All posts by mapalmer215

Chiang Mai take 2

By Melissa Palmer and Kate Wiley

Our second time around in Chiang Mai we had a full free day and did a few activities as a full group.

First stop of our day was the umbrella factory near the city. We were able to see the process of traditional paper umbrella making as well as learn a bit about the history of umbrellas and the art featured on them in society.

The main attraction for our group was the painting area of the factory. Outside were men and women who were willing to paint detailed and vividly colored designs onto almost any thing we would like (some even offered to paint on students yoga pants, shoes, or backpacks!). Most of the group took the time to have this done some article they had with them, often wallets, phone cases or passport holders, while other went into the shop in order to get blank canvases or umbrellas to have larger creations done.

It was amazing to watch the speed in which these artists created intricate designs on all of these objects and it was well worth the tips many students gave afterwards. That was even before they got to explore the main building where the gift shop held thousands of umbrellas and fans as well as other related trinkets for purchase. Every piece was unique which made this a truly one of a kind stop.

Silk factory

After the umbrella factory we made our way to a silk factory. We were able to see how they produce the silk from the cocoon of the silk worm. This process is similar to that of one we saw at an early village early on in the trip. They boil the silk cocoon and extract the fibers from the worm itself. The worm is then disposed of or sold for consumption. The silk is categorized into three different types, each type is used to create a different type of silk texture. These are due to whether the silk was pulled from the inner, middle or outer part of the cocoon. All three types must be bleached and dyed before they are able to be woven.

The weaving process here has been adapted from the traditional methods for higher efficiency, productivity and marketability. This specific factory receives silk from Thailand, China and Japan. The ability to make the silk products faster has resulted in a higher prevalence of silk at a higher price in Chiang Mai along with a wider selection of products available. This can impact those in smaller villages that also specialize in silk weaving because they have difficulty competing with the factories that are able to mass produce high quality items.

An fun fact that was an interactive activity at the silk factory was determining the difference between real silk and fake silk. Besides the small difference in texture the biggest difference is the smell the garment produces when they are burned. Real silk smells like burning hair when it is set on fire and fake silk smells like burning plastic when it is set on fire.

Nimman Neighborhood

This area was interesting as well as oddly familiar as it was very much a “hipster” area much like Sugarhouse or 9th & 9th in Salt Lake City. The neighborhood lies northwest of Chiang Mai’s old city section and is particularly popular with expats and younger generation locals as it is close by to multiple Chiang Mai universities.

It’s centered against Nimmanhaemin road and has many shopping opportunities and unique local eateries. We wandered around this area for a few hours, taking in the newly constructed mall (it’s architecture was very old European and featured high end shopping) as well as looking into some of the more eclectic shopping in the market. We ended this part of our day with some ice cream and a Songthaew (a shared taxi in the back of a pickup truck) ride back to the old city.

The group of us that visited the Nimman neighborhood went to the older part of the city and visited Wat Chedi Luang for the monk chats. This is a daily occurrence and the monks that are stationed there come out and talk with tourists and answer any questions they may have about Buddhism. These chats happen entirely in English, so it is a great opportunity for the monks to practice English and increase people’s knowledge of Buddhism.

Katoi Show

One of the highlights of our trip was the Katoi show near the Night Market. After a busy day, it was just the right amount of fun. The show featured many talented dancers and singers who were a part of the LGBTQ community in Chiang Mai.

The show was seemingly open to all ages as we saw other young adults, older women and men as well as children in the audience. The performances were also helpful in making the venue age friendly as they weren’t hyper sexual or raunchy, but just celebrated songs and dances and their meanings in relation to the community represented. There was one song in particular that focused on the shift of someone’s sense of self from female to male which really emphasized the Katoi shows goal of creating awareness and acceptance in the class community. Other traditional songs from drag shows often seen in the US were also featured and as many of our group were there in the front tables there direct interaction with the performers, particularly for the males in the group. This made everything even more fun and created a great connection between the audiences themselves and the performers.

