Wednesday, August 24, 2011

20 Days Left & Learning Thai

It's less than 3 weeks to d-day. There's still much to do, sorting and packing, planning, shutting things off, my satellite TV and ACS Internet, auto insurance, etc.  I'll have the last laugh on ACS, my goddamned ISP, when I tell them to shut it off for good and stop charging me the $90 a month for its precious DSL line. It used to cost me $30 a month even when I wasn't here! Not any more. Next time I sign up for Internet in Homer I'll do it though a wireless provider.

It's coming down hard again after a small break in what's turned out to be a week-long inundation. Somehow the rain motivated me to wash my dishes. They've been piling up for about a week now. It will be nice to get back to having running water again. Not having it encourages my lazy side. Let them go, I tell myself. You're the only one here. But then before I go to sleep I'll think, now why didn't I wash those dishes?
Okay, dishes done.
Now for those clothes in the closet. Which of those shirts have I worn lately? What should I take to Thailand, to Oregon? I've still got some tools to sell or give away - or maybe I'll just stick them in storage But it all has to get done. And I'm in the middle of the U.S. hard-court tennis season. I pre-record the matches on my DVR and then watch them without commercials later on. I watch almost all of them, dammit, because I can't stand to miss a good match. I'm also playing tennis or working on my game almost every day now that the season is winding down and I'm getting ready to leave. I'm getting short.

What I'm doing tonight is memorizing the Thai alphabet. The Thais have a certain way they teach and recite their alphabet. At first, I thought their method was a bit strange. Then later somewhere on the Internet I read about someone who compared it to the way Americans say alphabetic letters when we want to be sure the listener has no doubt about which letter we're referring to. We merely add a common word after the letter's name to help clinch its identity. That's just what they're doing in their method. Many Thai characters sound the same and some even look the same so this "pairing" of the two sounds is a memory aid that really helps a person to learn the 44 Thai consonants. Thus a Thai child will begin to learn the alphabet by reciting it like so:
gaw gai      (gaw is the sound of the character and gai means chicken)
kaw kai      (kaw is the sound, kai=egg)
kaw kwaai (kwaii=water buffalo)
all the way down to,
haw nok hook (nok hook=owl).
In similar fashion here in the states we might say during a telephone conversation, Alpha, Tango, Zulu, to unequivocally indicate the three characters ATZ -- it's exactly the same idea. Once I got that straight, it no longer seemed such a strange system. You just have to memorize those 44 sounds and names-of-words in the correct order. Here's a link to a YouTube video I've watched over and over. The Thai Alphabet.

The other task connected to this is learning to associate each sound and its name with the beautiful but totally unfamiliar representation of that consonant in Thai script. Some of the characters are simple, gaw gai for example. It looks a bit like a chicken: and usually sounds like a "g" while kaw kwaai is this one: . It usually sounds like our "k". You also have some like this: taw poo-tao (elder person). Its symbol is (it sounds like "t"). A complex but beautiful character I think. Most of the curves and shapes of the Thai characters are quite pleasing. Good thing. Because I'll be looking at them and drawing them a lot in weeks to come.
One of my favorites is law ling (monkey): . Maybe it's because when Nut and I are kidding around I call her Ling (ลิง) which means monkey). But no, I like law ling on its own too. By the way, the little "hat" over the law ling character defines the vowel sound "ee" while ngaw gnoo (snake) adds the ng sound. Note however that the "ng" sound, which in English only appears at the end of words like sing and hang, can appear in the beginning of a Thai word. Try saying gnoo a couple of times, in one syllable. But I digress....

 For your continued enjoyment, I offer for consideration two characters that look alike but are not. We've seen one already.
It's kaw kwaai . The other is daw dek . (child). 

Notice in daw dek that the "head" points inside, "under it's mother's arms", so to speak, while in kaw kwaii the "head" points out. Simple, huh? And then there are these little gems: paw peung (bee) ผ, paw paan (tray) พ, faw faa (lid) ฝ , and faw fan (tooth) ฟ. You did note where their "heads" were pointing, right?

Let me make those guys a bit larger so you can see them better: ผ, พ, ฝ,
Then let's just throw in this last one, law ju-laa (kite) ฬ, which has an "l" sound,
to create a recipe for total confusion. 

In case I forgot to tell you: there are no spaces between words in a Thai sentence. Or in a Thai paragraph. Here's a sample sentence followed by its translation:
นพรัตน์ขอบคุณสำหรับจดหมายและรูปถ่าย รูปถ่ายน่ารักจังเลย!ค่ะ 
I thank you for the letter and photograph. The photo is so cute!

I think now you can see where I'm at (taking baby steps) and what I'm doing (struggling) during my last days up here. But I'm happily whittling away at it.

I'll sign off with my name in Thai. Incidentally, my name David cannot be spelled or correctly pronounced in Thai because no Thai word can end with a "d" sound. Here's the best approximation Nut can come up with.

Until next time....