December 31, 2009

Changkhui Thai podcast

Every once in a while someone will ask me, or one of the webboards I frequent, for recommendations for books, movies, or podcasts to help practice their Thai. And so I've been known to recommend ช่างคุย (, the only true podcast I know of in the Thai language. (Hopefully that will change.)

A few months ago, after making just such a recommendation on the ThaiVisa forum, Changkhui webmaster and podcaster-in-chief Passakorn Hongsyok noticed all the referrals coming from the ThaiVisa, and followed the links back to my posting. From there he invited me to be a guest on his show. It took a few months to find a free evening, but last Sunday I finally went to his condo and recorded an episode. It went online today as ช่างคุย #153 (or try the direct mp3 link, 30MB). I was still getting over a cold, and drank ridiculous amounts of water throughout the episode to try to soothe my throat, so please think charitable thoughts when you listen. :)

I really enjoyed talking with Passakorn, and I really enjoy Changkhui in general. Actually, it's a "podcast station" with at least a dozen different podcasts on many topics. See for yourself. Passakorn even does an English language podcast, though he has trouble finding guests. After we recorded a Thai language episode he and I started an English one, but my voice couldn't take anymore and we had to stop. We'll try again soon.

Podcasting is a hobby for Passakorn, and an expensive one no doubt given all the bandwidth he must use. Please consider making a PayPal donation to Changkhui or buying one of the nice polo shirts on offer to offset the site's expenses (links are on the webpage).

There are sundry ways to consume Changkhui:

November 2, 2009

Logos from Google Thailand

Google is known for the custom logos it places on its homepage on holidays and other occasions. And with the worldwide spread of Google, their many country sites display logos specific to the local culture.

Google Thailand ( is currently showing a logo celebrating Loy Krathong (ลอยกระทง):

Some earlier Google Thailand logos:

Songkran 2008

Songkran 2009

National Artist Day 2009

October 21, 2009

Old Thai Movie DVD Roundup, Part 3: The Legend Collection from Five Star Productions

More than a year after I first read about it on Wise Kwai's blog, Five Star Productions has finally begun releasing the promised films from its vault. At the end of August it was announced that Five Star had signed a deal with media distribution company BKP to release more than 100 titles from its film vault on DVD.

The set has been dubbed The Legend Collection, or in Thai ตำนานหนังกลางใจ. This will be a re-release on DVD for some titles, but it will be the first DVD treatment for the vast majority of these films. Some 70 specific titles have been announced, and will be released in "volumes" of seven titles each. Fourteen titles, comprising the first two volumes of The Legend Collection, were released in September. The retail price is set at 199, but they are easily found for 139 baht. Unfortunately, none will have English subtitles.

This weekend I bought Vol. 1 No. 1, อนึ่งคิดถึงพอสังเขป, directed by Bhandit Rittakol. The quality of the transfer appears very good, as far as these things go. I'll write more about that soon.

For now, some more highlights from this impressive collection:

* 12 films by director Piak Poster -- almost every film he made between 1978 and 1996. (Two of his first films, โทน / Tone (1970) and ชู้ / Adulterer (1972) were released on DVD in 2007 by Triple X films.)

* 8 films from the Charuchinda entertainment dynasty -- 4 directed by Sakka Charuchinda (สักกะ จารุจินดา), and 4 directed by his son, Narong Charuchinda (ณรงค์ จารุจินดา).

* 7 films by director Euthana Mukdasanit, more than half of his directorial efforts. (His 1997 film จักรยานสีแดง / Red Bike Story was released by GMM this year as part of its Memory Collection.

* 6 films by Bhandit Rittakol. (A limited edition box set of all 6 films in Bhandit's original Boonchu series was also released last year.)

* 3 of the most well-known films of National Artist Vichit Kounavudhi: Mountain People, Son of the Northeast, and Her Name is Boonrawd.

Many of the films are adapted from well-known Thai books:

* นำพุ้ / The Story of Nam Phu (1984) and เขาชื่อกานต์ His Name is Kan (1988) are both based on books by Suwanni Sukhontha (สุวรรณี สุคนธา).

* คนทรงเจ้า / The Medium (1989) is based on the 1988 book of the same name by S.E.A. Write Award-winning author Wimon Sainimnuam (วิมล ไทรนิ่มนวล)

* ผีเสื้อและดอกไม้ / Butterfly and Flowers (1985), based on the 1978 book of the same name by Makut Oraruedi (under the pen name นิพพานฯ).

* ครูไหวใจร้าย / Mean Ms. Wai (1989), from the 1966 book by Phakawadi Uttamot (ผกาวดี อุตตโมทย์).

* ปริศนา / Enigma (1982), from the novel by HRH Princess Vibhavadi Rangsit (under her pen name ว.ณ ประมวลมารค).

* ข้างหลังภาพ / Behind the Painting (1985), from the 1936 novel by Siburapha (ศรีบูรพา).

* ไผ่แดง / Red Bamboo (1979), from the book by Kukrit Pramoj (คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช), a former Prime Minister and founder of Siam Rath newspaper.

* ลูกอีสาน / Son of the Northeast (1982), from the S.E.A. Write Award-winning novel by Kampoon Boonthavee (คำพูน บุญทวี).

* ผู้หญิงคนนั้นชื่อบุญรอด / Her Name is Boorawd (1985), from the pen of the prolific Botan (โบตั๋น).

[Update: Here is the spreadsheet I made of the 70 titles announced so far. Each DVD includes a booklet listing the titles from the first 10 volumes. Since the Thai film industry does so many remakes, sometimes it's ambiguous exactly which version of the film they will be releasing.]

October 8, 2009

One week until Book Expo Thailand 2009

Where has the time gone? Thailand's semiannual book fair is upon us again. As regular readers will recall, the October incarnation is known as Book Expo Thailand (งานมหกรรมหนังสือ).

Book Expo Thailand 2009 will run from Thursday, October 15 through Sunday, October 25, 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. As usual, this massive book fair will be held at Queen Sirikit Convention Centre. I recommend traveling by subway -- the Convention Centre has its own stop. The book fair is always packed every single day, so parking is a nightmare.

If you've never been, I absolutely recommend it. There's really something for everyone. In a past year at the book fair I met Win Lyovarin, a Thai author I enjoy, and last time I even ran into the enviably prolific and all-around smart Sarinee Achavanuntakul of

Further details on Book Expo Thailand here (in Thai).

The dates for the 38th National Book Fair have also been announced as March 26 - April 6, 2010.

[See also: The state of the Thai publishing industry.]

September 19, 2009

Marcel Barang: new blog, new translations

If you are interested in Thai literature, especially translations of it, then it's a necessity to know the name of Marcel Barang. He is the world's foremost translator of Thai fiction into English and French. Not only is he prolific, but so few do what he does, making his work all the more valuable.

Today I was delighted to learn that he now keeps a blog, alternately writing in French and English, called the written wor(l)d en deux langues. It's managed to escape my attention since he began it in July, but I'm glad it didn't take me until next year to find it.

What is Marcel blogging about?

Most notably, he's completed working on a new English translation of สี่แผ่นดิน (See Phaendin) by คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช (Kukrit Pramoj), a former Prime Minister of Thailand. It was translated previously in 1981 under the title Four Reigns by "Tulachandra", the pen name of จันทร์แจ่ม บุนนาค (Janjaem Bunnag), who passed away in 2007, better known for her translations of Western literature into Thai.

In his must-read anthology "The Twenty Best Novels of Thailand" (1994), Marcel wrote somewhat critically of that translation:
[Tulachandra] did a creditable job of condensing the masterpiece, but spoiled it by taking upon herself the role of cultural tour guide, pepper­ing her text with mentions such as “At that time, we Thais thought that...” that are not in the original and leaving behind more than one hundred Thai words and phrases for foreign readers to memorize, I presume – from countless repetitions of the basic mai pen rai (‘never mind’) and sanuk (‘funny’) to convoluted formulas in court language.
At Marcel's primary website,, you can read a lengthy excerpt from See Phaendin that he did for the same anthology, as well as many other of his translated books and stories in their entirety.

Marcel also notes in the anthology that he submitted this excerpt to Kukrit Pramoj (who passed away in 1995), but received the following reply from Kukrit's personal secretary [English translation by Marcel]:
"Judging from the sample you sent us, we think your translation is much inferior to the standard of the novel, which will destroy the quality of language and depth of Thai culture of a time when the diversity of Western cultures was not as numerous as it is today. Therefore, MR Kukrit Pramoj, the author, does not allow you to translate and publish See Phaendin."
This time around, let's hope he has the family on his side.

There are many other posts not to be missed on Marcel's blog:

"Lost in translation" -- in which Marcel reveals that his translation of Chart Korbjitti's หมาเน่าลอยน้ำ will soon be published, and that he has also translated a compilation of Chart's best short stories.

Or "The novel that doesn't exist", recounting the accidental rediscovery of a novel that neither Google nor the National Library could find.

