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Tag: Thai Proverbs

Andrew Biggs (Thai Memories): The Boat Sinks in the Mouth of the Bay

Andrew Biggs

There is a billboard that caught my attention this week while sitting in a taxi flitting in and out of four lanes of traffic on the three-lane city expressway.

It depicts a young man and woman sitting back to back desolately on a bed. It was clear they were desolate by the hang-dog expression on the man’s face, and the ankle-clutching stance of the woman.

It’s not often we see desolation on inner-city billboards. I’m far more used to billboards featuring the lily-white happy complexions of Thailand’s young actors and actors pushing collagen drinks or bird nest soups or any other of the myriad charlatan products out there.

What also grabbed my attention was the Thai writing next to the unhappy couple.

Reua lom bahk ao (เรือล่มปากอ่าว).

The boat sinks in the mouth of the bay.

What a curious headline!

“What does that mean?” I asked my taxi driver, a happy middle-aged fellow who had been enjoying practicing his English on me until I feigned a cell phone call to shut him up.

Reua lom bahk ao?” he asked back. He broke into a great middle-aged Thai smile. “Oh! You know? You know?” He paused and flashed me a leering smile. “You know?”

“No, I don’t; that’s why I’m asking you.”

“You and lady same-same but you no good. You go first but you very fart. No good, you know?”

I have been in Thailand too long; I understood exactly what he was talking about.

Premature ejaculation.

If ever there was an example of my theory that language doesn’t get much more vivid and descriptive than Thai, then there it was.

I’ve spent 25 years in this country and here was yet another colorful idiomatic phrase that completely passed me by. Nobody had ever said it to me before. And thank God for that, judging by its meaning.

No wonder the couple on the billboard looked so dejected! No wonder the woman was clutching her sturdy ankles; that’s about the only sturdy thing she was going to be clutching that evening for any satisfactory length of time.

(And if you’re new in town, the taxi driver wasn’t that bad in English. You just have to know that ‘same-same’ has the added meaning of ‘sex’ here, while ‘fart’ is in reality ‘fast’ since Thais have difficulty with consonant clusters consisting of S and T.)

How clever of the Thai language to equate premature ejaculation with the sinking of a boat just as it was to enter a harbor. When I got to my office I googled the phrase and sure enough, there it was, hundreds and thousands of times over on the internet.

I did get it the wrong way around. The boat is leaving the harbor, not entering it, as my School Director and Senior Sales Manager, both females, pointed out to me over lunch that day.

“It sinks before it even sets out on the journey,” my School Director explained as she popped a serendipitous Isarn sausage into her mouth.

“I thought it to be more like the train entering the tunnel,” I said. “It’s the boat entering the mouth of the harbor. You know?” Curse that taxi driver! He’s got me saying it now!

“Or the sparrow,” chimed my mannish Senior Sales Manager. She was enjoying a lunch of fried oysters, as was her wont. “When the sparrow has a drink of water.”

I gazed at her intently, expecting her to continue, but it appeared she was finished with her explanation.

“And?” I asked.

“That’s all,” she said. “The sparrow drinks water. That’s what we say in Thai. Nok krajok jib nam (นกกระจอกจิบน้ำ).”

“Yes,” said my Director, eyeing a second sausage. “The sparrow takes a sip of water.”

I don’t know, dear reader, but perhaps I’m just a little slower than the rest of humanity. How on earth does a drinking sparrow relate to premature ejaculation?

Being the boss, I was able to demand an explanation.

“Have you ever seen a sparrow drink water?” my Sales Manager asked. Before I could answer, she was making mannish pecking movements with her right hand towards her plate of fried oysters, accompanied by a very vocal: “Jib! Jib! Jib! Jib! (จิ๊บ! จิ๊บ! จิ๊บ! จิ๊บ!).”

“It’s the same as the boat in the harbor,” added my Director, winking, and I fell further down into the Stupid Hole.

It took them five minutes to pull me out.

The idea is that the sparrow’s pecking at water is a very short, spasmodic movement, not unlike a man who finishes quickly during sex. I find that metaphor a little tenuous and not as imaginative as the boat one, but still, how great is the Thai language!

The conversation didn’t stop there.

“What about the one about the dove?” asked Director to Sales Manager. “In Thai we say: nok khao mai khan (นกเขาไม่ขัน), or ‘The dove does not sing’.”

“You can use that when you feel excited for sex but there is no change – down there,” said my Sales Manager, motioning towards my crutch. Despite every conceivable attempt not to, I reddened ever so slightly.

“Speaking of birds, what about the idiom ‘washing the face of the chicken’ (ล้างหน้าไก่)?” asked my Director.

