June 23, 2016
I recently celebrated my 70th year on this planet. I really enjoy my 70 year-old mind, lots of good stuff going on in there. My 70 year-old body, well, that’s another thing.
Today I want to talk about how we can use the wonderful “personal” computer residing between our ears to live a happier and more successful retired life abroad.
Our “personal” computer has a fantastic memory capacity, and unlike the computer I am writing this blog post on, the memory never seems to get maxed out. Yes, sometimes our computer’s ability to retrieve information slows down, but if we keep it well-maintained (good food, exercise, less alcohol and drugs, and a daily belly laugh) it will serve us well for a lifetime.
This brings me back to the question of how to live a happier and more successful retired life, especially in a foreign country. And the answer is in that wonderful “personal” computer’s language-learning capacity.
We who live here in Thailand have good reasons and real motivation to learn the Thai language, and even though our aptitude for learning may have been slowed down a bit, it has not been maxed out yet. No, old friend, you are never too old to learn.
First let’s get motivated. I’ll start with something that happened to me just yesterday.
I went to my favorite iced coffee vendor and I ordered my usual. While the “barista” was making my cappuccino frap I struck up a simple conversation. I told her how much I liked her product, how in fact I was becoming addicted to it. I told her how I had already gotten 10 stamps on my card so this one was free. She laughed and told me I could get a free cookie too.
I know, not a deep exchange but I got to thinking – if I didn’t know Thai, the “barista” would just take my order and serve me my coffee – a serving girl to me at most, and me, a mere customer. Instead, using just a few lines of simple dialog, she became a real person to me, and I to her. She handed me my coffee, I thanked her, took my free cookie, we both smiled, and both our days were brighter for it.
Sometimes, instead of making our days a bit brighter, knowing the language can make our days a bit less dark.
A while back I was at the driving range when behind me a long-time Expat, in English, told the 16 year old counter girl he wanted another tray of balls. She asked him in a three-word Thai sentence, “Old ones or new ones?” They are priced differently. The long-time Expat, not understanding a word she had spoken, turned to his paramour sitting nearby and shouted, loudly enough for all to hear, “Tell this girl what I want. She is too STUPID to understand me.”
I came so very close to breaking this guy’s jaw after telling him that he should not call the girl stupid, that she in fact did understand him, had asked him a simple question, and that he himself was the one too stupid to understand her.
The moral of this story: Just a few words of Thai and the Expat would not have become so angry, not have his blood pressure rise to unhealthy levels, not made a fool of himself by calling a young girl who was helping out her mom stupid, and not have had that physical confrontation with me. He would simply have hit some golf balls and then gone home, looking forward to spending the evening with his paramour in a much happier mood. All that with just a few words of Thai.
I have heard the excuses for why one doesn’t learn Thai:
- “I tried but after a few weeks of study I just gave up.”
- “Everyone I need to talk to speaks English.”
- “Thais really don’t want me to speak Thai.”
- “I’m too old to learn something new.”
- A few weeks is not nearly enough to learn a language. I’ve been studying Thai for over 45 years and still have a ways to go.
- Very few Thais speak comprehensible English. Mostly it’s just the ones doing business with foreigners, and even then their English leaves much to be desired.
- Many Farang feel that Thais don’t want them to speak Thai because the Thais always answer in their broken English when they try. In fact, it is possible that they are responding in the little English they know because the foreigner’s Thai, often toneless, is incomprehensible to them. My barista never said a word to me in English except “cookie”.
- I’ve already told you what I think about being too old.
These excuses don’t do much to convince me that an older person can’t learn Thai, just that the effort to learn, sadly, might be too much for them.
So why put in the effort to learn Thai?
Don’t we want a little more than “Me Tarzan you Jane.”? Wouldn’t it be nice to really get to know someone here and to understand their dreams and desires? Wouldn’t it be nice to tell someone how you feel so he/she understands you better? Wouldn’t it be nice to order something at a restaurant and get what you are expecting, or tell the barber “Not too short.”, or let your barista know how much you love her coffee?
Can you at your advanced age learn a foreign language?
The main thing I want to stress in this posting is that anyone at any age can learn a language. You don’t have to become fluent, I still haven’t. But how about just learning to say “I love your iced coffee.” or “Give me the new balls, please.” Your day will be much brighter, as will your chances of getting a free cookie.
So here are some Thai learning hints on what and how to begin. You can use it as your basic curriculum. Give this list to your Thai teacher and tell them this is what you NEED to learn.
- Learn the Thai greetings and how to say “Please” and “Thank you”.
- Learn the Thai numbers, at least up to 10,000. Learn the Thai money system.
