Monday, June 15, 2009

do some good! (another library)

A request from my resourceful and impeccably trustworthy friend Nan, who has been working to develop this school for some time:

(Nan's in the back row with a green shirt, cheering)

We are going to renovate the school library at Ban Ko Chang School, Ranong, Thailand on 4-7 July 2009.

Within the island and surrounding areas many families live in inadequate accommodation. The community, mostly Moken Thai and ethnic Burmese fishermen, was badly affected by the tsunami. The Ban Ko Chang School is still inadequate, with only 2 classrooms and 4 teachers. All students, ages 3-12, have to share the classrooms and teachers together, and have few resources. So our group would like to help develop it as much as we can through our resources and our minds.

Our group is a small voluntary group, working together with the vision to help the children grow strong. We think that books are very important for them: without books, how can they be strong? I hope that our work and our books can help them be good people in the future.

If you are too far from me to come help in July, you can make a financial donation for support the renovation of the school library. Even $5 USD goes a very long way here. The money will go to buy paint, brushes, ground sheets, etc., as well as books. We have already raised $570 USD, and need $1000 USD more to be able to make this library come true.

For those who live in Thailand, we would love to see many people come and join in our work or donate some things that you don’t need like used books, clothes, shoes, and whatever else you want to donate for them.

Your donation can make a big difference in the lives of children in need. These kids can really change the world if they have the equipment they need to do it! We would be glad to see our project become the important beginning of the children’s future. We would love to see children’s smiles when they see their new library. It would be great if we can share their happiness together.

If you have any questions you can ask me.

Hope, Love, make the world beautiful …

You can also contact Nan directly to donate money or goods from within Thailand.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

chicken + boat + snake + soldier + chalice/tray spells “Bangkok”

Not long ago I set off for a two week work-trip to northern Thailand, to the towns of Mae Sot and Mae Sai. Most of the towns up there have names that start with Mae. Mae means “Mother,” and the towns are all named Mother Someone because the hill tribes that live in them are traditionally matrilineal and matrilocal. The city of Mae Sot was Mama Sot’s town. Mama Sai ran Mae Sai, and so on. The Thai word for river is mae nam, mother [of] water.

Thai is a beautifully poetic and filial language – everyone is older brother/sister, and since given names are all a minimum of three syllables everyone gets ‘short names’ (nicknames). My boss’s nickname is Older Sister Small-and-Beautiful-Object (Pi Ling), the woman who runs Child Protection is Honey (NamPeung – Water Sweet – and just Honey, not Older Sister Honey because she’s younger than me), the guy who runs the project in Mama Sot’s town is Older Brother Handsome-Young-Man, which from what I hear is accurate – my colleagues are incorrigibly teasing, especially when it comes affairs of the heart.

There is currently a low-grade dispute going on around work about how my name is best Thai-ified. Key contenders are:
Paat-Trrra – an actual Thai name meaning beautiful young woman (they tell me), but to the Thai ear the vowel sound in the first syllable is just different enough from the one in my English name to prohibit an automatic switch,
Pet-taa – “diamond eyes,” which is a good meaning and pretty close phonetically with the Thai-accent version of my name, but which they don’t like for me because diamonds in Thai are hard and masculine as opposed to sparkly and feminine,
Pet – pronounced differently from above, meaning “spicy,”
Bpt-aaa – meaningless but phonetically cute – they use this especially when teasing.

I started studying Thai with the intention to stop once I’d mastered the basics. Many of my colleagues are shy about speaking English to me (and not all of them speak English). I figured I should learn at least enough Thai to make amusing pronunciation mistakes so that my colleagues would relax around me. For example, accidentally asking someone to pass me the soap to season my dinner, or talking about root vegetables while trying to express appreciation for the magnificence of Angkor Wat. It turns out, however, that Thai is actually a really fun language to learn. It has all the good stuff about Mandarin (simple grammar, no verb tenses) without the demoralising character-based writing system of 5000 characters. The Thai alphabet may have 43 consonants and 15 vowels, but at least it is phonetic.

It’s also extremely pretty, with all these little loops circles and spirals. To give you an idea, here’s my work address in Thai script:
๕๘๒/๑๘-๒๒ ซอยเอกมัย สุขุมวิท ๖๓ เขตวัฒนา กรุงเทพฯ ๑๐๑๑๐
Of course, handwriting rarely actually looks like this unless it’s nice calligraphy. Whatever it may sound like when spoken, any written language will come out in a scrawl if the author is in a hurry.

Many of the letters in the Thai alphabet represent virtually identical sounds. To alleviate the resultant confusion, the Thai’s have given each letter a special name, like Turtle, Small Cymbals, or Novice Monk. Or Hermit, Monkey, and Traditional Headdress. This is so when attempting to spell a Thai word, one person can say to another, “No, the sound is K/kh, but it’s the letter for K/kh that is called Buffalo, not the one which is called Egg.” The five tones of Thai give the language a gentler sound, and there are all these playful diphthongs. All of this is positively delightful . . . if you happen, like me, to be a really, really big language geek.