“Stop right there,” I said. “I’m eating.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Oh what the hell; tell me,” I said and they explained, in polite Thai, how it referred to the erect state of a male upon awakening, if indeed such things can be explained in polite Thai.

“That one is not considered a negative phrase,” said the Sales Manager. “Nothing is stronger than the boat sinking.”

Later that day I was back on the freeway and noticed that the billboard in question wasn’t on its own. It was part of three big signs, the first being the sad couple. The second explained in large letters that NEARLY ONE IN THREE MEN SUFFER FROM PREMATURE EJACULATION and there was a website to visit.

The last one revealed the boat had been dredged up out of the harbor, because in that one the couple were now smiling in each other’s arms, as if their love would last forever, which is a relief since it appeared to have lasted three seconds at the most in the first one.

I have a very old book of common Thai proverbs and sayings that are so entertaining, and not just of a sexual nature.

In Thai, for example, if you “make a sculpture out of water (ปั้นน้ำเป็นตัว)” you are telling lies, since this phrase dates back to an era before we could freeze water into ice-cubes. Yet you still hear it today.

If you “build a house over a tree stump (ปลูกเรือนคร่อมตอ)”, you are committing bigamy. A jack of all trades is somebody who “knows things like a duck (รู้อย่างเป็ด)” … whatever that means.

If you “find a good tree after your axe is broken”, you fall in love with a beautiful woman after you’re already married. A “jar of pickled garlic on legs (ไหกระเทียม)” is a short fat girl.

When you look at all those, a boat sinking in the mouth of the harbor isn’t so out of place.

I have only one reservation. Why is the man in the billboard a farang (ฝรั่ง) while the woman is Thai? Would it have been too close to the bone to have used a Thai male? Just sayin’.

Our story should end there, but it has an interesting footnote.

Remember my casual google of reua lom bahk ao? That was three days ago.

Ever since, I have been bombarded with ads for every erectile dysfunction clinic in town, and believe me there are lots of them. In these modern times Big Brother is not only watching me — he is waiting for my boat to sink.

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Vote NO! Animal Campaign: Political Posters Translated

Vote NO! Animal Campaign: Political Posters Translated

Tiger, lion, bull, rino… politicians are WILD BEASTS!

After writing about Thai politician Chuvit in two posts: Thai Politician Chuwit Kamolvisit: A Man. His Dog. Their Park and Chuvit’s Angry Man Campaign Posters Translated, it’s now time to feature another star of the Thai political show, the Vote NO! animal posters upsetting many Thais.

The animals in the yellow Vote NO! campaign are the buffalo, tiger, dog, monitor lizard, crocodile, and monkey. The use of animals brings to mind a Thai saying เสือสิงห์กระทิงแรด /sĕua sĭng grà-ting râet/ which directly translates to tiger, lion, buffalo, rino.

Seems harmless enough… but that run of animals translates to WILD BEASTS! in Thai.

pûak-née bpen sĕua sĭng grà-ting râet wái-jai mâi-dâi
These people are WILD BEASTS! Don’t trust them!

I was told that arguing politicians are known to shout at each other:

khun bpen bprà-pâyt sĕua sĭng grà-ting râet.
You are a (kind of) WILD BEAST!

Note: I realise that คุณ /khun/ is far too polite for this slur but…

When going into scary territory – like visiting in-laws – your Thai friends just might say:

ระวัง! คุณจะไปเจอพวกเสือสิงห์กระทิงแรด
rá-wang! kun jà bpai jer pûak sĕua sĭng grà-ting râet
Careful! You will go to meet the WILD BEASTS!

Animals in Thai culture, Thai thinking…

In the Vote NO! political campaign the animals are dressed in men’s business suits. Some suits are black but others are printed in notable bright blues and reds. The tiger, monitor lizard, and crocodile (in bright blue) apparently represents the Democrat Party (พรรคประชาธิปัตย์, Phak Prachathipat). The crocodile (in red) represents the Red Shirts (พรรคเพื่อไทย, Pheu Thai Party).

nationmultimedia.com: Campaign billboards to depict buffalo-headed candidates in blue and red suits.The first billboard will highlight the message of running from a tiger into a crocodile. The depiction will show the tiger-headed in blue, the colour of the Democrat Party and the crocodile-headed in red, signifying the red shirts.

Each of the animals used in the campaign have a place in Thai thinking.

Buffalo: Slow and stupid.
Tiger: Lazy, gets something for nothing.
Dog: Makes noise and fights.
Monitor lizard: Very bad person.
Crocodile: Troublemaker.
Monkey: Deceives and cheats.

