Many challenges arise from the sudden decision to leave the country on a semi-permanent traveling adventure, most of which get drowned in the excitement of making such a decision.
It’s sort of like waking up with an exciting hangover, still elated and floating from the life changing events that have just transpired, but hit hard in the face with a few immediate realities – visas, immunizations (Malaria? Rabies? What am I doing?), selling everything you own.. and only 12 weekend days, 6 weeks total, to organise it all.
Somewhere amidst that drunken-stupor-happy-haze of realising that in less than two months I will be laying on a beach, exploring the rice paddies, sweating into my pad Thai and spending hour after luxurious hour of reading and writing rather than lodged firmly into an office space, came that moment when someone pointed out.. ‘hey, if you’re planning to spend most of your time away from tourism central – it might pay to learn some Thai!’
… I guess they have a point.
Thai, I thought. Well, I managed to learn enough Spanish to get by in Mexico – I’ve dabbled in French, Portuguese; Thai is just another language experience to welcome with arms wide open.
It turns out Thai is a bit more complex for an English native speaker than Spanish, French and Portuguese combined; for a start, there are no familiar letters or words to help you get through. At first I was completely intimidated, a little terrified and definitely considering re-routing my travel plans through English speaking places only (completely out of character for me, my dream is to be immersed in different languages and cultures).
Then, I came around to this new and exotic way of communicating. It’s like cracking a top secret code, a logic puzzle – something I always did enjoy as a child. Each stroke, line, dot and mark signifying different consonants, vowels and tone diacritics. Thai uses not an alphabet, but an abugida – with consonants invoking inherent vowel sounds, and vowels precisely arranged – orbiting their consonants like tiny planets.
A foreign code – an alien language spelt out in an art form that resembles strokes of calligraphy dotted with carefully placed crop circle formations. I felt relieved when found that in the 1940’s even the government, who also found this system a little overwhelming, tried to reduce the amount of letters; their attempts, however, unsuccessful.
It isn’t just the written language that resembles an art form, spoken Thai is tonal. If there is a linguistic concept that gets me more nervous than a tonal language, I haven’t met it yet.
The spoken language of Thai is more like music than English is, there is more rhythm, pitch, tone. This came as a beautiful realisation to me, learning to see this new language as a series of rising and falling sounds, like learning a piece of music. Listening to the Thai language spoken, I now hear a playfulness, a tune and a ‘sing-song’ through the sentences.
Noticing that these dots, lines, tones, rising & falling pitches were more like music and art than a complicated chore comprising tables of relentless symbols turned my thought processes on their head; making this linguistic event something to become excited about, rather than intimidated by.
So, with 42 days until my plane takes off toward Asia, I am beginning to delve into a new world of symbol writing & tonal speaking.. wish me luck.