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“Learning thai, the hard way…”


This is not a Wit blog. I didn’t write it nor inspire it or any other such thing other than receive it. This was actually an e-mail sent to everyone on the listserv of our DC Thai Language Meetup Group from John a fellow member. I thought it was well written and worthy of a blog so I convinced John he should post it here on Thai-blogs for everyone to read. He agreed with me and didn’t even put up an arguement! I was disappointed I didn’t have to twist his arm, err persuade him to post it. He even asked me to post it for him, something about mentioning he was too kii giat to do it himself. Be that as it may John is mai kii giat when it comes to the drive to master the Thai langauge and don’t let him kid you he is a lot better than he lets on (so be warned ladies)! In addition he also builds robotic fish for the United States Navy, yeah, he’s got coolness in spades! So here it is, unedited and worthy of a good read and perhaps even an inspiration to some of you aspiring Thai speakers out there so take heart and enjoy.

And for those that remember I have not fallen off the face of the earth although some mornings it can feel like it if I haven’t had my coffee. Look for a long overdue blog of my own coming soon, maybe this weekend if all the words finally come..


“Learning Thai the hard way…

Watdee tuk kon krab (whats up, everyone)

So I figure this should be of some interest to those in this email list.

A little more than 2 years ago a Thai friend of mine asked me to come
stay with him in Thailand. I decided to start studying a little
survival Thai two weeks before my trip, just to get by and all . . .

But for some reason I kept saying, ‘well, ive done all this work, cant
quit now or it would have been a waste . . . gotta study more!!! gonna
be fluent any time now!’

And motivated by a 2nd trip to Thailand 6 months later, I continued to
study . . . Was really fun to do things a typical tourist couldnt, to
not just be with locals, but to almost be one myself . . .

I am about a week or two from my 2 year anniversary studying the crazy
language we call Thai . . . And I am still going with that carrot on a
stick dream of one day being able to confidently call myself fluent .
. .

Being such a momentous occasion, I have been reflecting . . . So what
have I learned from all this?


I would admit even infinitely harder than building a robot to get a
Singha beer out of the fridge (yes, I would know).

I studied 1 hour a day for 1.5 years, and for a 6 month period even
managed 2 hours a day. That comes out to about 900+ hours of studying.
Extensive research shows that one must study at least 600 to 1000
hours of anything complex to become a so-called ‘expert.’ Whether it
be chess, the guitar, or multi-variate calculus – doesnt matter.
Unfortunately, no research says how many hours a farang needs to learn
thai fluently, but I can assure you it isnt less than 1000 hours. That
means if you are really dedicated and study one hour a day for 3
years, you still wont be fluent. Sorry =P

Then again if your nuts like Cornell and study 6 hours a day . . . you
would reach fluency in like 6 months . . . =P

So why am I writing this? This email may sound more of like a
discouragement to those who are learning, but I think it is more of
useful knowledge to those who want to learn. These are the facts,
being bilingual just isnt an American trait =P

A bit of encouragement . . . those who have studied an equivalent of
about 210 hours (an hour a day for 7 months) know that you can
communicate in complete Thai sentences. Perhaps you can just barely
get by, but at least you can. Its a much easier, much more tangible,
yet still very rewarding goal for many on this list to reach. At least
3 or 4 of you already have passed this point. I highly encourage
everyone to set this goal.

Anyway, being my two year mark, I have decided to dedicate myself for
the big plunge . . . I am going to move and live in Thailand for a
year. This new journey will happen around March of next year. Fits
perfectly between a career transition, and right after I finally pay
off my gagillion dollar tuition. Still gotta iron out tee rak issues
tho (thats you, Jenny).

I pray it will finally help me catch the carrot thats so elusive.

Anyway, signing out, and best wishes to those who desire to undertake
probably the hardest single task anyone can undertake. =)

Choke Dee Krab (good luck)

John Palmisano

Songkran DC Style….one year on

What a year. It was one year ago this month I wrote my first blog on here. Hard to believe it’s actually been a year. Even harder still to believe what kind of year 2005 was! Starting with the Tsunami disaster in Thailand and the horror the whole world saw I began 2006 in shock and disbelief. Night after night seeing the pictures on TV was wrenching my farang eyes and my (Thai?) heart. I long since stopped being superstitious when I was little but like many people in the back of my mind was the feeling this was not a good omen to begin the new year. Little did I know how true that feeling was (and how it was one I should have heeded)?

