April 26, 2007

Keeping track of time ตอนที่ ๒

This is part two of a miniseries on the origins behind the words for the days and months in Thai (and the colors associated with each weekday).

The Thai months are named after the signs of the zodiac. Etymologically speaking, each month name consists of a zodiac sign + either อาคม and อายน. The words อาคม and อายน both mean 'coming' or 'arrival,' so when you combine the zodiac name plus อาคม and it translates to "the arrival of zodiac sign __." February is slightly different because it is กุมภ์ + อาพันธ์, where อาพันธ์ means "bind" or "tie."

The pronunciation of each month's name is according to the rules of Thai word sandhi (สนธิ), a process of word compounding which melds more than one root word into a single phonological word.

มกราคม = มกร [มะ-กอน] + อาคม "The arrival of Capricorn"
The word มกร is a variant of มังกร, which also means 'dragon' but in this case refers to the symbol of Capricorn, the sea-goat.

กุมภาพันธ์ = กุมภ์ + อาพันธ์ "The binding of Aquarius"
The word กุมภ์ means 'pot' or 'container,' the vessel of the water carrier.

มีนาคม = มีน + อาคม "The arrival of Pisces"
The word มีน means 'fish,' the symbol of Pisces. You might recognize this word from the district มีนบุรี in Bangkok, which would mean "village of fish."

เมษายน = เมษ [เมด] + อายน "The arrival of Aries"
The word เมษ means 'sheep,' and usually a ram is the symbol of Aries. A random example of where else one finds the word เมษ is in some Thai translations of the bible, when it refers to Christ as "the Lamb of God" it is translated พระเมษโปดก [พระ-เมด-สะ-โป-ดก] = holy + sheep + offspring, or 'the sacred lamb.'

พฤษภาคม = พฤษภ [พรึ-สบ or พรึด-สบ] + อาคม "The arrival of Taurus"
As one might guess, พฤษภ means 'cow' or 'bull.'

มิถุนายน = เมถุน/มิถุน + อายน "The arrival of Gemini"
The word มิถุน/เมถุน means 'couple' or 'twins,' the symbol of Gemini.

กรกฎาคม = กรกฎ [กอ-ระ-กด] + อาคม "The arrival of Cancer"
The word กรกฎ means 'crab,' the symbol of Cancer

สิงหาคม = สิงห์ + อาคม "The arrival of Leo."
The word สิงห์ means 'lion.'

กันยายน = กันย์ + อายน "The arrival of Virgo."
The word กันย์ means 'virgin,' or 'young woman.'

ตุลาคม = ตุล/ตุลย์ + อาคม "The arrival of Libra"
The word ตุล means 'scales,' and appears with the meaning 'judge' (i.e. one who weighs a situation) in the word ตุลาการ, as in ฝ่ายตุลาการ 'judicial branch (of the government).'

พฤศจิกายน = พฤศจิก [พรึด-สะ-จิก] + อายน "The arrival of Scorpio"
The word พฤศจิก means 'scorpion.'

ธันวาคม = ธนู + อาคม "The arrival of Sagittarius"
The word ธนู means 'bow'--the symbol of Sagittarius is an archer.

April 25, 2007

Keeping track of time ตอนที่ ๑

This is the first post of a miniseries on the etymology behind the names of the days and months in Thai (as well as the colors traditionally associated with each day). First up is the days of the week.

วันอาทิตย์ (literally "Sun day")
วันจันทร์ ("Moon day")
วันอังคาร ("Mars day")
วันพุธ ("Mercury day")
วันพฤหัสบดี ("Jupiter day")
วันศุกร์ ("Venus day")
วันเสาร์ ("Saturn day")

These match up the meanings of the weekdays' names in the Western world, too. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are obvious, but English is a bit funky because it uses some Germanic/Norse god(esse)s:

Tuesday = Tyr's day
Wednesday = Woden's day
Thursday = Thor's day
Friday = Frige's day

Compare these to the Sanskrit weekday names:

These names come from 7 of the 9 traditional celestial bodies in Hindu cosmology (known as ดาวนพเครา๊ะห์ [นบ-พะ-เคราะ] in Thai). The meanings are the same as in Thai, but they don't all use the same roots. But for those that differ we can still usually find a reflex in Thai. For example, ravi corresponds to ระวี, also meaning "sun." I can't find a source for exactly when the current Thai names were introduced, or why they differ from Sanskrit, but I do know remember from briefly studying Khmer that the days of the week nearly identical, except for the word /tŋay/ instead of วัน, so I would speculate that it comes through Khmer. You can even see the similarity in the spelling: សៅរ៍ vs. เสาร์, for example.