A four part series "On literary translation from the Thai" (one, two, three, four).

And last but not least, we can expect a new-and-improved version of within the month.

September 16, 2009

A new life for the FSI Thai language course

Catherine over at Women Learning Thai has written a post about the FSI Thai Wiki Project, a collaborative project that we helped start, with the goal of digitizing the entire U.S. Foreign Service Institute's Thai language course, and adding Thai script in the process. The original course uses only romanized Thai, something we think needs fixing.

We're working on this via wiki, which means that we want and need your help. If you'd like to help type out some of the Thai, proofread some of the English, or format some wiki pages, then please send me an email at rdockum [at] gmail [dot] com.

The two-volume FSI course has a lot of excellent material. Drawing heavily from Richard B. Noss' (also excellent) 1964 Thai Reference Grammar, it remains very useful nearly half a century later. Sure, parts of the FSI course are outdated, but as I've written before, you can't beat the price. Courtesy of the American taxpayer, you get a 40-lesson course complete with accompanying audio for each lesson, and an audio introduction to Thai phonology. (Get them in PDF and MP3 format here.)

Please see Catherine's post for more information, or the Google Group that I started for this (and future) collaborative Thai language projects.

July 9, 2009

Rock the vote

The website Lexiophiles is sponsoring a vote for the top language blogs. I've been nominated (along with 99 others.. w00t) in the "language learning" category. The power is now in your hands to determine the order of the top 100.

My goal is to crack the top 90. Won't you please help?

[Edit: Catherine at WLT is a better person than me: she listed the other Thai bloggers also nominated. Congrats all around. :)]

July 5, 2009 ... or else!

So this is strange... the new website aims to ease the country's massive political, socioeconomic, and cultural divisions by bolstering national unity.

But wait until you see the actual terms and conditions that one agrees to when signing up for the site:
  1. สำหรับคนไทยทุกคน
  2. ต้องเป็นข้อความที่แสดงถึงความรัก และปรารถนาดีต่อประเทศไทย
  3. การแสดงออกความคิดเห็นต้องไม่กล่าวล่วงละเมิดหรือหมิ่นประมาทบุคคลที่ 3
  4. แสดงความคิดเห็นด้วยสำนวนและวาจาที่สุภาพ
  5. ต้องเป็นข้อความที่ไม่กระทบต่อชาติ ศาสนา และพระมหากษัตริย์
  6. ต้องเป็นผู้ที่ รักประเทศไทย ยิ่งชีพ
  7. ผู้ใดแสดงความคิดเห็นใดๆก็ตามที่ผิดต่อข้อตกลง/เงื่อนไข ผู้นั้นต้องเป็นรับผิดชอบแก่ข้อความนั้นๆ
And my translation:
  1. [This site is] for all Thai people.
  2. Comments must show your love and respect for Thailand.
  3. Expression of opinions must not violate or slander others.
  4. Express opinions with polite language.
  5. Comments must not disparage the nation, religion, or king.
  6. You must love Thailand more than life.
  7. Whoever expresses an opinion in violation of these terms and conditions must accept the consequences of that opinion.
Looks like this site is a national "stimulus" program of a non-economic variety. A government-sponsored website on which only those who admit that they love the country more than their own lives are allowed to come and express nothing but adulation and praise for the country.

I'm sure this will do wonders for encouraging open and thoughtful dialogue. Especially that veiled threat at the end. Just lovely.

[Hat tip to Bangkok Crimes.]

June 20, 2009

Thai Movie Titles: May and June 2009

As I wrote in the previous installment, "Thai titles for western films are sometimes corny, sometimes spoilery, and always entertaining. Especially when you translate them back into English. They have a style of their own."

Here are my (intentionally) over-literal re-translations of a few recent movie offerings:

Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins
ฅนเหล็ก 4 มหาสงครามจักรกลล้างโลก
"Iron Man 4: super machine war cleanses the earth"

Star Trek
สตาร์เทร็ค สงครามพิฆาตจักรวาล
"Star Trek: war to destroy the universe"

Angels and Demons
"Angel and Satan"

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
เอ็กซ์ เม็น กำเนิดวูลฟ์เวอรีน
"X-Men: birth of wolverine"

The International
"Fighting a worldwide organization from hell"

Night at the Museum 2: Escape From the Smithsonian
มหึมาพิพิธภัณฑ์ ดับเบิ้ลมันส์ทะลุโลก
"Gigantic museum: double fun penetrates the world"

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
ทรานส์ฟอร์เมอร์ส : อภิมหาสงครามแค้น
"Transformers: super mega war of revenge"

June 4, 2009

Abhisit urges the Royal Institute: let's face facts

An interesting tidbit from The Nation last week (link|cache):

PM urges Royal Institute to accept changes made to Thai language by Internet

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Monday urged the Royal Institute to face changes caused to the Thai language by usage of the language on Internet and accept the changes.

Abhisit said the Royal Institute must regulate and create standard for the changes in the language while campaigning for the correct usage of the language.

The prime minister said his government would also make it a national agenda to campaign for Thai youths to love reading.

The Nation

I have no idea what prompted this urging. And I can't seem to find any mention of this in the Thai press.

The Royal Institute is in charge of creating and promoting language standards, which in most cases includes trying to hold back the tide of change in the modern language.

There is a general attitude of disapproval among the older generation about how young folks speak (and especially write) Thai these days.

There's nothing uniquely Thai about this, of course. The same discussions are going on in the U.S. about "proper (American) English" those darn whippersnappers and their text messages and cellular telephones and all the LOL on the series of tubes that make up the interwebs. Heh.

The difference, of course, is that there is no organization in Englishdom that has a mandate to "protect" the language. In Thailand, that's where the Royal Institute comes in (and many other countries have similar organizations to set standards for their own national languages).

But since virtually all Royal Institute Fellows (ราชบัณฑิต) are retirement age, and some are nearing the century mark, they basically embody the (multi-)generation gap.

In addition to the many books it publishes, the public relations outreach of the Royal Institute involves annual awards for excellence in the use of the Thai language, regular radio spots with language tidbits, and most recently, a short cartoon segment teaching proper language that is to air each evening. They have also begun the process of producing a language quiz show program for NBT. In other words, it's all very 20th century.

So basically what Abhisit is asking, I think, is for them to stop ignoring the fact that the internet is perhaps the single greatest cause of language change. But it's also interesting that he is reported to have urged them to "accept the changes".

Somehow I don't really see that happening. However, I agree that somebody should at least be paying attention to new language trends instead of dismissing them as "incorrect" internet Thai.

One of the reasons given for the Royal Institute's Dictionary of New Words project (volume 1 was released October 2007, and volume 2 is in the pipeline) was to record the modern language (without legitimizing it, however), so that at least those who look back on the language of this day will be able to make sense of it.

That seems like a decent reason, but of course the approach is extremely narrow. A group of perhaps a dozen committee members sit around a table and try to come up with "new" words they've heard. Just as with their main dictionary, there is no systematic attempt to comb things like the internet or comic books to assure adequate coverage of the words in use in the real world. Not to mention variant spellings, and new senses constantly being given to existing words.

Keeping up with the language is a daunting task. For an organization with as much expertise as it has, the Royal Institute remains largely irrelevant in the modern Thai world.

Perhaps Abhisit realizes that, and that prompted his statement. But it stands to be seen whether the Royal Institute itself will realize it. If not, they'll continue trying to instruct people who simply aren't listening.

Long time no see...

Greetings, readers! (Both of you.) My triumphant return has finally arrived. Okay, maybe not triumphant, but I'm going to stop being so lazy about writing posts.

Please check back soon (i.e. later today) for my first real post in a month.
Thanks for sticking around.

The Management

May 8, 2009

คนพวกนั้น (Those Kind of People)

For those who expressed interest in the Thai-language version Siburapha's story "Those Kind of People" (which I blogged about last week), I have now posted the original story: คนพวกนั้น.

I digitized the text by scanning it and running the scans through ABBYY FineReader 9.0 OCR software. They added Thai support last year and it's by far the best of the meager Thai OCR options. No offense to NECTEC, but their ArnThai is truly terrible in comparison. But it's still not perfect, so I read through it quickly to fix obvious errors. If you spot any more drop me a line and I'll fix them.


Thai Movie DVD Roundup, Part 2: Memory Collection from GMM

It's been a year since my first DVD roundup, when I summarized the classic Thai films on offer from Triple X. I planned to follow up with the Happy Time catalog. While I still have my half-finished notes for that, it'll have to wait its turn. Today I'm gonna take on a bite-sized DVD roundup: GMM's new Memory Collection.

It's only in the last few weeks that I've begun to notice these films on the shelf. And so far there are only three titles in the series. But doing a little research, I find that the first in the Memory Collection series was released in January 2009, followed by released in February and March.