Eight months later the American Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, jabbed America in the chest as if to emphasize the point that we should have gotten the hint last time. It seemed like everywhere the news was the same, the floods waters never reached me but it shook me upside down just the same. Say goodbye to what you knew because nothing, not even the earth and sky and planet we thought we could depend on, would ever be certain again.

This year would also prove to be the worst I ever lived through

As winter closed in on the Easy Coast so did my life close in on me. I stopped seeing friends and going to Wat Thai for class or even just to see the monks, fellow classmate would e-mail and ask when I was coming back because the monks kept asking about me. They finally stopped after about 4 months.

I was 7 when I badly cut my arm. I smashed my fist through a window in the kitchen door trying to get the door open for my father coming home from work. I was so excited to see him and welcome him home. But by the time I was 9 I was lying in my bed at night in terror listening to my parents battling it out in the hall. My father was forcefully trying to get at me and I didn’t know why and or why Mom was so scared that he did. She desperately tried to make him stop and not wake me up. My father had come home late again and was drunk. Again. It was an occurrence happening more and more at my house. He wanted to wake me up that night just to give me a stupid wooden toy horse that he got from who knew where but the whole experience terrified me just the same. From those first frightening nights all the good in our relationship eventually vanished. As years past he became more and more about getting his next drink than being a father to his son. The blind love I had as a son for him as a father was swept away like all those lives lost in Katrina and the Tsunami. In it’s place remained contempt and hate for him. As I grew older fear gave way to rebellion and as he grew older belligerence gave way to raw bitterness. It was a long and slowly drawn out deterioration into hurt, then panic then retaliation and finally desperation with each confrontation we had, many times over nothing but many times accented by sudden, out of nowhere explosive bursts of violence. Then the eerie calm of dread wondering what’s or when would trigger the cycle again next. Is it any wonder all of us in my family live like shell shocked zombies until we each could finally get away? The last time he hit me was the first time I hit him back. I think I was by that time about 18 then.

As I shook my head of its revere I sat on the top step of the temple and looked around at all the people and the fun. Church never was like this when I was a kid and a “Southern Baptist”. If I didn’t understand anything else I knew then that in that moment this was what it was all about for me. Even if I had no clue where I was or where I was going I knew Thailand and I loved it. This was not just a part of me, my brain or even my passion it WAS me! This is what I do and what I love and I know everything about even though I had never been to there before, a country and people and way of life that pleaded with me. Come and you’ll be happy, come and you’ll belong, come and you finally find peace and your place in it all. Crazy stuff huh?

