duck-shaped pain


6 August 2001
Three Oh Oh

I've been a very bad journaler these past few days, not paying any attention to this here thing or even to the Internet at all.

Why? Because I've been -- gasp -- studying.

Just me and Thai for Beginners, sitting on the floor, speaking and practicing and speaking some more.

Sentences that no one would ever really say in real life.

"Is this a watch or a pen?" Who would be confused over that?

"Is this a book? Why, it is a book! Are those things over there also books?" Some sentences you don't want to hear coming out of the mouths of anyone you bring home for the night.

Essentially, I'm in the How To Point At Things And Ask What They Are part of the book. I have a feeling "What are these?" will be an essential part of my traveling repertoire. Along with "Excuse me" and "Where is the toilet?" Other phrases I learned during my trip to Japan and in later Japanese classes have faded from memory, but those two I remember clearly, [1] usually when I'm trying to recall a phone number or something I needed to do at work.

My language tape blares out the window, interrupting the Drunken Horseshoes next door, and their oppressive Dave Matthews fun time CD listening. It's partially by choice (how many times have they annoyed me), partially because I have no choice -- the speakers are so close to the window that anyone outside can hear what's playing inside.

I'm glad, though, that they can't hear everything going on inside, or they would think someone mentally challenged lived there, someone whose idea of a fun Saturday evening was to sit in their office alone, saying "What is this? What is that? Is there one of those?" over and over again, trying to get a grasp on a language that seems to have roughly 4,000 different vowels.

But, I keep telling myself that it will be worth it when I get to Thailand. Extra effort here will make things go smoother, help lessen the chances that I get on the wrong bus or eat crickets for dinner. Learning to speak some of the language and to identify the characters in the language (maybe, if I try hard enough, some individual words) will hopefully keep me from becoming one of those people whose solution to the problem of a puzzled-looking native is to speak English to them EVEN LOUDER. I hope, I hope, I hope beyond hope not to become one of them.

So I trace characters in my book and then write them in my notebook. They look so graceful on the paper, but a smooth, curving line is transformed into something that looks like a sideways turkey head when I try my hand at it. Which is not improved when I add the thing that looks like a half-consumed lollipop next to it. The lollipop is a vowel. If I give it a longer stick, it becomes another vowel entirely.

I'm also trying to do a lot of background reading. There's not a lot of books or information about Thailand at any of the libraries in town, so I do what I can. Right now: Thailand: A Short History, by David Wyatt ("short" my ass); Buddhism: A History by Noble Ross Reat (only book in the combined collections of the public library, the college library and Big Chain Bookstore [2] that made more than a passing mention of Theravada Buddhism), The Lands of Charm and Cruelty: Travels in Southeast Asia, by Stan Sesser (not actually about Thailand, but interesting discussions of the countries that surround it and the region in general), Touch the Dragon by Karen Connelly (a young woman's journal of her life as a foreign exchange student in Thailand -- thanks, A.!), and Borderlands: Travels in Thailand and Burma by some guy (some writer gets sidetracked during his trip, and nuttiness ensues).

Bad, Bad Thing That Made Me Feel Icky And That I Want To Get Out of My Head: There's this miniature-quilt show that takes place every summer at Big Chain Bookstore. Local women (I'm sure it's open to men, but every piece ends up being done by Ann or Mary Someone-or-Other) make little quilts (few of which would cover the average-sized lap) and put them on display, presumably for some good cause somewhere.

Some pieces are traditional quilt patterns, some seem have been assembles by chance and/or whim, others have pastoral scenes and landscapes on them.

One just took things much too far, for it depicted, floating over what looked to be the Grand Valley, the disembodied head of Oprah. Assembled out of plaids and calicos. With a big open-mouthed smile. The sun was rising out of her head. She was looking down on the plebes in the valley, presumably making them bask in her womanly wisdom or something.

It was just freakish. Other people seemed to agree with me for once, as it made all who walked by just stop whatever they were doing and stare at the thing.

Oh yeah, this is my 300th entry. Whee. I don't think they make cards for this sort of occasion.

I thought briefly about doing a "here's what I was doing last year" kind of thing, but Drewd beat me to it. Ah well.

[1] Respectively, Sumimasen and Toire wa doko desu ka?

[2] Being that the libraries here are fairly underfunded and small (and because few people have borrowing privileges at the college library, I notice that Big Chain Bookstore tends to end up being used as a kind of quasi-library by a lot of people. It may not have as many books as the library, but it actually has ones published in the last five years. The disadvantages here are obvious: you have to be really, really nice to the books, at least the ones you aren't going to read, no tables to work at, scathing stares from the staff when you come too often. Some advantages, though: no book jackets, nicer restrooms, books with swearing in them.

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