Title: February (กุมภาพันธ์)
Director: Yuthlert Sippapak
Starring: Sopitnapa Dabbaransi, Shahkrit Yamnarm
Run-time: 108 minutes
Original theatrical release: 14 February 2003
Memory Collection release: 29 January 2009

Title: O-Negative (รักออกแบบไม่ได้)
Director: Pinyo Rutharm
Starring: Tata Young, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Ray MacDonald
Run-time: 108 minutes
Original theatrical release: 30 October 1998
Memory Collection release: 26 February 2009

Title: Red Bike Story (จักรยานสีแดง)
Director: Euthana Mukdasanit
Starring: Tata Young, Patipan Pataweekarn
Run-time: 111 minutes
Original theatrical release: 4 March 1997
Memory Collection release: 24 March 2009

Larger covers from Red Bike Story (click for even bigger):

The suggested retail prices for titles in the Memory Collection is 199 baht. Today I saw 189, and online sites Boomerang and Amorn Movie are offering them for 159 and 150 baht, respectively. The bad news: no subtitles of any kind, Thai or English.

The word on the street is that the picture quality is poor, so today I went out and bought Red Bike Story, which I'm not sure has ever been released on DVD before.

On my computer screen the image looks pixelated, which is unfortunate. On a TV (or analog monitor) that computes to a fuzzy picture. But the colors are decent, in comparison to the downright awful quality of most older Thai movies (due to poor preservation and transfers). I'd call the quality very watchable, but certainly not what you'd typically expect from a DVD. If you have any doubt that the image is not crisp, just skip to the end credits, which are washed out and difficult to read.

Here are a couple of screen shots. Click for the full native resolution.

My feelings on this series overall is that it's typical Thai cheap-as-possible production, where they don't appear to either realize or consider that many people do care about things like image and sound quality (just read the comments on that thread I linked to). So it smarts a little when they do cheap transfers and charge 199 baht for it.

But at the same time, I've never had the chance to see Red Bike Story before, so I do hope they continue to release interesting older films. The typical shelf life for DVDs here is so short, it's refreshing to see titles like these back on the shelves.

May 6, 2009

On the death of roi-et ร้อยเอ็ด

No, the province isn't in trouble. I'm talking about the Thai phrase meaning "one hundred and one".

I've noticed that, in Bangkok at least, I never really hear the number 101 written or spoken as ร้อยเอ็ด or หนึ่งร้อยเอ็ด. Rather, หนึ่งร้อยหนึ่ง seems to be the norm these days. The same goes for 201, 501, 1001, etc. I only hear เอ็ด in the tens places -- from 11 to 91.

The most common situation to hear these in is when someone reads you the total from a purchase, whether it's a 7-Eleven stop or a restaurant bill.

One thing to keep in mind is that while you can say หนึ่งร้อยเอ็ด, and abbreviate that ร้อยเอ็ด, you can't really do the same with หนึ่งร้อยหนึ่ง. That's because ร้อยหนึ่ง is understood to mean 100, because หนึ่ง in this case acts like English "a". Asking a friend ขอยืมตังค์ร้อยหนึ่ง means "can I borrow a hundred (baht)"? The same goes for higher decimal places. พันหนึ่ง = 1000, หมื่นหนึ่ง = 10000, and so forth. (But also note that in this type of usage, the tone of หนึ่ง typically becomes a mid tone, and as a result is informally written นึง to reflect that.)

Using เอ็ด for "one" in the ones place of multi-digit numbers is still technically correct, according to the Royal Institute. And it usually helps to avoid confusion. For example, saying 1001 as หนึ่งพันหนึ่ง could be misunderstood as 1100, or หนึ่งพันหนึ่งร้อย, since the decimal unit of the next figure is often omitted in casual speech. พันห้า = 1500, หมื่นสอง = 12000, ล้านสี่ = 1.4 million. The only exception here seems to be the tens place, where สิบ is rarely ever omitted. สองร้อยห้า = 205, not 250, though one may run into occasional exceptions to this exception.

So why would เอ็ด would begin to disappear from usages like 101, 201, or 1001?

And if it really is disappearing, then I wonder whether this bug report for Open Office is really a bug or a feature. Is it simply reflecting common modern usage?

Can anyone else corroborate my experience? What is usage like outside Bangkok?

April 30, 2009

Siburapha: Thai literature as social activism

[Update: I've now posted the original Thai-language version of "Those Kind of People": คนพวกนั้น. I also blogged briefly about it here.]

Not too many years ago, it wasn't uncommon for Thais critical of the social order to find themselves faced with the choice between exile and a life in prison. Writers were a particular target for many years. Many Thai authors beloved today spent years in jail or died in exile, or both.

So Sethaputra (สอ เสถบุตร), the renowned lexicographer, wrote his first dictionary while a political prisoner on Tarutao Island. Progressive thinker Chit Phumisak (จิตร ภูมิศักดิ์) spent six years in prison only to be acquitted, and eventually shot to death in the Northeastern jungles at the age of 36.

Kulap Saipradit (กุหลาบ สายประดิษฐ์) is perhaps the most prominent example. Best known by his pen name Siburapha (ศรีบูรพา), also spelled Sriburapha, he was a writer and journalist by profession, composing his first novel before the age of 20. He would go on to write more than fifteen novels in all, as well as several non-fiction books, a number of Thai translations of foreign literary works, and dozens of original short stories.

All of his major works were republished with funding from UNESCO in celebration of the centenary anniversary of his birth in 2005. He is also the namesake of the Sriburapha Award, which recognizes excellence in journalism, writing, and the arts.

The writing style of Siburapha evolved over the course of his career as he became more involved in human rights activism, and the fight against social injustice in Thailand. In 1951, he set up the Peace Foundation of Thailand. The next year, during a trip to the Northeast of Thailand to distribute goods to the needy, he was one of many "agitators" arrested by the dictatorial government of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram. Convicted of treason, he spent four years behind bars before being released in 1957.

In 1958, while Siburapha was in China attending a writers' conference, General Sarit overthrew the Thai government in one of the country's many military coups. Those in Siburapha's group who returned to Thailand were all arrested, so he elected to remain in China. He spent the last 16 years of his life there in exile.

For those who prefer his earlier, safer romantic works, it is perhaps easy to dismiss Siburapha's later works as heavy-handed, or lacking literary merit. But to do so is to miss the point. His later works are part of the first generation of the "Literature for Life" movement, which had a second wind in the social unrest of the late 60s and 70s.

And so I present the English translation of "Those Kind of People" ("คนพวกนั้น"), a short story by Siburapha, first published in 1950 in the magazine สยามสมัย (Siam Samai). It became popular again among student activists a quarter of a century later.

Today I can't help but read it with my eyes open to how much it continues to reflect Thai society. Though things have improved considerably, in particular with the introduction of affordable health care for the poor, the quality-of-life gap between the higher and lower strata of Thai society remains gaping wide.

"Those Kind of People" tells the story of a girl from an aristocratic family who disagrees with her parents' attitude towards the lives of the lower-class masses, and towards their own privilege. A piece of advice from the girl's father encapsulates the attitude well:
'You shouldn't go worrying too much about those kind of people,' he said, referring to the people who lived outside Bangkok, the poor, and all those people who were not of the same class as Chao Khun himself. 'They've always lived like that. They're used to it, and they don't really need more than what they already have.'
I do hope that you will read the complete short story. It's almost hard to believe it was written six decades ago. It is published here, however, without permission.

Muthiah Alagappa (1995). Political legitimacy in Southeast Asia. Stanford University Press.
David Smyth and Manas Chitakasem (1998). The Sergeant's Garland and other stories. Oxford University Press.
Siburapha. Retrieved April 30, 2009.

April 23, 2009

Word of the Day: ค่อนข้าง /khɔ̂n 'khâaŋ/

Word of the Day for Thursday, April 23, 2009:

ค่อนข้าง /khɔ̂n 'khâaŋ/ rather, relatively, fairly

This phrase can be used both positively and negatively, e.g. ค่อนข้างดี "rather good" vs. ค่อนข้างแย่ "rather terrible." It lightens the weight of your statement in either direction.

In some cases it's comparable to the suffix -ish, as in ค่อนข้างเปรี้ยว "sourish". However, keep in mind that in English, -ish is often used to damn with faint praise, which doesn't really match the Thai meaning of ค่อนข้าง. So in English I might say "yeah, the movie was funny-ish," which is an idiomatic way of saying it wasn't very funny at all. On the flipside, ค่อนข้างตลก would be understood as funny but not hysterical, which closer matches the sentiment of English "pretty funny" or "fairly funny."

You can use it with pretty much anything that acts like an adjective. ค่อนข้างสูง "rather tall", ค่อนข้างอ้วน "rather fat", ค่อนข้างหิว "rather hungry". Even ค่อนข้างแดง "rather red", if, say, you went to the beach and asked a friend to describe how your back after a nap on your stomach.

