Lessons in Thai
I had been in Thailand for a number of years and one day I realized that I had been slacking off in my study of the Thai language. It is my guess that if, “you no speak da Thai, you no hava da fun so mut in Thailand”. It is my belief that without a good command of Thai, you cannot communicate effectively with the locals, (and the last time I checked, they do invariably speak some strange and not easily decipherable language). I have always been fairly proficient at picking up new languages, so I thought learning Thai would be a snap. Man was I wrong. I am thoroughly convinced that the only real information I am able to convey in the Thai language is that I can’t speak Thai and the best I can do is make some asinine jokes to that effect. My first hurdle was a girlfriend that majored in English at University and although she is Thai, she loves everything farang, including the Backstreet boys and all the other asinine and superficial aspects of western pop culture that I came to Thailand to avoid in the first place.
Having been born in Germany while my father was in the army I was able to learn the guttural German sounds long before any language parameters where “set” in my brain. Coming to America at age five, I learned English with a limited amount of fanfare, in less than 2 months as I sat on the curb in front of my house while listening to my new friend (a kid about my own age) talk and talk. As I got older (and smarter presumably) I found it inexplicably difficult to learn new languages with the same ease that I had when I was a child. First and foremost: My mouth was just not going to do the required gymnastics in order to produce sounds like “ng” at the beginning of a word. My tongue, teeth and lips needed directions and a good roadmap, and all my girlfriend could do was keep saying, “NO, it’s ngu”. It was great drill-work and she succeeding in drilling into my head that I was just not capable of pronouncing the consonant cluster “ng”. Finally, I practiced the largest myriad of possibilities regarding teeth, tongue and lip combinations as I could contrive, and was ultimately able to pronounce the sound, leaving me with possibly permanent disfigurement from the facial contortions needed to facilitate the production of the accursed “ngu”. Who would devise such a torture? Apparently it was someone who decided that it was much better to have every word in the lexis have 5 different referents. He accomplished this grand scheme by creating five different tones for every word. The result was a small vocabulary of which it is difficult to pronounce any of the words, because clearly, standardization is a concept that has yet to invade the population of Thailand.
Things got worse when I actually tried to string together words into some type of sentence. I asked my girlfriend, “well I already know the rudiments, stuff like lot rakaa dai mai?, but what about something more polite. What if I am at the market and I want to say, “I really like this thing you have for sale but is it possible that you have something similar but costs a little less”. After all I am an English Teacher and that means I am living at the veritable bottom end of the food chain. “Sure, she says, you simply say, [Mi took kwa ni mai]”. OK, now I was ready to use this and other new phrases in public. I would move to a higher level of Thai, impressing friends and relatives that I indeed was hip and cultural. What followed was six months of bartering in which the lady’s at the stalls were just terrified of me. They couldn’t decide if they wanted to run away or just hit me with a stick. Hell, my old goof ball antics and broken Thai had always gotten me great deals on stuff and now I was paying more than anyone in the country. I am not sure why my girlfriend waited six months to tell me, “NO, the “took” should be a low tone not a high tone”. “When you pronounce “took” as a high tone the phrase actually means, “could you possibly have anything more miserable than this”? So there I was holding up items at stalls all over Bangkok for a period of 6 months and looking the vender in the eye and saying, “do you have anything more miserable than this”? The combination of the smile on my face, and me pronouncing the phrase loud with emphatic hand movements, must have confounded the Thai’s so much that they were permanently frozen between fight and flight. I hope they eventually recovered. The smile on my girlfriends face said it all. “I don’t want you to learn Thai, but if you persist, I will allow your buffoonery to both entertain me and embarrass you to no end”.
Having succeeded at remaining true to my convictions never to tread the path of homosexuality, I am nevertheless shaken by my last encounter with…..Thai massage. Show me a male masseuse in Thailand that is not actually gay and I will show you a latent homosexual that is just waiting to spring upon some unsuspecting farang. Ok, perhaps you think I am paranoid….it still does not explain the ever-present guilt and shame that I experience after I leave the massage shop. Once, after waking from a nap I squeamishly asked, “Was something inserted into me while I slept”?
I thought I could beat the system and get a massage from the blind. Heck, I could help a good cause and get some Thai massage at the same time. Wrong again. The seeing hands found me. Why do I run the gauntlet of abuse? I like Thai massage….a lot. It’s hard to outsmart western ingenuity, this time I arrive at Soisere massage in Naklua Bay Pattaya and I am betting my virginity on my new steel plated underwear. I am however a little worried that repeated fondling may break the chastity belt which is my only protection against the probing hands and resultant gleeful smile that I receive for the “male masseur”.
It took me years to finally realize what was happening. As many times as I would ask for a female masseur at the Soisere Massage, I would invariably be given the most prancing male fruitcake of the troupe, and don’t even try to tell me that, “no, no, the guy is just real happy …not actually a full blown fruit bat”.
I was teaching a corporate class the other day and I actually started to lisp. The next day I was out on my balcony having a cigarette and I actually caught myself fondling my own tit. I live next to some Thai Military Barracks and on an apposing balcony their stood a dumfounded Thai Military Officer in full uniform staring at my questionable behavior. He is probably thinking, “here is a farang, dressed in a sarong smoking cigarettes and kindly fondling his breasts”. This Thai guy is either going to immediately throw away all of his
cigarettes or simply presume that deep within the heart of ever farang lies a homosexual just waiting to get out. Ok this had to stop. I marched down to Soisere and asked the guy who collects the money (now 120 B, up from 100 for one hour of Thai massage) what the hell was going on. He promptly responded, “”well, your wife, she tell to us that, when see you, always give you man and not lady massage because she jealout to much” The silence was deafening. I ask him perplexedly, “you mean the girl who I divorced 3 years ago, the same one who hasn’t been here since, the same one who tried to have me killed, beaten and generally reduced to the level of a delirious idiot”? “Ya, dat da girl, she hap 2 eye look different direction….she can to see everything”.
Hell, I may as well cut out the middle man and prance straight to the gay bar and then bump myself off afterwards. Why make some mafia thugs miss their favorite Thai soap opera just to do their job. Welcome to Thailand.