Sentimental Days Of Studying Thai In Farangland
Almost five months have passed since I've sent in my latest submission to Stick, and it's been half a year since I returned from my last adventure to the LOS. My last trip to Thailand was a rather short one, spending only a total of seven days
in Bangkok, with a 4-day stint to Hong Kong and Macau in between. Truth to be told, the main reason for my excursion to South East Asia was the relationship / affair I had been having with a girl named Nok, as those of you who read and remember
my 5-part series of submissions titled "Hopelessly Hopeful" that I submitted in the time period from August 2005 to May 2006 are surely aware of.
After I had returned from Bangkok in early April and things came to an abrupt end between me and Nok, as described in my submissions, I did fall into quite a deep hole. Writing those submissions had helped me tremendously to let off steam and come to terms with the situation I found myself in. Also, I really appreciated all the encouraging feedback that poured into my mailbox in the weeks after.
Still, despite all that encouragement, I've taken a very long time to heal, and if I'm completely honest to myself this process has not been completed yet. I blamed myself for not having given Nok a straight answer back then when she had repeatedly asked me in a sometimes more and sometimes less subtle manner if I would eventually marry her some day. I hesitated saying yes back then because I had never pondered getting married before, and also because I had felt that as long as she officially had her boyfriend it wouldn't be right for us to only even discuss this matter. I can only guess but I believe the fact that I didn't give her an answer then made her choose against me. Stupid me, who had thought my commitment to her besides talking marriage would be good enough. Maybe if I had just said yes back then things would have come a lot different; for the better or for the worse, I just don't know.
July was a very difficult month for me as I knew that she was with her boyfriend in France at that time, just such a short hop away from where I live. I tried not to think of it too much, which was difficult.
I do see things more clearly now. I have been able to put many things into perspective, as the fog of infatuation has gradually lifted from the rose-tinted glasses I used to wear. Having said that, nowadays I have very ambivalent feelings for her. On the one hand, I still miss and think of her daily. Sentimentality really is a curse. On the other hand I'm thinking she proved to be unworthy of my dedication and commitment to her, so I should not waste another thought on her…
In only two weeks, at the end of November, I'll return to Bangkok. My friend the Greek lawyer still lives there. He managed to find himself a job now, and he has a steady girlfriend. She's a bit chubby, but a very bright, caring, and lovely girl; and very well educated too. I keep on encouraging my friend to start putting together and submitting some submissions to Stickman, as in the past year of him studying at Chula and now working for a reputable law firm in Bangkok he's lived through a wealth of submission worthy situations.
To begin with, there is his abusive and generally nuts ex-girlfriend (no bar girl) who has been stalking him after he finally dumped her for almost a year now. Then of course there were all the intrigues and confusions during the course of his studies at Chula.
My personal favorite: The incompetent dentists screwing up completely at the attempt of removing his infected wisdom teeth leaving him screaming in pain for hours, and finally blaming him for his ordeal because "farang teeth too big". You gotta laugh, even though it sure as hell wasn't fun for him.
Finally his sweet and innocent yet "new born (brainwashed) Christian" of less than two years girlfriend and her church's near violent attempts of toppling her relationship to him, up to his daily adventures at his new work place. He's an ambitious and diligent guy, so I guess you can imagine what it is like for him to work in a Thai law firm.
I'll visit my friend in Bangkok for two days, and then fly down to Malaysia for a week of leisure. I'm sorry to miss the writers' get-together by only four days. I would have loved to drop in and join you guys who will attend. Well, I hope next time around then.
I have thought a lot about if I should contact Nok and inform her on short notice that I am coming to Bangkok. Actually I want to see her, but I am not sure if I would do myself a favor. Obviously I haven't gotten over her yet. I am contemplating asking her to have dinner with me on the evening I am flying out of Bangkok and back home at the end of my nine day trip. I yet have to decide what I'll do.
Anyway, actually this submission is not about my friend, even though I am more than tempted to be his ghost writer of sorts. Actually, it's not even about my relationship to Nok. I've decided to put together this submission for an altogether different reason, and that is my recent attempts of studying the Thai language here in my corner of Farangland.
