, November 1973

Polite particle: ครับ / kráp/
Dentist: หมอฟัน /mŏr fun/
Near: ใกล้ /glâi/
Far: ไกลๆ / glai glai/
Yes: ใช่ /châi/
Not yes: ไม่ใช่ /mâi châi/

(TiT, I won’t be posting the others – so buy the book?)

Note: The book is based on a BBC Radio 4 program of the same name. You can listen to a handful of the shows online: Parting Shots: Series 1.

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The Linguist: A Personal Guide to Language Learning

How to learn a language

Review: The Linguist – How to learn a language…

I know who Steve Kaufmann is. Sort of. A couple of times a year I stop by his blog, The Linguist, to see what he’s up to. But until lately I didn’t know the details of his method of choice.

How to learn a languageThe reason? Because LingQ is not offering Thai (waving at Steve). LingQ does have English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese and Swedish (perhaps Thai is in the wings).

If you don’t know who Steve Kaufmann is… in a nutshell, Steve is an accomplished linguist with (I believe) eight languages under his belt. He authors the blog, The Linguist on Languages, and is the driving power behind a popular language learning community: LingQ. And if you are into YouTube, he has a channel there too: Lingosteve.

When researching for a post on language learning styles (it’s more complicated than I thought), I purchased his book, The Linguist: A personal guide to language learning (no, I did not pay the quoted price). Busy as usual, I filed the book away.

On a weekend when struggling with a crappy internet connection – I wasn’t sure if the lack of internet meant my temperamental Belkin modem was playing up, or Thaksin losing half his money was a contributing factor (yeah, I’m paranoid), or both – I gave up trying to reconnect and read Steve’s book instead.

The first subject in his book is A Language Adventure, which describes Steve’s linguistic adventures. Next up is The Attitude of a Linguist (aptly named). But the real reason I purchased his book was this section: How to Learn Languages.

What I found was a pleasant surprise as his method suits me quite well. Odd, as I’d (wrongly) assumed that Steve was an all natural guy. And I don’t do all natural.

Steve’s method is similar (but not quite) to Luca’s. If you are unaware of Luca’s method, then please read through these posts:

Steve Kaufmann’s method of learning languages…

Steve says that before you try to communicate in your target language, you should spend time on listening, repeating out loud, learning words and phrases, reading, writing, and practicing proper pronunciation.

To express yourself in a new language you must first absorb the language by listening, reading and learning vocabulary… These activities will always account for about three quarters of your effort while you are working to achieve a basic level of fluency. But from the beginning you also have to work on your skills of expression: pronunciation, writing and conversation. Developing these skills requires a conscious commitment to regular and patient practice.

Some learners are hands on (they don’t want to waste time studying; they need to jump in and start talking). But I quite enjoy learning languages using the proposed methods of polyglots Luca and Steve. To get a word or phrase into my head I need the basics: Listen, read (Thai script), repeat out loud, and write or type from both reading and listing.

Curious, I compared the basics of Luca and Steve’s method’s side by side.

Steve Kaufmann’s method:

  1. Listen repeatedly to material within your basic range of comprehension, concentrating on pronunciation.
  2. Repeat individual words and phrases out loud, both during and after listening.
  3. Read sentences and paragraphs out loud, first very slowly and then more quickly, and always in a loud voice.
  4. Record your own pronunciation and compare it to a native speaker.
  5. Write using the phrases you have mastered.

Luca Lampariello’s method:

  1. Listen to audio files.
  2. Repeat audio files.
  3. Read the materials with and without the audio files.
  4. Translate the Thai dialogue into English.
  5. Translate your English translation into Thai (transliteration or script).

For me, the strength of Luca’s method is translating the dialogue into English, and then translating it back into Thai. I’ve noticed that by following Luca’s method, the dialogues are burned into my brain. Without a lot of work, it also improves my writing, grammar, and spelling. And except for translating back and forth, Steve’s method follows a similar path.

When it comes time to communicate, Steve states the obvious: Build your conversations around the phrases you have learned. Sometimes I really do forget that it’s that simple.

Another bit of advice Steve shares is to create intensity with language learning. And this is where Steve’s method differs from Luca’s. Luca suggests going for an hour a day to start. And then later, paring that hour down to a half hour. Steve wants us to go full force into language learning.

Learning a new language is most enjoyable when you are learning quickly, which requires intensity… You need to overwork the language processing capability of your brain by constant and frequent repetition during a period of intense learning. This period may vary from three months to twelve months depending on your starting point and your goals. During this period you must maintain a sustained commitment to your task.

