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Tag: Thai Culture (page 1 of 5)

RIP: King Adulyadej Bhumibol

RIP

ข้าพเจ้าขอแสดงความเสียใจและเคารพรักต่อการสวรรคตของพระบาทสมเด็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว

I’m extremely saddened by the passing of the Great King Adulyadej Bhumibol who is loved and revered by many, not just Thais. I humbly offer my deepest condolences to all Thais and those who have been touched by His Majesty’s kind and generous spirit.

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Thailand’s Ministry of Culture: No Fun Allowed at Songkran?

Thailand's Ministry of Culture

No Songkran fun … for the wicked…

Chiang mai CityNews’ latest post shoots off with: ‘Mini Cult’ Uses Children to Shame Behaviour at Songkran.

The first child responds with “It’s water fight time!” but as the answers progress the answers include “sexy dancing with no clothes”, “touching boobies”, and “get into a brawl”.

After alternating between the innocent children’s faces and raucous black and white images of Songkran the video concludes with the statement “ Seriously, is this how you want to experience Songkran?”

I’m torn about Mini-Cult’s latest bid to control. On one hand, I still remember back when they took away the Bare Breasted Ladies of Songkran. That miffed me to no end.

But on the other hand, I can sort of see their point. I wouldn’t want my kids to experience anything terribly awful (not that I’ve seen much of anything myself – does it even exist).

Now here’s yet another ‘but’. Parents can and do arrange safe venues for their kids. And there’s plenty of safe fun to be found. First off, kids celebrate Songkran at school. And secondly, many neighbourhoods are filled with lighthearted water fights up and down the sois. Oh, and don’t forget the Wats! That’s three.

But if you think about it, keeping kids away from the areas where drunks (local and tourists) are in high concentration just isn’t that difficult. Most everyone knows where they go. Trick or Treating (America’s favourite holiday) had to be tweaked for kids too. So really, it can be done.

Then there’s this bit that keeps nagging at me… It’s well-known that Thai kids walk to school through all sorts of raunchy areas where sex and drugs are sold openly on the street. So if Mini-Cult is so bothered about what Thai kids are being exposed to, why aren’t they putting a stop to that sort of fun as well?

I dunno. Seriously. You tell me.

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You Want to Speak Like a Thai?

Say it Like a Thai Would

Say it like a Thai would…

Now before you even begin reading this be forewarned that it might ruffle your feathers some. Truth be told, it’s kinda-sorta meant to. At the same time, what I want to do is get the readers’ heads around a concept about learning Thai as well.

Not surprisingly, as I make the rounds at the Thai language schools in Bangkok, I run into plenty of foreigners wanting to learn Thai. Almost to a person, everyone I meet says to me, “I want to speak Thai with a Thai accent.” First off, I laugh out loud (really more of a guffaw, which could possibly be off-putting) but then I ask “exactly which ‘Thai accent do you want to learn?” They invariably get that dazed expression, hem-n-haw saying something like, “you know a Thai accent.” I go on with as much sincerity as I can muster (which after seven+ years studying this language and touring more Thai language schools than I remember is marginal at best).

Do you want to speak Thai with that over-the-top Bankokian accent which hi-so’s use? Most of the younger Bangkokians use this accent so other Thais don’t confuse them with country Thais in Bangkok. This is known as พูดดัดจริต. Or do you wanna speak Thai with a Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai accent like the north-western Thais? Wait, I know! You want to speak with that singsong choppy southern accented Thai like from Hat Yai or Songkhla? No? Okay, I got it now. You wanna speak with that พูดเหน่อ บ้านนอก accent like the people from Kanchanaburi, Suphanburi or Ratchaburi, right? Or maybe you want one of the many Isaan accents like from Buriram, Ubon, Udon, Nongkhai, or the dog eating province, Sakhon Nakhon? It could even be that you want the edgier, slightly almost Cambodian accent like the Thais from Sa Kaeo or Surin. Or is it the Chantaburi eastern sea side accent, or the one that pegs a Thai speaker as coming from Korat? I dunno. Really.

One thing I do know with 100% certainty is this: there is no such animal as a “Thai accent” because they’re ALL Thai accents! It’s just like I can tell someone from New York, California, Tennessee or Texas from the accent they have when they speak American English or like a Brit can tell immediately where another Brit was born in the UK because of the accent when they speak the Queens English.

Here’s something for foreigners learning Thai to ponder, especially ones who say that they wanna speak with a Thai accent. It is highly unlikely that is EVER gonna happen! I don’t care how much you think you or someone you know sounds Thai, or how much the over praising people around you say that you sound “just like a Thai”, believe you me, to them you really don’t. Full stop, period, end of story. You should just throw the idea into the circular file and not waste another second on it. You’ll learn Thai about a gazillion times faster than either A) – pretending you sound like a native speaker or B) – agonising over the fact you don’t sound like a native speaker. Believe me, to native Thai speakers listening to you, you sound like a non-native speaker!

