Saturday, November 30, 2013

Traveling to Chiang Mai and Observation on the Usage of Northern Thai Language

Here I'm having some authentic "khao soy" (noodle curry)-- a dish originating from Northern Thailand. 

This entry is a part of my Thailand and Laos summer trip in 2013.

Transportation thither

Chiangmai, Northern Thailand was amazing. It took me about 12 hours to ride a first-class bus from Chonburi province (not too far from Bangkok) to the northern province. The ride costed me about ฿700 (about $22).

The bus made me feel as if I were on an airplane. There was a bus stewardess who was beautifully dressed up like a flight attendant. The seats remarkably resembled those from an airplane. Meals were provided.

Transportation within Chiangmai
Public transportation in Chiangmai was distinctive from that of Bangkok. While there were tuk tuk and songtaew, there were no "motorcycle taxis" (มอเตอร์ไซค์รับจ้อง) nor buses.

Their songtaews, red in color, function differently from those from Bangkok and nearby provinces. In Bangkok, songtaews run on their designated streets--they function like buses wherein one must know which line to take in order to go wherever he/she wants. In Chiangmai, however, songtaews are practically similar to taxis. In particular, passengers have to inform the drivers of their destinations. Their songtaews can be ridden in two ways: sharing the service with other passengers or have the whole songtaew all by yourself. The latter choice is more expensive than the former.

Speaking Northern Thai is very useful. The first and the most important thing which I learned from riding my first Northern Thai songtaew was that if one does not speak the local language, he/she will likely be charged with a non-local price. My first ride costed me ฿40 (about $1.25), which I was informed thereafter that I had been severely ripped off. Before riding a songtaew for the second time, I made sure that I would be charged with the local price--฿20 (about $0.62). (Bear in mind that price varies according to the distance as well) Yes, I am quite aware that I seem very cheap right now, but it always comforts me more the idea of NOT getting ripped off than the idea of paying the cheapest price possible ($1.25 is cheap for Americans; it costs $1.50 in Los Angeles to ride buses).

There are at least two ways in which one can receive the local price: speak Northern Thai with no foreign accent (not even a Standard Thai accent), or directly request for a local price. Alas the former is not an easy option; so, I suggest the latter. I personally would always choose the latter, for fear that they notice my non-native-like Northern Thai pronunciation. Here is how my mother would do it: she would do it dramatically (I really admire her for possessing such ability):

songtaew: (in Northern Thai) where to ma'am?

my mother: (in Standard Thai) to Night Bazaar, please. How much will that be?

songtaew: (switches to Standard Thai) All right ma'am. That will be ฿40. That alright with you?

my mother: (looks at the driver incredulously and raises her right hand to her forehead abruptly, both eyes widely open as if she has never been this surprised before in her entire life) Huuh..Wh-what?! I thought it was only ฿20! OMG how could this be?! Impossible! (raises the amplitude in her voice a little more) Has the price changed?! This is extremely bizarre!!! All other songtaews I've been on have only charged me ฿20! Does yours come with a special service?! I just---

songtaew: OK ma'am. It's ฿20 for you.

my mother: Oh ok (gets on the songtaew).

If you are not as brave as my mother, I suggest you only ask them this: "excuse me, sir/ma'am, I thought it was only ฿20. Why does yours cost ฿20 more than the others?" And hopefully this will suffice.

Northern Thai language

People here natively speak Northern Thai, or Kam Mueang, which is another Tai language with which up until now I have been obsessed. Northern Thai is euphonious.Their six tonal system (cf. five tonal system in Standard Thai) is utterly pleasant to my ears. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my Northern Thai.

Prior to my arrival, I had been informed by many that the Northern Thai language was slowly dying. In particular, many had informed me that it was not being passed onto the younger generations. However, this did not seem to be completely true. Based on my observations, the language indeed is slowly dying, but it is dying very slowly. Young Northerners do seem to use Northern Thai regularly. Although many would speak Standard Thai to non-Northerners, many teenagers seemed to choose to converse in Northern Thai among themselves. In some cases, younger people in convenient stores even code-switched with me in Standard Thai/Northern Thai. Older speakers (from 40 and up) were more conservative. In particular, they were usually the ones that would speak Northern Thai, even to non-Northerners. Outsiders would speak Standard Thai to them, and they would respond in Northern Thai and would use Standard Thai words whenever there was any confusion.

Northern Thai script--Tai Tham script--seemed to be highly revered. Northern Thai writings, along with Standard Thai writings, could be seen on various signs on Temple entrances. A few stores also had beautiful Northern Thai signs.

Books in Northern Thai

Books written in Northern Thai can be purchased at a terrific bookstore called "Suriwong Book Centre". On the second floor of the store, there is a small section wherein there are Northern Thai books--written in Northern Thai script. There are also some books written in Shan and Tai Lue. I completely love this place! I spent quite a long time in there, happily browsing through the books. I was really happy to have discovered such a place. Consequently, I ended up purchasing nearly 10 books in Northern Thai. Sadly, although I had longed to buy all Northern Thai books in the store, I could not buy every book because I was afraid of running out of money. The next time I go there, I will certainly buy more Northern Thai books. I also hope that the next time I return, there will be more Northern Thai books; hopefully the Northern Thai section continues to expand.

Here are some of the purchased books from there:

More pictures:
I had a chance to try Shan khao feun (tho phu) for the first time! Super delicious!

Me at Wat Doi Suthep (Suthep hill temple)

Me clad in a Northern Thai attire (khian hua (turban), suea mueang (shirt), khian ew (waistcloth), and sa-dauw (fisherman pants). 

I had an opportunity to try some exotic beans/nuts. The left ones are good.
Me clad in a Hmong outfit on Doi Pui (Pui Hill), Hmong village.


Tim Cocking said...

I'm curious what you mean by northern Thai script. I live in Chiang Mai and I don't know what it is. I must have seen it around and just thought of it as a particular font. Or is it similar to the Lao scrip? If it is that then I always have just figured it was Lao which I'm able to read now moderately OK. I love this post and the next one on khw/f. I have asked my teacher repeatedly about regional accents (not just swapped tones or different words but vowel shifts etc.) and she seems to have no idea what I'm talking about.

Alif Silpachai said...

Hi Tim. Thank you for reading and commenting on my blog entries. The script albeit related Lao is closer to Burmese/Mon script. The script is known as "tua muang" (ตั๋วเมือง) in Northern Thailand. In English it is often called "Tai Tham". You should google it for more info. There are different versions of Lao script. The Lao script that is similar to N. Thai script is called Lao Tham (or tua tham or aksorn tham Lao), which is mainly used in temples. Since I don't know your teacher, I don't know why she's clueless. But a possible explanation would be that Thailand has a monolingual policy whereby only one form of Thai,ie. Standard Thai, is recognized and taught in schools. So, people aren't educated on other varieties of Thai.

luke perry said...

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