April 17, 2009

Thai 101 Giveaway: The Judgment / คำพิพากษา

The April giveaway is an equal opportunity giveaway: two copies of The Judgment/คำพิพากษา, by Chart Korbjitti/ชาติ กอบจิตติ, one in English, and one in Thai. As with two previous giveaways, The Judgment is a S.E.A. Write Award winner, receiving the honor in 1982. The English is translated by Phongdeit Jiangphatthana-kit and Marcel Barang.

The book was made into a film in 2004 with the title Ai-Fak/ไอ้ฟัก.

To enter the drawing, send an email to rdockum [at] gmail [dot] com. Include "Thai 101 Giveaway" in the subject (but you won't be disqualified if you don't). Please tell me your language preference, Thai or English. If you are okay with either one, then let me know that, too.

You have until the end of the month, April 30, to enter. I'll announce the winners at the beginning of May.

If you're selected, I'll email you to request your mailing address. If you've won something in the past, you're still eligible. The giveaway is open to anyone in the world. Postage is on me.

As I announced, these are books I bought at this year's book fair. The Thai is a brand new copy of the 42nd printing, published 2008; the English was printed 2001, and while new, it has minor shelf wear and yellowing around the page edges.

April 13, 2009

Word of the Day: สถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน /sa'tʰǎa.ná'kaan chùk 'chə̌ən/

Word of the Day for Saturday, April 11, 2009:

สถานการณ์ฉุกเฉิน /sa'tʰǎa.ná'kaan chùk 'chə̌ən/ n. state of emergency (by formal declaration)

Yesterday marked a record for Thailand: the first time in Thai history that a etate of emergency was declared on two consecutive days. Through a little research, though, I learned that Thailand has been in a formal state of emergency in at least one province since 1958.

The recent culprit is the South Thailand insurgency, where the situation was downgraded in 2005 from martial law to state of emergency in 2005, and the SOE has been extended without faily every three months since then. We're up for another extension of the Southern SOE next week.

The important elements here are สถานการณ์ "situation" and ฉุกเฉิน "emergency". Alternately, ภาวะฉุกเฉิน is used with the same meaning, but is not the official term. Occasionally สภาวะฉุกเฉิน will turn up, too. Both of these literally mean "state of emergency".

Bonus vocab:
  • เหตุฉุกเฉิน "emergency" (literally, "emergent event")
  • ประตูฉุกเฉิน "emergency exit" (lit. "emergency door")
  • สัญญาณฉุกเฉิน "emergency alarm"
  • ห้องฉุกเฉิน "emergency room; ER"
  • เบรกฉุกเฉิน "emergency brake; e-brake" (more commonly, เบรกมือ "hand brake")
  • ในกรณีฉุกเฉิน "in case of emergency..."

April 10, 2009

A yellow perspective on red shirts

Politics are crazy in Thailand, as usual. I avoid getting into it all, at least in the public forum. In my day-to-day life, I work near Victory Monument, which has recently become a site for demonstrations.

Today the Bangkok locals on Twitter were abuzz with news and comments after taxis blockaded all roads into the roundabout at Victory Monument. The so-called "Red Shirts" (UDD) gathered en masse. I tweeted what I could see from my balcony. Breaking Tweets featured the story.

It was interesting to see opinions from both sides in real time. One twitterer, clearly not a Red Shirt sympathizer, linked to a phony Red Shirt membership application. It's intentionally offensive to the Thaksin loyal, but it gives a clear picture of how some view the protesters: as uneducated rabblerousers.

Amused, I hastily translated it into English and tweeted it.

Here is the original letter, linked variously on the web, but I read it on this blog on the Manager website (click to embiggen):

April 7, 2009

Toranong Srichua on Thai film censorship

Here's a quote that really struck me, from veteran Thai filmmaker Toranong Srichua, director of the forthcoming controversial disaster epic Tsunami 2022:

ในวงการหนังบ้านเราต้องห้ามตัวละครมีเซ็กซ์ ห้ามตัวละครพูดเรื่องการเมือง ห้ามตัวละครพูดเรื่องศาสนา ห้ามตัวละครพูดเรื่องสถาบัน ห้ามตัวละครค้ายาเสพติด คุณห้ามๆ อย่างนี้ไง ตัวละครถึงเป็นผี เป็นตัวตลก ซึ่งมันเป็นตัวละครที่ไม่มีอยู่ในโลก แต่มันวิ่งอยู่ในวงการหนังไทยได้

"In the Thai film industry, characters are forbidden to have sex, forbidden to discuss politics, forbidden to discuss religion, forbidden to discuss the monarchy, forbidden to sell drugs. Because you forbid all these things, all the characters are ghosts and clowns. Neither exist in the real world, and yet they run wild in Thai films."

The translation is mine. Quoted from an interview in the April 2009 issue of Bioscope; previously posted on

Word of the Day: เลิกจ้าง /'lə̂ək 'jâaŋ/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, April 7, 2009:

เลิกจ้าง /'lə̂ək 'jâaŋ/ v. to lay off, dismiss (from one's employ)

This is a phrase that is becoming more and more prominent these days. If someone (or some group, as is sadly common) was laid off, you would say they ถูกเลิกจ้าง -- ถูก makes the phrase passive.

You can find numerous examples of เลิกจ้าง in an article from today's Matichon, for example. It reports that unemployed workers will begin demonstrating at Victory Monument today from 9:00am, in protest of recent mass layoffs. According to the report, 23,712 Thai factory workers have lost their jobs in the first quarter of 2009, and a further 2 million are expected to be laid off before the year is out.

The phrase เลิกจ้าง is used in contrast with ไล่ออก(จากงาน) "to fire, terminate" or ถูกไล่ออก(จากงาน) "to be fired, get fired", literally to be "chased out", which similarly to English typically means that the worker has done something to cause themselves to be fired, whether through misconduct, laziness, or otherwise. And both are different from ลาออก(จากงาน) "to quit, to resign", which means of course that the employee leaves of his own volition.

Note that without ออก, however, ลา also means to take temporary work leave: ลาป่วย "take sick leave", ลาคลอด "take maternity leave", ลาหยุด "take time off, take a leave of absence", and even ลาบวช "take ordination leave". Thai employers typically allow workers time off if they ordain to the priesthood.

April 3, 2009

Word of the Day: ถ่วง /'thùaŋ/

Word of the Day for Friday, April 3, 2009:

ถ่วง /'thùaŋ/ v. to weigh down, to be weighted down; to cause to sink; to slow down

From today's Matichon comes this example of ถ่วง:

(word-by-word breakdown)

Taken literally, this means:
"Politics weigh Thailand down, (causing it to) recover slowly"

An idiomatic English headline (with a bit more context) might read:
"Political turmoil slows Thailand's economic recovery"

Bonus vocab:
ถ่วงเวลา "stall for time".
ถ่วงเรื่อง "to stall a matter, put a matter on hold".
ความโน้มถ่วง "gravity" (also แรงโน้มถ่วง "gravitational force").
ศูนย์ถ่วง "center of gravity".

April 1, 2009

Royal Institute announces simplifications to Thai alphabet

Thailand's Royal Institute (ราชบัณฑิตยสถาน), the government agency charged with promoting the proper use of Standard Thai, announced this morning the first major changes to the basic Thai writing system since the aborted spelling reforms of the Phibunsongkhram administration during World War II.

In a move that mirrors those changes, starting today, ten consonants will become officially obsolete, in addition to the two already no longer used, ฃ ขวด and ฅ คน. The newly retired letters are: ฆ ระฆัง, ฌ เฌอ, ญ หญิง, ฎ ชฎา, ฏ ปฏัก, ฐ ฐาน, ฑ มณโฑ, ฒ ผู้เฒ่า, ณ เณร, and ฬ จุฬา. This brings the total number of defunct consonants to twelve, paring the Thai alphabet down from 44 to 32, which is considered an auspicious number in Thai culture.

The choices, they explained in a press conference this morning, are based on a careful study of letter and word frequency in Thai. Only the least commonly used consonants are being retired, in an effort to boost literacy, without sacrificing the breadth of expression that makes Thai the elegant and diverse language it is.

The consonants ฆ ฌ ญ ฎ ฏ ฐ ฑ ฒ ณ and ฬ are to be replaced with their sound-alike counterparts ค ช ย ด ต ถ ท น and ล. For example, under the reform the word ญาติ will now be spelled ยาติ, ปฏิรูป will become ปติรูป, and so forth.

This announcement was made jointly with the Ministry of Education and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, as part of a new push to reinvigorate the flagging tourism industry. It is believed that the simplifications to the writing system will boost foreign interest in Thailand and the Thai language, which is frequently cited as one of the most difficult languages to learn, in large part due to the complicated script.

All Ministry of Education textbooks are required to be updated within the end of calendar year 2010, and the government is expected to offer tax concessions and other incentives to publishers to help defray the large costs of updating their publications over the next several years. The public sector deadline is longer, set at the end of calendar year 2015.

Whether this initiative will be successful remains to be seen, but clearly this is a huge step for Thailand.

