Friday, June 5, 2009

Signs and wonders

Ok... I'm sitting here at the coffee shop and just happened to look over at some folks across the street. This man appears to be doing some elaborate kind of fortune telling ritual for some girls. First he was stiring a bowl of something with the end of a lit candle, then he tipped the candle over to pour wax into the bowl. Now he's consulting a piece of paper, and the women are staring at him with rapt attention. Anyway...

A couple of weeks ago I went to Ban Phe in search of sun & surf. What I got was a fair amount of clouds and an afternoon storm. I waited out the rain in a cafe then just wandered around taking pictures of this and that. I know a few people who read my blog are into graphic arts and fonts and languages etc. so I thought you might enjoy a peek at the Thai language.

When I first got to Thailand, I lost about 50 IQ points right off the plane. Obviously I can't read this sign, but for the longest time I would just not even absorb any meaning from it either. Now at least I'm not so overwhelmed by the text. I can pick out a letter here and there, but more importantly I can see that it's food... seafood, and there's a fair bet that the building it's hanging from is a seafood restaurant.

This is a slightly fancy version of the script. It's not really any different, just the sharp angles are sharper, the squiggly bits are squigglier. It's pretty easy for me to identify the letters I know in this font.

This sign shows off two different fonts. The first line, in red and the yellow text in the arrow, are in the main font - the one I see on flash cards and in "learn Thai" books. The next line down, in blue is like a looser interpretation of the font. A lot the little curves and squiggles are flattened out a bit. It's a slightly westernized font. Obviously, if you can read Thai you know what the letters are... but I have a hard time matching the letters in this font to the few letters I know in the main font. For example the first letter in red is Roh, and it's also the first letter in the second word in blue... the one that looks like an "S". So, it looks like a western "S" but it's pronounced like an "R". This confuses the shit out of me when I'm trying to read!

Bilingual signs like these are actually helping me learn to read. I can now read the word Ban Phe if I have the time to sound out each letter (not yet able to read it on songthaew signs as they drive past). Bangkok is a bit trickier because the Thai call the city Krungthep and thus it's not a direct transliteration on the sign. But again, if I take a minute to sound it out I can read it.

But it's always so funny. For the longest time I'd just see the Pepsi sign and only notice the logo - not really look at the letters and then one day I tried sounding out what it said... "ok, the boxy looking ones are /bp/ sounds, the letter at the end is an /s/ we've got /bpbps/" they put vowels before, after, above and below the consonants (and there are something like 40 vowels - I can identify 2) so I usually just guess... OH! "Pepsi." Then I crack myself up and feel simultaneously triumphant and retarded for the next ten minutes.

And finally, another slightly different font. One of the other features of Thai is that they just kind of run the words together. So that's not just one big word at the top of the sign. If I start half way through I can see where it says "Koh Samed" but I can't quite sound out the part in front of it yet.

But mostly I wanted to include this one because it's a map of my little island. I usually hang out about 1/4 of the way down on the right side of the island.


Kaye said...

Maybe wax into water? And whatever the shape determines what kind of man you'll marry? That's what I've always seen that one. But maybe it's a bit squigglier in Thailand. :-)

Melissa said...

Interesting. Thinking about how many fonts there are in English, it must be insane to try and recognize a foreign language in many different fonts--especially a non-western foreign language!

That reminds me of something my friend the teacher said a while back. She said she was glad that I put the letters of Alice's name that hang on her wall in lower case because capital letters are confusing for kids learning to read. Kids tend to learn capital letters first, but then they see English text, which is 90% lower case and have a hard time.

d said...

yay. foreign font porn.

Stuart said...

Great post! I just found it randomly and you summed up the feeling I get all the time in Thailand. (I am from the US, but have lived in Bangkok for 6 years.) I walk around every day and try to read signs, and always laugh at myself when I struggle to sound out an English word written in Thai letters like Pepsi. "condo", "air" (conditioner), "Toyota" and many others show up all the time.

I just wanted to say that the first word on that last Koh Samed sign is "pan-tee" meaning "map" :)

Anonymous said...

The bilingual signs are so helpful for learning the alphabet. The Korean alphabet is MUCH easier...but not as pretty

Anonymous said...

The bilingual signs are so helpful for learning the alphabet. The Korean alphabet is MUCH easier...but not as pretty

Rebel said...

K - I prefer my men on the not so waxy or squiggly side.

Melissa - it's ture... and that's the one saving grace of Thai, there is no upper/lower case distinction to be made.

d - whatever floats your boat =P

Stuart - Sawatdee ka! Welcome to my blog and thanks for teaching me a new word! =)

Cate - that's good to know - Korea's still in the back of my mind as a place to teach.

Batty said...

Great pictures!

Reminds me of the time Morgana changed the font on Mr. Batty's computer to Tamil... took him 3 weeks to fix it!

Sarah Nopp said...

"simultaneously triumphant and retarded" I love that