There are a handful of gifted non-native speakers of Thai doing the ‘Westerner speaks Thai’ circuit. And in no way would I put myself in that illustrious group of people. Yet, they’re never mistaken for native speakers by real honest to goodness born and bred speakers of Thai. The fact that they’re non-native speakers ALWAYS comes out within a few sentences. Maybe it’s that they speak with the wrong cadence or rhythm, or maybe the structure is a little too forced or un-natural, or maybe their pronunciation is slightly squirrelly. But whatever it is, no Thais would confuse them as being native speakers. Honestly, Todd Lavelle is possibly the closest thing I’ve heard to a native speaker when he isn’t speaking in that over accented Thai he uses on his tv program.

Now, don’t mis-read or mis-remember what I’m saying. I’m saying that there’s no doubt in every native Thai speakers mind that those people are foreign speakers of Thai. What I’m NOT saying about those foreign speakers is their Thai isn’t clear, isn’t concise, isn’t understood 100% outta the gate or isn’t responded to by the Thais. I’m just saying that ANY native Thai speaker knows those people aren’t… <-native speakers. I've said time and again you should take ANY compliment thrown you way about your Thai with a grain of salt. There is a Thai idiom for something so insignificant, so trivial that it means less than nothing and that idiom is เท่าขี้ตามด or "equal to the sleep in the eye of an ant”. In all my world travels (and I’ve been to a fair few countries) I've never ran into a demographic of people who were more over complimentary to foreigners speaking their language than the Thais. If a foreigner can manage to spit out "Sweaty Crap" <-(you read that right) for สวัสดีครับ, these people are piling on the accolades. In fact, I’ve found the exact opposite is true where foreigners speaking Thai is concerned. When a Thai doesn't say anything, as in not one word about the fact that you're a foreigner speaking Thai to them, that's when you know your Thai language chops are getting there. Now don’t get confused and start thinking you’re sounding like a native Thai speaker, because you don’t. What you are doing is "saying it like a Thai would”. That is the key to success in speaking this language so that Thais understand what you’re saying to them. I'm not telling you that you shouldn’t learn how to pronounce Thai words to the best of your ability, because you need to pretty much nail the words. I mean if it's a short vowel you can't draw it out, if it's a long vowel you can't shorten it and the same goes with the tones. You can’t add emotion into your spoken Thai by varying the intonation like we do when speaking English. That’s what the myriad of Thai particles are for. You also need to hit the tones pretty darned close (for the most part). What I am telling you, is to invest the time learning how to "say it like a Thai". Don't take an English sentence and translate it into Thai, re-sequence the words, and think these people are gonna understand you, because they won’t (most won’t anyway). Instead, LISTEN to how Thais say things in regards to sentence structure, cadence and rhythm when they speak. Pay close attention to where they pause <- (very important!) when they are speaking, what words they routinely leave out or drop because they’re understood in the context of a conversation and start speaking your version of Thai that way. Benjawan Poomsan Becker has a series of c/d’s and booklets out called Speak Like a Thai. They are plain and simple worth twice their weight in gold. Well, most of them are, some are just fluff, but still, they’re good. The vocab is fairly contemporary, the example sentences are good, and you can get the feel of how a native speaker says things She also has one out called Improve Your Thai Pronunciation and it’s good too.

You will improve your spoken Thai by leaps and bounds if you just forget about trying to sound Thai. I know, every one of you will say, “I have a friend who’s fluent in Thai”. My question to you is this, “how would you know the person you’re referring to is fluent in Thai when you aren’t?” Did you consult your crystal balls? Is it because the Thai they’re talking to understands them or the fact that they didn’t hafta repeat what they said three times? Or is it because your Thai is so poor you only imagine your friend is fluent because they don’t have the problems conversing with Thais that you experience?

I say all the time my Thai is nothing to brag about, not at all. It’s totally un-Thai insofar as it’s coarse, blunt and I don’t ครับ, ขอ or หน่อย much when I talk. As far as the conversational rules of engagement in Thai it’s right on the borderline of being rude and sometimes it’s more than a little over that line. It’s also poorly pronounced, off cadence and not surprising, it has a definite Midwestern American (Ohio in fact) hillbilly accent to it. What is surprising is, nearly 100% of the time, once a Thai knows I can speak something close to Thai, I can get ‘em to understand me and answer in kind on the first go round. I guess by some imaginary criteria, I’m fluent too, even though I always tell people when it comes to speaking Thai I’m effluent.

For non-native speakers’ structure, pronunciation and cadence/rhythm are the linchpins of this language. You got to get them all or you’re out in left field with Thais scratching their heads wondering what you’re trying to say. The only way to say things like a Thai is by investing the time it takes trying to nail the sentence structure and getting as close to the real pronunciation as possible. You can get some of the cadence down by reading aloud. Be forewarned, just sitting in a room and stumbling over reading Thai out loud isn’t going to help your spoken Thai one bit. You got to have a live Thai sitting around carefully listening to you AND correcting you while you read. It is my personal experience that few if any Thais are up for this, mostly because it’s about as exciting for them as watching paint dry. It takes a rare breed ‘o Thai indeed to sit there and endure you mangling Thai out loud and also having them man up to correct you time and again when you mangle words or sentences. They just lose the will to live after a while and go watch Thai soap operas, chat with their friends on Line or play Cookie Run.

