Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Which I Begin Learning Thai

Today I went to the local Thai temple for my first Thai language lesson! 

Boy, have I got my work cut out for me.

Our teacher (who is amazing, by the way) is a firm believer in learning how to write the Thai language before learning how to speak it.  This is because the Thai alphabet is entirely different from the English alphabet, so if you want to learn a word correctly you have to know the Thai spelling.  She put me to work learning the first eleven consonants this week.  There are forty-four in the Thai alphabet, and once I have those down it will be time to move on to the vowels. 

I was super nervous going up to the temple because I knew absolutely no one, was coming unannounced, I'm Episcopalian (which is sort of a far-cry from Buddhism), I don't know any of the Thai cultural traditions and I was afraid I would screw something up in a big way and get kicked out.  Luckily everyone was extremely nice and I didn't have any problem finding the classroom.  It's only me and three other students-- only one of which is apparently a regular.  This means we get a whole lot of individual attention, which is fantastic.  The temple and the grounds themselves are gorgeous; it looks like somebody picked up a chunk of Thailand and transplanted it onto a small, out-of-the-way street in Washington state.

It's going to be a very slow process, but I think it will ultimately be a valuable one because it will give me a strong connection to Ellen.  I could start off learning a bunch of phrases (and I'm sure I probably will memorize some before I go over, as phrases like "Where's the bathroom?" will probably be pretty important) but I'd really like to learn the language well, and that means not skipping the basics.  I hope that in the future once Ellen's adoption is finalized we'll take some family trips to Thailand, and we shouldn't have to rely on her to translate for us.  Jeremy will be coming to lessons too when Connor isn't sick, so we'll be able to study together.

I'm also excited because with the exception of the Thai language class (everyone there was either half-Thai, married to a Thai person, or wanted to be married to a Thai person-- which is a whole other story I'm not going to go into here) almost everyone at the temple was Thai.  The services were in Thai (though I didn't see those as the language lessons go on during the services), the building and grounds are maintained in the Thai fashion, and this will be a perfect place for us to learn Thai customs and etiquette so we don't make any huge mistakes when we go over.  It should also be a great place for me to adjust my palate to Thai food; everyone brings a large amount of food to the temple and after the monks eat they have sort of a potluck.  Everyone who attends the services brings blankets and sits on the floor of the temple with their families, and the language class sits together downstairs at a large table.  I'm not sure what everything was that I tried, but it was all very, very good and very, very spicy.

They also have Thai dancing classes that go on in the room next door to the classes.  It was really cute to watch the kids hopping around, and we know that Ellen enjoys Thai dancing so that may be something she wants to pursue.  Apparently they perform at many of the festivals during the year.  There were even several children around her age who had been adopted!  I think it will be a great resource for us in the future.  They invited me to bring the whole family to the Songkran celebration (the traditional Thai new year) next month, and I'm pretty sure we're going to go!

Connor had a much better day today; he only had one seizure and his temperature was normal.  I think he's close to over this bug, which is a very good thing!  He spent most of the day hanging out with his daddy while I made oxtail soup.  Making oxtail soup is sort of an all-day process.

I first encountered oxtail soup as a teenager on a trip to Italy, and every once in a while I try and reproduce it.  I haven't ever been quite able to capture the proper flavor, but that doesn't keep me from trying!  It's not all that difficult to make, but it takes about six hours from start to finish so it's something for a day where there's not a whole lot else going on.  The kind I make usually ends up being a really rich, thick meaty sort of stew, and if it doesn't taste quite like the type I remember from Italy that doesn't mean it isn't still pretty good! 

So overall it was a pretty great day!  I learned how to actually pronounce my daughter's name and where she's staying, I learned eleven letters of the alphabet, how to say "hello" and "thank you," and the word for "spicy."  While I don't think I'll be reading War and Peace in Thai any time soon, it's a start!



rbn said...

When I lived in Thailand, I found that having a basic understanding of the alphabet (and the rules for the different tones) greatly helped my speaking ability. I never was able to read more than very, very simple phrases (mostly menus), but having a grounding in the written language helped me understand the sounds and remember words better. I also think "not spicy, please" was one of my first phrases....

Julia O'C said...

"Hello, thank you spicy Ellen!" "Ellen, spicy hello, thank you!"
"Spicy thank you, Ellen! Hello? Hello!"
These words will take you far in any culture. I can tell. I know these things.

[Studying for an anatomy exam: it's made me kind of loopy. Hello!]

Am DYING to here the "wants to marry a Thai person" story. I'm guessing that hello! It's spicy!
(Or at the very least, amusing. Yes. That.")

Oh, and a spicy thank you for Connor for only having one seizure. Hello? That's certainly an improvement.

Julia O'C said...

Correction: Am dying to HEAR the ...yikes. I really need some sleep.

Also: It's also incredibly cool that you have this great resource for not only learning more about your daughter's culture, but keeping her in touch with it herself.

Julia said...

How exciting! I love learning languages. When I was young, I was determined to learn lots of them. Didn't happen. But it's still a romantic dream of mine. And I *love* Thai food! There's a really simple soup that we make sometimes (copied it from a restaurant in Buffalo), basically just broth with thinly sliced mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro. Might be a nice change of pace after a six hour oxtail soup marathon.

Coley said...

I'm totally impressed that you're trying to learn Thai!! Good luck!

Jeska said...

Wow! You are so lucky to have that resource in your community. I've tried to learn some Thai from a book/cd and uh-hum... didn't do so well. How great you can talk with a real live person.

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