My time, your time


I spent eight months in South America. Six of those months, I was the English-speaking minority amongst my circle. Learning another language is hard. Here, I have to remember that after 3 months in Chile, I was convinced the language breakthrough was a myth and I would never communicate clearly. The breakthrough came at about 3.5 months.

Two weeks ago, I decided I needed to stop avoiding it and learn to speak Thai. Unlike Spanish, Thai is nearly impossible to pick up just in daily life. The sounds run together without direction. The same word can mean 5 different things with the 5 different tones. Lacodaisical learning is really not an option. Thus, I got a tutor. Nothing professional, but my coworker wants to improve her English and I need a basic introduction to Thai. We meet once a week over lunch or dinner and fumble through our languages. She mostly wants explanations for various idioms she has heard [A bullet with your name on it?], I mostly want to know how to survive [I am going home.].

This past lesson I was astounded by how much culture defines a language. Or is expressed through a language? I cannot decide which came first, language or culture.


For example, Latinos are known for being unaware of clocks, showing up late and not being bothered. La tarde directly translated means “The Afternoon”. Strain that through Western culture and you get the time between 1 pm and 5 pm, maybe just 4 pm. 5 pm is early evening, right? In Latin culture la tarde starts around 2 pm, and extends to 7 pm, perhaps 8 if you’re enjoying the conversation and don’t want to stop.

Thais are seemingly unaware of time, they will never rush you or suggest you are late. Simultaneously, Thai culture is incredibly aware of details and nuances. Time may not be a stressor, but the placement of your hands relative to your eyes when you greet someone tells the room where your level of respect falls. And then we discuss the hours of the day.


12 is sip song, however….
Midnight is tiang kuhn
1 am to 5 am is the number prefaced by tee [tee nung, tee song, tee Sahm…]
6 am is mong chao (chao means morning, mong does not mean 6)
7 am – 11 am is the number followed by mong [jet mong, bpaet mong, gaow mong…]
12 noon is tiang waan
1 pm is bai mung (mung seems to be the initial hour of a set)
2 pm is bai song
3 pm is bai sahm
4 pm – 6 pm is the number followed by mung yen [sei mung yen, ha mung yen, hok mung yen]
7 pm – 11 pm start counting from 1 and follow the number with tuum [nung tuum, song tuum, sahm tuum….]

In order, the time from midnight is
0 –Tiang kuhn
1 -Tee nung
Tee song
Tee sahm
Tee sei
Tee ha
Mong chao
Jet mong
Bpaet mong
Gaow mong
Sip mong
Sip-ett mong
Tiang waan
Bai mung
Bai song
Bai sahm
Sei mung yen
Ha mung yen
Hok mung yen
Nung tuum
Song tuum
Sahm tuum
Sei tuum
Ha tuum

Remember what I said about attention to detail? Exactly.



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