Elephant’s Leg


A SPRITELY WAY TO GET LOST IN TRANSLATION

The Lord did there confound the ordering of Sprite of all the earth

I’m learning Thai, but my abilities remain limited, so I’d never criticise a Thai person’s attempts at English.

Still, brand names are the same in both languages, and even allowing for phonetic differences, there’s no way you can get them so spectacularly and repeatedly wrong as in the conversation below, unless there’s something spectacularly wrong with the listener. Is there?

I was at the drinks stand of a Bangkok food court. The vendor stood in front of a double glass door fridge. I appraised his wares, and the lingual fun began.

The conversation was a mix of my limited Thai and his limited English, but for simplicity’s sake I have transcribed it in English only. But even allowing for language differences, there’s no way such a simple transaction should have been anywhere near as protracted. Sprite is Sprite, whether in English or Thai, written or spoken.

Me: Sprite, please.

Him: Bottled water?

Me: No, Sprite, please.

(He reaches for a bottle of Minute Maid orange juice.)

Me: No, Sprite.

Him: No have.

Me: Yes, you have (pointing at the Sprite in the fridge).

(He reaches for the orange juice again.)

Me: No, down.

(He reaches two shelves down, passes the Sprite, and goes for the bottled water again.)

Me: No, up.

(He reaches two shelves up and goes for the orange juice again.)

Me: No!

(He looks at me as if I’m stupid.)

Me: Sprite. Suh-prite? Spuh-rite?

(He continues to just look at me.)

Me: There! (Pointing again).

(He reluctantly opens the fridge again and we begin to repeat the up-down routine.)

Me: No, up. No, down. Right. Right. No, go right! Yes! That one!

Him: (Looking at me like I’m really stupid) Oh, you want Sprite.

Me: *Sigh*

(Note: As Thai for “bottled water” is “nam plao” and “orange juice” is “nam som”, there’s no possibly way he could have confused either with “Sprite”, whether in sound or appearance!)



SOUTH PACIFIC TSUNAMI: WHY SAMOA AND TONGA NEED YOU
Ofu beach, American Samoa

Ofu beach, American Samoa

Again, a part of the world that is dear to me has been devastated by a tsunami.

Last time was the 2004 Boxing Day disaster which wreaked havoc on several Indian Ocean countries, most famously Thailand. This time the Samoan islands have borne the brunt of killer waves resonating from a huge earthquake in Indonesia – also the epicentre of the 2004 catastrophe.

Phuket was worst-hit in 2004, while Krabi also suffered extensive damage, and scenes of the damage there were poignant for me at the time, as I had only two months earlier enjoyed my first trip to Thailand, spending half of it in Krabi, a dramatically beautiful province which remains my favourite place in the kingdom.

Last week the Samoan islands – both independent Samoa and the US territory of American Samoa – were hit by a tsunami of a similar ferocity, with reports of waves of anything between three and seven metres high washing up to a mile inland, devastating the southern coastlines and in some cases destroying entire villages. Tonga, too, was hit.

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