[Source: Complete transcript of the Royal Institute press conference]

March 31, 2009

Word of the Day: ประมาณ /pra'maan/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 31, 2009:

ประมาณ /pra'maan/ quant. approximately, about; v. to approximate, to estimate

I get asked regularly by Thais how long I've been learning Thai. The answer at the moment is ประมาณเจ็ดปี "about seven years". Place ประมาณ before the number. ประมาณห้าสิบคน "about 50 people", ประมาณสองพันบาท "approximately 2000 baht", etc.

Another form is โดยประมาณ, which comes after the number phrase, sort of as a way of hedging what you just said. It's also used to modify noun phrases that don't actually specify a number. For example, ราคาโดยประมาณ "approximate price".

ประมาณ is also used as a verb. If we swap the words in the previous example, we have ประมาณราคา "give an approximate price (for goods or services)".

Bonus vocab: ประมาณ has some phonetically similar cousins that can be easy to confuse. Their pronunciations differ only in the vowel of the second syllable [ประม*น]. They are:

ประเมิน /pra'məən/ v. to evaluate, assess, appraise. Ex: ประเมินผล "evaluate results (e.g. of an exercise); ประเมินราคา "appraise, give a valuation" (note the distinction from ประมาณราคา mentioned above); ประเมินสถานการณ์ "assess the situation".

ประมูล /pra'muun/ v. to bid (e.g. at an auction). Ex: เปิดประมูลราคา "open the bidding"; ผู้ดำเนินการประมูล "auctioneer".

ประมวล /pra'muan/ v. to compile, combine, collect; n. compilation Ex: ประมวลกฏหมาย "code of laws" (literally "law compilation"); ประมวลผล "gather the results (e.g. of an experiment)" (note the distinction from ประเมินผล mentioned above).

March 30, 2009

Spoils from the National Book Fair, part 1: Anake Nawigamune

This would be a very long post if I told you about all the books I bought last Thursday, but I'd be remiss if I didn't share a few. (The ones I plan to give away in April will remain top secret for now.)

I can't resist the books of Anake Nawigamune (เอนก นาวิกมูล). I first discovered him in 2005 through the book แกะรอย ก ไก่ ("in search of k. kai"), a fantastic book that traces the history of the words associated with the letters of the Thai alphabet (ไก่ ไข่ ควาย, etc.) It's out of print and very difficult to find. I still don't own my own copy.

The man is very prolific, with more than 50 titles to his name. He uses the same English author's blurb on most of his books:
Anake Nawigamune was born on March 14, 1953 in Ranot District, Songkhla and graduated in Political Science from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, in 1977.

He does research on and writes about art, culture, and history. He is particularly interested in Thai traditional folk songs, early photography in Thailand, in dating the introduction into Thailand of various western inventions, in collecting antiquities and in historical anecdotes, since the age of 15 gathering pictures taken by himself and others recording changes in the appearance of towns and buildings as well as in daily life.

He began serious study of the art and culture of his country in 1972 and enjoys writing on subjects in this field.
He is also the founder of the House of Museums (บ้านพิพิธภัณฑ์). His recent works are published by the small publishers สายธาร and แสงดาว.

Many of his earlier titles were published by แสงแดด. มติชน and พิมพ์คำ have also published books of his. And while several of those are technically out of print, they are also not difficult to locate, especially at the National Book Fair. Just ask around at the used book shops, or go to the booths of the publishers I've mentioned.

At the book fair last Thursday, I picked up three more Anake titles:

ชวนหัวยุคคุณหลวง, a collection of jokes and other humor from the reigns of Rama V (r.1868-1910) and Rama VI (r.1910-1925). In it he even cites the 1865 joke I wrote about from the Bangkok Recorder as the first published joke in Thai!
Published by สำนักพิมพ์แสงแดด (1998). 124 pages. ISBN 974-7162-72-5

แรกมีในสยาม ๔, the fourth volume in a series of books focusing on the introduction of western things to Thailand. This volume includes articles on the sapodilla (ละมุดฝรั่ง), legal marriage (การจดทะเบียนสมรส), and the first Thai woman to travel abroad. Back in the states I used to borrow the earlier volumes through inter-library loan from Cornell. I have yet to find them for purchase.
Published by สำนักพิมพ์แสงแดด (1998). 166 pages. ISBN974-7162-70-9

ปกิณกะ ร.๕, an assortment of articles about Rama V. It includes articles on his childhood, his photography, artistic depictions of him, his work on behalf of agriculture, and other topics.
Published by สำนักพิมพ์แสงแดด (1998). 153 pages. ISBN 974-7162-74-1

I could probably write 1,000 posts based on all the fascinating stuff in Anake's books. Highly recommended.

March 27, 2009

Word of the Day: วงดนตรี /'woŋ don'trii/

Word of the Day for Friday, March 27, 2009:

วงดนตรี /'woŋ don'trii/ n. band, music ensemble

In Thai, a band of musicians is called a "circle" วง /'woŋ/. If the context calls for it, use the full form วงดนตรี. With context, วง alone will often suffice.

Bonus vocab:
วงดุริยางค์ /'woŋ du.ri'yaaŋ/ n. orchestra.
แตรวง /trɛɛ 'woŋ/ n. brass band.
วงแตก /'woŋ 'tɛ̀ɛk/ v. (of a band) to break up; the band broke up. By extension, this also refers to other types of group breakups, like a comedy team.

Bonus bonus vocab:
วงไพ่ n. a circle of card players (see also วงเหล้า)
วงการ n. professional or vocational circle, e.g. วงการนักเขียน "writer's circles, literary circles"
ร่วมวง v. join the group, join the party

March 26, 2009

National Book Fair begins.... now

The 37th National Book Fair and 7th International Book Fair start now.

Today from 6:00pm - 9:00pm at the Queen Sirikit Center.

10:00am - 9:00pm from tomorrow until April 6th.

Come enjoy all the bookish goodness.

[Official website]

More details in previous posts:
One week until National Book Fair 2009
Countdown ot National Book Week

Word of the Day: อนาคต /a'naa'khót/

Word of the Day for Thursday, March 26, 2009:

อนาคต /a'naa'khót/ n. the future; adj. future, -to-be

As with อดีต "past" and ปัจจุบัน "present", in its noun form, the preposition ใน frequently leads อนาคต as ในอนาคต "in the future". You'll also frequently see แห่งอนาคต "of the future".

The slogan for ex-Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayodhin's 2008 campaign was เลือกอภิรักษ์ เลือกกรุงเทพฯแห่งอนาคต "Vote for Apirak. Vote for Bangkok of the Future." (The accompanying website,, is now defunct. Much like Apirak's political career.)

Also notice his clever use of design to emphasize the words รักกรุงเทพ ("love Bangkok") within his slogan. It's very clever.

The adjective form of อนาคต is rare, but used much like อดีต. You'll occasionally see a construction like อนาคตประธานาธิบดี "future president". The noun form is by far the most frequently used, though.

There is also an elegant form of the noun: อนาคตกาล /a'naa.khót.ta 'kaan/ (literally "future time"), the opposite of อดีตกาล /a'dìit.ta 'kaan/ "past time". It doesn't turn up too often, but it's best to know so you don't get thrown for a loop.

[Tip: Paste Thai words or phrases you aren't familiar with into for definitions and romanized spelling.]

March 25, 2009

Word of the Day: ปัจจุบัน /pàt.ju'ban/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 25, 2009:

ปัจจุบัน /pàt.ju'ban/ n. the present; adj. present, current

Following up on an earlier WOTD, อดีต /a'dìit/, we now move forward in time.

As a noun, you'll often see ปัจจุบัน paired with ใน as ในปัจจุบัน "in the present", or "nowadays", to differentiate from ในอดีต "in the past".

You may have noticed that the adjective use of อดีต is atypical for Thai, in that it acts like a prefix (as in อดีตประธานาธิบดี "ex-president"). ปัจจุบัน acts more like we would expect. It comes after the noun, and usually the classifier will be present, too, as in ประธานาธิบดี(คน)ปัจจุบัน "the current president".

Bonus vocab: ปัจจุบัน appears in a number of fixed phrases as the antonym of โบราณ instead of อดีต. In this sense it is best interpreted as "modern". In medicine, ยาแผนโบราณ "traditional medicine" (literally "ancient medicine") is contrasted with ยาแผนปัจจุบัน "modern medicine" (literally "present-day medicine"). โบราณ and ปัจจุบัน are also contrasted when paired with สมัย "era", as สมัยโบราณ "olden times" and สมัยปัจจุบัน "modern times".

Tomorrow we proceed to the future...

March 24, 2009

Word of the Day: มะม่วง /ma'mûaŋ/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 24, 2009:

มะม่วง /ma'mûaŋ/ n. mango

I'm doing an experiment today with a word that everyone probably already knows. The idea is to learn something you don't know about a familiar word.