The next thing you need to do is listen, listen and LISTEN to Thais talking. It doesn’t matter if it’s the radio, the t/v, you-tube or what. There are TONZ of Thai audio out there in internet land, USE them! The only caveat is you need to make sure whatever you’re listening to is close to your comprehension level in Thai. It doesn’t work if you can only understand one out of five words spoken; you gotta pretty much get what’s being said. Another thing is pick topics you have an interest in to listen to. Nothing will suck the life outta you faster than listening to a sound file in Thai about something you don’t have an interest in. Some people find those Thai ละครน้ำเน่า’s palatable, but I don’t. The acting is campy, the mood music sound track is as bad as the mind-numbing theme song and their production values are not all that good. Still, I know several really competent foreign speakers of Thai who data mine incredibly good sentences and phrases out of them. Another plus for this learning is, as fast as a ละคร comes out it’s on You Tube so you can watch it at your leisure.
The last part of the equation is talking in Thai to Thais almost all the time. Stop falling back on English, mime, hand signals, stick figure drawings, sock puppets or whatever you resort to when Thais can’t understand you. I know most of you aren’t gonna like this one bit, BUT here’s another news flash – there’s no short cut, no magic pill, no secret formula, no best way which will get your Thai to the point it needs to be other than speaking to these people, day in day out, all the time. For most of us (or at least early on for me) that was a bummer. I was so put off by them not understanding something I said (which at the time I was saying to the best of my ability) that I plain and simple stopped talking. Instead I went thru a prolonged “silent phase” of listening.

When we first start speaking Thai to Thais, we’re afraid, in fact we’re scared witless. We’re afraid that the Thai we’re talking to won’t understand what we say. We’re also afraid that if the Thai understands us they’ll answer off script or not use the spoon-fed dialog we were taught in our Thai language classes. That is indeed vexing. But what is even sadder still, is the fact that we aren’t able to receive the information coming back to us from a Thai IF it’s off script. In schools we are not taught alternate answers to those rote dialogs pounded into our heads. Despite the fact that there’re usually a myriad of ways a Thai can answer a question we ask which doesn’t follow the script we were taught in school.

One BIG point I want to touch on to make you sound more Thai is to STOP using first person pronouns when making statements. Especially statements where everyone listening understands it’s you saying something. Nothing makes you sound more un-Thai or tips Thais off faster that you’re a newbie Thai speaker than ผม‘ing or ดิฉัน‘ing every time you open your mouth to say something in the first person. Listen to these people when they talk. They just don’t do it, as in, hardly ever! Younger Thais will sometimes use their nicknames, but most of the time no one says anything and it’s understood in context that they’re making a first person statement, unless they designate in the sentence they’re talking about another person.

As I said in the beginning of this piece this isn’t about you speaking Thai with a Thai accent, because you ain’t ever gonna sound Thai enough to fool a native Thai speaker. This is about you saying things like Thais do. If you do that their ears will auto-correct the off-toned words and the long/short, short/long vowel swaps we all make when we speak Thai. I’ve found if you say things the way a Thai says them you’re universally understood. They just get it.

And thus ends the lesson for today. This may sound like a rant from a nobody who writes about learning Thai and you’re free to throw out the ideas I mentioned if you want to, but, I’m telling you it is my personal experience after adopting some of the techniques I’ve outlined that Thais understand me far better now than they ever did.

Good Luck,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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Loi Krathong (Yee Peng): An Unexpected Pleasure in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Celebrating Loi Krathong and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai…

Wikipedia: Loi Krathong (Thai: ลอยกระทง) coincides with the Lanna (northern Thai) festival known as Yi Peng (Thai: ยี่เป็ง). Yi means “two” and peng means a “full moon day”. Yi Peng refers to the full moon day in the second month according to the Lanna lunar calendar (the twelfth month according to the Thai lunar calendar).

I had no plans to join the Loi Krathong / Yee Peng festivities but last night I was persuaded. Twenty minutes before my ride showed up I was googling instructions on night photography.

We first went down by the river, slipping and sliding through the mud churned up by the thousands of people who were setting off fireworks, letting Krathongs go in the river, and releasing lanterns into the sky. Most of the westerners were crowded around the moat in the middle of town (they missed a real Thai time – seriously).

I found night photography to be unnerving as well as exhilarating, and now I’m hooked. Below are just a few of the shots that came out.

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai

The last photo is of a guy chest deep in the river where the Krathongs were set off. Several theories have been put forward but I’m not sure what he’s doing. Does anyone know?

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To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

To Learn the Thai Language You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!

You Gotta Learn Thai Culture!…

I want to state this now and for the record that after studying Thai for 7+ years: If you don’t understand Thai culture, you will NEVER EVER understand the nuances of the the language. Period. End of story.

I know that’s a 180 degree flip-flop from my earlier stance back when I started learning Thai. Believe you me, I’m as stubborn as the day is long, but I’m not too stupid to admit it. As far as my saying that Thai culture isn’t important to learning the language, I was 1000% off the scales!

Cross-cultureIf you can read Thai and want to wrap your head around the restrictions Thais operate within culturally, versus the restrictions most foreigners use, then buy Cross Culture ฝรั่งไม่เข้าใจ คนไทยไม่เก็ท by Christopher Wright (aka Chris Delivery). Out of all the books on Thailand and Thai culture I’ve read, it alone taught me how to realistically interact with Thais. It taught me how to put myself ‘in their noses’.

เอาจมูกคนอื่นมาหายใจ
Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
(use someone else’s nose to breathe thru).

