One thing I have grown to love about Thailand is the poetic way their language sounds and the meanings behind their words. The language is tonal, meaning that one sound such as ma can have 5 different tones, low, mid, high, falling, and rising. These 5 tones dictate the meaning of the word. So a simple ma, depending on the tone, could mean dog, come, or horse (unfortunately, I don’t know the other two meanings).
Thai also has a beautiful way of phrasing. For example, the word for ‘kind’ is jai dee, which literally translates to ‘good heart’. And when they talk about the mind, as in ‘peace of mind’ or ‘good mind’ they refer to the heart, tapping their fingers to the left side of their chest solidifying their words.
Thai culture for me resonates in the heart as the basis for all things; to be kind, careful, considerate, and humble is called kreng jai. Kreng jai literally translates to ‘awe heart’. To be filled with respect and honor for all people and that feeling opens space for humble and considerate respect for others.
This feeling of kreng jai then paves the way for mai pen rai, the Thai philosophy. It means no worries, never mind, no problem, it’s okay, etc. Or more poetically, ‘bend with the wind, like a bamboo tree‘. It permeates the culture, from time management, to work ethic, to spilled milk, and even to things that really are a problem (like the time I had a sewage leak in my house and all the landlords could say was mai pen rai). The people are kind and happy and smiling; even the name of the province where I live, which also holds the first capital city, Sukhothai, means ‘dawn of happiness’.
Most recently I learned the term for honey, nam peung literally translating to ‘water of bees’. It is by far my favorite Thai vocabulary word and if I ever wrote a book about my experience here, that would be the title. The time here has been filled with sweet people, learning to move slowly and purposefully, yet filled with little stingers of cultural dysfunctions, causing little annoyances and disruptions in my cultural perspective.
All in all, I will greatly miss this lilting, soft spoken nasal language when I leave. I will miss talking in broken Thai-English with the people I have come to call family.