- Learn the Thai personal pronouns and how to refer to yourself and to others.
- Learn subject/verb patterns. Learn everyday verbs. Learn to speak in the present, past, and future.
- Add to the above the subject/verb/object pattern. Then add some adjectives.
- Learn the vocabulary that is important and interesting to you. Learn the nouns that fit your needs. Enjoy gardening? Learn the Thai words for the plants, insects, and birds you will encounter. Enjoy eating Thai food? Learn to order all the Thai dishes you like. Enjoy cooking Thai food? Learn all the names of the condiments and sauces that you will need. I would stay away from talking about politics and religion for now though.
- Learn how to ask “What is this?” “How do you say … in Thai?” (Use both to increase your vocabulary.)
- Learn how to ask if someone has something, and the vocabulary you’ll need in order to ask a shopkeeper if he/she has the thing you are looking for.
- Learn the vocabulary you will need to tell a doctor or your Thai companion how you feel if you are under the weather.
- Learn to ask yes/no questions and other questions like when, where, who, how and how much. Then learn how to answer them.
The above basics will take you about a year of hard study. What fun. Get a good teacher and good learning materials. Anything with “Easy”, or “Fast”, or “Learn Thai in … Days” should be avoided. They are lying to you. I mean, do you believe everything a carnival barker running for the U.S. presidency says (and the other one isn’t any better)?
Learning Thai will not be easy, or fast, or accomplished in a few days? No! That is why it will take so much time but also is why it will be so much fun.
No need to be in a hurry. When we get older, learning new stuff just takes a little longer than it used to. Take your time. You have the rest of your life to get it right.
At this point don’t worry about learning to read and write Thai or learning the Thai tone rules either. Many people suggest this. But I feel that’s the equivalent of having to learn how to read music in order to sing “Happy Birthday”.
But what about those terrible Thai tones?
Yes, they are terrible. But Thai tones are really, really important to get right. Really!
First learn to laugh at yourself when you make a tonal mistake. I currently laugh at least a half dozen times a day.
Here is my suggestion on how to handle Thai tones. SING.
Thai is a tonal language, just like music. How did you learn “Happy Birthday” in the first place? You heard someone singing it. And then you sang it back just like you heard it. Thai, and all tonal languages, work the same way.
You in fact, can do much more than you think you can. I completely don’t accept the idea that older people can’t learn anything new.
I took up rock climbing in my 40s, got my karate black belt in my 50s, became a blogger in my 60s, and started playing the piano at age 67.
I am now learning Latin in my 70s? Why not?
Here, you can cut and paste this into Google Translate to check my progress.
Fīlia mea cenam parat.
Learn Thai in your 60s and 70s? Why not?
Just reboot that old computer of yours. No, old friend, you are never too old.
Below I have listed some resources for beginning your learning Thai odyssey.
There are quite a few on-line Thai/English dictionaries, many with good audio to help pronunciation. Here are some that I frequently use.
- Thai-Language.com – Probably the most extensive with lots of words used in sentences.
- Thai2English.com – You can paste whole sentences into a translate box and it will return definitions for each of the words in the sentences along with their phonetic transcriptions.
- Google Translate – Good for individual words and phrases but less accurate when translating complete sentences. Has good audio for all words.
Thai learning resources
- Women Learning Thai … and some men too –A wealth of information on the Thai language and on learning Thai.
- Paiboon Publishing – Carries the book Thai for Beginners, by Benjawan Becker, one of the most popular beginning Thai textbooks.
- The Mother of All Free Thai Resources – The name is self-explanatory. Lots and lots of on-line, free Thai language study materials.
Good luck, enjoy and I hope you get lots of free cookies.
The American rooster goes “cock-a-doodle-do”. The Thai rooster goes, “ake-e-ake-ake”. I have a few Thai bantam roosters and they in fact really do say “ake-e-ake-ake”. Thai is really good at onamonapia, maybe because it is a tonal language, so I wasn’t surprised by that. What I was surprise at was how Expats and Thais respond to a rooster’s crowing.
Thai roosters do not only crow at dawn. They crow all the time. Midnight, 3AM, dawn, noon, 1PM, 6PM, all day. And there is a big cultural difference in how Expats and Thais respond to this sound, or noise, depending on which side of the hen house you are on.
All the Expats I asked about this said that they really hated the roosters crowing. Some grumbled that the screeching poultry woke them up, and kept them awake all night. When I asked Thais the same question, 100% said that they really liked the sound. It reminded them of the “old days” and it gave them a feeling of peace.
