Udon Thani: "Cown Dow"
Udon Thani Province
January 2, 2011
Dear Family and Friends,
“Mr. Jan, where you go cown dow?” A Thai friend asked me this question just after Christmas. I was stumped. I was puzzled. It took me a few minutes to unravel the mystery.
Just like every other nationality attempting to speak English, Thais will incorporate the rules of grammar, speech, or sounds that occur or don’t occur in their native language. One of the charming aspects of my life in Thailand is the challenge to decipher an English word spoken by a Thai friend or acquaintance.
(Many of us have heard an Asian person saying “flied lice” or a German saying, “vas is ziss or zat.”)
Here in Thailand the struggle is with final consonants. In many, if not most, if not all English words, Thai people either do not pronounce final consonants or modify them according to their own speech patterns.
For example, in the Thai language a final “s” is not pronounced. So when I order a bottle of drinking water, the restaurant server will ask, “eye?” Or when I order chicken with cashew nuts she will ask, “rye?” At the moment, I am using the wireless “mao” on my computer.
Thai words can be spelled with a final “l” but in Thai, the “l” is pronounced as “n.” So, the sport that is played around the world is known here as “footbawn.” A recent US President is affectionately spoken of as “Bin Clinton.” One food item is described as “nooden soup with fish bawn.” If I order “noodle soup with fish balls,” the cook will have no idea what I am saying. And even though there is a proper Thai word, many Thais and all foreigners will use the compound and redundant slang term “check-bin” at the end of a meal.
And so, on the evening of December 31, along with thousands of others here in the northern city of Udon Thani, my friend Noy and I celebrated the “cow dow.” We chose a delicious dinner of grilled fish, papaya salad, sticky rye and ripe mango topped with coconut ju; and at midnight, fye work.
Our four-day New Years trip to the Isan provinces of Udon Thani and Sakon Nakhon included a parade in Sawang Daen Din; temples, both ancient and modern in Sakon Nakhon and Udon Thani; and a visit to Noy’s family in the village of Ban Dong Mo Thong in the far north near the border of Laos.
Noy’s niece, Fern, led Noy and me and Noy’s mother across a bridge to view the turtle rock in the river, and then down a rocky hillside trail to the Temple in the Forest. The temple is not man-made but rather a series of caves formed by huge, round boulders. (We ignored the warning sign that said, “Snakes live here.”)
The main reason we flew to Udon Thani was to attend Noy’s high school reunion. About two dozen of her former classmates showed up for good food, good drink and good cheer. The Thai karaoke was in action the whole evening and yours truly was persuaded to offer his best rendition of “500 Hundred Miles Away from Home” – a favorite song with young Thai students in their English class.
The reunion was held at the Bird’s Paradise Extreme Resort. The brochure reads: “You are invited to meet the challenge of a lifetime. Unleash your spirit of adventure and savour the beauty of a bird’s eye view over Sakon Nakhon Province by joining one of our world-class adventures: an Accelerated Free Fall - a tandem jump with internationally certified trainer - or a joyful ride with the paramotor, a Micro Light or Ultra light plane.”
The resort also offers rock climbing, motocross racing, kayaking and jet ski racing.
A young British “internationally certified trainer” named Graeme offered to take me up for a jump. Needless to say….
As the New Years Eve festivities drew to a close in Udon Thani, our tuk-tuk driver raced us back to the hotel. I paid him the agreed-upon negotiated fare and said, “Sawatdee pi mai.” He responded with the greeting he knew best in English: “Happy Birthday.” Noy explained to him that the proper greeting is “Happy New Year.” The old guy said in Thai that he’d better go back to school. (Not a bad idea, Jan.)
My dear family and my dear friends, many of you so far away, thank you all for your New Years animated cards and greetings. By this late date, I suppose I am the very last person to return the greeting and wish you a very “Happy, healthy and adventurous New Year.”
But for 2011, let me be the very first person to wish you a very “Happy Birthday.”
PS Regarding my own forthcoming birthdays, starting this year, just like the astronauts at the Cape Kennedy Space Center, I am planning to “Count Down!”