When buying green mangoes (มะม่วงดิบ), a basic distinction to know is between sour and not sour. Sour mangoes are simply มะม่วงเปรี้ยว /ma'mûaŋ 'prîaw/. Those that aren't sour are called มะม่วงมัน /ma'mûaŋ 'man/. These range somewhere between mildly sweet to somewhat bland, depending on variety and age.

There are dozens of species of mango, and hundreds of cultivars. Some common mango varieties you find in Thailand:

มะม่วงน้ำดอกไม้ - Sour when green, commonly eaten ripe. (Literally "flower juice mango")

มะม่วงเขียวเสวย - Commonly eaten unripe. (เขียว is "green", เสวย in this usage perhaps comes from Khmer ស្វាយ /svaay/ "mango", but probably influenced by เสวย, another Khmer word and ราชาศัพท์ for "eat").

See also มะม่วงแรด, มะม่วงอกร่อง, มะม่วงแก้ว, and many, many more.

Bonus: The cashew in Thailand is called มะม่วงหิมพานต์ "Himmaphan mango" (from Himavanta, the name of a forest in Hindu mythology), probably due to the mango-like shape of the cashew nut.

March 23, 2009

Word of the Day: ฉิบหาย /chìp 'hǎay/

Word of the Day for Monday, March 23, 2009

ฉิบหาย /chìp 'hǎay/ v. to perish, be utterly ruined, destroyed; (slang) very, extremely.

In light of the recent parliamentary debate on this word, I think it deserves to be featured. Warning up front: be careful about using this word. If its use in parliament can derail their discussion for more than half an hour, then you know it packs some punch.

The use of ฉิบหาย can be traced to the Sukhothai era. The Wat Sri Chum (วัดศรีชุม) inscription, composed around the 14th century, includes the phrase บใหฉิบบใหหาย, or in modern spelling บ่ให้ฉิบ บ่ให้หาย. ฉิบ and หาย are actually synonyms, meaning to disappear or come to ruin. They appear again in a 1361 inscription in a similar context: บ่ใหเถิงทีฉิบหาย (modern: ให้ถึงที่ฉิบที่หาย).

The meaning I've discussed above is the traditional one. The much more common use these days is as slang. It's used as an intensifier, and generally considered rude.

For example, เบื่อฉิบหาย would mean something like, "I'm really bored." But many people would take it like, "I'm bored out of my f*ing gourd." It can be used to intensify positive things, too, as in เก่งฉิบหาย "really damn clever". But like I said, use with caution.

It's relatively common in Thai movies, and of course on the web. In these contexts, it's often spelled ชิบหาย or ชิปหาย, and pronounced with a high tone on the first syllable: /chíp 'hǎay/. Sometimes you'll also see self-censorship (like the use of asterisks in English): ฉิบห..., or similar.

I believe the stigma attached to the word must be fairly recent, and perhaps caused by the rise in prominence of the slang meaning. Just as กู and มึง were once normal, everyday words, today ฉิบหาย has been stigmatized as rude.

Royal Institute Dictionary of New Words Vol. 2 on the horizon

The Royal Institute announced last Friday that it is opening bidding to print the second volume of its Dictionary of New Words (พจนานุกรมคำใหม่ เล่ม ๒). Volume 1 was released on October 2007.

There will be an information session for interested publishers on Friday, March 27. Bids must be submitted by April 2, 2009.

Specs for the new book:

~200 pages
14.5 x 21 cm
75gsm Green Read paper
single color

260 gsm art card paper
PVC matte lamination with spot UV varnish

Binding, etc.
thread-sewn and glued
5,000 copies
60-day deadline

[Source: ประกาศราชบัณฑิตยสถาน เรื่อง สอบราคาจ้างพิมพ์หนังสือ (PDF)]

March 21, 2009

Thai parliament debates ฉิบหาย: rude or not?

Thailand's House of Representatives (สภาผู้แทนราษฎร) spent half an hour yesterday debating whether it was appropriate to use the word ฉิบหาย in parliamentary discourse, after MP Somkid Balthaisong (สมคิด บาลไธสง) of the Pheu Thai Party uttered it in in reference to Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya (กษิต ภิรมย์), saying he has brought "ruin" to the country (the Nation translates it "disaster").

The eventual ruling by the Deputy House Speaker was that it wasn't rude.

I think I know what the Word of the Day for today will be...

[Hat tip to Catherine]

Catcher in the Rye ฉบับภาษาไทย

This past Thursday, March 19, saw the launch of a new Thai translation of J.D. Salinger's best-known novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Translated by S.E.A.Write Award-winning author Prabda Yoon (ปราบดา หยุ่น), the new title is จะเป็นผู้คอยรับไว้ ไม่ให้ใครร่วงหล่น.

The new edition is published by Lighthouse Publishing (ไลต์เฮาส์พับลิชชิ่ง). The cover:

The Catcher in The Rye has twice previously been translated into Thai. Once in 1983 under the title ชั่วชีวิตของผม by "คำรวี-ใบเตย", published by สำนักพิมพ์ปิยะสาส์น, and again in 1988 under the title ทุ่งฝัน by "ศาสนิก", published by สำนักพิมพ์เรจีนา.

Covers of the 1983 and 1988 translations.

The launch was Thursday afternoon at the Siam Paragon branch of Kinokuniya. The Same Sky Books forum has photos from the event.

I plan to pick up a copy at the 37th National Book Fair next week.

[Hat tip to @Fringer, of, who was an invited guest at the book launch.]

March 20, 2009

Word of the Day: อดีต /a'dìit/

Word of the Day for Friday, March 20, 2009:

อดีต /a'dìit/ n. the past; adj. past, former, ex-

Both the noun and adjective forms of this word are common. As a noun, you might see phrases like:

วันนี้ในอดีต "On this day in history..." (a feature on the Wikipedia home page), literally "today in the past"

ย้อนอดีต "go back in time" (often used figuratively to refer to times or events past)

And as an adjective:

อดีตประธานาธิบดี "ex-president, former president"

อดีตคู่สมรส "ex-spouse, ex-husband/wife"

Less common (but good to know) is the elegant form อดีตกาล /a'dìit.ta 'kaan/, literally "past time".

[For help reading or pronouncing, you can paste full phrases into or]

'รงค์ วงษ์สวรรค์ Rong Wongsawan: 1932-2009

I am a few days late with this story, but I was out out of the country when it happened. I learned the news today from the cover of this week's Matichon Weekend (มติชนสุดสัปดาห์).

Renowned author 'รงค์ วงษ์สวรรค์ (Rong Wongsawan) passed away Sunday, March 15, 2009, at Theppanya Hospital in Chiang Mai following a severe stroke. He was 76 years old, two months shy of his 77th birthday.

A native of Chainat province, Rong was named a National Artist for literature in 1995. Always prolific, he authored dozens of books and short stories spanning five decades.

Rong's 1969 novel about rural life เสเพลบอยชาวไร่ was selected as one of the "Hundred Best Thai Books of the Past Hundred Years" 1876-1976 (หนังสือดี 100 เล่มที่คนไทยควรอ่าน, English/Thai) by well-known writer and social activist Witthayakorn Chiangkul (วิทยากร เชียงกูล).

Courtesy of this site, I present a few pieces of Rong's wit and wisdom, along with my English translations:

  • ศัตรูที่มีคุณธรรม มีค่ามากกว่าเพื่อนสับปลับ
  • A virtuous enemy is worth more than a deceitful friend.
  • พรุ่งนี้มันเป็นคำแก้ตัวดีที่สุดของคนเกียจคร้าน มันเป็นความหวังของคนที่เดินทางผ่านวันวานมาอย่างสะเพร่า
  • Tomorrow--it is the best excuse of the lazy, and the hope of those who have traversed their yesterdays carelessly.
  • ความโลภมันกระโดดขึ้นไปเกาะอยู่บนหนังตาของทุกคน จนมองไม่เห็นความวอดวายที่ยืนรออยู่อย่างหิวกระหาย
  • Greed latches onto every man's eyelids, until he cannot see the ruin standing hungrily before him.
  • ยากเหลือเกินที่คนเราจะหนีความเหงา มันร้ายยิ่งกว่าเงาหรือเจ้าหนี้
  • It is so difficult to escape loneliness; it is more vicious than a shadow or a creditor.
  • คนเราสูงเท่ากันเสมอบนเตียงนอนและในหลุมศพ
  • We are all the same height on the bed and in the grave.

Thailand now says goodbye to this giant of the literary world.

[The above photo is by Anuchit Nimtalung]

Linguistic puzzler: Chevrolet

I've wondered this for a long time. Chevrolet in Thailand is เชฟโรเลต, pronounced [เช็ฟ-โร-เหล็ด] chef-ro-let. Why?

The company name comes from the surname of its Swiss-French founder, Louis Chevrolet. I can't speak for the French, but in English it's pronounced shev-rol-lay (the emphasis varies between first and last syllable depending on the speaker, in my experience).

