The Maid and The Squid

August 21, 2013 – Day 021

On this Wednesday in August, it is the third day of our new maid (Spoiler Alert: Don’t become too attached to this character as we let her go only after a month).

Her name is Khun Peen and this affords me the perfect opportunity to mention something about names in Thailand. People here, as in the States (and, come to think of it, in almost every other part of the globe) have a first name and a last name. However, to my Western ears, every Thai name that I have read or heard is an incredibly long string of characters that I have no hope of ever uttering correctly. This would be a wonderful place in this blog to share with you some examples of long and intricate Thai names but I don’t feel like singling out any one name or person. Just take my word for it that for a Western tongue like mine, some Thai names are a mouthful.

Since I would have a hard time pronouncing most Thai names, I am glad to know that Thais have a nickname that I can use. Just so you know that I am not making this up out of whole fabric, I give you this excerpt from the Wikipedia article “Thai Name“.

Bestowed by relatives or playmates in early childhood, these are typically one syllable (or worn down from two to one). These may often be nonsense words or humorous, and seldom relate to the registered name…. All Thai have such names, freely used in everyday life regardless of how childish they may seem to foreigners.

One example of a humorous informal name comes from a famous cook, Saiyuud Diwong. Her informal name is “Poo” and so this means that when she created a cookbook, it was titled Cooking With Poo.

“Peen” is the informal name for our maid, so now let me explain to you the “Khun” part. “Khun” is an honorific for all adults similar to “Sir” or “Madam” except that it is gender neutral. So I am “Khun”, my lovely wife is “Khun”, all of the folks who man the toll booths on Bangkok’s highways are “Khun” and so on and so on. It really is too bad that the honorific could not have been “Khan”. That way I could go around Bangkok greeting people like William Shatner.

Hmmm…that’s my second Star Trek reference in three postings. I believe I have hit my quota for October.

Back to our maid and our oh-so-madcap adventures concerning dinner tonight.

I believe I also have to mention here that Khun Peen spoke little-to-no English and I speak no Thai. So, in her halting English, she asked me if my family would like blah. At first listen, I thought she was using the word “blah” as in “blah-blah-blah” as if she was using a generic placeholder to ask me what I wanted for dinner. This made no sense to me so I put my finger to my ear in my well-worn gesture (well-worn after only three days) of saying, “Please repeat. I did not understand.”

She again asks if we want blah and then proceed to take a pencil and piece of paper. She is now doodling in hopes I will understand what blah means. This is a tried-and-true tactic with me so I was curious to see how it work with me on the receiving end of this Pictionary team.

Khun Peen drew a long triangle with five squiggly lines coming out the base. She then drew two huge eyes near the apex of the triangle. I then understood that she was drawing a squid. To ensure that my guess was indeed correct, I used my right hand to pantomime the motion of a squid with my fingers touching my thumb, moving back up, and then touching my thumb again. All the time, I was moving my arm as if to simulate the movement of a squid. Khun Peen said, “Chai” (which means “Yes” in Thai) and we were on to our next spat of mirth.

In a bid to learn a new Thai word, I said “blah” but Khun Peen shook her head. The Thai language is a tonal langauge which contains five tones. This means that the same set of Thai letters can have five different meanings all depending on the tone used by the speaker. There are rising tones, high tones, falling tones, low tones, and Tone Loc (rimshot). My version of “blah” obviously did not have the right tone so for all I know, I said “harpsichord” instead of “squid”. She repeated the word with the correct tone and I tried to match it, but my ears can’t pick out the nuances. The roles were reversed when I said the word “squid” and she tried to repeat it. Just like I can’t hear tones, she had a tough time with the final “d” and her attempt came out as “squeee”.

Linguistic lessons aside, we did not have squid that night. She went to two of the outdoor markets and both were out of blah.

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