Kanchanaburi

This past weekend, Abby and I finally made it to Thailand. “Now, wait,” you might say, “aren’t you already in Thailand?” In the sense that we live in Bangkok, we also are in Thailand, but in another sense, we’re not. Bangkok. Thailand. We went to Kanchanaburi, in the western part of the country. Kanchanaburi is the home of the bridge over the River Kwai, which I’ll get to later; for now, we’ll look at other things to see in Kanchanaburi. The area has many temples that are tourist attractions as well as religious sites. First we visited Wat Ban Tham. Entrance…

Let’s learn Thai! – part 6, in which it gets worse

Thai has three types of consonants: “middle” consonants, which are simply regular consonants; “high” consonants, which follow certain rules; and “low” consonants, which follow certain other rules. Within the low consonant class, there are “single” low consonants and “paired” low consonants. Paired low consonants match the high consonants, so we start with these. For simplicity’s sake, I am including in the below table only the primary consonant, rather than (for example) all the different ways one can make the “s” sound. “kh,” “th” and “ph” are aspirated k, t and p, respectively. /kh/ /ch/ /th/ /ph/ /f/ /s/ /h/ high…

Loy Krathong

A girl carries her krathong to the lake; a boy with his edible krathong; a variety of styles for sale. Last weekend, Thailand celebrated Loy Krathong. Loi krathong (ลอย กระทว) literally means “to float a basket,” and during the Loy Krathong festival, people make or purchase elaborate little baskets that they put into the river or lake while saying a prayer. Symbolically, when a person releases a krattong into the water, one also releases one’s problems and sins. The baskets are made from banana leaves and flowers or, for the more environmentally-conscious, fish food. Many Bangkok residents head down to…

Spirit houses 2

Spirit houses in their natural habitat. In my quest to find out where spirit houses come from, I started with a visit to the website of K.T. Spirit House (http://www.kt-spirithouse.com). Unfortunately, the store is located far outside Bangkok, and the proprietors didn’t answer my email. I considered heading out and taking my chances, but then I found a store in town that sells spirit houses, and the woman running it spoke English so I didn’t have to struggle with Thai to explain my interest. In response to my first question, she told me that hers are made from molded poured…

Let’s Learn Thai! – part 5, in which we learn more about the Thai alphabet (UPDATED)

At my request, my teacher began to teach me to read and write Thai (rather than rely on a phonetic system of writing in English characters). Be careful what you wish for, may you live in interesting times, all of that. It turns out that two of the reasons that Thai has so many consonants are that, for example, in addition to the aspirated consonants ด (“D” as in “dog”) and ท (“T” as in “Thai”), there is a “DT” sound, ต, which is its own letter. Some of the other consonants get similar treatments, for instance there is a…

Let’s Learn Thai! – part 4, an introduction to the alphabet

The dog was sick all morning, throwing up on the Persian rugs (due to a bad reaction to a pain medication we gave him for his arthritis), so I stayed home from Thai class and did a little self-study. My lessons don’t include reading and writing yet, but I want to get a jump on the topic. As it happens, when I learned we were going to Thailand last October, I bought a self-study book on Amazon which I used for three days before putting it away on the shelf. It made no sense to me at the time, but…

Spirit houses 1

Spirit houses, which one sees in front of many houses and businesses in Thailand, are the local version of the Greek proskinitaria that I documented in my book (copies of which, ahem, are still available). Unlike proskinitaria, however, spirit houses, or san pra phum, are intended to provide a home for spirits that could otherwise create trouble for the property owners if they are not cared for and given offerings of flowers or food. Although the Thais are predominantly Buddhist, their culture still reflects an earlier time when animism played an active role in people’s thinking. Hence, every place has spirits that need…