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Lost & Found in Translation

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Chapter 1

It was all started when I was a young chap, freshly graduated, willing , ambitious and a first time visitor of Thailand and as I remember, it was the Summer of 1987 when I arrived at the old Don Mueng airport .
Those were different times, there was a huge crowd just out side of arrival terminal lounge, pushing and dragging, every single passenger coming out of the gates and offering them all types of "decent" and "indecent" services.

I needed a taxi to get to my hotel, but most of the taxi drivers were trying push me and drag my luggage away, while trying to convince me in a strange language, a mixture of;

"hey you...then a long speech including a strange sound of ...pai...pai...pai in Thai language .... some hand and head shaking ...then pai...pai...pai and then some strange hand and finger signs... " .

In those days there were no meter taxis in Bangkok and most of them were non air conditioned "Nissan blue birds" and you literally have to bargain with the taxi drivers in some sort of language which could be understandable for both parties, so me and my going to be driver chose the same strange language as described above ( this time I find it strange because I learnt and picked the above language so quickly that I was surprised by myself), which was more like a single sided bargain, because I had no idea what we were bargaining for and I was unaware of the distance from airport to my hotel. So I trusted the driver and my instincts and hop in his taxi and said pai...pai...pai (strange isn't it?).

Bangkok was a very different city then, there were no over head bridges or highways but traffic was as bad as now, so we took off from Don Mueng airport and off we go towards the main city "Krung Thaep" in Thai language or "City of Angels" in English (as Los Angeles in U.S.A).

The radio was on and a song of one of the most beloved singers in Thailand, Mr.Thongchai Mcintyre aka " P'Bird" called "SABAI " was on, and then there was that word "SABAI SABAI", which was repeatedly sung by the singer in this song which pushed me to ask the driver, and I asked him :"Hey what is "SABAI SABAI", what does it mean? and then I repeated it twice or Thrice, he seems to understand my question, trying very hard (obviously in Thai), but he was just out of the words, how to explain it to me so, after a lot of singing and head shaking he gave me my first lesson of Thai language and said SABAI SABAI...Happy Happy, this was the new meaningand beginning of a new chapter in my life .

Chapter 2

The country I was born, bread, raised and educated use Urdu as a mother tongue, but English as an official second language and being a child, you are obliged to learn Arabic for religious reasons and then, every household have huge satellite dishes planted over the roofs, which gave us exposure to multiple spoken languages in neighboring countries mainly to Hindi and Arabic.

May be not many people knows (except the natives) that my mother tongue Urdu was emerged as a communicative tool between the troops and there commands during the quests of Alexander the great, The Mughals, Tatars, Ottomans, Arabs and many others centuries ago, so basically its a combination of Persian, Arabic, Turkish, English, Latin, Sanskrit, Hindi, Spanish and many other major languages and accents, soldiers of different back grounds use this combination to communicate with each other within the army so it was called Urdu.

So as a native speaker of Urdu some times its much easier for us to pick and learn a new language quickly, while following it closely, specially the tones. As Thai language is based on Pali and Sanskrit, it was not long when I started to pick the similarities and meanings of spoken language while travelling in Thailand, but as all other languages have their secrets, Thai is no exception, for example in English we drink water/juice and we eat food/fruits, but in Thai we only "KIN" all these things as we kin food and we kin water. The other thing is that Thai is a very tonal language, it is consist of many different tones for a single spoken word, so if one is using a wrong tone then it could be a disaster, here is one example :

"Laew" this could mean ; Turn, Hurry up, Done, Selfish, And then?
depending what tone you are using for this word, you could be telling a taxi driver to speed up instead of turning to the desired street. Similarly "Sanam Maa" could mean "Dogs Running Ground" instead of "Horse Racing Club" and " Waythee Moey" which means "Thai Boxing Stadium" could sound " Pubic Hair Stadium" with wrong pronunciation.