Both Luca’s and Steve’s ideas work, so it’s up to personal learning preferences and available time. For this suggestion, I do believe I’ll take Steve’s advice and ramp up my study time.

The rest of his book touches on tools to use, and setting clear goals. The book finishes with a pep talk using Mike Weir (winner of the Masters Golf Tournament) as an example.

All in all, if Steve’s LingQ community included Thai, I would seriously consider using it as a viable tool.

To see for yourself, stop by The Linguist, and/or check out his language community at LingQ. Also, you can read two of Steve’s books for free. The Way of the Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey is online. And you can download The Linguist on Languages via his sidebar.

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Thai Sex Talk for St Valentine’s

Sex Talk for Valentines

The down to earth Thai Sex Talk…

Before you think I’ve gone all Thai sex-crazed, please let me explain.

The well-crafted book, Thai Sex Talk, is not about the smutty side of Thai life. It is a collection of Thai words and expressions that focus on personal relationships. And they are (a given) relationships that include sex and love.

And after reading Thai Sex Talk from cover to cover, I can confirm that the author, Kaewmla, has sweetened the mix with a fair amount of Thai history and culture. Just like I like.

Language and Love, Romance and Sexuality: Language, in the from of words and expressions, reflects the way people think, act and relate to one another in that culture. Language reveals the culture’s history, how the society has changed over time, and what internal and external influences have shaped and changed that society. People’s choices of words and how they express them also inform about their attitude and worldview.

I started chatting with Kaewmla after Dan from Absolutely Bangkok (no longer online) interviewed her in his post, Thai Love Talk (when it comes to the new bits in Thai town, Dan is often the man).

Just like in her book, Kaewmla is highly intelligent and clever. And I do hope she stops by to say ‘hi’!

I purposely waited until right before Valentine’s Day to post my review of Thai Sex Talk. I believe the why should be obvious. But if not…

Whether you are in love or seeking love with a Thai… or simply curious about how Thais think and talk about sex… Thai Sex Talk is your indispensable guide.

Forget that Thais don’t traditionally celebrate St Valentine’s Day, we do! And as today is the 12th of February, and Valentine’s Day is on the 14th, my post has been timed to remind you to acquire your very own copy of Thai Sex Talk too.

A chapter to chapter review of Thai Sex Talk…

Thai Sex Talk is loaded with relationship expressions. Some have Western equivalents, but I mostly picked through those sporting the flavour of Thailand. What I have not included are well-known Thai terms, such as: Walking ATM, major wife, and minor wife.

Note: In this post the transliteration is hidden. If you cannot read Thai script, then scroll over the Thai to see the transliteration. As before, the transliteration comes from T2E (as is).

Chapter One: Sexually speaking…

The first chapter is a brief explanation and overview of the book. In a nutshell:

This book is intended primarily for those who are, or expect to be, in a cross-cultural romance with a Thai.

Chapter Two: The Thai sexual jungle…

Partly due to the subject of animal metaphors, this is a chapter that I am most fond of.

หมาเห่าเครื่องบิน

Dog barking at an airplane: Just like a soi dog, a man of limited means and education should keep to his place in Thai society. When he does not, he is known as a ‘dog barking at an airplane’.

ดอกฟ้ากับหมาวัด

Heavenly flower and temple dog: Again, the description is about relationships between the have’s (hi-so = heavenly flower) and the have-nots (low-so = temple dog).

หนูตกถังข้าวสาร

Lucky mouse falling into a rice bin: In a twist of good luck, a poor man (mouse / low-so / temple dog) marries a rich women (rice bin / hi-so / heavenly flower).

Chapter Three: The battle between love and lust…

This chapter covers: Sexual attraction, falling in love, being in love, sexual free thinkers, and how it all affects the heart.

ใจหวั่นไหว

Melting heart: This one is Western too, but I just had to include this lovely ใจ (jai – heart) expression.

พบไม้งามเมื่อขวานบิ่น

Finding love when already a dull old ax: Dull axes are self-explanatory. Yes? Many of us (I’m sure) would like to think that we are still sharp enough ;-)

Chapter Four: Looking for love…

Nudge, nudge… Kaewmla offers an excellent selling point for Thai Sex Talk:

Looking for love without an adequate vocabulary is like going on a treasure hunt without a good treasure map. A set of basic vocabulary can make navigating the wild love jungle a much more fun and satisfying experience.