It's a classic spelling pronunciation, as with many, many foreign words borrowed into Thai, and which results in Thai pronunciations like "Robert" as โรเบิร์ต row-bert (should be รอเบิร์ต), "magic" as เมจิค may-jik (should be แมจิก), and "Amazon", as in the website, as อเมซอน a-may-zon (should be แอมาซอน). I could list a hundred more.

But there is clear precedent in Thai of French-derived loanwords inheriting the silent t. Off the top of my head I can think of three: "buffet" บุฟเฟต์ [บุฟ-เฟ่], "ballet" บัลเลต์ [บัน-เล่], and "parquet" ปาร์เกต์ [ปา-เก้]. I'm sure there are others.

Looking at the company history on the website (Thai|English), I see it only entered Thailand in 2000. Why on earth would Chevrolet Thailand choose to pronounce the "t"?

I can't imagine that is good for overall brand recognition. English has prestige in Thailand, and if Thais pronounce it the Thai way to their English-speaking counterparts, they're going to sound ignorant.

This even makes it onto the Thai Wikipedia article for คำภาษาอังกฤษที่มักอ่านผิด ("English words that tend to be mispronounced"). A big marketing FAIL, if you ask me.

New feature: related posts

I've been making some minor changes lately. One recent addition is a "related posts" widget, which is only visible when you click through to the page for an individual post (by clicking on that post's title). It suggests similar posts based on the keywords I assign them. If you usually only read the main page, try clicking through to see it.

A few weeks ago I also switched to in-line comments, so when you leave a comment it doesn't open a new window like it used to. The comments form is now immediately below the post.

(BTW, I got both of these idea from Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal.)

Please leave a comment if you have any feedback to give. I also regularly play around with the sidebar, so let me know if there's anything you like (or dislike) about all that. And if you happen to be a design genius with a weakness for philanthropy, feel free to give me ideas. I keep the blog sparse because I've never really found a theme I like.

Thanks again for reading.

Thai music blog

A fellow blogger named Peter wrote in to let me know about his blog dedicated to Thai music, มนต์รักเพลงไทย (or MONRAKPLENGTHAI, as it's styled on the header).

This is a great little blog. Each entry features an album of Thai music, with a tracklist, sample song, and a brief explanation/review.

As it happens, the latest post is about Sangthong Sisai (สังข์ทอง สีใส). Sangthong, who died in the early 80s, has been a subject of interest on the blog Die, Danger, Die, Die Kill! (in which author Todd punishes himself for what must be all the bad karma he's built up by watching the worst of Asian cinema, and often without subtitles. See exhibits A through L).

This music blog is now in its fifth month, and has about 25 album reviews so far. Definitely worth following.

March 19, 2009

I registered, which redirects to It's now easy to tell someone else about this site without writing down some long URL. I can hear you evangelizing now: "You've got to check out this life-changing website. Just go to"

Maybe those won't be your exact words, but I wouldn't complain.

Links to specific pages still require using Eventually this may change. I've been thinking for a while about switching to WordPress.

Update: Deep linking now works with It will redirect to the proper page on Blogspot.

March 18, 2009

Word of the Day: ไอติม /ay'tim/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 18, 2009:

ไอติม /ay 'tim/ n. ice cream

How about a little slang today. This Thai word is a corruption of "ice cream", of course. It's very common in colloquial speech. There's even an ice cream shop chain called บ้านไอติม /'bâan ay'tim/ ("ice cream house").

For the more proper word, there are actually two competing Thai spellings of "ice cream": ไอศครีม and ไอศกรีม. As a result, there are two competing pronunciations: [ไอสะคฺรีม] [aysa'khri:m] and [ไอสะกฺรีม] [aysa'kri:m]. It's only the difference in aspiration, but I've heard Thais argue about which is right before, so they're aware of the schism. (The official position of the Royal Institute is to use ก, which is phonetically correct, since English /k/ loses aspiration after /s/, as in "sky" or "school".)

Nerdy technical aside: I'm a little fuzzy on the exact phonological process that took us from /skr/ to /t/. My best guess would be that /s/ influences /k/ → /t/, a change in place of articulation but not manner. The /r/ is already dropped from the cluster in natural speech. Then the vowel /i:/ is shortened and the unstressed syllable /sa/ is also elided. Voila. [aysakri:m] → [aysaki:m] → [aysatim] → [aytim]. There is some evidence on the interwebs for the intermediate form ไอศติม [ไอสะติม], so I think my theory is probable.

Now I feel like getting a cone...

One week until National Book Fair 2009

One week from tomorrow, actually.

The countdown is entering its final days, assuming that you, like me, have a book-buying habit that occasionally causes you to go hungry. I can quit anytime I want. No, really.

As always, the semi-annual mega fair for book buyers and sellers will be held at Queen Sirikit Convention National Convention Center, which has its own stop on the MRT (subway) line. It runs from March 26 - April 6, open 6:00 - 9:00 p.m. on the first day, and 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. for the duration of the event.

If you've never been, you really should check it out. For those who don't read Thai, many English-language stores and publishers will be there with big discounts. For those who do read Thai, well, you get to drink from the fire hose.

You can read more about the fair in this earlier post.

March 17, 2009

Word of the Day: ประชาธิปไตย /praˈchaa thíp.paˈtay/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 17, 2009:

ประชาธิปไตย /praˈchaa thíp.paˈtay/ n. democracy

These days, you can't learn Thai and not know this word. The Thai public discourse is downright silly with mentions of it.

As a political buzzword du jour, it gets used and abused. The People's Alliance for Democracy (พันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย, or พันธมิตร /phan.tha ˈmít/ for short) continues to play tag-team demonstrations with the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (แนวร่วมประชาธิปไตยต่อต้านเผด็จการแห่งชาติ, or นปช. /nɔɔ pɔɔ chɔɔ/ for short). Everyone is for democracy, and yet it's right at the heart of the struggle.

Thailand's Democrat Party uses a different derivation of the same word: พรรคประชาธิปัตย์ /ˈphák praˈchaa thí ˈpàt/.

You'll often see it with the word ระบอบ /raˈbɔ̀ɔp/ in front, too. ระบอบ means "system," but specifically a system of government. So ระบอบประชาธิปไตย is really just another way of saying "democracy", or more literally "the democratic system (of government)"

Bonus vocab: Other political ideologies include ทุนนิยม /tʰun ní yom/ "capitalism", เทวาธิปไตย /tʰeeˈwaa thíp.paˈtay/ "theocracy", and ธนาธิปไตย /tʰa.naa thíp.paˈtay/ "plutocracy". The Thai Wikipedia infobox about types of government even includes ยนตราธิปไตย /yon.traa thíp.paˈtay/, which I can only imagine must be "robotocracy". Sounds less than awesome, though some would say inevitable.

Three days left for the Thai book giveaway

I'm back from Malaysia. Turns out there were a few days without Word of the Day posts. I didn't get them written ahead of time like I'd planned, and then the Windows installation on my laptop somehow got corrupted while I was abroad, so I was completely offline for a few days.

In other news, a quick reminder that this Friday is the deadline to enter for the book giveaway. I'm giving away two copies of อัญมณีแห่งชีวิต Anyamanee Haeng Chiwit ("gems of life"), an award-winning short story collection by อัญชัน.

To enter, send an email telling your favorite Thai word to rdockum [at] gmail [dot] com. The full details are available here.

And remember, the drawing is open to anyone in the world. Postage at my expense.

March 12, 2009

Word of the Day: คุณภาพ / ˈphâap/

Word of the Day for Thursday, March 12, 2009:

คุณภาพ / ˈphâap/ n. quality; adj. quality

Officially, this word is a noun, similar to -ภาพ words like สุขภาพ /sùk.kʰa ˈpʰâap/ "health" and มิตรภาพ /mít.tra ˈpʰâap/ "friendship". Mary Haas' dictionary and the Royal Institute Dictionary only list noun senses.

It clearly has an adjective sense, though. Have a look at the slogan of Matichon (มติชน) newspaper, as seen in the title bar of their website:

หนังสือพิมพ์คุณภาพ เพื่อคุณภาพของประเทศ
/naŋ.sʉ̌ʉ ˈpʰim khun.naˈphâap ˈpʰʉ̂a khun.naˈphâap kʰɔ̌ɔŋ praˈtʰêet/
"A quality newspaper, for the quality of the country."

March 11, 2009

Word of the Day: ถีบ /ˈthìip/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 11, 2009:

ถีบ /ˈthìip/ v. to kick, give a forceful shove with the foot.

This word can be impolite, if you use it to describe things you will do to someone's face. But it has its legitimate uses. ถีบ is often used with bicycles in the sense "pedal": ถีบจักรยาน /ˈthìip jàk.kraˈyaan/. Note that ปั่น /ˈpàn/ ("spin") is also common: ปั่นจักรยาน /ˈpàn jàk.kraˈyaan/. (Lao has a word for bicycle ລົດຖີບ /lot tʰȉip/, equivalent to Thai รถถีบ /rót ˈthìip/, since Thais sometimes use it, too.)

