I will no longer be posting here on my wordpress.com blog as I am beginning a new chapter in my blogging life over at Made in Thailand. Please join me there to keep up-to-date with all my latest posts. I appreciate your readership and look forward to hearing from you in the future.
The floods that have swept across Thailand this year are said to be the worst in over 50 years. When I first heard talk of them, I didn’t pay too much attention. Floods are a frequent occurrence in Thailand during the annual rainy season from June to October. I imagined they’d soon be over, and listed them as unimportant on my mental checklist. Besides, that kind of thing always seems to happen to someone else. But as the floods continued moving southwards, devastating the homes and lives of those who stood in the way, I began to take notice. Still, I didn’t believe they’d affect me.
I have worked as a TEFL teacher these last few years, enjoying the dream that so many people are making into a reality nowadays. The school year starts in May here, with a 2-3 week break in October signaling the end of the first semester. As the holidays approached this year, it became clear that many people’s holiday plans were going to be disrupted by the floods already wreaking havoc in Ayutthaya and other northern provinces.
Initially, our school had planned to take around 100 students on a camp to Kao Yai, a popular getaway just north of Bangkok. But as it became inevitable that the floods would reach Bangkok, the camp date was pushed back until the end of October. Everybody hoped that the floods would have receded by then, and we could all go on camp as planned. In fact, they got worse, and the camp has now been postponed until December. But not only has the camp been disrupted, now the second semester has been pushed back by two weeks, meaning that precious teaching time is going to be lost.
I also have a family. My wife tends to worry a lot more than me, and so when she suggested leaving Bangkok to escape the effect of the floods, I didn’t take her too seriously. But as the flood situation worsened, I decided that I should support her, at least for the sake of our 15-month-old son. We are now in the northeast of Thailand, staying in her mum’s village and waiting for the floods to pass so that we may return to some sense of normality. All buses returning to Bangkok have been cancelled, and so even if I wanted to return, I couldn’t do it right now. Our money is quickly diminishing, and I’m now waiting on my school to pay me so that we can buy milk for our son.
But we’re not the only ones who are feeling the bite of this flood episode. In fact, we have been rather lucky. Many people have lost their homes, their cars, and other valuable possessions. Years of hard work washed away in a few moments. Our house, as of the time of this writing, has not yet been affected by the flood waters. The last I heard from my friend in Bangkok, the water on the street where we live is beginning to rise, literally rising up through the inefficient drainage system. Perhaps our spell of luck is coming to an end. The only thing in our favour right now is that we don’t have much to lose. We rent the house, and all our furniture and valuables have been moved to the upper floor. Many people in Bangkok will be dipping into those hard-earned life savings to keep their heads above the water – literally and figuratively – in these coming months.
And yet, I can’t help sensing a note of bitter irony in some of these flood stories. Affluent Thais like to build high walls around their houses, creating a physical barrier between themselves and the gritty reality of life for the majority of Thailand’s poor inhabitants. Those walls may have protected them against robbers and thieves, but they were useless against the inexorable onslaught of nature. It’s at times like these that we remember what is really important in life: food and water, safety and comfort for our families. I feel lucky that I have only had my plans disrupted, and I pray for the families of those who have lost loved ones. Let’s hope an end to these raging floods is in sight.
1. Get a Thai girlfriend or boyfriend.
2. Invest in quality language books.
3. Use the many free resources available on the internet.
4. Watch Thai TV or listen to Thai radio.
5. Music and Karaoke.
Thai people are well known for being economic with their words. Wherever they can omit a syllable and still retain the obvious meaning, they’ll lose no time in chopping it up to save lip work. And so I should have seen it coming . . . but I didn’t, and I couldn’t help sighing inside when I heard “Facebook” being called “Face.” At first, I wasn’t sure that I’d heard correctly: the conversation was in Thai. But then I heard it again – this time from my wife: “I play Face.” Ha! The cheesiness never ceases to amaze me! Face?! Honestly, how cheesy is that? But the best part of it is that Thai people use the verb “play” when referring to Facebook. Native English speakers would probably say: “Do you have Facebook?” or “Do you have a Facebook account?” But the fun-loving Thais say: “Do you play Facebook?” I think from now on I may be hearing the abbreviated version of this line: “Do you play Face?”
