EPISODE TEN – ANOTHER WEEK IN BANGKOK
“Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city”. (George Burns 1896 – 1996)
Its six am in Cape Town and eleven am in Bangkok; the Skype conference call with Paul and Kevin took about an hour and I must admit I did most of the talking; relaying my weeks work to them. The rest of the morning, after the conference call, was spent catching up on diarising the week and making sure I was well prepared for the coming week.
An hour at the Holiday Inn swimming pool, which is on the sixth floor, is as much as I can manage. You have to be there between eleven am and one pm if you want to see the sun. The 6th floor of any building seems high unless you are surrounded by fifty storey monoliths blocking out what little sun I’ve seen since arriving last Sunday. Swimming in a concrete jungle is a bit surreal to me but then I’m a country boy at heart and nature lovers can never feel comfortable in an environment such as this. Air pollution is bad enough but when it is accompanied by noise pollution and visual over stimulation tranquillity is just a wish until I return to my island in the south next Saturday.
There wasn’t much excitement today I’m afraid but I’m quite content when confined to my room beavering away. The weekends are very quiet on the streets compared to weekdays but still, there is always oodles of hustle and bustle. Fifty storey office blocks do house a lot of workers and they are out of here by four pm on Friday afternoon every week. Few beggars and no street children was a welcome relief after Cape Town where the homeless are rapidly growing in number.
I was fast becoming the English teacher of choice which is not surprising when you consider that most visitors to Thailand are Scots, Irish, Aussies, Yanks and a variety of Europeans who all purport to speak our once beautiful language. What chance do the locals have of learning English from people whose first language it isn’t? I have great difficulty in understanding most ‘Geordies’[i] myself and we come from the same country. It still horrifies me that Microsoft has the temerity to publish its spelling help offering in as many as fifteen different forms of English as though they are different languages. How can you have English (US, Belize, Caribbean, India, Zimbabwe etc.)? It’s either English or, if not then, it must be another language; surely. Americans, for example, adorable as they are, do not speak or write the language I was taught called English. They have just hi-jacked it, then changed it, for some reason or other, but still call it English. Why don’t they call it American? I could live with that. I was criticised for using the word ‘whilst’ in narrative. According to the critic ‘…..who uses the word ‘whilst’ any more?’ it would appear that, in his world, words become obsolete after a certain time has elapsed. How disappointing for writers and readers if dictionaries were to be purged of beautiful olde English words, some of which can so elegantly embellish modern writing. I can imagine my critic re-writing ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Romeo, Romeo. Wherefore art thou, Romeo, would, no doubt become. Where the fuck are you Romeo; it’s bloody dark out there!
Shelley, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare and even my English teacher of fifty years ago would turn in their graves if they could hear the way folk speak and write these days. I even find myself writing bastardised English to get an sms out and I break many rules of grammar when writing; so who am I to get on my high horse? No wonder we have big communication problems in the world when so many people don’t even understand their first language.
Teaching English is more a way of helping me understand Thais who, incidentally, do make a big effort to learn the main international business language and I have the greatest respect for them in this regard. I wish my efforts to speak and understand Thai were as laudable. However, Thais are not helped with ease of learning as by far the largest percentage of English teachers in Thailand are not English. I have met many Yanks, Aussies, Irish, Swedish and of course Thais but hardly any English.
Hearing “You lie fly lies?” and “Have looms for lent” on a number of occasions was what really set me on the teaching path. The inability of Thais to pronounce the letter ‘R’ correctly can lead to a lot of confusion for the ‘Farang’ who is not used to it.
I was once taken to a lovely restaurant by the river. When the menu appeared my dear friend Mr. Tee asked me politely; ‘You like liver?’ to which I replied ‘Yes, with bacon, onion and mashed potato but I think I’d prefer steamed fish today’. He speaks good English but looked at me very quizzically. It was only some time later that I realised what he was saying. That was a few years ago and I am always listening intently these days. If you remember the letter ‘R’ pronounced by a Thai sounds like ‘L’ you’ll be OK. And if you don’t change your ‘R’s’ to ‘L’s’ you will not be understood.
I met a charming young lady today who runs her own little restaurant. Her father works for her and she is only twenty-one. I’m impressed by the industry of many and the entrepreneurship of the South East Asian people generally. Responsible individuals will always work diligently for others or do their own thing. Unemployment is not an issue because there is always something to do or something that needs doing so there is inevitably some way to make a living. As in any society, there are those who do not want to work and have a ‘hand out’ mentality. Also, because it is not difficult to get work, many Thais don’t value their jobs. Family is very important and, particularly in the rural areas, many live together their whole lives under one roof pooling resources. EPISODE 11
[i] Geordie is a person from the North East of England and the name of the dialect spoken by its inhabitants.