And I swear to God I found myself in number of these situations when I was totally illiterated in Thai language, after encountering so many such foolish mistakes, finally with the help of locals (who were always laughing but happy and helpful to correct me), I started to pick some words and then sentences during each visit I traveled to Thailand, until finally I decided to move and live here permanently, and decided to learn the language properly.

Chapter 3

After the graduation my first overseas travel destination was Thailand, I arrived here with some of my close friends as a tourist, for a two weeks vacation in the year 1987, I traveled to so many countries afterwards but the comfort I felt in Thailand was no match to any other country, I love its culture (very Asian and family based), its people (very polite and friendly), its history (very rich and ancient), its language (very complicated and tonal) and most of all its lovely beaches. Later I traveled to Thailand many times until I decided to settle down here permanently, now I am in my middle age, married and father of three adult children (all educated here in Thailand in Thai Schools, Colleges and Universities).

Many years passed, when I moved here, Thai language was the first barrier and the biggest challenge for me, I concentrated very hard to learn the language, before I even started to search for work, once I was able to speak basic Thai, I started to interact a lot of locals, I was young, ambitious and willing, so I made a lot of friends very quickly, some of them remains my best friends here in Thailand till today. Internet was a new tool for emerging businesses at that time and I was good with computer, so a very small Thai business owner hired me to operate their computer and to answer their e-mails for overseas clients of their clothing business. That was my first job in Thailand and I never looked backed since.

It was early 90's, one day I was at an open air restaurant eating and chatting with some of my Thai friends, we were talking in a complex mixture of English and Thai when a well dressed couple approached my table and introduced themselves, the gentleman was a Thai Criminal lawyer and the lady was from prosecution department of Criminal Courts of Thailand, they sat down and interviewed in detail about my origin and my language skills, after my explanations they just smiled at each other and asked me, whether I was available to help them in an ongoing criminal case, involving 2 foreign nationals, whose case was in pending for 4 long years (the accused were unable to communicate in Thai and the Judge cannot close this case without an Interpreter who can speak both languages). They asked for my telephone number and told me to be at Southern Criminal Court next day around 10:00 a.m.

Next morning while I was still sleeping, totally forgetting the whole episode, my phone starts ringing endlessly until I was up and received the call, it was the same lady I met last night, she told me politely its 10.00 a.m, the Judge is waiting to see me in his chamber and why I am still in the bed? a very cold shiver passed through my spine ( I was so confused ), the lady realizes my position quickly and told me not to worry but be there at lunch time. I showered, dressed myself and hop in a taxi, never been to a Thai court before, I was wandering around the main entrance/reception area, when a security person reached me and asked for my name, then he escorted me inside the building towards the Judge's chamber, following him and passing through the security checks and protocols, I was excited, but, it felt like every one was starring at me.

So there was the Judge in his huge chamber, accompanied by the couple I met last night, they asked me to be seated, there goes another round of interview, this time by the Judge himself (surly judging me), satisfied with my language skills, he told me about the upcoming case, those poor guys in the jail, have already spent 4 years behind bars, which was equals to the original sentence for their crime, so if they plead guilty on the next hearing, they could be released immediately to the custody of Thai Immigration Department and then can be deported to their respective country. The prosecution department contacted their Embassy several times, but without any positive response, The poor guys were unaware of all these details and were remained behind bars, until there Embassy provide an interpreter or the prosecution department finds one, this is where I comes in. Read more....

Updated 24-09-13 at 12:58 PM by skyaslimit

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  1. skyaslimit's Avatar
    I will keep editing this post until it is completed. Today I have edited all the chapters and added chapter 3.
    Updated 24-09-13 at 12:59 PM by skyaslimit
  2. skyaslimit's Avatar
    An updated version of my blog can be found here
  3. skyaslimit's Avatar
    The first 2 chapters of my article have won "win free trip" Bangkok
    Find the announcements here
  4. skyaslimit's Avatar