Pork, chicken, fish, water

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Well kids,

I have to tell you, I have a pretty impressive Thai vocabulary at this point: Hello, thank you, delicious, pork, chicken, fish, water. All the essentials.

I use them on a daily basis. Mostly to order lunch.

It would be useful to know a few more things I suppose. Maybe right, left, straight ahead. Where am I?

Thai is pretty difficult for me though. It is a tonal language and I have trouble hearing, much less saying, all the tones.

There are five distinct tones. One is called middle tone and that’s just what we would consider normal tone. The second, low tone, sounds like you have a cold, kind of. The third is falling tone. So you start high and go low. There is also high tone, which sounds like you are asking a question (even though you might not be doing that). And the final is rising tone in which you start low and go high. You can say the same word with different tones and it means something completely different.

For example, khaa said in middle tone means to get stuck. In low tone it means galangal (a root kind of like ginger). In falling tone it means either slave or kill (we’re not entirely sure). In high tone it means to trade. In rising it means leg. You can see how things could quickly get difficult. You want to buy some galangal but you accidentally buy a slave instead…

Uncle Richard is getting quite good at it though. He is taking classes three mornings a week and practicing every day. Apparently he had a long conversation with the woman at the store about how they were out of lemongrass. By the time you come to visit he’ll be able to navigate for us and make sure we only buy things we actually want.

If you like, he can even teach you a few words. Or I can. But then you risk asking for something other than pork or chicken because Uncle Richard says my tones are all over the place.


  1. What use is it to know how to say “right” or “left” if you still don’t know which way you are pointing?

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