When I undertook to learn the Thai language I didn’t put much effort into studying their culture. And needless to say, there were many facets of the language which eluded my understanding. There were a ton of things which were hard for me to work out, that I just plain ไม่เก็ท (didn’t get) about Thai. The first was the rigid and often inflexible way Thais interact in semi-official settings (offices, meetings, with any officialdom) versus the relatively restriction-free interaction they have in informal or intimate social settings.

Another thing that threw me for a loop was the incredibly blunt (and intrusively nosy) questions Thais would ask after first meeting.

“Do you own or rent you room?”
“What do you pay for rent?”
“How much money do you make each month?”
“Do you have a college degree?”
“Where did you go to college?”
“Do you own your own car?”

These questions just plain flabbergasted me. In the US I’da said, “that’s nunya beeswax!” The slang term for none of your business! I couldn’t figure out why it was important for Thais to know all this stuff about me. And needless to say, my Thai spoken language skills stagnated at a mediocre level.

It wasn’t until I started learning about the Thai culture thru reading Cross Culture (ฝรั่งไม่เข้าใจ คนไทยไม่เก็ท) that some of the idiosyncratic things Thais do started to make sense. Better yet, what Thais were doing was making sense in relation to their use of the Thai language.

In regards to an imaginary socio-economic ladder ‘o success, Thais as a rule are far more caught up with the concept of what rung people are standing on than we as westerners are, and that’s why Thais ask blunt questions of people they don’t know. They need to know if you are standing on the same rung as them, or the rung above or below. The answers immediately clues BOTH sides into who’s the superior (พี่) and who’s the subordinate (น้อง). From then on in it’s reflected in the conversation. Effortless (to them) one person then becomes the superior and the other the subordinate.

Thais are also pretty caught up in image, both on how they appear to others and how others appear to them. Now, I’ve met more than my fair share of real honest-to-goodness millionaires in Thailand, foreigners ultra-successful in their own right. It would seem to me that a way lot dress pretty darn casual. So casual in fact, that most Thais wouldn’t give them a second glance and more than a few Thais probably wouldn’t even give them the time of day, if asked. Conversely, EVERY single Thai I’ve met who either has real money or who pretends to have it, dresses to the nines.

I know a Thai guy who lives in a shoe-box Thai apartment and could get to work via the BTS in minutes, yet he drives an entry-level BMW to work. He takes an hour each way, just so he can be seen by his coworkers. It would seem that Thais took that old Canon camera commercial with Andre Agassi using the catch phrase “image is everything” to a new, heretofore unheard of level!

The thing I found interesting was that the more I researched the Thai culture, the more I understood the “whyz” as far as Thaiz behaving in a particular way during the conversations I’d have, and in conversations I’d eavesdrop on when they thought I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I’m now at the point where I think the language and the culture are inextricably woven together. In fact, I believe they’re two sides of the same coin. It’s like you can’t learn language to its full extent without having to stomach a very healthy dose of culture too.

Everyone states that the Thai language has several registers, varying from official speak (ภาษาราชการ, ภาษาราทางการ) and going right down in descending order to market language (ภาษาตลาด). I concur wholeheartedly. There are a multitude of registers available to speak Thai with. However, I am of the mind that as foreign speakers of Thai, we just need a good mid register. You know, one that isn’t so sugary sweet and over the top in politeness that we come off sounding like we’re kowtowing to the Thais, yet not so coarse that it curls a Thais hair.

Disclaimer: I freely admit that Todz-Thai might be a little on the rough side for some. I don’t speak that way to be rude to Thais on porpoise, err on purpose. It’s just that I didn’t want to lose who/what I am about simply because I’m a foreigner who happens to speak Thai with Thais. I am not compelled to embrace, acknowledge or follow the cultural restrictions Thais operate within, but a foreign speaker of Thai I am 100% compelled to understand them.

I speak really blunt, terse, coarse and to the point Thai. I don’t mince words. I don’t dance around the point. And I ask repeatedly if they understand (เก็ทมั้ย). Remember, Thais will feign understanding just to interact politely with someone. It’s almost as if the overriding component in verbal communication is that everyone’s polite, and whether anything gets accomplished or not seems a very distant second place. And I just won’t accept those pat, knee jerk answers Thais give like ไม่มี, ไม่ได้ as valid answers to the questions I pose.

It is my experience that a Thai who says ไม่ได้ or even worse spits out the English “cannot” isn’t saying that it can’t be done. What they’re really saying is they don’t know how to do it. So to understand what’s going on you need to breathe thru the nose of that Thai. You need to understand the invisible cultural restrictions which come into play during these types of interactions.

Example: you ask a Thai if something can be done. Now, the Thai you asked can’t say, “I don’t know”, because they’d lose face. They can’t say, “wow, that’s a good question, let me go check”, because once again, they’d lose face. In fact, due to the overpowering need in the subconscious mind of every Thai to save, give, gain and/or not lose face, the only right answer for them when they don’t know the answer, or don’t know how to go about doing something, is to say “cannot”.

It’s vexing, but there are workarounds to this. But, it takes an understanding of how Thais operate within their cultural restrictions, along with a fair command of Thai, to be able to back a Thai into a corner where the only face-saving option for them is to do what you want or go find someone who knows the answer to your request.