Looking down at the crowd I saw George a new member to our Thai Meetup group he had just arrived and it was his first Songkhran. I waved and slipping back on my shoes I clambered down the steps to meet him. We hung out and I showed him all the ropes. It was his first time at Wat Thai and I was a two year vet by now. He took pictures with his nice expensive camera and we talked and ate and walked and looked. We also shopped and poked and prodded (the merchandise not any cute Thais) but didn’t buy anything. George makes some pretty good money in his business and has been to Thailand many times before, often more than once in a year in fact he’s going again next month. I doubt what we saw that day might have impressed him compared to the real thing but he didn’t say and I didn’t ask. He enjoyed telling me his stories of adventures and friends in Bangkok and Pattaya and I enjoyed eating them up with envy. We spent the rest of that day together and got sunburned together; well at least I did, anyway.
Finally after several hours we left with the other hot, tired and tuckered out folks both Thai and farang waiting for the shuttle bus to take them back to our their and then home. We had been e-mailing each other for months planning a get together for some Singhas somewhere but I was always sick or distracted or whatever so we never did it until that day. I liked George and we are much alike so we decided once we got back to his car we’d drive down to his place in Virginia, hunt up some Thai beers then go get a nice Thai dinner at his favorite restaurant down there. Like I said George has done pretty alright by himself so I was expecting it but still impressed with his Penthouse condo overlooking the Virginia countryside. Not to mention the beautiful pieces of Thai art and tapestry from Thailand that he showed me. but what really got me was the satellite dish! He had not one but two and one with 500 channels including several from, you guess it, Thailand! It was too cool sitting on his expensive leather couch drinking expensive German wheat beer and watching real kick boxing on his wide screen TV. I want my Thai TV! We watched a few matches and some the Thai news downed a few beers then headed off for some spicy Pud Gra Pao Neua at his favorite Thai hideaway restaurant. It was a small quiet place squeezed into a strip mall with Vietnamese Pho shops and Chinese grocery stores. The hostess and waitresses all knew George by name and what to bring him without ordering. I had my usually stir fried beef and basil but “Aow kon Thai phet, mai chawp farang phet” and boy they didn’t disappoint! The sweat was dripping off me but that’s ok I was loving it, let some of my excess baggage and, Girl Scout cookie fat, roll off too. Me and George talked, laughed and cut up for hours – serious and thoughtful one minute, silly and irreverent the next. I was having a good time and I had forgotten what it was like to have fun and be part of the human race again. Silly as it seems it made me think all the times I could do this again and again with friends for the first time in a long time I was feeling winter thaw and spring start to come alive in me again. I guess maybe I could be hopeful for the future again. I don’t pretend that there aren’t crashes and collisions in this life I can still see coming but where can anyone go that life won’t touch you? All we really have I guess are the days we have to live and how we choose to fill them. There will always be shake ups and change and disruptions. Even at my age and most certainly living in the wonderful chaos of Thailand I know that uncertainty is still there waiting for me. There are so few fairy tale endings anymore should we believe in fairy tales anyway? Long before Clash, Labanoon or Modern Dog one of my favorite singers in the 80’s was John Mellencamp a folk rocker from the American heartland. I always really felt these lines in one of his songs so much. I felt it fit me so well but always looking from the down side of the equation, now maybe for the first time in a long time I’m looking at the upside. You be the judge.
from ‘The Real Life’
by John Mellancamp

Jackson Jackson was a good kid
He had four years of college and a bachelor’s degree
Started workin’ when he was 21
Got fed up and quit
When he was 43
He said, “My whole life
I’ve done what I’m supposed to do
Now I’d like to maybe do something for myself
And just as soon as I figure out what that is
You can bet your life I’m gonna give it hell”
He says


I guess it don’t matter how old you are
Or how old one lives to be
I guess it boils down to what we did with our lives
And how we deal with our own destinies
But something happens
When you reach a certain age
Particularly to those ones that are young at heart
It’s a lonely proposition when you realize
That’s there’s less days in front of the horse
Than riding in the back of this cart
I say

I want to live the real life
I want to live my life close to the bone
Just because I’m middle-aged that don’t mean
I want to sit around my house and watch T.V.
I want the real life…
I want to live the Thai life!

-Words and Music Courtesy of Mr. John Mellencamp
-Last verse courtesy of you-know-who


Practical Thai Conversation

Sawasdee Krap!

Good day class, today on Wit Blogs we’re going to try something alittle different. Last weekend was our latest meeting of the Thai Language Meetup here in DC. The previous month Oop one of our members went back to Bangkok on business but before leaving asked if he could bring back anything for us. Bad move knowing me!

It was an effort but I did resist giving him a laundry list of stuff to bring me back if he could. I was looking for a couple of books though, The Judgment by Chart Kobjtti and Time by Chart Kobjtti and Marcel Barang. These are english translations of his two books that I’ve found online at this Thai book and magazine website.

*Shameless plug* The reason I’m bringing them up here is in case someone on Thai-blogs can help me get copies of these two books without having to pay upwards of %110 the cost of the books just to ship them! Oy! Peing mahk mahk!