Intro to Thai letters

By: Kate Wiley and Melissa Palmer

Thai, Central Thai, or Siamese is the national and official language of Thailand. It is a tonal and analytic language, spoken by over 20 million people. The language is broken up regionally into different dialects or “different kinds of Thai.” There are multiple (9) offshoot languages spoken in Southeast Asia.  Additionally there are different forms of Thai such as:

  • Street or Common is the informal version of the language
  • Elegant or Formal Thai is the official version
  • Rhetorical Thai is used for public speaking
  • Religious Thai is used for discussing Buddhism or talking to monks. Religious thai is the most original form of the language
  • Royal Thai is used when addressing members of the royal family or talking about their activities.

Most Thai people can speak and understand all of these as they are taught in schools, but street and elegant Thai are the basis for all conversations. Finally there are two distinctions of Thai, old vs. new. This is due to the significant evolution of pronunciations.

The Thai Writing System:

The Thai writing system has been around since 1283, well before the existence of modern Thailand. At this point in history, the geographic area was inhabited by large numbers of kingdoms, however the largest kingdom was the Sukhothai Kingdom. This group was ruled by a man named Ram Khamhaeng who is generally credited with the creation of Thai script, that is the written form of the Thai language. Interestingly, he also was the king that established Buddhism as the state religion, which is still practiced by 95% of Thai’s today.

Due to this focus he had on both religion and language, it is guessed that this influenced the choices made regarding the creation of the alphabet and similar linguistic aspects. Thai seems to have drawn heavily from both Sanskrit and Pali, languages of early Buddhist texts, borrowing words and using special letters/characters for exclusively borrowed Pali words.

Image result for ramkhamhaeng

These special characters used for loaned Pali words means that in the Thai language there are multiple pairs of duplicate letters that make identical sounds (one for Pali influences and the other Thai), however these used to make different sounds before time passed and the pronunciation of Pali morphed to be more identical to the sounds made when speaking Thai. Currently, due to this change in pronunciation, the Thai alphabet has 42 consonant letters, but only 21 unique sounds.

Features of the Thai script:

The Thai alphabet is notoriously difficult for English speakers to learn, partially due to the large amount of characters. As mentioned, the language has 42 consonants, but there are an additional 32 vowels and 4 tone marks which can affect the the tone of any syllable. These tone marks are especially notable because historians believe Thai to be the first written language to use these marks in order to indicate tone differences.

Consonant letters are grouped into three different classes (low, middle, and high class) while vowels are grouped into two categories based on their length (long vs short). The class and length determine the sound and tone that is used and therefore the meaning of the overall word.

Image result for chart of the thai alphabet

Additionally, there are five tones in the language: low, middle, high, rising, falling. These tones describe the pitch of a syllable as they are pronounced by the speaker. The mid-tone is a nearly constant pitch at the middle of a vocal range for the whole syllable and is the hardest for English speakers. Below that is the low tone which begins just before the mid-tone and lowers as it progresses, while just above the mid-tone is the high tone, which rises as it progresses. An example of the high-tone is short interjections in English, like “huh?”.

Rising and falling tones are slightly different, as rising tones start just below the mid tone and rises to a high pitch at the end. This is similar to an exaggeration of when English speakers have a lilt at the end of a sentence when asking a question. Falling, on the other hand, starts above the mid-level and then drops to a lower pitch at the end, like when a speaker yells “Hey!” to get someone’s attention.

However, there are no irregularities in the Thai written language so once a letter’s sound is learned it can be used in any word, anywhere as it does not depend on the surrounding letters. The only example otherwise is that some letters will make a new sound when they are put at the beginning of the word vs the end and vise versa. This is generally most of the middle class consonants.

The Thai language is complex but also very predictable once the basics are learnt. For help, YouTube is a great resource and remember to watch your tone when speaking to others.  You never know what you’ll end up saying!

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