Tag Archives: language

Caught in translation

I’m dog sitting for a friend for two weeks and I’m staying in her apartment. This morning, I took Maybelle out for a walk and a young guy came up and sheepishly introduced himself.

“I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met,” he says, extending his hand for a handshake.

Handshakes aren’t too common in Thailand – most of the time greetings are a “wai,” you put your hands flat together  like you’re praying and say “Sawat-dii-kah” if you’re a girl and “Sawat-dii-khrap” if you’re a guy.

“We’ve cleared this land if you want to park here,” the guy said, smiling.

“Your English is very good!” I tell him.

The guy’s parents came out and I shook hands with them too. They don’t speak English.

“She’s beautiful, son,” the father says to him in Thai.

He blushes but doesn’t think that I can speak Thai so he continues talking to me in English, explaining he’s a second-year education major and wants to be a teacher like his parents.

They ask about how long I’ve been here.

I tell them in Thai that I don’t live here at this house, but am  just taking care of a friend’s dog.

The guy blushes crimson. “Oh, you speak Thai.” He flashes a quick look at his dad and laughs nervously.

Caught in translation.

It’s fun being able to pick up on conversations in Thai, Chinese and English (duh).

Eavesdropping becomes a sport. Epfang is the word in Thai.

It’s funny listening in when people are talking about you and they don’t think you can understand – like today’s conversation. It’s fun getting glimpses into other people’s lives when they’re being honest and direct. It’s a great way to learn about culture.

I definitely don’t understand everything that’s said – only bits and pieces. Well, of course I understand English. There are so many times I miss what a Thai or Chinese friend is saying because my language isn’t up to par. I shudder to think of what was lost in translation – like the time I was nodding and smiling when a friend was telling me about going through a rough patch.  I missed some words ….

I tend to be lazy about studying. Is it too late for New Years’ Resolutions?

It’s not always fun be able to understand conversations in another language. Many times I hear comments on my weight, “Look at her, she’s so fat.”

It’s also not fun eavesdropping in on some English conversations here. There are a lot of nasty men who make their way here from all sorts of countries looking for prostitutes. I’ve wanted to slap some of the men who’ve made lewd remarks to the women and the massage parlor where I teach English.

But, language is a beautiful thing. It communicates truth, hope and joy. It paints pictures a picture of our dreams and expresses experiences.

Caught or lost in translation – that’s where I live.

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Why do you wai?

In Thailand, handshakes are not the norm in first acquaintances or greetings.

To greet someone in Thailand, you do it with a wai. This is the polite and culturally acceptable way to say hello and goodbye.

How do you wai you ask?

Place your palms together with fingers pointed up toward heaven. The age and status of the person you’re greeting determines how high you raise your hands for a wai. If it’s a child, you don’t wai them, but you nod your head in acceptance of the wai. If it’s someone your age you wai with palms at chest level. If they are older than you or more important you raise your hands up to your nose.

When you wai, you bow/dip your head so that your nose either touches your fingers or is pointed down to your fingers. Also, you bow your upper body as you say hello, Sawadee kah.

This also applies when saying goodbye.

If you are greeting royalty or a monk the wai is different. I won’t go into that though.

You are now ready to greet someone in Thailand!

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Khrang naa

Next time, I’ll be better.

I’m aware that I’m not the best blogger.  I’m sure that seems ironic since I’m a writer. It’s not that I don’t want to blog, I truly do.

I find though, it’s hard sometimes to come home and blog when writing is your job. I’ve been writing all day, bein’ all creative, artsy and word-smithy and such.

But, next time, I’ll be better. Khrang naa means next time in Thai. So, next time I’ll be better at blogging.

Realization of the day: I’m an Asia girl. I realized I can’t see myself living in Europe. Europe is a whooo place to me–it’s seems so exotic. Asia feels like home. Africa feels like the ‘hard core continent’ and South America feels too traditional for me.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t live anywhere the Lord called me–because I would. In or out of my comfort zone, I’ll follow.

That’s one realization I made. Another is that I really like coffee. But you and I already knew that.

So, stay tuned for next post! Khrang naa!

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Thaichinese, Chithai

That’s what I’ll do.

I’ll create a new language that’s a glorious hodge podge, or potpourri if you’ll allow for it, of the two languages I flutter back and forth from to study. I’ve studied Chinese and Thai since I was little but haven’t seemed to master either language. Just when I get to a point of good standing it’s time to move back to the other language.

During my younger years, (approximately years 3-10) we lived in Chinese-speaking countries. Well, there was Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, but that is an entirely different blog post. From ages 10-17 we lived in Thailand. I took Thai in high school and one year of Spanish.
In college, I took two years of Chinese. My junior year of college, I studied abroad at Tsinghua University in Beijing for eight months. Now, I am back in Thailand studying Thai.

Sadly, now I fear my Chinese is fading. It almost has to be pushed to the back of my mind because in language class my sentences are coming out half Thai and half Chinese. Sometimes it takes a confused look from my teacher to realize I must have used a Chinese word in my sentence. Thai and Chinese are both tonal languages. Thai has five tones and Chinese has four tones. The second tone is said differently in Thai than it is in Chinese. This has caused a few problems.

I’m not complaining–but I’ve realized that in studying one language I inevitably forget the other language. What’s the remedy? Since pushing a magic button for fluency in languages isn’t feasible quite yet, (maybe it will be in 2012 if the Mayans aren’t right in their predictions) my only other solution is to propose the creation of a new language. This new language would be a combination of Thai and Chinese. I’m thinking of possible names, Thaichinese, is one choice, but I do feel that is slightly predictable. Here’s another Chithai. Thainese?

Thoughts? I am open to suggestions.

สวัสดีค่ะ , 再见 Sawatdii kah, Zai jian!


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Security guards and doctors without municipal borders


One of our security guards is so sweet, so earnest. He spoke to my roommate and I our first day asking if we could write our names down.

He wants to practice English. He capitalizes on every opportunity to speak with us.

“It was a pleasure to talk with you,” he’ll say, beaming.

He also has about 20+ brochures about our Father. I stumbled through the stories about who JC is in my broken Thai and tried to respond in his broken English.

Please pray for him—pray that my language would improve enough to talk to him on a deeper level. Ask that our Father would prepare his heart.

We went to the Sunday Night Walking Street this week. Street (stay tuned for a post about that) It is by far one of my favorite places to go. We took a songtaew (red taxi) and shared it with a couple from Bangkok. They are both doctors who are in Chiang Mai for a research placement. Their English was stellar.

They paid for our fare (there were four of us). This was really sweet and it surprised us. They too seemed like persons of peace. Not just because they paid for our songtaew—mind you.

I’m really praying for an opportunity to meet up with them again


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