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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.

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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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Sources:

http://omniglot.com/writing/thai.htm

http://bencrowder.net/blog/2015/thai-consonants-chart/

http://civilization.wikia.com/wiki/Ramkhamhaeng_(Civ5)

https://pocket-thai.com

Vesak/Visakha Bucha Day

By: Emily Moyer and Kylie Harrison

Vesak day (also known as Buddha Purnima or Buddha Day) is a national holiday observed in many Buddhist and Hindu countries, including Thailand. It is considered to be the most significant Buddhist holiday because it commemorates the three defining events in the life of Buddha- the birth, the enlightenment, and the passing away (“Buddhist Lent Day”, n.d). Buddha was born during the 6th century B.C and attained enlightenment at the age of 35, providing the tenets of Buddhism which he taught until his death at the age of 80 (“Buddha”, 2018) Buddhists believe he entered Nirvana, escaping all suffering and reincarnation (“Visakha Bucha Day 2018 and 2019”, n.d). All three defining moments land on the same month and date, known as the Vesak Full Moon day. Continue reading Vesak/Visakha Bucha Day

Elephants in Thailand

By Taylor Fleming and Brittney Cook

Elephants in Thai Culture:

Elephants have played a prevalent role in the Thai society and culture since ancient times. Historically, elephants have been used as warriors in battle, laborers to the logging industry, and as religious icons (Lin, 2012). Thailand is a predominantly buddhist country and according to Buddhist legend, the birth of the Buddha was linked to a white elephant visiting Queen Maya (Cavanagh, 2008). White elephants, while commonly mistaken to be albino, are pink in appearance. They are not a separate species, but are rare (Iverson, 2017).

Due to the religious symbolism of white elephants in Thailand, the animal is of royal status and all white elephants in Thailand belong to the king by law (Cavanagh, 2008). The western game of the white elephant gift exchange is rooted in the history of white elephants in Southeast Asia. Historically, monarchs of Thailand could gift white elephants to friends and noblemen. However, because of the animal’s sacred status, white elephants cannot be used for any practical work. Due to the extensive cost of caring for an elephant, the recipient could easily go into bankruptcy if they were not extremely wealthy. For this reason, sometimes elephants were given as gifts to enemies of the monarch to cause financial ruin (Iverson, 2017).

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Elephants in Thai Industry:

With the end of the Siam era in Thailand, elephants’ role shifted from warrior to laborer as a key part of the Thai logging industry. However, logging became illegal in 1989 due to extensive deforestation and mass landslides. After this time, elephants and their caretakers “mahouts” either continued to work in the logging industry illegally, or began to use their elephants for tourism. The ending of elephants’ work in logging put 70% of Thai elephants out of work and triggered an annual elephant population decrease of 3% (Lin 2012). In 1850 the Thai elephant population was around 100,000. Today, It is estimated that the current domestic Thai elephant population is about 2,700 with the addition 2,000-3,000 wild elephants (Thai Elephant Conservation Center, 2017).

While the elephant population is now considered stable, they are still at risk of exploitation, abuse, and poaching. Many people want to free these animals from all work and abuse with the hopes of preserving the Thai elephant population. One solution that has been suggested is ecotourism: promoting responsible tourism to areas of ecological conservation as a means of local industry (Lin, 2012). Many believe this can solve abuse situations and prevent this species from becoming endangered and potentially save these “domestic giants”.

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Conservation Efforts:

According to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, there are many misconceptions that the elephants in captivity are mistreated. However, the elephant is very significant to Thai culture and “most Thai elephants are very well cared for, partly because most Thai people are intrinsically kind and humane but also because elephants are simply too valuable to abuse” (Thai Elephant Conservation Center, 2017). Without tourism and people visiting these elephant sanctuaries, the means to provide adequate care for the elephants would not be possible. Visiting elephant sanctuaries and taking the opportunity to learn about elephants and their significance in the Thai culture promotes resources to care for domesticated elephants and educate visitors about their rich history. Ecotourism of this kind can positively impact the lives of domesticated Thai elephants and conserve their population (Lin, 2012).