So how does this affect our retirement here? Expats everywhere find cultural and environmental differences in their adopted homes that they sometimes have a hard time dealing with. They are things that get on your nerves, things that you’ll hear Expats complaining about whenever they sit down for beers together. But like the roosters crowing at 1AM, these aren’t things that we can do much about.
The Thais aren’t about to change their culture just because it gets on your nerves. My advice, do like the way I dealt with the rain in Seattle. Since I couldn’t do anything about the weather I just learned to love the rain.
When it comes to roosters, see if you can learn to love the music of the roosters crowing, like the Thais do. If that doesn’t work just learn to ignore them. In doing this you’ll be able to get through the day without complaining about things that you have no control over. And you’ll be happier.
This is not a posting of my complaints. I don’t complain. Complaining makes me unhappy. Look at this example of a real complainer on ThaiVisa.com who wrote about “Frogs Driving Me Crazy“. If the poster can’t figure out what to do then his life here will be miserable. And it is just some croaking frogs.
What he can do about it: You live in a house right next to a pond so you’re going to have some frogs around. Complaining about them won’t help much. First of all, stop complaining. You decided where to live. If you can’t figure out what to do about the croaking frogs , just catch them and eat them; they’re pretty tasty. Or you can just learn to love the sounds they make. It’s a simple way to make your life happier. I live next to a pond and love the night music.
Here are a number of other things that tend to drive an Expat in Thailand crazy. Let’s stop complaining about them like the frog guy is doing. I have given some suggestions about what to do about them, basically, how to “learn to love the roosters”.
Just the word drives (no pun intended) most Expats furious, fast and furious. Thailand has the second highest number of road fatalities per capita in the world, and Thai roads are really dangerous places. Sometimes things happened on Thai roads that can make a peaceful Expat search their glove compartment for their hand gun (Oh, forgot, I’m not in America anymore.)
One way you can solve the Thai road problem of course is to not drive in Thailand. That would solve one problem but would create others. So if you do drive, remember, you can’t make the others on the road good drivers, but you can drive defensively, real defensively.
Here are just a few examples of differences on Thai roads that you will encounter here and some coping mechanisms. Expect road-craziness and you will be less prone to road-rage.
Turning right from the left lane – This usually occurs when you are approaching an intersection or a highway U-turn and someone on your left, usually a motorcycle, cuts across 2 or 3 lanes and then cuts you off in order to make a right or U-turn. This of course causes you to slam on your breaks and spill your ice coffee all over you lap.
What to do: Whenever approaching a right or U-turn intersection expect someone from your left to cut right in front of you, but don’t expect a turn signal. And put that ice coffee in the cup holder.
Turning left from the right lane – This usually occurs when you are approaching an intersection where one can make a left turn and someone on your right, usually a car or pickup truck, cuts right in front of you to make a left turn or sometimes just to park. This of course cause you to slam on your breaks again.
What to do: Whenever approaching a left turn intersection expect someone from your right to cut right in front of you, but don’t expect a turn signal. But someone may just cut in front of you simply to park. The concept of slowing down, letting you go first, and then making a left turn from behind never crosses anyone’s mind, so it shouldn’t cross yours.
Merging without looking – Vehicles will often, and motorcycles will almost always, merge into traffic from the left without ever looking at the oncoming traffic.
What to do: Always keep your eye on what is happening on your left, especially a merging lane or a left hand road. If you see a motorcycle you will be sure that they will merge right in front of you without looking, so slow down and let them. Otherwise you’ll be picking up pieces of a broken bike and explaining what happened to the police. Better to let them go first.
Tailgating – If you are going down the road at a comfortable and safe 80 klicks, you’re sure to encounter someone from behind who wants to go 100. They will approach from behind until they are literally inches from your rear bumper waiting to pass. And when this is some huge articulated dump truck barreling down on your tail it will scare the bejesus out of you.
What to do: Don’t freak out. Just ease over to your left, slow down, and let them pass. If it is a busy highway it might take a while but it is better than having someone inches from ramming your butt.
Zigging and zagging – Almost always motorcycles will do this but occasionally someone who has just bought a new sports care will zig and zag through traffic.
What to do: It is much better karma to try not to visualize (or sometimes even hope for) the terrible smashup that is about to happen. Just pray that the driver doesn’t end up winning a Darwin Award by taking himself out of the gene pool. You don’t want that on your conscious. Stupidity should not be, but on Thai roads often is, punishable by death.
Walking across the road – Almost no one here will give a pedestrian the right of way and stop to let them cross the road. They will never let a pedestrian cross the street in front of them. The Thai pedestrian knows this, it is a cultural law, so it is no problem for them. They don’t know that in other countries pedestrians do have the right of way, so here they will just wait patiently until all traffic has passed before attempting to cross the road.