Another thing: Note that Sanskrit vaar corresponds with Thai วาร (or วาระ), which has a few meanings: a day, a period of time, or simply time--hence words like วารสาร "periodical" and อสมวาร [อะ-สะ-มะ-วาน] "asynchronous." However, วาร is etymologically unrelated to the Thai word วัน, or the word วาน "yesterday." (Interestingly, the native Thai word ตะวัน, also meaning "sun," most likely comes from ตาวัน, because the sun is "the eye of the day.")

Fang-Kuei Li suggests that วัน and วาน go back to the Proto-Tai *ŋwan, with the *ŋw- cluster changing to [ŋ] in some Tai languages (such as and [w] or [v] in others. (As for วาน, Li proposes it comes from *ŋwaa, and because it is a bound form--usually appearing with นี้--the word boundary was reanalyzed, under semantic influence from วัน. Thus (ง)วา นี้ became วาน นี้.) This cluster makes sense, since it would complete the set of velar clusters: kw- khw- and

Language = fun.

April 20, 2007

Review: ความสุขของกะทิ (Part 1)

Title: ความสุขของกะทิ (The Happiness of Kati)
Author: งามพรรณ เวชชาชีวะ (Ngamphan Wetchachiwa)
First published: 2003

ความสุขของกะทิ is a slim little book that won the 2006 SEAWrite Award for best novel. It relates the experiences of Kati, a young girl dealing with the illness and death of her mother. I enjoyed the portrayal of family relationships in this book. The protagonist is a nine year old, but she's written with a mix of curiosity and natural wisdom. She is the lens through which each member of the family is portrayed, as they deal with their grief and loss. The maturity of her attitudes and insights make Kati feel more of a Platonic ideal than a believable character, but I don't think that undermines the intention of the story. For me, it was a book about dealing with mortality and grief. I can relate to the underlying
emotions, and I can't help but think that the author was moved to write this book by the death of someone close to her.

I didn't read this with the plan to review it, so I don't have any great analysis to give of it. That's not really my style anyway. But I enjoyed the emotional journey, and lately I've been wanting to practice my hand at translation, so I'll jump right in. My style is to translate fairly closely, so I haven't done much to vary the style and word choice here. The book is 27 very short chapters, and below is my translation of the first.

Part 1: The House on the Canal

Chapter 1. Wok and spatula

"Mom never promised she would come back."

The sound of the metal spatula in the wok awakened Kati, as it had done on previous days. Actually, the pleasant fragrance of cooked rice had something to do with it, too, along with the smell of smoke from the stove and the scent of fried eggs. But it was the sound of the spatula knocking against the wok that pulled Kati free from her slumbering visions and into the new day.

Kati never took much time to bathe and dress. Grandpa often teased her, "Finished running past the water already, are you?" Grandma turned to look as Kati came into the kitchen. She never smiled or uttered a greeting. Grandpa said that Grandma's smiles are so rare, they should be packaged and exported for sale in other countries.

Kati dished rice into a bowl. The beautiful white color of the rice went well with fresh morning air like this. Steam from the rice in her arms floated up around her chest and heart, which kept time as Kati raced out to the pier. Grandpa sat reading the newspaper, waiting with a tray of food as usual. Before long, the sound of oars on water could be heard as the front of a boat appeared around the bend. The saffron robes of Luang Lung added an extra measure of freshness to the atmosphere. Pi Tong, Luang Lung's pupil, flashed his white teeth from afar. Grandpa said that Pi Tong should join a comedy troupe--his smile was like a contagious disease. It sprang from his cheerful heart, proceeded directly to his mouth and eyes, and radiated in ripples around him--like throwing a stone into water--until everyone around felt it.

Grandpa poured the ceremonial water beneath the bo tree. Kati made merit with her grandfather, and recited a prayer in her mind.

