Unlike many aficionados of Thai Culture, my initial learning of Thai language was more of a necessity than my love for the language.
My dad runs a small road side store selling clothings in Penang road in Penang, Malaysia when I was young. Way back in the 60’s, many of our customers were Thais and it was common to see them coming in vans. My father was quite a “language genius”, so to speak and I know he was able to communicate with customers of difference races and nationalities. Besides the Chinese dialects, he can speak Malay, Tamil, and Thai.
At the age of about 12, I had to help in the store during the school holidays. It was never too early to start working if you were hungry and in need of money to feed yourself. Child labor was never an issue at all then, and even now, if you care to look at your neighbours in the ASEAN region. Even now in the North East and Northern Thailand, you can see children working in the shops.
My first few lessons were counting from one to a hundred. Hundred was an astronomical figure for me. The Malaysian currency of Ringgit was called “rian” (I wonder if anyone out there knows the reason. Perhaps it is a short and distorted form of Rin sans ggit). Next I was taught how to bargain with the customers. Adjectives like good, best, low, lowest, cheap were to be memorized.
Well, without going into more details, some of which maybe heart-rendering issues for me, sufficed to say that these lessons on Thai and business, were an important part of my growing up. I become very street smart. I definitely could speak more languages than my father except Tamil. Like a chip of the old block, today, my son beats me with his command of the French language. The social scientist call this “social mobility”, if I am not wrong.