Other words that Thais abbreviate:
7-Eleven = Sewen
Computer = Com
Tesco Lotus = Lotat
The Miracle Grand Hotel = Milaceun
Sitting on the Skytrain at 12:30 p.m. today, after attending some pressing business in downtown Bangkok (ahem), I was struck by the profusion of languages being spoken around me. Directly opposite me sat three tourists speaking French. On the seat next to me, a man who appeared to be of Turkish or Eastern European descent was talking to a blonde-haired woman in a language that I could not place, though it sounded to be European. To my left, a Thai woman was in conversation on her mobile phone, most of which I could understand (poor guy, I guess he just wasn’t “performing”, but to dump him like that!). And not too far away to my right, two men were communicating with each other by sign language. Another man, further down the carriage, was talking animatedly to his friend in English.
All in all, I realized that five different languages were being spoken around me and those were just the ones I could hear (or see in the case of the sign language). It’s fascinating to think of all the ways people can communicate. Languages are not only spoken, they are the way we tell the world how we’re feeling. Sometimes they’re verbal; sometimes they’re non-verbal: body language, written language, Braille, and codes; to name a few. Art and music are both abstract – and some would say universal – forms of language: we can communicate our innermost feelings through a beautiful painting or piece of music in ways that words would fail to convey.
It also taught me how much Thai has become part of my life these last few years. To think that this strange*, tonal language now means more to me than French – a language spoken only a few hundred miles away from where I was born, with words that have seeped into our own language (boutique, blonde, chaise longue etc.). It made me proud of my achievements, and yet, at the same time, I couldn’t help wondering if I know who I am anymore. The Buddhists teach that there is no you. But we grasp at an image of ourselves, often unwilling to let go of even the bad things.
In retrospect, it was one of those rocky precipices on the journey of self discovery where we are able to look out across the landscape of life and view our surroundings and progress with absolute clarity: I saw that there is no me, and that I am free to shape my destiny however I choose to. As Nina Simone once sang: “If I die and my soul be lost, aint nobody’s fault but mine.” Change can often be uncomfortable, but in the long run, those who experience more diversity develop a greater appreciation of life than those who never open their mind to new things.
The automated female voice of the Skytrain announced over the tannoy: Satanee dtor bpai Anusawari Chai Samoraphum, then followed in precise, mechanical English: Next station, Victory Monument. I woke up from my musings, which suddenly seemed like so much meaningless conjecture, and I was back in the dense, foggy jungle of life. Keep the mind sharp, so that you may cut through the vines, creepers and poison ivy that block the path to happiness!
*Strange in the sense that it is strange to me. Of course Thai is no stranger than English.
For the artistically inclined among you, the opening of a new art gallery in Bangkok can only come as good news in this artistically dormant city. Don’t get me wrong, the Thais are a very artistic race, but they lack the liberalism inherent in Western culture. There are, occasionally, some impressive works of graffiti, one or two galleries, and a few urbane places to hang out. But that’s nothing compared to places like New York, where modern graffiti as we know it first started, or cities like Paris, with art galleries in abundance.
Thailand – at present – seems to be going through a period of social evolution. Considering that until 1932, Thailand was still under an absolute monarchy, the rate of change since that time has been phenomenal, and there are now some 10,000,000 inhabitants in this sprawling metropolis, compared to only 890,000 in the 30s. The new generation is becoming increasingly liberal, and they are taking elements of their unique culture, and blending it with Western influences. What I personally hope is that in doing this, they don’t lose their heritage; I can imagine nothing more boring than a uniform, homogeneous world, where culture in Thailand is the same as it is in America. Variety is the spice of life!
Many tourists and residents of Bangkok will be familiar with the striking art work found in Chatuchak Weekend Market. Now these artists have collaborated to open a unique art studio/gallery on Chaengwattana, Soi 1. V64 is housed within a disused factory building and offers 4,800 m2 of studio space, a dedicated gallery with monthly exhibitions by Thai and international artists, workshops, an art academy, café bar, and sculpture garden. More than 60 artists reside within the studio complex, some of whom can be seen at work while you walk around.