สีซอให้ควายฟัง /sĕe-sor hâi kwaai fang/
Play the fiddle to the buffalo to listen.
The foolish buffalo can’t be taught.

เสือนอนกิน /sĕua non gin/
Tiger laying down and eating.
Tigers profit without effort.

หมาเห่าใบตองแห้ง /măa hào bai dtong hâeng/
Dog barking at a dried banana leaf.
Dogs are all talk, no action.

จระเข้ขวางคลอง /jor-rá-kây kwăang klong/
Crocodile obstructs canal.
Crocodiles are troublemakers.

ลิงหลอกเจ้า /ling lòk jâo/
Monkey deceives owner.
Monkeys deceive and cheat people.

In Thailand, calling someone a monitor lizard is a nasty slur. I purposely neglected to mention the Thai saying but you can read about it in this CNNgo article: 6 animal nicknames to avoid in Thailand.

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

The animal poster with the tiger on the top and the crocodile (not monitor lizard) on the bottom uses another common Thai saying:

หนี… เสือ
nĕe … sĕua
Escape tiger.

ปะ… จระเข้
bpà … jor-rá-kây
Meet crocodile.

Short words, I know. But what it means is this: In the jungle you come across a fierce tiger. You escape by diving into the water, only to meet the hungry crocodile.

English version: Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Before we leave this poster I’d like you to note the printed number 18 at the top left. The first animal posters had no such deliberate number (just the logo). More on this subject below…

So, whos’ responsible for the Vote NO! Campaign?…

Yellow PAD Political Posters TranslatedCheck out the number 18 added by hand. After finding many handwritten number 18’s I asked a Thai friend what was up.

Early on in the campaign, most of the political articles I read mentioned PAD as being solely responsible for the animal posters. I didn’t start paying attention until the handwritten 18’s started to appear. The information was there all along, I just missed it.

Number 18 is the For Heaven and Earth Party, an offshoot of the Santi Asoke Buddhist Sect. The For Heaven and Earth Party teamed up with PAD to produce the animal campaign. So no, it’s not PAD acting alone.

The original Vote NO! animal campaign posters…

Vote NO! Animal Campaign: Political Posters Translated

[slideshow id=animal-posters w=590px h=393px]

When the animal campaign posters first appeared on the streets of Bangkok they sported the buffalo, tiger, dog, monitor lizard, and monkey. All carried the same message:

3 ก. ค. (abbreviation for กรกฎาคม)
săam gor kor (gà-rá-gà-daa-kom)
3 July

yàa bplòi sàt kâo sà-paa
Don’t let animals enter parliament.

โหวต NO
wòht NO
Vote NO!

bpai chái sìt lêuak dtâng gaa chông mâi bprà-sŏng long ká-naen
Use your right to put an X in the box for “no vote”.

Complete sentence: On the 3rd of July don’t let animals enter parliament. Vote NO! Use your right to put an X in the box for “no vote”.

The Vote NO! animal campaign cartoons…

Vote NO! Animal Campaign: Political Posters Translated

These two cartoons are from a Vote NO! pamphlet being distributed on the streets of Bangkok. The person taking credit is นายตุลย์ ศิริกุลพิพัฒน์. The cartoons are also using animals so I decided to include them here.

First graphic:

You buffalo!

Second graphic:

แหม… อยู่ดีๆมายกย่องผมเป็นควายเขินแย่
Well… I am what I am. To admire me as a buffalo. (I’m) really shy.

Title along the bottom:

At the Lizard Parliament.

ตัวเงินตัวทอง: monitor lizard (polite).
เหี้ย: monitor lizard (extremely rude).

In the cartoon, one politician (a lizard) is calling the other politician (also a lizard) a buffalo. The lizard replies, “Well, I am what I am (a monitor lizard). Why do you say buffalo? I’m really shy.”

English version: I believe this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black (both politicians are acting like animals in parliament). I’m not sure what the admission of being shy is all about though.

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

This cartoon also comes from the Vote NO! pamphlet.

Main speech balloon:

The world is sorrowful and worried…

about Japan collapsing under the Tsunami…

ไอ้หมาพวกนี้ยังกัดกันอยู่ได้หนวกหูจริง !!!
…while these dogs are still biting each other really loud!

Note: A Thai will say หนวกหู จริง !!! when there’s an annoying, loud disturbance. It means, “keep quiet!”

The couple’s speech balloon:

(sound of comfort) don’t you know, they are just dogs!

The dog’s speech balloon:

โฮ่งๆ… โฮ่งๆ… แฮ่… !!!
hong hong… hong hong… haa (pant)

Note: Thai dogs say hong hong, not bow wow.

In English: It’s dog eat dog. Meaning, Thai politicians are out for their own interests alone. That’s exactly what Chuvit’s campaign is saying.

