Incomprehensible

2 July 2013; AT5 = 1036 hours; total time = 1974 hours; TV = 260.1 hours

Some Thai situations are just really difficult to understand, to the point where I get little if anything. This has happened a few times recently, first on a guided tour of Phyathai Palace, and then listening in on a talk at the Pridi Banomyong Institute. With the palace tour I sometimes got the general topic that was being talked about, but the only times I could catch some specifics were when the subject was the physical premises: the rooms that we were standing in, the objects we were looking at. I couldn’t understand the lecture at the Pridi institute at all (though I would assume that it was about modern Thai political history given the photos in the exhibit where the talk was being delivered), but I did get a very little bit of a talk show segment that was screened – an interview with Pridi’s widow which I think was largely about the circumstances that forced Pridi and his family into exile.

2010 Thai movie Sawan Banna

Sawan Banna (2010 Thai film)

Then there are the one and a half movies I saw the other day, also at the Pridi Banomyong Institute, as mentioned in my last post. The first movie, Sawan Banna  (“Rural Paradise”?) was probably about the worst movie that I could have picked for the purposes of learning Thai, though I kind of liked it as a movie. Dialogue in Sawan Banna was almost entirely in a dialect of Thai that I found completely incomprehensible (I was told that the film had been shot in the far north province of Chiang Rai). I understood only the occasional word, and the sounds seemed so utterly different than Standard Thai that I had the impression they must be produced in a different part of the mouth. Had I encountered this language in another context, I’m not sure I would have known it was Thai. The film was subtitled in Thai (presumably Standard Thai), so I’m assuming that nationwide audiences were not expected to understand the Chiang Rai dialect. (In fact, I was intrigued by the sound of this language, and it’s sing-song lilt, so different than the rhythms of Standard Thai – it kind of made me want to take a trip to Northern Thailand, which I have yet to visit).

Sawan Banna was a documentary that, with the exception of brief opening and closing segments depicting a political rally in Bangkok (the only parts of the film where Standard Thai was spoken), was shot in a poor rural farming community. The movie was slow and undramatic, and concerned itself almost entirely with the farmers’ efforts to feed themselves: raising and harvesting rice, gathering mushrooms, trapping fish, and shooting birds and dogs. There was plenty of dialogue between the farmers as they went about their work, but I had no clue what they were saying. It wasn’t just my inability to understand the language, but also that the context didn’t seem to provide any hints – if the conversation was in any way related to what these people were doing or their immediate environment, that was something I was unable to pick up on. Also, there was no obvious emotional component to the interactions that would help establish peoples’ relationships or feelings toward one another, as there would be in lakorn. After awhile I gave up trying to understand and resigned myself to watching the farmers work, storm clouds roll in, kids at play, the starry nighttime sky – though slow paced to the point of being boring, the film was also quite beautiful and, in its own way, fascinating.

antapanAlthough the second film, อันธพาล (Antapan), was in Standard Thai and provided a much more obvious context (thanks largely to the dramatic and often violent conflicts between its characters), I found myself feeling restless and not wanting to stay. Maybe it was too much movie-watching without much of a break, or maybe I was worn out from the serene but impenetrable Sawan Banna or from Antapan’s goriness, or maybe I wouldn’t have understood much of Antapan even if I had been well rested. I walked out halfway through. Sometimes, enough is enough. The next day I went back to watching lakorn.

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