The V64 team are very welcoming and I was personally greeted by the PR & Marketing Manager, Kalisha Pim Jariyapaiboon, who gave me useful information about the artists and services provided. V64 also runs an art academy for children from 3-15 years of age, which is a great service to the community and a place to foster the next generation of Thai artists. I was very enthused by the communal vibe at V64 and see it as a potential gathering place for artistic minds who are looking for an inspiring location to rendezvous. The café bar sells both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and is open until 10:00 p.m. everyday, making it the perfect place for a get together.
If you’re looking to meet like-minded people in Bangkok, V64 is throwing a Grand Opening Party on November 11, 2011, and anyone with a passion for art, music, culture – or just making new friends – is invited. In the meantime, follow the links below to learn more about V64’s whereabouts and take a visit to their fascinating studio.
143/19 Chaengwattana Soi 1 Yaek 6, Bhangkhen Laksi, Bangkok 10210, Thailand
+66 8 9143 0986 (Mobile)
02 973 2681-2
Could this be the dawn of Asia? The coming of a new global superpower? With all the troubles happening in the West at the moment, it seems as if Asia is the place to be. As more and more Westerners flock to the East to find a sense of purpose, in our ever-purposeless lives, a new kind of story is emerging, a new pilgrimage. But this time it ought to be all the more difficult. For, unlike the discovery of America, where we were the superior power, taking by force, this time, we come on humble terms: we are simply the tolerated visitor.
And so, for the pampered Westerner, it can come as quite a shock when we have to get used to the Asian concept of lowering ourselves to our superiors. We want things “our way” and get highly annoyed by people pushing into queues, or drivers turning without indicating. But here in Thailand, they have a different kind of politeness: everyone is free to get in first if they can, but no one is free to lose their temper.
But all this is positive change, though it may not be easy to understand why at first. We have had life far too comfortable in the West, far too pampered, far too spoon-fed. When we arrive on Asian soil, we have to learn to be resourceful if we’re going to survive this mass exodus. And so, an increasing majority of pilgrims in Asia are looking for new ways to better and improve themselves. Many of them become teachers, but ultimately, they look to new pastures for a sense of achievement. For many people, writing is becoming the best way of expressing their myriad feelings about adapting to an entirely new culture.
“Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” — Arnold Bennett
I can’t speak for the whole of Asia, but my experience in Bangkok has shown me that people who spend more than a few years here tend to start a blog about some aspect of Thai life. These bloggers range from the pro to amateur, but all of them have a unique story to tell, all of them offer a glimpse of life in the “Land of Smiles.” Many of these bloggers then aspire to write a book, or work for a local newspaper; it’s a tempting option, and in many instances, a basic level of English is considered as valuable as gold dust in this linguistically-challenged country. Of course, some Thais speak excellent English, but the vast majority still speak “Tinglish”, an amusing mixture of the two languages: “I go with you.” “I love you mak mak.”
And so it was, on my very own version of this story, that I came across New Asian Writing (NAW). The NAW project was begun on January 1, 2010, by a group of like-minded individuals whose aim was to bring high quality short stories to readers, and the opportunity for aspiring new writers to have their works published. Their first book, The Rage of a New Ancestor, was released at the end of 2010, and since then, word has spread, and many more writers have submitted their work for the 2011 anthology; one of them is me!
When I first discovered NAW, I thought it too good to be true. I immediately set to work on writing a short story, hoping that it would be good enough to make the anthology. After about three months of work, I felt confident that my story was ready to be sent off to the team at NAW, albeit needing a few minor edits. When they got back to me telling me that my story had been accepted and only needed a few changes, I was ecstatic! My story, Lifelines will be published in the 2011 anthology at the end of the year. It’s not the first time I have had works published, but it is the first time I’ve been featured in a book; my last work was written for the iPhone, Bangkok in the 1930s, a walking tour that harnesses the power of archival imagery, storytelling, and GPS technology. The tour can be downloaded through Rama, the augmented reality app that brings history to life in a way never before imagined. I’m eagerly looking forward to the release of the book. In the meantime, you can read the story on NAW’s website, here.