References

Cavanagh, R (2008, May 27). The Elephant in Thailand. Retrieved May 10, 2018 from https://www.thaizer.com/culture-shock/the-elephant-in-thailand/

Iverson, K. (2017, March 31). How the Elephant Became Thailand’s National Symbol. Retrieved May 10, 2018, from https://theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/how-the-elephant-became-thailands-national-symbol/

Lin, T. C. (2012). Cross-Platform Framing and Cross-Cultural Adaptation: Examining Elephant Conservation in Thailand. Environmental Communication, 6(2), 193-211. doi:10.1080/17524032.2012.662162

Thai Elephant Conservation Center – Conservation – Thailand’s Elephants. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.thailandelephant.org/en/thaielephant.html

Gender in Thailand

Mikayla Viny, Ava Binder

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The transgender community in Thailand varies greatly from that in the United States. In Thailand, they recognize a third gender, which is termed “Kathoey”. This term was originally used to describe gays or feminine males, but now it is widely used to specifically describe male-to-female (MTF) transgender people. Over the past decade, Kathoey has been recognized constitutionally in hopes that introducing an additional gender identity will help reduce discrimination throughout the country of Thailand. While there has been a raise in awareness about this topic, people in Thailand who identify as Kathoey still face many societal barriers that many transgender people in the United States also encounter on a normal basis.

In Thailand, there is an impression that the Kathoey are pretty well accepted. They are seen everywhere and seem to live just like anyone else in the society. Unlike the United States, there is not a lot of violence against the transgender community there. However, the Kathoey do have a difficult time when it comes to the professional workplace. “First of all in Thailand, we’re pretty well-accepted, we can walk in the street and we don’t have to fear that someone’s going to shoot you in the head. At the same time, the most difficult thing is at a professional level, that people don’t accept people like us,” said Jenisa Limpanilchart, a businessperson in Thailand, to CNN. No matter their educational level, background, or experience, many companies do not want to hire them and there is no legal procedure in place that deals with how to handle this type of discrimination. These type of issues also occur regularly in the US.

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Since 2015, there has been a lot of discussion about the third gender in Thailand in relation to political and social issues. The biggest controversy with this is Thailand’s army draft. Every year, Thai men who are 21 years old must either volunteer themselves to serve in Thailand’s army for six months or take their chances in a lottery. This lottery is when a man either gets a black ticket which allows them to go home, and if they get a red ticket, it means that they must serve for at least two years. This draft is particularly troublesome for transgender people because some kathoey believe that since they were born male, is it their duty to be a Thai soldier. Furthermore, people who identify as kathoey are put at risk of stress and humiliation during the draft itself. It becomes an issue of human rights more than anything else. Many transgender women who are drafted fear that they will be undressed, stared at, and publicly embarrassed, making the whole process far more difficult. As for the army draft, exemptions can be made under certain circumstances. These include when someone is physically or mentally incapable of serving in the army, or for transgender women, if they can prove that they are not identifying as female to be exempt from serving in Thailand’s army. This further explains how even though kathoey in Thailand are widely acknowledged, they still face typical transphobia and discrimination on a regular basis.

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While it does seem as if the Kathoey in Thailand are much more widely accepted than the transgender community in the United States, that is not always the case. While the Kathoey still live as normal members of the society and are tolerated, they face a fair amount of discrimination. It is difficult for them to get hired by companies, and even if they do get hired they still face many challenges in the workplace. On top of that, there are issues with the army draft system in Thailand. Some citizens believe that since the Kathoey were born male they should be forced to participate in the draft, but others believe that this causes too much humiliation and they should not be forced to potentially serve in the army. These are similar issues to the ones that the transgender community faces in the US.  Certainly none of these issues of discrimination are going to be solved overnight, but steps are being taken to do so, such as the push to include a third gender in the Thailand constitution and government documents.

Sources:

Lefevre, A. (2016). Thailand Makes HUGE Move For Its LGBT Community. Retrieved 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/15/thailand-third-gender-_n_6476582.html

Park, M., & Dhitavat, K. (2015). Thailand’s new constitution may recognize third gender. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2015/01/16/world/third-gender-thailand/index.html

Reuters. (2017). Nightmare looms for transgender women at Thailand’s army draft. Retrieved 2018, from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/nightmare-looms-transgender-women-thailand-s-army-draft-n743921

Szreder, J. (2017). Ladyboys: The third gender in Thailand. Retrieved from https://www.theblondtravels.com/ladyboys-third-gender-thailand/
Winter, S. (2010). Why are there so many kathoey in Thailand? Retrieved 2018, from http://www.transgenderasia.org/paper_why_are_there_so_many_kathoey.htm

 

Thai Massages

The techniques of healing-massage practiced in Thailand have evolved since the earliest roots of Thai massage, which coincidentally lie not in Thailand but in India. Jivaka Kumar Bhaccha was a contemporary of the Buddha and personal physician to the Magadha King Bimbisara over 2,500 years ago. This doctor from northern India is believed to be the founder of the art of Thai massage. He is also referred to as the “Father Doctor” and the Thai healers practice the ethics of giving thanks to the Father Doctor before and after massage. His teachings probably reached what is now Thailand as early as the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., which is around the same time as when Buddhism was introduced to Thailand.

