Friday, 16 March 2007

Blue Crabs Cry


We’ve just come back from a great weekend with friends at their home in the rice fields of Ubon where we lay and swigged late night drinks to the sound of cicadas and frogs under the grass roof of the floating pavilion on their fish pond. Was it really a weekend though? Well in Thailand, every day’s a Sunday anyway, unlike in England where life’s a sad succession of Mondays.

Among other delights, they took us to see the Pha Taem National Park which overlooks the River Mekhong. There, for the usual entry fee of 400 baht we had a spectacular view across the river to Laos, saw the most amazing inland cliff I’ve ever not fallen off, some half-decent rock paintings from four millennia ago, and one of the best silly signs I’ve ever seen anywhere.

At the top of the cliff was a newly painted sign saying, “Danger! No Poke”. And hell’s teeth, I didn’t have my camera with me! Both Cat and I usually vie to be first to make off with the camera and wrongly thought the other had already grabbed it… so we’d left in the house. Fortunately our hosts stepped in and took the pictures with one of these amazing, new-fangled cameras they’d just bought. Whatever will they think of next... with this new camera, you can even make phone calls!

Later I picked up a National Park leaflet which came up with some more linguistic gems. It told us that an island in the river is ‘covered by delighted dry evergreen and teak forests’, and it recommends a particular place to see the early morning view, ‘covered with misty seas of frog’.

While we were there it was so blazingly hot you could’ve boiled an egg on a brass monkey, but the leaflet assures us that in the National Park it’s ‘cool and comfortable all the year round’… and they go on to say the same thing twice more. ‘Cool and comfortable! Like hell! Methinks the writer doth protest too much! It then continues, ‘This waterfall flows from a high cliff to the creek below, which do colourful flowers surround’. Shades of Shakespeare again!

I also liked the sign at the foot of the cliff saying, ‘No writing on the walls.’ Too many damned rock paintings already, I guess. Also there’s a message at the top of the cliff… ‘Do not throw anything away’. Something to do with the government's new 'sufficiency economy' I suppose.

It’s a bit like an item I saw on a sea food menu when we ate at in Bang Bao on Koh Chang… ‘Blue crabs cry’. Yes, they’re said to scream when thrown into the pot of boiling water, though I think this must be a version of the dish they usually call ‘Weeping Tiger’.

Menus often enliven meals in Thailand and I especially remember ‘fried special wild bear in spicy taste’ and ‘soured telly vermicelli with thaw’, though I didn’t dare try either of them.

The Nigerian newspapers always used to be fun too. (‘Much can be achieved in life by pressing the right bottoms.’ And… ‘Our wedding picture shows the happy couple outside St. Mary’s church where their marriage was consummated before a large congregation.’) Though in comparison The Bangkok Post and The Nation, with their legions of expat sub-editors, are disappointing for connoisseurs of the mal apropos. Other places however, do not disappoint.

I regularly spend a part of my life at the Department of Immigration in Bangkok sitting waiting under a large hanging sign that says, ‘The visa extension process paid only fees, do not believe anyone’.

Soon bored with trying to work out what this means, I flick through my application papers, concerned that I've not brought with me a doctor’s certificate, as the rules require, certifying that I am ‘free from any defect’, and free of the ‘dangerous step of tuberculosis (step that causes disgust to society)’.

I even fear for my life though, because as I read their glossy leaflet about re-entry visas, I learn that a, ‘Foreigner who already has an approval to stay in Thailand wishes to leave Thailand for another foreign country and re-enter Thailand during the validity of his/her existing approval will expire immediately.’ Sounds nasty!

Despite my condescending British arrogance that expects my hosts never to put a foot wrong with my language while I mangle theirs, I’m now beginning to have a bit of a conscience about writing all this. Perhaps I’d better post some pictures showing that even at home we can cause a double entendre or two… like the advice in the family planning department and what happens if you stand too close to the edge of the platform in Penrith station. Watch this space!

But I can’t stop myself drivelling on because I’ve some more of my favourites to share with you. Like at Wat Arun in Bangkok there’s a sign saying, ‘Do not dangle any doll’. Well, I don’t think I did, though I’m not too sure.

At the elephant show in Surin, the brochure assured us that the show would begin with, ‘Surin deva on the back of charming elephant evacuating from the clouds’. Better bring umbrellas!

While you can almost forgive government departments for not losing face by asking the farang around them to check their English, it’s more surprising in the commercial sector when they expose themselves to ridicule and commercial failure. In the seventies, the handbook for my little Daihatsu car declared at the top of every page that, ‘Daihatsu spare parts make always nice driving’. The Japanese have now swallowed their pride and produce handbooks that are exemplarary, but when will Thailand get it’s commercial act together?

An English language programme on Thai television was teaching the phrase, ‘Too much talking plagues!’ Eh?!! Thai Airways did a special promotion called, ‘Buy one, get one’. Outside a glitzy, mega-buck dental clinic in Bangkok is the slogan, ‘Living in a vibrant world where every eyeful stimulates’. You can say that again! The slogan for Cat’s Schengen travel insurance policy reads, ‘Take always the risk and can do anything’. And the label on the fireworks says, ‘Warning! Shoots flaming balls with reports.’ Sadly, I must conclude that the end of term report on Thai English is, 'Could do better'.

The non-PC in Thailand can be a giggle too. For example, there’s my box of ‘Negro Hair Dye', our ‘Black Man’ mop, and the black and white minstrel style, ‘Darkie’ toothpaste, now re-branded with great racial sensitivity as ‘Darlie’ but still retaining the darkies. And I shouldn't forget the Miss Jumbo beauty contest for fatties and the penchant for dwarves and other funny freaks on Thai TV programmes… though I fear I’m beginning to wander, wittering even.

Maybe I’ll go and shoot myself in the head for being horrible to the Thais before they shoot me first, or better still just shut up.

I sort of wish there was no such thing as languages and that the whole world spoke the same language as me. It would have to be Queen’s English of course, but then the world would be a less funny place and I couldn’t have written this stupid blog.

Yes, maybe it is better to have one universal language, though pathetically I have to admit that the ‘No poke’ sign kept me in a good mood and humoured for several hours as we toiled and sweated in the blazing sun seeing the less funny sights of the Pha Taem National Park.

PS I gather it's quite difficult posting Comments, so here's a nice one from A Man Named Le Phoque that came to me by email.
"Well, of course, the sois and byways of Sukhumvit are festooned with quirky renditions of the English language. Sadly missed, but not fogotten, is the RIP travel agent on Sukhumvit, which had the great good sense to expire, and there is, of course, the Egyptian restaurant on soi 3, proudly boasting a trilingual menu - Arabic, French and English - and featuring, as one of its arcane house specialities, lambs' "rognons blancs", a French gastronomic euphemism for lambs'...eh...testicles. The English version just leaves it as "lamb balls"! Le mot juste, indeed."

1 comment:

David said...

I do like your Thai use of English. The PC pokes good fun.