30 ยังแจ๋ว, 40 กะรัต

Still hot at 30, 40 carats: Although the bar has been raised in the West (for both men and women), Thailand has their ‘still hot at 30′, and ’40 carats’ (carats = the addition of wisdom).

เตะปี๊บดัง

To kick a can loudly: Kicking tin cans in Thailand is all about the sexual virility of old(er) men. I equate can kicking with youth, so I have questions. Hopefully Kaewmla will clear up the mystery.

ไม้ป่าเดียวกัน

Trees from the same forest: While no longer a popular term with the present gay community (even the most pleasant of words can be turned), ‘trees from the same forest’ reads quite fine to my years.

Chapter Five: The art of flirting…

This chapter is chock-full of Thai flirting expressions, as well as insights into how Thais flirt. What fun!

ก้างขวางคอ

Bone in the throat: This is when someone gets in the way of the romance. An old fling or a MIL-to-be are common culprits in any culture.

ระริกระรี้เป็นกระดี่ได้น้ำ

Being dancing-fish excited: This expression is strictly for females. Apparently women should not act overly excited, so are at risk at being compared to fish getting fresh water poured into their tank (giggling, jumping around, etc). But neither are they supposed to be too standoffish. Sigh…

Chapter Six: Traditional courtship rituals…

I found this an absorbing chapter because it discusses history and the Thai classics (I have a fondness for both). In places, it is exactly like Merry ‘Ole England. In others, quaintly Thai (but I won’t ruin it for you).

เข้าตามตรอก ออกตามประตู

Enter through the proper alley way, exit through the door: In Thailand (more so than in the US or the UK), there is a right way to court: Respect the parents, respect the girl, not too many late nights, etc. The West is similar, but does not take the respect for the parents to such great heights.

หัวกระไดไม่แห้ง

Wet the top of the staircase: Keeping a large water jar at the foot of the stairs for guests to wash their feet is an old Thai custom. And if there is a beautiful daughter in the house, the stairs stay wet.

Chapter Seven: Modern courtship and dating…

Chapter seven is where expats make their entrance into the Thai dating scheme of things.

A new kind of romance has also emerged in Thai sexual culture. Thai-foreign relationships, especially between Thai women and Western men, have become a trend. So, I also cover these relationships, which beg much cultural and historical discussion.

ตกกระไดพลอยโจน

Jump along as one falls down the staircase: This is the equivalent of a shotgun wedding in the West.

ก้นหม้อไม่ทันดำ

Before the pot becomes black: In the old days, rice was cooked over a charcoal fire. ‘Before the pot becomes black’ describes a relationship that is over before the bottom of the clay pot turns black.

Chapter Eight: Lovers and bed mates…

Here we move on from courtship to more. And what Thai word dominates? รัก (rák = love), of course.

รักข้ามขอบฟ้า

Love over the skyline: With expats in the picture, long distance relationships become a part of Thai society. Kaewmla mentions an old Thai song of the same name. If anyone has any information about the song, please drop me a line in the comments.

ดอกไม้ริมทาง

Flower by the roadside: This is a sad expression used for a women who has been played with, and then lightly discarded by a wealthy man.

นำ้พริกถ้วยเก่า

Old bowl of chili paste: When the spice in a relationship wanes, couples (usually the man) are sometimes left with a tasteless romance.

Chapter Nine: In the eye of the (Thai) beholder…

If you are considering a relationship with a Thai and would like to get some insight into their preferences for a mate, then go straight to page 227. No surprises, looks do come into it.

หล่อลากดิน

Dragging the ground handsome: Kaewmla has a theory that this phrase is about the weight of the handsomeness. Would anyone else clued into Thailand care to share their thoughts?

สวยลากไส้

Pulling the intestines gorgeous: This is the female version of Thailand’s ground dragging men. But it makes more sense to me as I’ve had my insides tugged by painfully handsome men. And the physical affects are felt in the stomach.

Chapter Ten: Sexy (or not) Thai style…

This chapter is all about body style: Tall, skinny, fat, short. Most of the shared descriptions refer to women.

ดำตับเป็ด

Dark like a duck’s liver: A sexy, dark-skinned women.

เนื้อนมไข่

Beef, milk, and eggs: A voluptuous body raised on a Western diet.

มะขามข้อเดียว

Jointless tamarind: Short and stocky (usually a man).

The end…

So there you have it. A quick review of the ten chapters of Thai Sex Talk: Understanding Thai Love, Romance & Sexuality. If you are a student of Thai, you are certain to enjoy adding these and more phrases into your language stash.

