Same Same But Different

I’ll never forget the look on the woman’s face the first time I tried to say beautiful in Thai. I made sure I had the correct word. I recited it in my head. When it came time to turn thought into action, I was careful to enunciate. The woman’s jaw dropped, and she looked shocked. Clearly, this was not the response I was anticipating. I had called her chronically unlucky instead, a terrible omen, and I couldn’t even fathom as to how that had happened. She was the one who had taught me the word, after all.

The Bridge Over the River Kwai

The infamous bridge over the River Kwai where over 19,000 prisoners of war died building a railroad connecting Burma to Bangkok under the Japanese imperial rule during World War II.

As with most Southeastern Asian languages, tone and inflection carry equal bearing with pronunciation. On the Thai medical selective through St. George’s University last June, I found this out the hard way. While beautiful and unlucky are essentially the same word on paper and differentiated by contextual clues, tone essentially becomes your saving grace in Thai speech, signifying the difference between you literally riding a horse (kee maa) or shoveling horse excrement (kee maa). Apparently, picking up some Thai was not going to be as easy as I had imagined.

It wasn’t Thai, however, that confounded me when wandering the vendor-packed streets of Khao San Road, a major artery of Bangkok. Throughout the endless babel and litany of knockoffs that infested the street, it was a saying in Thai Slang in English that was heard more prevalently: Same same but different. Continue reading

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Cultural Vagabond

I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a city faster in my life than I did with Bangkok. The organized chaos mixed with the utterly tranquil, Southeast Asia, if my words can do any justice, is one gigantic kaleidoscope, satiating every single sense in your body. I traveled in fear of blinking my eyes for the off-chance that I may miss seeing or doing something that I may never get an opportunity to see or do ever again.  Sometimes I wonder how I’ll ever fall asleep again without the babel of Bangkok, the chatter of street vendors, the hustle of tuk-tuks, or the sweet lullaby of water taxis.

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

Back in March I made the decision with a bunch of my friends to take a 2-week Thailand medical selective. SGU offers students the opportunity to glimpse into the healthcare systems of various locales around the globe from Sweden to Kenya to Thailand. At the end of my first year and quite possibly my final summer break, I wasn’t all too ecstatic about having to fill my mere 6 weeks of freedom with having to think about more medicine, but the chance to breathe new air and roam was gnawing at me. While my brain made light-year leaps over the course of the past year, my feet were thirsting to do the same. However, it took me a trip halfway around the world to even realize what lusting for the horizon really signified. Continue reading