Their breakfast awaited them. A large meal like this one every morning. Grandpa stuck to boiled vegetables and chili paste, leaving the stir fry and fried fish nearly all for Kati. Grandpa avoided every kind of fried food. He complained behind Grandma's back that it was like her food had been shellacked--some day he would take her wok and spatula and donate them to the army to smelt into a cannon for protecting the nation. If Grandma heard, she would have a fit. On that day, the sound of Grandma banging the spatula against the wok would be deafening and incessant, so much that it would be surprising if the wok survived to do its duty another day.

April 19, 2007

Thai movies

Up next, I'll post some thoughts on Thai movies.

The historical epics of Chatree Chalermyukhol (ม.จ. ชาตรี เฉลิมยุคล) are probably based a bit too much on popular mythology, but they've got high production values and will help you learn your ratchasap. There's Suriyothai (สุริโยไท), which has a 2-hour version and a 5-hour version, and his new trilogy about King Naresuan (full Thai title ตำนานสมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช). Parts one and two have shown in theaters, part three comes out in theaters in December.

I also enjoyed เรื่ิิองรักน้อยนิดมหาศาล (Last Life in the Universe), screenplay by SEAWrite Award winner Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น). I've also seen มนต์รักทรานซิสเตอร์ (Transistor Love Story) by the same director, เป็นเอก รัตนเรือง, and I think this guy has above average talent. I haven't seen his latest film yet, but it was Thailand's official submission for the 2007 foreign language film Oscar. No nomination, though.

Another fun one is หมานคร (Citizen Dog), which, in its visual style and comedy, feels influenced by the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (think Amelie). Light-hearted and very attractive to look at.

Anyone who hasn't seen แฟนฉัน, do it. A cute movie that will give a crash course in thirty-something Thai nostalgia. This was a particularly big hit with that age group, in part because the soundtrack is a pitch perfect evocation of the songs of their childhood, and the kids do a great job acting. One of the few Thai movies I've watched repeatedly.

A few more I liked okay: 15 ค่ำ เดือน 11 (Mekhong Full Moon Party)--this one's got plenty of ภาษาอีสาน to practice with; the action films by Tony Ja (aka จา พนม) are low on plot, high in insane stunts that he actually does himself, Jackie Chan style: องค์บาก and ต้มยำกุ้ง; Beautiful Boxer, the story about the life of a well-known muay Thai boxer who boxed to earn a living to pay for his eventual sex change.

If you like scary movies, ชัตเตอร์ กดติดวิญญาณ (Shutter) is palatable, and may actually make you jump in a few places. The director's newest film แฝด just hit theaters. I'll probably see it soon.

Ones I haven't seen, which may or may not be good: มหา'ลัยเหมืองแร่ (Tin Mine) was the 2006 Oscar entry; โหมโรง (The Orchestra) was the 2005 entry; The Letter (จดหมายรัก); ไอ้ฟัก (Ai-Fak), based on the 1985 SEAWrite Award-winning novel คำพิพากษา (The Judgment) by ชาติ กอบจิตติ.

I've also seen a few real stinkers. Your mileage my vary.

Any recommendations?

[Note: An earlier version of this post occurs in another corner of the web.]

Thai books

My first post here is on Thai books. I hope this is of use to those out there interested in reading Thai books. As much as anything, though, I'm writing this to help boost my own determination to read more Thai literature.

I should start off by saying that my experience in *buying* Thai books is still more extensive than my experience reading them. Being somewhat lazy, I gravitate towards short stories and things of easily digestible length. But I love to buy books, and I have my favorite authors. Even if I've only read a few of their short stories, I probably own most of their catalogue. My reading list is huge. So it goes.

To me, the Thai book market seems like it has a very high signal-to-noise ratio. But that perception may just be a function of supply and demand, filtered through my own expectations of what a worthwhile reading experience is. When I started out building my Thai library, I asked quite a few Thais I knew for suggestions, but many Thais don't read "book books" (as opposed to comic books, magazines, etc.) for leisure. So I've developed a modest amount of expertise on my own, through buying the famous books, the award winning books (most every bookstore has a special section), browsing lots of shelves, and sometimes just plain dumb luck in running across a gem.

