Can you speak Thai?

Hey cHEwY gum gums

I’m in the final week of my schools tour in Bangkok and one question keeps popping up. Can you speak Thai? It’s a fair question, because they’ve billed me as a Thai-Australian author from Sydney, so surely I can speak Thai…

So I give them my usual answer. The one I give to everyone, not just students, but teachers, librarians, and even random people in shopping centres.

Pom Put Thai Nit Noy

Translation: I only speak a little bit of Thai.

My mum comes from theĀ IsanĀ region, mid-north Thailand, which borders Lao (where my dad is from). So growing up, I speak mostly Lao. However, when I used to go to Thailand to see relatives, my mum encouraged me to learn to speak Thai with my aunties and cousins. Ironically, my cousins wanted to learn English from me. So we came together and spoke Thailish, a mish-mash of Thai and English. As I visited Thailand every 2-3 years, I picked up more Thai vocabulary.

Language is something that you need to use often to make it stick in your head. So when your visits to Thailand is every 2-3 years, my rusty Thai would come out and it would get better just when I’m about to leave haha.

So I tell kids that I can understand a lot of Thai, and they better be careful with what they say around me haha. It comes in handy in shopping centres and out in public too. I have enough Thai to get through all kinds of practical situation, even if I do sound like a 11 year old kid speaking Thai sometimes. I always speak Thai bluntly and my mum keeps reminding me to work on my sweet-sounding tones haha.

But being here reminds me of how I felt as a kid coming back to Thailand. I don’t particularly look Thai, but I get a tiny buzz when someone speaks Thai to me first, as if they think I am a local. The illusion shatters when I have use English words to articulate. It’s nice to have a transaction or conversation in complete Thai, even though I am struggling to find the right words sometimes haha.

I experienced reverse culture-shock as a kid being in Thailand. I was supposed to be Thai, but I didn’t feel like one. I couldn’t speak much of the language for a start. However, when I’ve met a whole bunch of expats and teachers in international schools, who have been here for years and have fallen in love with the place. I think belonging is more than what you look or sound like.

If I ever do get around to writing that third Thai-riffic! book (which is going to be like Dr Dre’s Detox album at this stage, go google it up haha), I will get to use some of my awkward experiences through Lengy’s eyes. Sure, he would have an app that could translate English to Thai. Plus he would probably have Google Maps to avoid asking for directions. But I think he would still feel like I did, caught between two cultures. There’s so much to love about Bangkok, the countless eating options, buzzy nightlife, shiny shopping malls and some cool uber-chic hangouts. I love how easy it is to grab a drink at any 7-11, Dunkin Donuts, the superior KFC (soz Australia), and even that muggy hot heat that lingers all day and night. When I’m walking around here, it really does feel like home.


About the author

I'm an author, stand-up comedian and teacher. My books include Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines and The Other Christy. I'm a massive Nintendo fan and love eating burgers. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @oliverwinfree

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