Let me explain. I'm 27 years of age. For the past 21 years I have continuously been engaged with one or the other form of education or training to push me up in society's hierarchical structure and along a steady career path into a hopefully financially sound and secure future. Elementary school, junior high, senior high, undergraduate degree, professional training in my field of expertise, pilot license, language training, finally postgraduate degree, and all those other things here and there that usually go along when you walk on such a path supposedly leading to "intellectual enlightenment" and higher salaries. So far I have no reason to complain, as I have reason to believe I've done very well up to this point.
After finally having successfully wrapped up my MBA studies a couple of months ago, for the first time I had the feeling that actually I've done quite enough, at least for now. Don't get me wrong. My friends like to describe me as overambitious, and generally almost everything I've done education wise in my life up to this point has been of interest to me. After having been conditioned to study for so many years now, and generally being a friend of the principle of life-long learning, I thought for once I could actually afford investing some of my time studying a language that wouldn't really add to my professional expertise in any way, nor would be particularly appreciated by my present employer or future employers. I'll just say it as I think it is: Knowing how to speak, read, and write Thai is pretty much useless in the business world if you don't happen to work with Thais, or actually live in Thailand. None of the latter is the case with me.
Luckily I've been blessed with some talent in studying languages. It's been mostly maths and chemistry that have most frequently given me a headache in the past. English is my second language. I "enjoyed" a full 12 semesters of Latin and another four of Ancient Greek while I was at school. I honestly never considered having studied those languages in great detail as a waste of time. Especially Latin gave me a very solid foundation for future language studies, in particular with regard to Romanic languages of course. On the other hand I can't deny that having had a total of 16 semesters of e.g. Spanish would have been a lot more useful for me in the long run. I caught up studying Spanish when at university, but unfortunately to this day have not managed to become very proficient at speaking it.
Besides this, ever since my entanglement and love affair with Asian culture had begun at the age of 15, at the time when I seriously started practicing martial arts which I've continued doing until today, I've been interested in picking up an Asian language. After I had finished school I intended to take the basic knowledge of Japanese and Korean I had acquired in my martial arts classes to a higher level. However, after a few halfhearted attempts at this I dropped it again, and decided to divert and direct my energy at studying, in my eyes, more "useful" languages. So I was back at studying Spanish, and after all Japanese as well as Korean were ticked off the list for good.
Last summer my interest in Asian languages was aroused again. Coincidentally I made the acquaintance of a girl who had studied business on a student exchange undergraduate program at Hong Kong University, where she had also enjoyed one year of language training in Thai. Just like me, she had never had a liking for the Chinese language, so she opted to study Thai instead while abroad. She kind of put me onto the idea of maybe pursuing this option myself. Funnily, the thought of studying Thai had never really crossed my mind before.
I live in a city of roughly two million, so I was rather optimistic I would find a way of possibly starting my Thai studies in an organized fashion. I thoroughly searched the internet, and also read Stick's recommendations for Thai language training on his website. Finally I found a language class for spoken Thai, given by a 35 year old Thai lady who is married to a compatriot and has been living in my hometown for roughly eight years now. She has a BA and MA from Chula, and has been working in language training for the past 15 years, already at the time when she was still living in Bangkok. However, I soon found out that she only gives one class a week, and the dates and time of that class would collide with my work schedule very frequently. So sadly I'd have to give this a miss.
However, I didn't give up so quickly. I checked the lady's website again (I'll call her Koi from now on), and found out that she offered one-to-one language training besides her regular class lectures as well. That tickled my curiosity, so I decided to simply go ahead and give her a call.
On her website she had stated that the cost for a private lesson would start at 15 Euros for 60 minutes. I had serious doubts that this could be right. Usually private tuition given by a qualified language trainer starts at no less than 40 Euros where I live, and even that could be considered to be a bargain. I was definitely not prepared to spend 40+ Euros per hour for studying a language that was actually of no real use for me, except that it would possibly take me closer to the Thai people and facilitate communication with them on my occasional visits to the kingdom.
To my big surprise Koi verified the 15 Euros on the phone, and one week later we met in a cafe close to my place for my first lesson of Thai. Now, for my earlier trips to Thailand I had studied some basic phrases, had learnt to count, and had practiced the correct intonation and pronunciation using online language trainers. I can recommend www.learningthai.com for that purpose. Anyway, my knowledge of Thai was almost nonexistent.