What I’m trying to say is that you, as a foreigner speaking Thai, do not have to adopt to any of the Thai cultural norms to interact with Thais. There is a huge difference between understanding the mythical beast known as Thai culture, and mimicking how Thais interact culturally.

When interacting with Thais, the very fact we are Thai speaking foreigners should be exploited to the n-th degree. Clearly, we don’t fit neatly into their tidy cubby-holes like the other Thais do.

We are free to interact with a CEO of a business just as easily and seamlessly, as we can interact with the lady who’s mopping the floors, or the guy who opens the door for us. It’s something foreigners here ไม่เก็ท (don’t get).

In the way they speak Thai and the way they behave, I see foreigners wandering around trying to mimic the Thais. Honestly, most do a really piss poor job of pulling it off! They act more like an over-the-top caricature than someone who is genuinely embracing the Thai culture. From my perspective, it’s not that they aren’t genuine towards the Thais, it’s just how they are coming across to me.

I am not suggesting to be rude or unkind. As a boy I was taught (had it beaten into my backside with a willow switch) that “courtesy doesn’t take a college degree”. I’m saying to be polite, be firm, stand your ground, and don’t take the first answer a Thai gives you as the real answer to your problem. On so many occasions I’ve had Thais tell me “no” and then after further discourse, I’ve had them either do what I requested, or go and get someone else.

Individual Thais are ultra-afraid to make a wrong decision and thereby bear the brunt of the responsibility. They’re much more collective decision makers than foreigners are. It’s one of the most limiting factors when foreigners work with Thais. A foreign boss gives a Thai a project and it progresses along just fine until the point where the Thai has to make a decision which can affect the outcome. It’s then that they go into a safe mode, afraid to make the wrong decision. So what happens is that the project languishes on their desk until the foreign boss is forced to decide for them. This high uncertainty avoidance trait is a limiting cultural aspect amongst the Thais. And I predict that there’s a very good chance that with the opening of the AEC, it will become even more apparent to everyone.

I’ve said over and over that I’ve never wai’d a single Thai and most likely never will. In fact, I have two t-shirts made up eons ago. One says “Why wai? R U Thai?” and the other one says “Silly foreigner. Wai’z R 4 Thais”. Now, I totally understand the intricacies involved in the various levels of respect that wai’ing in Thailand encompasses. Because I’m not Thai, I just don’t want to wai. In the 10+ years I’ve been here, interacting with Thais on every rung of their ladder ‘o success, I’ve never not wai’ing be an impediment to talkin’ to, doing business with, or getting things done with ANY Thai. Not a single time.

I did finally break down and get a couple sets of those clickers pasted on the inside heels of my shoes, just like the Thai police and military. It was my compromise for never wai’ing. If I feel I owe a Thai acknowledgement for doing their job (which BTW is something I find strange any way you wanna try to explain it) I’ll nod my head and click my shoes. That’s about the best they can expect outta me.

Get that book I recommended – Cross Culture ฝรั่งไม่เข้าใจ คนไทยไม่เก็ท by Christopher Wright – it totally rocks!! It’d be even better translated into English. Because even though it’s written from the perspective of helping Thais understand foreigners, it’d be a bestseller as it’d help foreigners understand Thais too.

Good Luck,
Tod Daniels | toddaniels at gmail dot com

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Mixed Messages: Is Thailand Suing Singapore for Stealing Songkran?

Thailand Threatens to Sue Singapore for Stealing Songkran

Thailand Suing Singapore for Stealing Songkran?…

I don’t know about you but I’m bored bored bored with the political protests in Thailand. Go home already! Just recently Kaewmala started reminiscing about the good ‘ole days when we would poke fun at the hilarious antics of Thailand’s Ministry of Culture instead.

Do you remember when MiniCult decided that bare boobs at Songkran were no longer Thai? And then MiniCult had to do a mad scramble to replace the lovely Songkran boobs gracing their own website? And wasn’t that fun?

Well, this week Singapore announced that their annual Songkran festival for 2014 will better than ever with the Largest Water Festival Celebration Party in Singapore! Then yesterday TAT (Thai Tourism Authority) said that it welcomed Songkran in Singapore. But today we woke up to a Bangkok Post article (no longer online) Thai official threatening to sue Singapore over Songkran.

I don’t know what to think about these mixed messages except for GAME ON!

Thailand threatens to sue Singapore for ‘stealing’ Songkran: A senior Culture Ministry official has threatened to sue organisers of a Songkran festival in Singapore next month, saying it will undermine the value of the rival Thai New Year celebration.

Culture Surveillance Bureau director Yupa Taweewattanakijbaworn said Songkran is not just about splashing water for fun, but is aimed at strengthening relationships between family members and communities.

Singapore is using the festival to promote tourism, without acknowledging the value of the traditions behind Songkran, she said. ”This is wrong because the value of the traditional celebration is being distorted,” she said.

Seems she didn’t do her homework, or her Google finger is broken, or both.

Wikipedia: Songkran is a term derived from the Sanskrit saṅkrānti (or, more specifically, meṣa saṅkrānti). It may refer to the traditional New Year celebrated in Thailand and several Southeast Asian countries when the sun transits the constellation of Aries, the first astrological sign in the Zodiac, as reckoned by sidereal astrology.