หนูถีบจักร /ˈnǔu ˈthìip ˈjàk/ (literally, "rodent that runs in a wheel") is an informal name for either a mouse or a hamster, depending on who you ask.

Homework: If you want to read an amusing story that uses the word ถีบ, have a crack at this thread on The title: โดนช้างถีบมาค่ะ!! ("I was kicked by an elephant!!") It's a tad saucy, but fun. Extra credit if you get the "airbag" joke. :P

P.S. I'm leaving tomorrow for a conference in Kuala Lumpur for a few days. I'm going to try to schedule WotD to automatically post on each day I'm gone (as I likely won't have time to manually post while in Malaysia).

P.P.S. Thanks for all the positive feedback on Word of the Day. The best part (for me) is that it keeps me updating the blog on a regular basis.

March 10, 2009

Word of the Day: ภัตตาคาร /phát.taaˈkhaan/

Word of the Day for Tuesday, March 10, 2009:

ภัตตาคาร /phát.taaˈkhaan/ n. restaurant.

Yep, today's word is just a fancy word for a fancy restaurant. At the very least, if you don't accept credit cards, I don't think you get to be called a ภัตตาคาร. :P

The word ภัตตาคาร is a compound from Pali, combining ภัต /phát/ "food" + อาคาร /aaˈkhaan/ "building".

Bonus vocab: Thais distinguish between a few types of eating establishments:
  • สวนอาหาร /ˈsǔan aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food garden") is an outdoor restaurant.
  • ห้องอาหาร /ˈhɔ̂ŋ aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food room") is a restaurant within a larger building, such as a hotel.
  • ร้านอาหาร /ˈráan aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food shop") is everything else. It's the basic general term, though, so it tends to encompass everything.
  • ศูนย์อาหาร /ˈsǔun aaˈhǎan/ (literally "food center") is a food court, like at Tesco Lotus or a mall, with lots of little shops for the choosing.
  • แคนทีน /kʰɛnˈthiin/ (from UK English "canteen") is a cafeteria, like in a school or office building. Unless you're British, in which case it's a canteen. Formally, this would be a โรงอาหาร /rooŋ aaˈhǎan/.

There are legal definitions for some of these terms as determined by the Ministry of Public Health (กระทรวงสาธารณสุข), but you'll often see restaurants self-identify as one or the other on their signs.

March 9, 2009

Word of the Day: เสมอภาค /saˈmə̌ə ˈphâak/

Word of the Day for Monday, March 9, 2009:

เสมอภาค /saˈmə̌ə ˈphâak/ v. to be equal (in a legal sense)

Commonly used in the noun form, ความเสมอภาค /khwaam saˈmə̌ə ˈphâak/ "equality".

Examples from the web:

ความเสมอภาคในสังคมไทย "Equality in Thai society"
เศรษฐกิจอิสรภาพ เศรษฐกิจเสมอภาค "Free economy, equal economy"
โลกนี้ไม่มีความเสมอภาค "There's no equality in the world"
ความเสมอภาคหญิง-ชาย "gender equality" (literally "male-female equality")

Thai Community Radio ( offers 1000+ free mp3s

If you're on the lookout for free material to fill your iPod and practice your Thai listening skills, take a visit to, Thai Community Radio. All downloads are in mp3 format.

The catalog is truly expansive. There's a daily 30-minute program called โลกของเรา ("Our World"), covering public interest stories around the globe. The audio archive for this program alone go back nearly two years, which means many hundreds of episodes.

Another long running series is เส้นทางสู่ประชาธิปไตย ("Road to Democracy"), a weekly hour-long program which is up to nearly 250 episodes.

In addition, there are hundreds of other radio documentary programs, sometimes in shorter series, many times in single episodes.

In all, there are more than 1000 free mp3 programs on this website. Wow.

March 8, 2009

Word of the Day: ระบุ /raˈbùʔ/

Word of the Day for Sunday, March 8, 2009:

ระบุ /raˈbùʔ/ v. to specify, mention specifically

This is a nice specific word (har har), so you don't have to resort to a more generic verb like บอก. A couple examples:

"The report said that..."

"The evidence specified/showed that..."

The negative form, ไม่ระบุ /ˈmây raˈbùʔ/ is useful to correspond to English "it doesn't say", so often uttered in reference to things that don't actually speak -- like menus, pill bottles, or furniture instructions. How many ounces does the menu say that steak is? ไม่ระบุ ... Does the bottle say this medicine is supposed to be taken with food? ไม่ระบุ ... What's the difference between an A screw and a B screw? ไม่ระบุ

Not to be overused, but another good word to know. Try fitting it into a conversation.

March 7, 2009

Word of the Day: 555 /hâa hâa hâa/

Word of the Day for Saturday, March 7, 2009:

555 /hâa hâa hâa/ LOL; onomatopoeic for the sound of laughter

I'm a smart aleck today with my "word" choice, but this is actually a useful thing to know. It's the Thai equivalent of LOL. Increase the number of digits and you go from LOL to ROFL to ROFLMAO to ROFLCOPTER.

Ubiquitous anywhere informal Thai is written. See Facebook, Hi5, Pantip, and a million more.

If you were to write it using regular Thai script, it would be ฮ่าฮ่าฮ่า.

Bonus vocab: Other ways of "spelling" laughter in Thai include อิอิ, ฮิฮิ, ฮาฮา and so forth. Note that ฮา is also an adjective meaning "funny" (ex: หนังฮาดี "the movie was pretty funny"), and a verb usually used with groups of people meaning "to laugh and have fun" (ex: ฮากันใหญ่ "everyone was laughing").

Engrish in the wild

I snapped this at Dusit Zoo the other day. It's just so adorably Asian:

I intentionally tried to find more Engrish, but couldn't. The zoo does quite well at keeping blatantly bad English off of public signs. And Thailand on the whole is nowhere as bad as some other Asian countries (I'm looking at you, mainland China).

March 6, 2009

Word of the Day: แห่งชาติ /hɛ̀ŋ châat/

Word of the Day for Friday, March 6, 2009:

แห่งชาติ /hɛ̀ŋ ˈchâat/ adj. national

Literally "of the nation". This is one of those constructions that isn't hard to understand, but you have to run across it to know the right word. Be sure to note that แห่ง /hɛ̀ŋ/ is pronounced with a short vowel.


หอสมุดแห่งชาติ /hɔ̌ɔ saˈmùt hɛ̀ŋ ˈchâat/ National Library

อุทยานแห่งชาติ /ˈùttháˈyaan hɛ̀ŋ ˈchâat/ National Park

It's mostly found in the names of organizations and such, perhaps better literally translated as "The Nation's X". You wouldn't use แห่งชาติ to say something like, "X is of national importance." In that case you could still use ชาติ, perhaps X มีความสำคัญต่อชาติ or X มีความสำคัญต่อประเทศชาติ.

Also note that ชาติ also occasionally means "national" on its own, as in เพลงชาติ /phleeŋ ˈchâat/ "national anthem".

Bonus vocab: Phrases with ชาติ are very common. Those with the particular sense of "national" include นานาชาติ /naaˈnaa ˈchâat/ "international" (literally "many nations"), and ชาตินิยม /ˈchâat niˈyom/ "nationalist" (literally "favors the nation").

Thai 101 Giveaway: อัญมณีแห่งชีวิต by อัญชัน

It's time for March's Thai 101 Giveaway. Who doesn't like free stuff, right?

This time around, up for grabs are two copies of the short story collection อัญมณีแห่งชีวิต Anyamanee Haeng Chiwit ("gems of life"), by อัญชัน Anchan, the pen name of Anchalee Vivatanachai (อัญชลี วิวัธนชัย). Read about her on Thai Wikipedia (no English yet), or in the preview of Who's Who in Contemporary Women's Writing on Google Books.

This collection won the 1990 S.E.A. Write Award. (A second collection, ลายสือ Lai Sue, was on the S.E.A. Write shortlist in 1995, too.)

To enter the drawing, send me an email at rdockum [at] gmail [dot] com, telling me your favorite Thai word. It can be based on any criteria of your choice. Sounds nice, fun to pronounce, looks good on paper, tastes good on a sandwich.

You have two weeks to enter. I'll announce the winners shortly after Friday, March 20.

If you don't care to enter for the drawing, you can always share your favorite Thai word in a comment instead. I'll kick things off: I remember a few of my favorite Thai words from my first weeks of learning Thai were กระตือรือร้น and เปลือยเปล่า. I read the Mary Haas dictionary a lot.

If you're selected, I'll email you to request your mailing address. If you've won something in the past, you're still eligible. Open to anyone in the world. (If I start giving away heavy books, I'll have to change that, since the postage is on me.)

I picked these books up at last October's book fair. They're not used, but they've got some shelf wear.

Speaking of book fairs, we're only three weeks from the National Book Week Fair (งานสัปดาห์หนังสือแห่งชาติ). I'll be making the rounds there as usual, expanding my collection and looking for something suitable for April's giveaway.