TLDR (Too Long. Didn’t Read.)
Somehow it’s already the end of August. That’s good news for you because you get to enjoy clever puns and catch up on our journey. Throughout the last month, we enrolled in Thai Language school, I made mistakes using the Thai language, the visa saga continues, we went on a “school-moon” to Koh Samui in early August, my lizard hair has nearly grown out, Jyn knitted up a storm, I learned that Bangkok’s full name is the longest place name in the world, we studied daily, and have gone salsa dancing twice.
Fun fact: I thought that Bangkok’s full name was “Bangkok”, but I was very wrong. Bangkok is a shortened version of the city’s full name. Bangkok’s full name is the official longest place name in the world. Bangkok’s full English romanization is “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit”. This is true!
Operation Koh Samui
Let’s start with our little domestic travel adventure. Even though Thailand had had zero locally transmitted COVID cases for a few months (sadly, we had one case very recently) and international travel to Thailand is extremely limited, we were still leery about traveling anywhere. However, we got on a plane for the first time since mid-March and flew a short 1.5 hours to the popular island of Koh Samui in southern Thailand (think “Operation Koh Samui” from Meet the Parents with Ben Stiller. “Jack can’t talk Thai.”). Hardly anyone was at the airport. Our plane was about around 65% full, but somehow we still sat next to a loud petulant child. Everyone was temperature-tested multiple times, wore masks, filled out electronic questionnaires, and stayed apart when possible. To add zest, we booked our flight late the previous night and decided not to book our hotel in advance. The last five to ten times that we had pre-booked anything, we needed to cancel shortly afterward and then were forced to proceed with the months-long chore of obtaining a refund. This time, we decided on our top three hotel choices before getting on the plane and planned to simply show up at our top choice first. Luckily, our plan worked even better than expected. We got the beach front suite that we wanted for a 20% discount compared to pre-booking online! Side note: While we were apartment-hunting, we had also noticed that prices quoted in person were often lower than prices quoted online. Hansar Beach Resort was a great hotel with a breakfast buffet that people raved about. We chose a luxurious room because it was supposed to rain for all four days of the trip. The weather ended up being fine… Fine enough to burn me. PaleFragileSkin + EquatorAdjacency = InvoluntaryNewLayersOfSkin. Math…
This mini trip was a vacation before school started. We primarily lazed around the pool, went paddle boarding, walked around the town, went to other beaches, got daily massages, and enjoyed tea while looking out to the ocean over the edge of the infinity pool or our from our balcony. Koh Samui is one of the more expensive Thai islands to visit. The taxis were ~5 times the cost of the taxis in Bangkok (quoted 400 baht to go ~7 km), the typical meal was ~4-5 times more expensive (around 300 baht per person), and under normal circumstances, the hotels would be priced similarly. To avoid those issues, we walked outside of the airport and caught a “taxi” for half the price they were quoting inside, and we searched for a small Thai food restaurant away from the beach (found a great one called “A La Carte”). And our hotel was having a promotion. Normally, the room we booked would be ~$550 per night, but we snagged it for ~$130 per night due to a combination of Covid and showing up in person without a reservation.
The Last Resort… Well, not quite.
We were particularly lucky that we chose the Hansar hotel because it was in an area that had some vibrance (Boh Phut Beach). We visited one of the other typically popular areas, called “Chaweng”, but it was quiet and eerie like a ghost town. We walked by numerous closed restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops. Probably 90% of the businesses there were closed. Clearly, Chaweng was meant to host thousands of tourists, but this time, there were only two. Normally, I would celebrate the lack of crowds, but it felt sad. We went into a large shopping plaza and all of the stores were open, but there were almost no people in them. Plus, the lights were off. The employees were inside somewhat dark stores waiting to assist customers. We have never seen anything like that. We did not discover a clear reason for why the light were off.
On the bright side, no pun intended, while we were wandering around downtown Bo Phut, near our hotel, we found a small open-air bar playing Latin music! We danced together, with our masks, , with only each other, until we were sufficiently tired/sweaty.
Back to School, but This Time in Thai.
After returning from Koh Samui, we started school and our days are much more structured. Much of our time is Thai-d up. We are in class Monday through Friday for three hours each day. I am learning how to speak Thai, and Jyn is learning how to read and write (she can already speak, more or less). If we knew that we were going to be in Bangkok for nearly a year, we would have started these classes sooner. My class is interesting as it is taught ~95% in Thai to a small collection of international students who may not share a common language. Fun Fact- English is the common language between many Asian countries. My classmates are a girl from China, a girl from South Korea, a guy from Japan, a half-Thai-half-Hong Kong girl, and an American couple of Asian descent. I consider myself lucky to have them as my group. For the last two weeks, I have been studying an additional three to six hours every day after class to keep up. The pace is fast! Jyn is enjoying the results of her class. She has learned all 44 consonants, the 12 long-vowel combinations, and the read rules associated with all three classes of consonants and the four tone marks. Next month, she will presumably learn the short-vowel combinations, possibly some other marks, and the reading rules associated with them. Since Thai is based on Sanskrit, the characters do not resemble English at all. Have a look…
Thai is a tonal language, meaning that if you say the same letter combination with a different tone, it becomes an entirely different word. Yes, that makes it much more challenging for native English speakers, BUT on the other hand, Thai doesn’t have to deal with verb tenses, verb conjugation, plural words or noun genders. That is fantastic.
FAIL: First Attempt In Learning.
After 10 classes, I had a vocabulary of about 370 Thai words (now over 600 over the course of 20 class days). I could introduce myself, count, follow directions, negotiate for fruit at the market, order food and more. Unfortunately, I had three words for a street intersection and no words for bathroom yet. So I could find the building, but I wouldn’t be able to get to the toilet.
Also, the words for “clock” and “chair” would have been extremely useful when the small inexpensive clock that I purchased incorrectly rang up as an expensive chair. It was an ordeal to return that clock when management was wondering what I did with their chair. To make the situation worse, I kept pointing to the line item on the receipt that was wrong and calling it “correct” in Thai. I thought I was saying “incorrect”. Sigh. Finally, through English and charades, it worked out and I left with the correct item at the correct price.
One more… During class, I accidentally asked the teacher to sleep with me. I didn’t understand why she told me “not ok” after I used the new sentence structure, but apparently, I did not grasp the intention. My classmates were wondering what was wrong as well. After the teacher said “no”, they asked her “Why can’t you sleep?” My class is in the morning and I am not a morning person so I decided to say said that I wanted to sleep. The teacher looked tired and I thought that she might want to sleep as well. I had no idea that the sentence structure was about planning something to be done together. Oops! She doesn’t speak enough English for me to apologize appropriately. I might have made things worse anyways.
We Have Unlocked Achievement Level “Song” (“Two” in Thai)
After about a month in school, I have graduated from Speaking Level 1 (of 3) and Jyn has moved on from Reading and Writing Level 1 (of 3). She is thrilled because the squiggly bits of writing are being decoded. She can read and write things and enjoys telling me what the signs say. Next week, we start level 2. I may need to be a study hermit to get through that one.
The visa saga continues… Next week is important because I am going to immigration to get the results of my new visa application. Thank goodness my lizard hair has grown out! If approved, I will have around 6+ more months to stay in Thailand. If not approved, we will have to leave at the end of September. Never a dull moment.
Welp, that was August folks. From our side of the world to yours, we hope that you are staying safe, sane, and making the most out of this very odd time in our lives. You too can use this time to learn a new language and accidentally offend people along the way.