Songkran can also refer to the traditional New Year celebrated by the Dai people of Yunnan, China, and by the Tai Dam people of Northern Vietnam.

Wikipedia: The Water Festival is the New Year’s celebrations that take place in Southeast Asian countries such as Burma, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand as well as Yunnan, China. It is called the ‘Water Festival’ by Westerners because people splash / pour water at one another as part of the cleansing ritual to welcome the new year.

Traditionally people gently sprinkled water on one another as a sign of respect, but as the new year falls during the hottest month in South East Asia, many people end up dousing strangers and passersby in vehicles in boisterous celebration.

The act of pouring water is also a show of blessings and good wishes. It is believed that on this Water Festival, everything old must be thrown away, or it will bring the owner bad luck.

From the Indian Holi to the Thai Songkran: Songkran is believed to have originated in India, and the word Sankranti become Songkran. Holi is also celebrated in Burma (Myanmar), where it is still celebrated as a festival of colors. Gradually it moved to Siam, where the water and color mix gave way to a water festival. In Thailand, besides water, talcum is used to celebrate Songkran. In recent years, colors are being imported from India, and a section of revelers use colors along with water.

Now, let’s put aside the fact that Songkran isn’t a Thai only holiday for a minute. The argument is, ”This is wrong because the value of the traditional celebration is being distorted”. But what about all the holidays Thailand has grabbed from other countries? Chinese New Year, New Years, Xmas, Valentine’s day … and more.

After the MiniCult’s ill-informed rant I’m seriously thinking about flying down for the Largest Water Festival Celebration Party in Singapore. Are you with me?

Pssssst. Unlike in Thailand, Singapore will at least have beer.

BREAKING NEWS…

Official: No Plan To Sue Singapore Over Songkran: Ms. Yupa told Khaosod late yesterday that her agency, which operates under the Ministry of Culture, has no intention to file any lawsuit against Singapore.

“I never said anything like that,” Ms. Yupa insisted, “Such reports have caused damage to me, and to the Ministry of Culture”.

The director of Thai cultural watchdog claimed that she merely said in previous interviews that she postively views the Singaporean Songkran as good PR for Thai Songkran, and expressed her wish that the Singaporeans would “play Songkran correctly” in accordance to the Thai tradtion.

“It’s a sensitive subject. I don’t want to cause any disturbance to international relations,” Ms. Yupa complained, adding that she’s distraught to see her “misquotes” being amplified and “distorted” on the social network.

And now I really don’t know what to believe because both the Bangkok Post and the Nation posted her original quotes.

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Questions… Questions… Lani and Mia from Thai Girl Talk

Thai Girl Talk

Questions at Thai Girl Talk…

Thai Girl TalkWe’re so excited to guest post on WLT for our podcast Thai Girl Talk.

But after we agreed to interview each other, Mia and I couldn’t agree on what questions to ask…

Lani: Do you feel like a man trapped in a woman’s body or a woman perfectly happy in her own body?

Mia: I’m not sure I understand the question.

Lani: Oh, Mia!

Mia: Let’s talk about Thai Girl Talk (TGT). For example, what is TGT?

Lani: It’s a weekly podcast about Thai language and culture.

Mia: Exactly. People will also want to know who we are.

Lani: Well, we are both teachers. Although you teach Thai, and I teach English…oh they can read about us on our About page! Okay. What do you love and hate about Thailand?

Mia: It couldn’t be anything else but the food and fruits, and oh I forgot, riding a scooter without helmet and driving without a seat belt. Sorry, I’m a bad example!

Lani: 555

Mia: Now back to the questions. Who should listen to TGT? I think anyone who loves Thailand.

Lani: Speaking of Thailand, why are there so many ghosts here?

Mia: The same answer as to why there are so many ladyboys – social acceptance. We believe in ghosts – it’s a law of attraction.

Lani: Wow. That’s a good answer. Now, you lived in the United States for 10 years? What did you love and hate about living in the United States?

Mia: Love the way people drive, hate that I could not get food on the street at 1 o’clock in the morning. What about you?

Lani: I’m starting to miss the landscape. I’m from Hawaii and I consider myself a West coast gal. America is a beautiful and big country. But I hated how I had to work all the time just to make ends meet.

Mia: Yeah. Thailand is easy.

Lani: Totally. While the cost of living is rising, it’s still affordable. What’s your favorite Thai food? And favorite Western food?

Mia: For Thai, anything that puts fire on my tongue. For Western, spaghetti with meatballs sprinkled with red crusted chili.

Lani: Yum! Okay, next question, since you are a Chiang Mai native and I, a mere half-Thai or look krung, what is the most annoying biggest misconception of Thais that foreigners have?

Mia: Foreigners who believe it when Thais say “mai pben rai” or never mind.

Lani: Ooooo. Good one. And foreigners would probably be equally annoyed by the saving face aspect of Thai culture.

Mia: But that is why people should listen to TGT! They will gain inside information about Thailand from a native Thai, and from you, an expat. How long have you been living here?

Lani: I just signed on for my 3rd year at my school.