What to do: If you are the pedestrian, just wait. Remember, in Thailand you do not have the right of way if you are on your feet. When all traffic has passed, first say a prayer, and then cross.
I don’t know how many times I have ordered a nice cool lemon aide or a fresh-squeezed orange juice in Thailand, taken one big sip and then almost barfed it all up. Why? Unlike westerners, easterners love salt in their fruit drinks. And that wonderful sweet and sour tasting lemon aide you were expecting will also have a very unwelcomed salt water ocean flavor.
What to do: Make sure every time you order a fruit drink you tell them not to add salt. They might look at you funny and wonder why you don’t want that lovely salty flavor but will usually comply (although a few times they just ignored me thinking that I must be mistaken because who would want a fruit drink without salt.) Or, you can change and like I have gotten lately, I am beginning to like the salty taste. Weird, but not bad.
There are some wonderful Thai dishes that would be so great if it weren’t for the fact that Thais make them so hot with chilies that you feel you might be getting pepper sprayed on a protest line. One example of this is chicken with hot basil over rice, with a nice fried egg on top. The hot basil is more than spicy enough without the chilies. But one time I ordered this dish and I was only one number away from calling 911 (191 in Thailand) and getting an ambulance there to save me from passing out. I am sure my blood pressure was over 200. I had burning poop for a week. I later counted and there were more than 30 chilies in the one dish. Som Tum, or unripen papaya salad, and Tom Yum spicy soup are other dishes that if you aren’t careful might have you considering an emergency room visit.
What to do: Learn this Thai phrase “mai pet”, “Not spicy”. But you might want to add something like “one chili” or “no chilies”. I usually order Som Tum by telling them not to add any chilies at all. It will still be hot because the mortar that they use to pound the ingredients together will still have some chili oil on the bottom from the last order. That is more than hot enough for me.
I have lived in places where the water stops running once or twice daily. There is always construction going on or ten-wheel trucks driving over those plastic water pipes. I once live next to a rice field. The water pipe crossed the field and in the dry season, because of the condensation around the pipes, the ground under them would get wet. Just the perfect place for a herd of water buffaloes to wallow, and break my pipes. And of course this always happens at the hottest part of the day, right between the time I have done some heavy exercising and when I want to take a bath.
What to do: Get yourself a large plastic garbage can, put it in your bathroom, and fill it up, when the water is running of course. Learn how to take a splash bath. And when the water comes back on fill it up again.
Flint Michigan in the U.S. had that drinking water problem where the water was contaminated by lead. Well, I don’t trust tap water in Thailand either. But those poor people in Flint seemed to have the hardest time figuring out that if your tap water will kill you then maybe you need to be using bottled water – like just about everyone in Thailand does.
What to do: We get a delivery of large white plastic bottles of clean water every Saturday, and that’s enough to last the week.
Expect frequent blackouts, especially during thunder storms. They usually only last for an hour or two, but almost always happen when it is pitch black outside and just before you saved your work on your computer.
What to do: Flashlights and candles at the ready. Save your computer work often. Keep your phone or tablet charged. Snuggle.
Dual pricing system
One thing that drives most Expats up the wall is the dual pricing system Thailand uses at various tourist attractions, national parks, etc. They say that foreigners have more money so they should pay more. Sounds logical but not very comforting.
What to do: If the dual pricing system makes you nuts, don’t go there. All I want to do is go to a nice waterfall or picnic area without screaming my head off. Dual pricing is unfair, true, but I do have more money than most of the Thais going to this place, so what’s a few dollars more? It is worth it to keep my blood pressure down.
The use of the word “Farang” by Thais drives most Farangs ballistic.
What to do: Learn the history and etymology of the word “Farang”, and know that this word is very infrequently used in a derogatory manner. The “F” word is not the equivalent of the “N” word. There are a lot worse things you can be called.
These are just a few of the things that can drive you crazy if you let them. Don’t let them. Forget about complaining and wishing that the Thais or Thailand would change. That ain’t gonna happen. We can change ourselves though, and when we do, we will be much happier here.
I have been a bit lethargic lately and have not been posting as often as I used to. Maybe 2 months of temperatures over 104 degrees F (40C) here in Chiang Mai had something to do with it. But after over 100 postings I am finding it a bit more difficult to come up with original ideas. So, maybe you can lend me a hand. If you have any ideas for a posting, or any questions about retired life here in Thailand, send them on to me (either through the retire2thailand.com website, or as a comment here) and I’ll try to make a posting out of it. Thanks.