Suggestion: If you are in the market for books with a Thai relationship twist, along with Kaewmla’s Thai Sex Talk, why not grab a copy of Christopher Moore’s Heart Talk too.

Kinokuniya presently has a Valentine’s promotion going for both Thai Sex Talk and Heart Talk. Thai Sex Talk is now 20% off = 316 baht. Heart Talk also gets 20% off = 495 baht.

In addition, Thai Sex Talk is available as print on demand on Amazon and eBook.

Btw: you can read my review of Heart Talk here: Heart Talk by Christopher G Moore.

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Bangkok Found: Reflections on the City

Bangkok Found

Reflections on Bangkok Found…

Bangkok Found I’m not a city gal. I enjoy gardening, country walks, and being able to see the moon and stars at night.

And since falling in love with Bangkok in 2004, I’ve had a troublesome time explaining why to those who spread out north, south, and elsewhere in Thailand.

Their lives are full of the wide open spaces and fresh air of the countryside. Mine is full of people, traffic, and air cleaners.

So when the conversation comes up, I usually wave in the direction of the excitement of the city, the vibrancy, and the variety of people. But my explanations are notably vague as I have not been able to pinpoint exactly why this city holds me tight, and not others.

I have a few exceptional books on the quirks of Thailand, but none that really define the soul of Bangkok for me. Philip Cornwel-Smith’s Very Thai filled in elephantine holes. Bangkok Inside Out did too. But neither spoke directly to my heart. Not in the same way Alex Kerr’s Bangkok Found has.

Alex and I were both raised for a slot of our childhood in Japan. Years later, Asia tugged me to the island of Borneo, and then here to Thailand. Alex went back to Japan before finally settling in Bangkok too.

All through Bangkok Found, Alex compares Thailand to Japan as well as China and other Asian countries. By defining what Bangkok/Thailand is not, he clarifies (as much as anyone can) what Bangkok/Thailand is.

As usual, when people start talking about Thailand, you run into more and more complications, and it ends up in a muddle. Bangkok is like a thep phanom, a smiling angel with hands clasped in prayer above – and twirling leaves and vines below.

(and) Everything is negotiable…

When I went searching for the origins of the goddess at Bangkok’s Fertility Shrine, I signed off with: “So there you have it. Jâo Mâe Táp-tim is the Chinese goddess Mazu. Maybe”.

In Thailand, one sets out into unknown territory without a map.

It is this lack of a map that beguiles me. It is knowing that even when I’ve found an answer to a query, yet not quite, that sometimes frustrates me.

To some degree, history everywhere in the world is a created artifact. But in Bangkok, you feel this more acutely than elsewhere.

The Thais hide better, embellish better. The whole thrust of royal Siamese culture since Ayutthaya was the building of fantasy worlds, ethereal realms that are not of this earth. A lot of thought and choreography go into creating illusion… gorgeous pageantry.

Thailand is a Bowerbird, collecting bits of ribbon, twigs, iridescent insect wings, blue bottle caps, all sorts of shiny and pretty things, and weaving them together as decoration for its nest.

The myths and counter-myths of Thailand and its people are a quagmire, for sure. But give me the nest of a Bowerbird over the sterile tidiness of the West any day.

Note: Alex Kerr can be located via Alex Kerr.com. The artwork (above and used on the cover) is a creation of the fabulous Thai painter Thongchai Srisukprasert (ธงชัย ศรีสุขประเสริฐ).

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Thai Folk Wisdom: Contemporary Takes on Proverbs

Thai Folk Wisdom

Contemporary takes on Thai proverbs…

One of my (unnamed) New Year’s resolutions is to get out more.

But… where?

Thai Folk WisdomAs far as I can tell, there is not one single resource listing everything going on in Bangkok. The bits are spread out everywhere. Magazines. Websites. Blogs.

On advice, I picked up a copy of Bangkok101 at Asia Books. The magazine is mostly for tourists, but its Metro Beat section got me to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

I have an interest in Thai proverbs. If you do too, the Thai Folk Wisdom (ถึงพริกถึงขิง) exhibition will be at the Culture Center until January 17, 2010. The presentation is from 10 in the morning to 9 at night, which I imagine is the same time the doors of the Culture Center open.

Be sure to pick up the book on the exhibition while you are at it: Thai Folk Wisdom. For a full colour book, the 500 baht price tag is quite reasonable. If you forgo the book, you can always opt for a set of six mini banners from the exhibition (free to the public).