I've had five lessons with Koi so far. We meet on a very regular basis, usually once a week for around 90 minutes. She's got her own teaching materials and has initially provided me with a 100 page study book full of guidelines and exercises for a mere 10 Euros. We've made the arrangement that from one lesson to the next I just go ahead with studying new vocabulary and doing the exercises as far as I feel comfortable and at my own pace, and then focus on practicing spoken Thai within the lessons themselves. I asked her to be strict with me, in particular with regard to proper pronunciation and intonation, as I know I would hesitate to actually attempt speaking Thai when in Thailand if I felt uncertain of being understood.
At this time we are focusing on conversational skills only. I know that Stick and lots of others recommend starting to learn how to read and write Thai right from the start, as it makes it so much easier to grasp the language as a whole and get a better feel for intonation and all. I'm planning to get into this very soon too. So far I've put the emphasis on speaking and understanding as I want to suck in as much as possible before I'm leaving for Thailand in a few weeks. Obviously, I won't have a chance to use it much as I'm only spending a few days, but who knows what opportunities will arise. Anyway, I'll return to Thailand in January on a stopover to Myanmar, and maybe then it will already prove to be a bit more useful.
I'm more than happy with my choice of taking private lessons now, opposed to attending class with six to ten other students. I'm generally a rather quick learner and Koi openly told me that the other people in her class would have only held me back in my learning progress, and I can well imagine that too.
I've had many good laughs with her during lessons. We meet at my apartment now, and I do enjoy her usually very cheerful mood and playful attitude to learning. She keeps on giggling around happily, yet all the same she is a very good teacher. We constantly joke around during lessons but never to an extent that we lose focus on the actual contents of my studies. The funniest, or should I say weirdest, situation I've had with her occurred during my second lesson. It was the first time she had come to my apartment for giving the lectures, and only the second time we had met in person. We hit it off well and cheerfully started doing the exercises she had prepared for me. After around 20 minutes, smack in the middle of me counting down the numbers from 100 to 10 in Thai, she suddenly turned to me with an all serious face. Then she asked me:
Koi: "Akulka, may I ask you a question please"
Taken by surprise by her sudden change of mood, expecting the unexpected I replied:
Me: "Why certainly, shoot! What's on your mind Koi?"
Koi: "Okay Akulka, I must ask you this one thing, but you MUST be honest with me! Promise!"
Starting to feel a bit uneasy now about what's to come, I told her again:
Me: "Sure, just tell me what's on your mind, no problem at all"
Koi: "Mmmhh, okay, well, mmhh,..
Me: "Come on, it can't be such a big deal!"
Koi: "Okay Akulka, please tell me the truth (her voice starting to shake)! Am I FAT?!?!?
Me: "Come again?" (She's not skinny but very slender and actually fit)
Koi (wincing): "Pleeeease Akulka, you can tell me honestly, am I FAT!?!?
Me (very surprised but also relieved about the simple nature of her question, finally certain I had understood her correctly):
"WHERE, Koi, WHERE? Of course you are not fat, look at you!
Koi: Oh Akulka, khap khun kha, let's go on with the exercise! (happily smiling again)
Me (huge question marks sailing through the room): Okay…
Initially I had expected to have great difficulties learning and memorizing the vocabulary, as Thai is nothing like any other language I've ever dealt with before. No memory hooks like when studying Spanish based on my background of having studied Latin extensively. However, so far I've found it surprisingly easy to memorize vocabulary, and also grammar and the general structure of the language are far more logical than I had ever expected them to be. Also, I found it pleasantly challenging to get a grip on the intonations, which I had expected to be very problematic too. Presently I'm really motivated to pursue this further and see how far I'll get.
Of course I realize at this point in time I'm just at the very beginning, but I honestly don't remember ever having studied a foreign language that I picked up this easily right from the start. I'm quite optimistic that if I'll continue my studies this diligently for a year or so, I'll be in a good position to actually communicate my way around Thailand in a half decent way. I am already very curious how it will turn out for me. Wish me luck.
So for any of you non-Thai speakers out there, if you have an interest in learning a bit more of the language than just a few basic phrases and pleasantries to throw around at taxi drivers or shop clerks, I can really recommend taking some lessons from a qualified teacher. I realize I've been lucky finding Koi as a teacher, and it's definitely a lot harder to find qualified teachers that offer language tuition on a one-to-one basis for such a good price in many other places. Yet if you have a chance and some time to spare, don't let yourself be put off out of fear of the unfamiliarity and complexity of the Thai language. A bit of an effort does go a very long way!
(Feedback always appreciated)