Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What Did I Just Say? What Did You Just Say?

It’s interesting how getting just a couple of words wrong in a conversation can totally alter everything. The other day, I was standing out at the entrance to my two-building condo complex here in Bangkok, just pausing a moment to finish my cigarette before heading inside.  I notice one of our legions of security guards amble up beside me, and pointing at my shiny, new blue helmet with ventilation ports and fancy mirrored face shield, asks me, “tau rai?”  (how much?)

“Ah, you noticed my new helmet, good sir? Well, I can’t say I blame you.  I’m somewhat fond of it myself!  I bought this fine piece of merchandise at a bike ship while on a roadtrip in Chonburi, and although they asked 700 Baht for it, I haggled them down to 650.  Considering I saw this very same helmet on sale up at our local Tesco superstore for 690 Baht, I dare say I negotiated myself a good deal, if I do say so myself.  In the market for a new helmet are you?”  I responded. 

Or, at least, I would have said something like that if I knew any of those words in Thai.

Instead, I just froze.  

 I couldn’t think of my numbers!  Oh my God, I SO know this!!  I learned the numbers on the plane on the way over here fer crissakes. The number ‘650’ should just roll right off my tongue!  See, it’s extremely rare that anyone would walk up to me and just start speaking Thai at me.  Sure, I get talked at in a language I can’t understand quite a bit, but at my initiation.  A good percentage  of the time it’s because I am the one asking ‘tau rai?’  No one just comes up to me and starts a conversation.  I think that’s why I just froze up.

After an uncomfortably long period of time, I finally responded in stuttered Thai, “Hok….pam….hah….sip”.

The security just kind of looked at me, frowned, looked at the helmet again, and wandered off.  Not the, “Oh, 650? Good price! Gang hai!” I was expecting.

A couple hours later while reflecting on this interaction, it occurred to me what I had actually said.  I got my numbers for hundred and thousand mixed up.  I told him quite proudly that I’d paid 6,050 ($210) for the helmet.  

Sure, you can spend 6000 Baht on a helmet here, but that’s more than half the cost of my motorcycle.  It’s probably about 3 weeks salary for the security guard. Point being is that he can’t relate to a guy who buys a $200 helmet as well as he can to a guy who buys a $22 helmet.  It certainly left him crestfallen, because if he was in the market for a helmet, he now thought he couldn’t buy this one. 

I wonder what he thinks of me now.  
Sometimes when conversing, even in English, I just hope I heard things wrong. 

Today, after one of my classes, I had left the classroom and in the hallway, one of the boys from the class came racing after me.  See, I had forgotten to sign the class book, something a teacher is supposed to do at the end of each period, indicating what was taught that hour and a signature to prove you were there.  I forget to sign the book quite frequently.

As I was finding the spot to sign, this polite young man, one of the geeky kids in the advanced English class who does things like makes sure the book is properly signed, asks me, “You have small penis?”


I shook my head and looked at him, indicating I didn’t understand, so he repeats.

“You have small penis?”

“Uhhh..” that couldn’t be what he saying, but that is exactly what it sounded like.  Maybe one of the other smartass kids in the class gave him this choice bit of English that really impress Teacher Joko if he asked it of him. Figuring that might be it, I smiled and shook my head again.

“You haves more classes teach today?” 

He transferred from the first question to the second with such ease that I figured that maybe I was just mishearing a similarly poorly constructed question like ‘You have smor (yes, the ‘r’ does become an ‘l’ in their accent) lesson?’ or something like that. 

“Ah, yes, I have two more classes to teach today.”

And, I'm quite happy with my penis size.


  1. You need a little translator pal like Indiana Jones had.

  2. Lol - just tell him next time you see him - its part of the learning - get a grip of the basic stuff - tip - learn the alphabet and the basic vowels - but even now if someone says something I'm not expecting in an conversation I'll go blank - no Thai no English... then you just smile... it is the land of smiles after-all :-)

  3. I can't imagine trying to get along without speaking the language. I sometimes overhear people speaking other languages to each other and think how odd and random words are. Woof and Moo make sense but why dog and cow?

    Hope you are feeling better.

    1. Sometimes words use onomonopia, when a word sounds like what it is, like 'buzz' or 'splash'... As I think I already shared, the word for 'cat' is 'meo'...
      'Moo' also has a meaning, 'moo' means pork. Well, there goes that theory.

  4. Oh my gosh. These misunderstandings or was it mishearings...they happen in strange languages.

  5. Moo - depending on tone can be - group or set of things / people - moo(bahn) - an army company is a moo - Ma - can be - come / dog / horse - there are many Thai homonyms - much to the wife's horror I kept calling my mother Ma...


Discovering Northwest Myanmar 16: Kataung to Mandalay

I call them "Burmese Doughnuts". They've got another name, but essentially, it's fried bread. The three-week adventur...