Mia: Congratulations! So you see, our listeners can learn a lot by listening to us. They can also leave comments, suggest topics, tell the world to listen to us, download our podcast, and listen while they do the dishes…

Lani: 555+ Excellent. We upload our podcast and blog every Friday at: Thai Girl Talk. Join us and let us know what you think!

Mia: Yes! Thanks Cat!

Lani: Hey Mia, when are you going to answer my first question!

Listen to Mia and Lani every Friday at Thai Girl Talk
Have a question about Thai language ask Mia at learn2speakthai

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Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture…

As a tourist to Thailand I enjoyed experiencing a country so very different from where I was living at the time, Brunei Darussalam. Being able to buy booze without leaving the country was also an attraction.

But when I finally moved to Thailand I switched from a carefree tourist mindset to expat mode. The country around me, previously a kaleidoscope of sounds, smells, and clashing colours, started to come into focus.

Along with the focus came questions. Like, why do Thai taxis have those dangly bits hanging from their mirrors? And why do beggars crawl face first along the sidewalk? And why are Thai police uniforms so darn tight?

When I asked other expats their answer was always the illuminating (not) “I dunno”. Being me, I needed more, so I started my own search into the why’s of Thailand. Hit and miss, the answers to a few Thai quirks are discussed in posts on WLT.

Then I found Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, by Philip Cornwel-Smith. Very Thai answered many of my “why” questions, and some I hadn’t thought of yet.

These days, when a new expat breezes into Thailand, I don’t arrive at their housewarming party with the obligatory bottle of wine and chocolates. I gift them with a copy of Very Thai instead.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition…

On Sunday I jumped into a taxi to view the Very Thai Exhibition in front of ZEN in Bangkok.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

You really can’t miss it as the presentation is well placed.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

It’s a small exhibition with larger than life-sized photos from Very Thai.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

I wasn’t the only one curious, a stream of viewers kept popping in front of my camera.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

Many found it easy to walk along the exhibition slowly, savoring the eyecandy as they went.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

This photo was my favourite eyecandy of all.

Very Thai Photo Exhibition: Bangkok

While there it came to me that the photos from the exhibition would be the perfect backdrop for smartphone snappers in Thailand. Because, except for in grocery stores (where it’s off-limits to take photos of veggies) you’ll find people posing in front of just about anything. And I still don’t know why that is.

To get all the lastest news about Very Bangkok and Very Thai, follow Philip on Facebook at VeryThaiBook or on twitter @verybangkok, or bookmark his website: Very Thai.

Sidenote: the editor of Very Thai is Alex Kerr. You might remember the review I wrote of Alex’s excellent Bangkok Found awhile back. And seriously, if you want to know more about Thailand, you couldn’t go wrong with both Very Thai and Bangkok Found on your bookshelf.

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Rock Stacking and Graffiti at Phimai’s Ancient Khmer Temple

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

The Ancient Khmer Temple at Phimai…

Beautiful temples are dotted all around Thailand. As a fan of Khmer style temples especially, it’s been my aim to visit each and every one (and I’m counting on Joe’s book to show the way).

During a baking hot trip to Buriram, the ancient Khmer temple at Phimai Historical Park was a must-see.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Pssst: No, I don’t know the gal in the photo. I needed a photo of the sign to jog my memory. She didn’t move fast enough.

wikipedia: The Phimai historical park (Thai: ปราสาทหินพิมาย) protects one of the most important Khmer temples of Thailand. It is located in the town of Phimai, Nakhon Ratchasima province.

The temple marks one end of the Ancient Khmer Highway from Angkor. As the enclosed area of 1020x580m is comparable with that of Angkor Wat, Phimai must have been an important city in the Khmer empire. Most buildings are from the late 11th to the late 12th century, built in the Baphuon, Bayon and Angkor Wat style.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

After admiring the main part of the temple area I veered off to a quiet part of the grounds. That’s where I discovered a wall decorated with modern graffiti.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

But graffiti isn’t new to me, even on ancient monuments (Pompeii comes to mind). It was the carefully stacked rocks that caught my curiosity.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Along the entire wall marched varied piles. Some tall. Some squat. All had graffiti at their feet. Many of the scratchings include รัก /rák/ (love).

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Nearby the wall was a tree shading a part of the lawn. Under the tree I found even more stacks of rocks. No graffiti. There was nowhere to write.

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Cheeky buggers…

Graffiti at Ancient Khmer Temple in Thailand

Almost a thousand years ago, the walled city of Phimai (ancient Vimayapura) (Siribhadra and Moore 1997:232) was a major center of the polity of Angkor, which dominated much of mainland Southeast Asia from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries A.D.

To create the stacks and etch on the walls, large slabs were stripped from sandstone blocks carved and fitted over a thousand years ago. It’s awful to think about really. But, I’d still like to know why. Why stack rocks?

Googling for answers specific to Thailand, I found this article: Rock Stacking in Koh Lipe, Thailand

gokatayama.org (no longer online): The art of rock stacking has different meanings in various cultures. While in Koh Lipe, Thailand I witnessed an entire island dedicated to stacking rocks. In Thailand, people visit this island off the coast of Koh Lipe and stack up the rocks and make a wish.

Curious. Does anyone know the significance of the rock stacking at this particular Khmer temple? Do the rocks represent the person of their desires? Or just desire?

