Lost in Translation in Bangkok

Some people are good at languages. Others are not. I am the latter. After 10 years travelling in Thailand I still know very little of the Thai language. Feeling lost in translation. There are reasons for this. My brain only has enough room for one added language. The more Thai I learn the more French I lose. With a trip to Paris next week I hope to not end sentences with “chai mai krap?” Undoubtedly Thai is a less useful language than French. With impressive English literacy skills in Bangkok and Thailand I feel the best option is to only learn enough Thai to get by. Enough for daily conversation and eating street food. Enough Thai to look cute for trying but not so much that people look at me strange. Being cute is better than being strange.

Lost in Translation with Friends

That being said there are other reasons than ‘terrible memory’ for not learning the Thai language. Living here I like to feel a bit alien. I thrive on the unfamiliar and enjoy my moments lost in translation. It doesn’t happen often in Bangkok these days. Last weekend was the first in a long time. As I sit in a room of Thai speakers being ignored. I like it. Lost in an alien culture. Life would be boring if everything was familiar, ordinary and bland. Despite how miserable I try to look (below) it is me at my happiest. Reminded of the unique culture which surrounds me. Even learning Thai does not guarantee an understanding of Thai. Dialects from North, South, East and West. The friends I am surrounded by speak the Nang Rong dialect of Thailand; a mix of Korat, and Isaan.

Lost in Translation with Locals

Not learning the language does not mean not interacting with locals. I interact with locals daily. In fact it is the foreign or expats I have little to no contact with. I am here to experience Thailand after all. Each day I go to my local street food vendors. Sit in local Thai restaurants. Have muddled banter with my local 7/11 clerks. Last night was a happy reminder of why I love living in Bangkok. I call in at my local street food street following a guy pushing a bike-mounted with dried squid. A large cinema screen has been erected for the Songkran holidays and locals sit outside homes and shopfronts sharing foods and drinks. It is hard to not be jealous. The areas referred to as “slums” by some expats are the real gems of the city. Authentic local life, close-knit communities and a unique Thai simple life. Something us condo dwellers will unlikely understand or experience. If this picture made sense to me I would feel the need to leave Thailand. In search of a new and unfamiliar culture to feel alien in. For now Thailand will continue to offer new images and experiences everyday.

Leave a Reply