Sometimes They Just Don’t Want You To Know

30 April 2014, TV = 748.0 hours

This was the scene at my local BTS stop yesterday:

Thai advertisement, 29 April 2014

Advertisement for…what?

Attempting to read the two lines of text, I stood there squinting – my vision’s gotten a bit worse in recent years (and spending all this time staring into a computer screen watching lakorn and blogging etc probably hasn’t helped!); the Thai writing system, though now a fairly familiar sight in so far as most of the individual letters go, is still no match for English in terms of instant recognizability; and – oh yeah! – I’m basically illiterate in Thai.

But maybe the biggest problem was one of self-consciousness, especially as the seconds ticked by. (I’m guessing it was only 20 seconds or so, but it sure felt longer). After all, I was standing right in front of the two kids in the photo, staring intently at the signs which most (Thai) passerby probably only glanced at, if they bothered to look at all. Surely they were wondering What is this odd farang doing…? – or, maybe not.

I understood some of the text, but finally gave up and asked the kid on the left what it was all about. He gave some rapid fire answer about his mother, which I couldn’t quite follow.

His mother was going to come back, he said.

It’s an advertisement, he told me. Wait till next month.

He mentioned again something about his mother.

Is she really your mother? I asked.

Advertisement, advertisement! he said.

I think your mother looks ill at ease, I told him.

Wait till May, he again advised.

Our exchange was mostly in Thai. He kept trying to answer me in English, but it didn’t really work and his speech would grind to a halt. Then I’d say something in Thai and he’d switch back to answering in Thai.

Closeup on the slogan of the mysterious ad.

Closeup on the slogan of the mysterious ad.

OK, so it’s one of those advertising campaigns that tries to pique your interest by being (at least initially) cryptic.

Rereading from the photo in the comfort of my apartment and without the self-conscious feeling of being watched etc, I can easily see that it’s something like, My mother has gone/disappeared…who can help?

That’s a bit of a simplification, especially the second line.

There’s some syntactical stuff going on in the second line – the way the verbs are strung together – that I don’t think I’ve encountered before. And that last character: I’m pretty sure I’ve correctly recognized it as a certain very common word, but I’m not quite sure of its meaning here, especially given its placement – could there be an implication of another word or words to follow which have been omitted?

* * *

Well, tomorrow is the first of May, and presumably there will be further installments that will reveal what this ad is really about. (My initial reaction, given recent events here in Thailand plus the serious, pained look on the old woman’s face, was that this is something of a political nature; for some reason, I no longer feel that to be the case – or at least, I hope not).

So if I happen to catch the next phase in this advertising campaign, maybe the additional context will make this particular ad more understandable.

Not a big deal either way, but I’ll keep an eye out.



3 thoughts on “Sometimes They Just Don’t Want You To Know

  1. everythinginlifeisborrowed

    I’ve often been intrigued by the idea of how instantly recognisable a written language is. I look at the whole of an English word – and words from other languages with the Roman alphabet which I know well – and I can immediately read it, but some languages – Georgian, for example, or Chinese – just look so dense, I can’t imagine natives can read it at the same speed.

  2. adamf2011 Post author

    It’s just pattern recognition plus familiarity. But there is something magical about written words: if I can’t understand, it’s mysterious; if I can, it’s amazing that a bunch of squiggles can evoke sound and meaning. Right now with Thai I can only read a very little. I can’t remember what it was like to look at English writing and not understand.

    What’s amazing about Chinese characters is how intricate they sometimes are, and yet they still get printed in fairly small fonts that people can (presumably) read without problem.

  3. Pingback: Progressing Or Not? | learning thai without studying

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