24 April 2014; AT5 = 1063 hours; total class time = 2001 hours; TV = 733.2 hours
During a 47-day period stretching from late February through early April, I logged 228.9 hours of unsubtitled Thai-language TV and movies – an average of 4.9 hours per day. The numbers would have been higher but there were several days when I had internet connectivity problems or real-life things to do that ate into my viewing time.
There were also, however, a number of burn-out days when I just couldn’t get myself to watch that much; in particular, the last week-plus saw the average drop to just under 4 hours per day, which was still decent but not nearly as impressive as the 5 to 7 (and occasionally more) hour days I had sometimes managed.
During the last few days of this period I sometimes felt like I was struggling to finish up สามีตีตรา samee tee tra (2001), the last lakorn I watched before taking a break. In the past when I’ve taken breaks mid-lakorn, I’d always find that when I picked it up again my level of engagement had dropped: a certain narrative momentum gets lost.
I actually really liked samee tee tra – I’d probably put it on my favorites list – but I kind of wavered back and forth between on the one hand being really engrossed and wanting to see what would happen next, and on the other feeling totally fatigued from too much TV-watching.
In the end I did get samee tee tra finished before heading off for some time in the provinces, where I was TV- and computer-less for close to two weeks – the Thai I got was all in “live” real-life situations, and a lot of it was actually the Isaan dialect instead of standard Thai. Oh, plus being in the countryside instead of the city. All in all, a nice (and needed) change of pace.
The general pattern is one that was established close to 3 years ago when I first began classes at AUA: I would go to school for 30 to 35 hours per week and rack up somewhere around 250 hours of classtime before taking a break of typically 2 to 3 weeks. Usually by the time I headed off for my break I’d be feeling pretty burnt out and in need of a change of scene, and would return feeling refreshed and ready to get back to class.
I’m pretty sure this was my most intensive and sustained period of TV-watching yet. And I suspect that the only reason I was able to pull it off was that my understanding of spoken Thai has come up somewhat, allowing me to enjoy what I was watching to a greater extent. Increased enjoyment in turn translates into the ability to watch more and not fatigue quite so quickly.
I’d also like to note changes that occurred in what I was watching. I started the 47-day period watching a fair amount of non-lakorn TV: news shows, talk shows, and documentaries probably accounted for about a quarter to a third of my viewing. It had been awhile since I’d watched much of anything other than lakorn, and I’d just come back from four weeks away from the TV/computer, so I was feeling energized in terms of TV viewing and ready to again try branching out beyond the world of lakorn.
It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the novelty of it. Some of the programs I was watching were quite a bit harder to understand than the typical lakorn, while other of the shows were probably at about the same level of difficulty. It was a feeling of accomplishment to be able to watch a news show or documentary and follow (at least to a certain extent) what was being said. And the sound and rhythm of the Thai used on these shows is different than what you get in lakorn: that too was an enjoyable novelty.
Nonetheless, I guess the novelty wore off. To a large extent, I ended up shifting to the shows that I was better able to understand: With news shows, this meant a shift away from political stories – which were pretty much incomprehensible – and toward the more easily understood coverage of accidents, fires, and crime. I also started watching more morning talk shows, programs with a conversational format that covered things like celebrity news, human interest stories, health and nutrition, etc – not stuff I find terribly compelling, but fairly easy to follow and watchable in short doses.
With documentaries, I eventually gave up on the information-dense rapid-fire science and history shows (some of which were dubbed versions of History Channel and Discovery Channel documentaries), and watched more original Thai-language documentaries from Thai PBS. These tended to be somewhat slower paced, with a voiceover more closely matched to the visuals, and hence much easier to understand.
But at some point – maybe about half to three quarters of the way through the period in question – I basically dropped non-lakorn TV altogether, only resorting to it (and movies on disk) at times when my internet connection failed.
I was no longer finding the non-lakorn stuff that satisfying, and watching it started to feel like a self-imposed homework assignment – something I “should” be doing because it would be good for my Thai; whereas in comparison, lakorn was still a lot of fun. Maybe this was an early sign of burn-out from over-watching, but I also think that the novelty of the non-lakorn shows just wasn’t able to compete any longer with the narrative/dramatic satisfactions offered by lakorn.
A documentary on life in provincial Thailand, a news story about a sensational murder, a schmoozy talk show segment concerning a novelty pastry shop in Bangkok: these can be interesting and they offer their own kinds of satisfaction, but they don’t provide an ongoing narrative with characters facing difficulties and making choices that effect one another, nor do they have any real dramatic tension.
Which is to say that, although they’re stories, they lack the “storyness” of lakorn.
When I first started the program at AUA, I was told of the importance of taking a break every once in awhile. In my experience, that’s totally spot-on advice.
I was also told that students would often experience some kind of dramatic jump in their Thai abilities when resuming classes after a break. That’s never been my experience, even during those breaks when I hardly used Thai at all.
But still: doing 35 hours a week of classes – or TV – week after week, I’ve always ended up hitting the point of I can’t take this anymore. It’s a feeling of being over-satiated, a kind of mental fatigue, and it becomes harder to get myself to put in the hours. Then I take some time off, there’s a different routine, and even if I’m still using Thai, it’s under different circumstances; and when I get back to classes (or intensive video watching), I have the energy and appetite for it again.