This dual language book brings to life fifty proverbs and sayings from Thailand with great creative flair. Each proverb is interpreted with an abundance of vibrant pizzazz reflecting modern Thai culture.

Under the direction of designer Tulaya Pornpiriyakulchai, sensational visuals have been provided by some of Thailand’s leading contemporary artists from Manit Sriwanich-poom, M. L. Chiratorn and Pinaree Sanpitak to Jakkai Siributr.

The artwork at the exhibition is spread throughout the hallway of the 3rd and 4th floors. So if you do find yourself at the Discovery Centre (like I did), the pedestrian overpass will take you straight to the lower of the two floors.

Thai Folk Wisdom

Like sardines in a can…

Art is indeed in the eye of the beholder. Looking through both floors of the exhibition, I absolutely LOVED the painting by Kaesorn Podnjamnong (เกษร ผลจำนงค์): Like Sardines in a Tin (เเน่นเหมือน ปลากระป๋อง).

Canned fish are crammed into every tiny space to give full value to the buyer. The fish aren’t bothered because they are dead and have been turned into food.

Passengers squeezed together on the bus are a different matter – no fun no comfort. Some people trying to be funny have compared them to sardines in a tin – compressed so tight they cannot move an inch.

Thai Folk Wisdom

The Thai script on the top left of the painting means bus free for people – รถเมล์ ฟรี เพื่อ ประชาชน (rót may free pêua bprà-chaa chon).

During the economic crisis, free buses were a part of Samak Sundaravej’s (former Thai Prime Minister) economic stimulus package.

The Thai script on the bottom right of the painting means pain release (medicine) – ปวดหาย (bpùat hăai). The kind used for headaches.

And maybe Kaesorn could stop by and tell us the connection ;-)

The reason I am attracted to this painting in particular is because it screamed out Thailand to me. Bangkok, especially.

I’ll have to confess that I have never been on a Thai bus, but I sort of know the feeling. Scrunching into the Skytrain during rush hour is close enough!

Thai Folk Wisdom

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Book Review: Language is Music

Language is Music

Susanna Zaraysky and Language is Music…

I’ve read a number of books about learning languages. Some are made up of information that anyone can find on their own with a google or two. Others are written by thoughtful people sharing actual experiences of their own. Susanna is such a thoughtful person and Language is Music is such a book.

A child of Soviet immigrants struggling with English, Susanna Zaraysky grew up in California, then went on to study ten languages and speak seven languages fluently. Susanna’s language skills paved the way for her to live in nine countries and travel to fifty. Impressive.

In her new book, Language is Music, Susanna teaches you how to immerse yourself in your target language to make learning languages a part of your daily living.

While reading Dr. Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia, about the neurological aspects of music, I became inspired to write about how music helped me learn foreign languages.

After solving my personal mystery about why I was so dexterous in learning foreign languages, I developed fun tricks and lessons to enable others to be successful.

In Language is Music, I share these listening methods so that anyone can have fun learning any language. The book has over 70 tips and 90 free or low-cost Internet resources that teach enthusiasts how to use daily activities, such as watching T.V. or listening to music; conversation partners; and attendance at cultural events to become masterful speakers of any tongue.

Language is Music table of contents…

  1. Conductor’s Notes
    Tips on how to think of language as music.
  2. Listen, Listen, Listen
    Suggestions for listening to music in your target language.
  3. Concert Time
    Play your instrument by speaking.
  4. Radio Time
    Tune into a new frequency online or off.
  5. Television for Homework
    Learn to speak by watching TV.
  6. Films to Fluency
    Learn languages from the stars.
  7. Be Part of the Symphony
    Speak with others in your target language.
  8. Day-to-Day
    Exercises to ingrain the language into your brain with daily rhythms.

While Susanna shares many tips to help you get over your language learning hump, the tip below spoke to me personally.

Give up your ego. If you are a perfectionist, you need to take on an alter-ego of a fearless person who makes mistakes in your new language.

My father was a producer of musicals when I was growing up. I was a painfully shy young thing, but the inevitable happened – he put me in one of his plays. And then another.

I discovered that if I was playing a part, I was no longer the shy me. I was whoever I needed to be at that time.

So I can see how this very same trick can be used for language learners who are either shy or perfectionist, or both. As I have nothing to lose, I’ll certainly give it a try.

Susanna can be found at Create Your World Books. You can purchase Language is Music here.

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