Oop didn’t have a chance to do much shopping back home in the land of pu ying suay let pu chai lor ผู้หญิงสวยและผุ้ชายหล่อ so he couldn’t find the books but he did bring me back something cool hence the topic of this weeks lesson plan, er blog. Everyone paying attention class? Good! There just might be a test plus sooner or later I’m bound to say something funny, Murphys Law y’know 😉

Last Sunday at the Meetup Oop and I, well, finally met up and he gave me what he bought for me in Thailand. It was a DVD for learning Thai by Benjawan Poomsan Becker this was so cool and a really nice surpise too! This had been on my shopping list of ‘must buys’ from Richards online bookshop Buy Thai Books along with lots of other goodies for awhile. But seriously, knowing this compulsive shopper anything that is Thai can be a ‘must buy’! Oop even got the DVD for only 450 Baht (about $10 US) which is pretty cheap. Sorry Richard, but don’t take my picture off the wall as your number one customer just yet!

The DVD plays 10 different scenerios or chapters. Thai and farang ‘actors’ talk you through basic situations you might hear in everyday conversation in Thailand, hence the name of the DVD. Each chapter is divided into two parts, the first is at normal speed for Thai. The first conversations are pretty basic so you can get your feet wet but the speakers talk at ‘bullet’ speed so if your not familar with Thai much at all you blink and everything is all over. Your left scratching your head still trying to follow the first sentence! Not to worry though in the second part the conversation is repeated again but at a much slower, sometimes waaay slower, pace for folks to follow along. To help the DVD also has subtitles for the second part and you can choose from the feature menu what subtitle you want, English, romanized Thai or Thai script. The chapters hit some basics like Greetings and Introductions, Asking for Directions and Taking a Taxi- part I and II, Asking for Personal Information, In a Thai Resturant, among others.

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At Wit’s End

Sawasdee Krab!

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. For almost four years now living in DC I got used to not having a car or needing to drive. Of course not thinking about it my out of state driver’s license, long suffering from neglect, finally expired or rather it died of loneliness. That means instead of just exchanging it for a DC license now I have to jump through all the hoops of your typical 16 year old, first-time-behind-the-wheel teenage newbie to get a new one. Oh Joy.

However it’s a necessary evil, no license, no passport. No passport, no Thailand no matter how much I beg or plead or bat my cute baby brown eyes at the clerk behind the passport desk. No matter how much I think he might think they are cute anyway, right? Actually my plan for getting to Thailand is really pretty simple; get the license, get the passport, stuff as much cash in my bank account as I can along the way.

Once I have about 5 to 6 K squirreled away I’m ready to reach escape velocity. Goodbye Corporate America, the land of G.W. Bush, SUV’s, Mcfat meals and Mega Mall Suburbia, hello Land of Smiles! There’s not a day goes by I don’t think about Thailand almost to the point of being obsessive about it but in a good way not the deranged stalker way. Could you imagine a country filing for a restraining order? I hope not!

To me Thailand is my escape pod from the straight jacket of modern American life to true freedom. Instead of another twenty years punching the nine to five for a life the size of a 6 by 8 foot office space why not live each day in a life the size of a country bursting at the seams? At least that’s the dream that keeps me going and if it’s not reality then do me a favor and don’t wake me ok? Slap that snooze button and let me have 5 more minutes!

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Wit’s Top Ten

Just for fun I started thinking of this little ‘bullet’ while waiting on my Mesozoic Era PC to load at work.

Top Ten Reasons it’s cool to be an ‘Out’ Thai fanatic at Work

10. You can write all your pass codes down in Thai so no one can read them (unless your boss is Thai but she swears she won’t tell 😛 )
9. You can make your office space look really cool with Thai posters, calendars and screensavers.
8. Talking on the phone in Thai with your friends makes you sound mysteriously cool to your co-workers (plus they wonder what your up too)
7. Cooking Thai food for the company office party makes you really popular and there are never any leftovers!
6.You can drown out inane office chatter by listening to cool Thai music CD’s on your Walkman
5. Anything Thai is always an interesting topic of conversation around the water cooler.
4. Bored at work? You can catch up on the latest with (just don’t get caught ;))
3. A vacation to Thailand sounds way cooler than your office mate’s trip to the beach. Again.
2. Getting ‘fired’ at work just means adding extra chillies to your lunch!

And the number one reason it’s cool to be a Thai fanatic is….

1. As a Buddhist think of all the extra religious holidays!