And now, for the rest of the Vote NO! animal campaign posters…

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

เลือกลำบากเพราะฉลาด … ทั้งคู่ ?
lêuak lam-bàak prór chà-làat … táng-kôo ?
It’s not easy to choose because both are clever?

3 ก. ค. นี้
săam gor kor née
This 3 July

kâo koo-hăa gaa chông mâi lêuak krai
Enter the booth and then make a cross in the space “no vote” for anyone.

Clever? Remember, they are calling both the Democratic Party and the Red Shirts buffaloes.

The For Heaven and Earth Party (Santi Asoke Buddhist Sect) have this to say on the subject (paraphrasing):

The animals are only aiming at the bad politicians. Good politicians have nothing to fear. They [the posters] are not attacking anyone in particular. Those offended by the placards are perhaps taking it too personal.

You can listen to the news report for yourself (it’s in English). But please patient, the animal discussion is a quarter of the way into the video: Yellow Shirts ‘Vote No’ Campaign in Bangkok.

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

Pssst: No, it’s not your imagination. On some posters the Thai words really do have spaces. Weird spaces in some places.

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

3 ก. ค.
săam gor kor
3 July…

วันตบโหลกนักการเมือง (โหลก /lók/ is slang for กะโหลก /gà-hŏh-lók/ head)
wan dtòp lók nák-gaan-meuang
…is the day to slap the heads of the politicians by voting NO.

โหวต NO
wòht NO
Vote NO

gaa chông mâi bprà-sŏng long ká-naen
Put an X in the box for “NO vote”.

The news report (above) mentions that the political posters are not attacking any one person but here we have caricatures of Thaksin and Abhist being bonked on the head. Am I missing something?

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

rûam-gan bprà-túang nák-gaan-meuang
Join together to protest politicians…

doi mâi dtông mee gang-chum-num
…no need to have a rally.

โหวต NO
wòht NO
Vote NO

3 ก. ค.
săam gor kor
3 July

gaa chông mâi bprà-sŏng long ká-naen
Put an X in the box for “no vote”.

I took the photo of the “no need to have a rally” poster on the way to the Vote NO political rally this past Friday. If you are interested the rally photos are in the slideshow at the bottom of this post.

Vandalism and Thailand’s political campaign…

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

There’s a great deal of vandalism going on with Thailand’s political posters. Some of the posters have writing on them (like this one) or they’ve been shredded (like the monkey poster below).

The writing says:

mâi rák châat
No love nation = they don’t love Thailand = unpatriotic.

The main damage to the political posters has been limited to the animal posters and Abhisit’s campaign (scratching Abhisit’s eyes out is a favourite Thai past-time). Only a few pots of paint were aimed at Thaksin’s sister.

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

I could easily fill a post with the demolished animal posters found inside and out of Bangkok. They are that common.

And what else is the Vote NO! animal campaign getting up to?…

Yellow PAD Political Posters Translated

The animal posters are angering many Thais but even with the threats of crackdowns from the authorities, the posters are still around. And surprisingly, with all this fuss, they are getting BIGGER.

Outdoing even themselves, these HUGE Vote NO! banners are gracing Sathorn Unique, a relic from the Asian crisis. After being three hours in Friday afternoon traffic to take a photo of the banner clad building, I declined climbing up a nearby building to get a better shot.

NOTE: Apologies for taking the slideshow down. The plugin does not work with my rotating header (apparently both use jQuery. Whatever that means). And if you have any suggestions, I’m open.

This slideshow included a few photos from the Vote NO! rally in Bangkok. I’m sure my Red Shirt driver didn’t intend to stop by a Yellow Shirt rally but when we turned a corner SURPRISE! yellow was everywhere. And of course I to go to see. When I came back from the rally I mentioned how average everyone looked. Not a high-so in the bunch. He replied, “they might be dressed as poor Thais but don’t let them fool you. They are not!”

Oh. And could someone please explain the logic behind the banner in the slideshow?

มาร่วมสร้างอำนาจต่อรองให้ประชาชนโหวต NO!

My take on it: Any party you vote for, Thaksin will win. So let’s unite to vote no.

Anyway, that’s a political wrap. If you missed my other two posts on translating Thai political posters, you can read them here: Thai Politician Chuwit Kamolvisit: A Man. His Dog. Their Park and Chuvit’s Angry Man Campaign Posters Translated. And if you want to see the Thai vocabulary for Thailand’s political campaigns get thee over to Hamish’s Tweet Yourself Thai.

Same as with Chuvit’s translations, my attempts won’t be 100% successful so if you have any suggestions please add them to the comments. Ta!

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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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