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Doraemon at Thailand’s Wat Sampa Siw

Doraemon in Thailand

Doraemon in Thai news…

Doraemon (famous Japanese cartoon cat) has been in the Thai news lately. But first, let me catch you up on the old news.

Last year reports started appearing about the much loved Doraeman cat cartoon invading the murals on a Thai Wat:

YARPNEWS (no longer online): For the uninitiated, Doraemon is a blue, earless robot cat from the 24th Century. The character first appeared in Manga comics in 1969 and has since starred in TV, films, musicals and video games. He was even called the ‘Cuddliest hero in Asia’ by Time Magazine.

Fester LIVE Udon Thani: A TEMPLE in Suphan Buri province has become a national sensation after an unusual character was spotted hiding in its wall paintings: the Japanese cartoon character Doraemon.

Noticing Doraemon’s huge popularity with Thai schoolchildren, artist Rakkiat Lertjitsakun added the sky-blue robotic cat to murals at Wat Samp Pa Siew in Muang district.

Temple abbot Phra Maha-anan, who hadn’t noticed Doraemon’s presence in the murals until he was told about them by a Khao Sod reporter, said he wasn’t angry at all. Mr Rakkiat was just trying to help today’s children learn about good and evil and heaven and hell, he said.

Things calmed down until this week, when the Wat decided to get into the amulet market:

Doraemon in ThailandBangkok Post: A 700-year old temple in Suphan Buri’s Muang district has made headlines again by issuing issuing amulets of a god holding an iPad and of a famous Japanese cartoon character wearing a Thai headdress, and distributing them to visitors as souvenirs, reports said.

Bangkok Post: UPHAN BURIA temple which uses imagery featuring Japanese cartoon character Doraemon on some of its souvenirs has been warned it may be violating copyrights. Wat Sampasiew in Muang district of Suphan Buri produces locket pins featuring Doraemon which it gives away free to visitors.

But Wisarut Inyaem, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s (TAT) Suphan Buri office, has urged the temple to avoid violating the intellectual property of Fujiko Pro, the creator of Doraemon, and iPad developer Apple Corp.

Call me cynical, but I don’t believe there’s a whole lot Fujiko Pro can legally do about Doraemon’s copyright in Thailand. Ripped off designs, software, movies and music are sold openly on Thai streets, in malls, pretty much everywhere. A couple of times a year there’s a big kerfluffle in the news, products are taken off the shelves, but days (hours sometimes) later it’s business as usual.

What Fujiko Pro could do is educate the Temple abbot about the rules of international copyright. How difficult could that be?

Doraemon at Wat Sampasiew…

In 2011, right before the floods hit, I stopped by Wat Sampa Siw. Yeah. I know. I’m lax about sharing my adventures in Thailand and elsewhere. I get to have all the fun and you mostly get nadda from me. My bad. But don’t thank me for finally sharing these photos – thank Kaewmala. Yesterday, when I mentioned the zillions of Doraemon photos I had, she sort of guilted into me it. See?

Anyway, I’ll start you off with this [apologies] awful video I took. But seriously? One of these days I’ll invest in a tripod that works. Tips on make and model are welcome.

In the video, except for the obvious Doraemon shouting ห้ามจับภาพ /hâam jàp pâap/ (heh hehhhh), the cat cartoons can’t be seen. And even though I had my face right close to the mural, I still had difficulties locating the cartoons. Everyone did. But soon a novice monk stepped in to point out the hidden Doraemons.

Doraemon in Thailand

Doraemon in Thailand

Doraemon in Thailand

Doraemon in Thailand

Doraemon in Thailand

Doraemon in Thailand

There are more hidden Doraemons than I’ve shared here. But, after staring at mural photos for an hour, I once again lost sight of that darn cat. I took a fair number of photos both before and after the novice monk rescued me, so Doraemon could be hiding most anywhere.

Doraemon in Thailand

The young man to the right is the novice monk who saved the day. To the left, a senior monk who just happened to nod “yes” to my camera waggle. Don’t let the stern faces fool you. Both laughed at my antics but sobered up as soon as my camera came into play.

Temple paintings Thailand…

Artist Rakkiat Lertjitsakun: “Inserting hidden messages into temple paintings is an age old tradition,” explained Rakkiat. “Years ago they would hide depictions of sex in the murals; nowadays it’s a blue cartoon robot cat.”

Whenever I visit a Wat with paintings (not all have them), I look for the fun scenes. Some characters are humorous while others are quite risque. Over the years I’ve amassed a growing collection and one day I’ll share them in a post. Remind me if I forget.

Below are a few I found at Wat Sampa Siw. This is the first time I’ve come across a blood spattered scene in a Thai mural but not a first for male and female body parts (body parts are a fav with Thai mural artists).

Doraemon in Thailand

The guy enjoying his nap has an actual name:

thai-language.com: Choo Chok – ชูชก /choo-chók/ is a greedy Brahman character in the story of ‘เวชสันดรชาดก’ /wâyt săn don chaa-dòk/ who finally died from eating too much.

Thai people like to call someone who eat a lot or eat too much as “choo chok”, it’s not a compliment though.

Doraemon in Thailand

Btw: If you are in Bangkok right this minute, you can just make the last day of the Doraemon Fair at Terminal 21. From what I gather, it’s a celebration marking the 100 years before Doraemon is to be born.

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