Researchers report that Thai medicine is believed to have “Rural” and “Royal” Traditions. The rural traditions seem non-scholarly and rely on informal methods of education. The “Rural” tradition of healing seems to be passed down through generations with some secret code transmitted orally from the teacher to students. The “Royal” tradition of Thai medicine is believed to be developed at the royal court and shows influence from India, China, and the Muslim world. It seems to have a great influence from the Auravedic tradition from India.

It is very clear that the tradition of Thai massage was never seen merely as a job when looking back on its history. It was always considered to be a spiritual practice closely connected to the teachings of the Buddha. Massage was taught and practiced in the Buddhist temple until fairly recently; the establishment of legitimate massage facilities outside of the temples is a recent development.

“Metta” is the Pali (and Thai) word used in Theravada Buddhism to denote “loving kindness”. The giving of massage was understood to be a physical application of Metta and devoted masseurs still work in such a spirit today. A truly good masseur performs his art in a meditative mood. He starts with a Puja, a meditative prayer, to fully center himself on the work and the healing he is about to perform. He works with full awareness, mindfulness, and concentration. A massage performed in a meditative mood and a massage just done as a job are completely different. Only a masseur working in a meditative mood can develop an intuition for the energy flow in the body and for the Prana lines.

The limits of Western style medicine became apparent, bringing about a revival of interest in alternative health care in the West and to a certain extent also in Thailand and other countries of the East. Suddenly, in the late 1980s, Westerners discovered Thai massage in their search of traditional ways of treatment. Many people, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, masseurs, and yoga/meditation therapists, came to Thailand to supplement their knowledge with a training in traditional Thai massage. Additionally, people in thailand seemed to realize that for certain ailments like asthma, constipation, or frozen shoulders along with recovery after a heart attack or to regain mobility of the limbs after a stroke, Thai massage treatment is far superior to conventional medicine and therapy.

Furthermore, Thai massage differs from other massages because it focuses on major pathways of energy lines in the body called Sen lines. Thai culture teaches that if an energy line is blocked it will damage one’s mental and/or physical health. Below are pictures of Sen lines in the body, where energy is found. There are thousands of Sen lines in the body, and a few major lines. In order to unblock Sen lines, deep massaging and stretching techniques are applied to the troubled areas. The stretching done in Thai massage looks very similar to yoga. Traditionally, therapists have worked on unblocking Sen Lines with their thumbs because they are precise and can find Sen lines very easily. However, thumb injuries are very common when used too often so modern culture has adapted to use other parts of the body to massage as well. Thai massage therapists now commonly use the palms of their hands, elbows, and forearms because it is sustainable for a long period of time.

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Sen lines do not have a universal location on all bodies so Thai massage therapists have to locate the energy lines in the body for every person before working to their unblock energy lines. Thai massage is said to have major health benefits as a result of Sen lines being unblocked.

Working on Sen lines in the body through Thai massage is meant to speed up the healing of the body. Many health benefits of Thai massages include alleviation of muscle pains and fatigue, and mental and physical relaxation. Muscles that are in pain can be relaxed and stretched out by Thai massage stretches in combination with slight kneading. Stretching and massaging muscles at the same time also makes muscles more flexible and increases joint movement. Joint movement is increased because fluids are released into them through the unblocking of lymph nodes and spinal fluid throughout the body. A larger amount of fluid in the joints allows for more comfortable and swift movements. When Sen lines are unblocked this also creates increased blood circulation throughout the body. Blood circulation allows the body to become healthier and more immune to diseases because toxins can be released more quickly . Thai massages aid in relaxing the mind and increasing overall energy, and aids regular sleeping patterns. The Sen lines used in Thai Massage to target an individual’s energy are very beneficial for an individual’s overall health and wellbeing.

– Emily Riforgiate and Taylor Fuchs

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Sources:

Kathy, et al. “Thai Massage and Traditional Sen Lines.” Thai Healing Massage Academy | Thai Massage Online Courses, 2018, thaihealingmassage.com/thai-massage-and-traditional-sen-lines/.

TFFS. “The Untold History and Benefits of Traditional Thai Massage.” Thefourfountainsspa, The Four Fountains Spa, 11 Apr. 2017, www.thefourfountainsspa.in/the-untold-history-and-benefits-of-traditional-thai-massage/.

Kitchen, the SimpleDifferent. “History and Origins of Traditional Thai Massage.” History and Origins of Traditional Thai Massage, http://www.sunshine-massage-school.com/history_of_traditional_thai_massage.html.