If you're ever in Bangkok in the first week of April, and you're at all biblically inclined, do not miss the National Book Week Fair (งานสัปดาห์หนังสือแห่งชาติ). It's held in the rather massive Queen Sirikit Convention Center (200,000+ square feet!). I went in 2005 and went twice this year. Everyone in the book industry has a booth of one size or another, from the used books sellers (think tables of "all books 20 baht"--a treasure hunt) to the big publishers (Matichon, Nation Books, Amarin, etc.), to specialty publishers (be it Buddhism, cookbooks, romance novels, you name it). Prices are heavily discounted all around. It's a giant book outlet sale. I overspend every time I go. Not that that's a bad thing.

So, on to the books.

In my experience, one good place to look is at SEAWrite Award winners. The SEAWrite award has been given out since 1979, with awardees in several varying categories (poetry, novel, short stories, play, etc.), awarded by country (every ASEAN nation has awardees, but you'll generally only find the Thai ones in Thailand). Here are a few SEAWrite-winning authors:

วินทร์ เลียววาริณ -- Has around 20 books in print, including a number of books of short stories, which are easily digestible and quite interesting. Has won two SEAWrite Awards (1997 and 1999), one for his political novel ประชาทิปไตยบนเส้นขนาน, and another for his short story collection สิ่งมีชีวิตที่เรียกว่าคน. I particularly like the three-volume set of เรื่องสั้นแนวทดลอง (experimental short stories), which are as much visual as they are verbal: หนึ่งวันเดียวกัน, วันแรกของวันที่เหลือ, and โลกด้านที่หันหลังให้ดวงอาทิตย์. I also got the chance to tell him I enjoy his work at this year's Nat'l Book Week Fair. :)

ปราบดา หยุ่น -- A prolific younger writer, he has an informal style which caused some older folks to protest his receipt of the SEAWrite Award in 2002 for his short story collection ความน่าจะเป็น. I recommend that one, but it's the only one I've read, though I have several more on my reading list. He also wrote the screenplay for the movie เรื่องรักน้อยนิดมหาศาล (English title "Last Life in the Universe"), which I liked.

ชาติ กอบจิตติ -- Has written a number of modern classics, including the short novels คำพิพากษา and เวลา (which one the 1982 and 1993 SEAWrite Awards, respectively). The former was made into the movie ไอ้ฟัก a couple years back. Sadly, these are still on my reading list, though I've read a number of his short stories.

Other books on my reading list:

The fiction works of คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช. Specifically, สี่แผ่นดิน, ไผ่แดง and หลายชีวิต are ones to look into. Prime Minister in the 70s, he also wrote broadly on a variety of non-fiction topics (and acted in "The Ugly American" with Marlon Brando).

จดหมายจากเมืองไทย by โบตั่น is written from the point of view of a Chinese immigrant to Thailand. The book takes the form of letters written home to the protagonist's mother in China. This technique was used by the author to criticize aspects of Thai society, by examining them from an outsider's perspective.

Another technique to improve your Thai is by reading Thai translations of of English-language works. Reading a Thai translation of a work you're familiar with in English is excellent practice, and you'll be able to grasp meaning from the context that much easier. There is quite broad translation, though availability tends to wax and wan. I own translations of J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name a few. There's also everything from the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to Steven Covey, too. Lots of potential there.

Of course, availability is important. If you're in the U.S., dokyausa.com is the website for U.S.-based branches of the large ดอกหญ้า bookstore chain. Their site is pretty awful, design-wise, and sometimes their prices are exorbitant, but when I was in the States I found a few good deals there. (If you live in L.A. or NYC, there are brick-and-mortar stores, too.) Also check out dcothai.com, especially the Thai language books page--if you're outside of Thailand you'll get stung a bit on the shipping, but it's a good place to get your Harry Potter, LOTR, or Dan Brown in Thai. If you're in Thailand, also check out chulabook.com or dokya.com.

If you're tight in the budget department, check out wanakam.com or CRCL's bitext page. The former is a site collecting amateur Thai translations of various world classic short stories and novellas, and the latter collects Thai stories and aligns them with their English translations, so you can read the Thai side-by-side with the English, if you choose.

(For anyone interested in English translations of Thai literature, check out dcothai, or thaifiction.com, or the aforementioned bitext database.)

[Note: Similar versions of this post exist in other corners of the web. I've modified it here.]