Monday, July 13, 2009

Not from me but from a colleague I work with closely:

My first year in Thailand teaching Economics to Thai 8th Graders proved somewhat difficult in that not only did I have no English text book (I still don't), it proved singularly difficult to find the right definitions and explanations for the jargon of Economics in Thai. After several months of looking, however, I finally stumbled across and 1600 page tome in Asia Books (Thailand's answer to Borders) in that temple to conspicuous class-conscious consumption: Siam Paragon -- a shopping mall that defies comparison: let’s just say on the 4th floor of just one of their massive buildings you will find dealerships for Rolls Royce, Bentley, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Alpha Romeo, and Porsche ... for sale in a country where the road quality and traffic conditions even on "the best" highways make it difficult to maintain a speed of over 60 for more than a few seconds.

At any rate, there in Asia Books I started thumbing through this English-Thai dictionary and quickly noted that it had not only detailed Thai definitions of Economics and Business jargon, but also multiple examples of use and myriad compounds and idioms for almost every word. Sure that I had struck the mother lode, I shelled out the 1800 Baht (~$50) for the thing and gleefully took my prize home.

As time wore on, I gradually began to note a striking ideological bias in the cited examples of use. The 2nd example on "capital" is what first struck me as somewhat curious: "capital is created from every drop of sweat from the brow of labor." But when I looked up "relationship" and found the first sentence was, "the relationship between the people and the army has never been stronger," the light went on, and when I read under 'family,' "the farmers and the workers are one family," it was absolutely clear what I had unwittingly purchased - and what was no doubt unwittingly sold - in that theme park of consumerism in this the most anti-Communist nation in Southeast Asia.

Indeed, there is nothing in the title or any of the front material to lead one to suspect that this Mao's Little Red Dictionary was anything other than a fairly exhaustive English-Thai dictionary for academic, artistic, political, business, and technical usage. But one doesn't have to read beyond the first entry to see which way the author dresses:

a, an: art.: ... a united front ... an underground worker ... a foreign guest ... a high building ... a deep hatred for the enemies of the Revolution ... an ice cream ... a Comrade Lin is looking for you... a complete Lu Hsun ... a profound lesson in class education...

Each example was painstakingly translated into Thai.

I have gotten literally hours of very odd, sardonic enjoyment out of this work, and now I intend to share it with my friends. Every day I'll be posting yet another priceless example of the none-too-subtle attempts at indoctrination from this dictionary to my FaceBook Wall, so if you're interested and have a similarly twisted sense of irony as my own, please check in and take a look at the daily entries.

1 comment:

Bkkdreamer said...

Do you mind telig us the name of the dic?

I have one general Thai-English dic which uses similar language, and I know the author has also written an English-Thai version, though it is a general dic, not a specialised one in economics.

Most of his definitions have a similar Marxist bent, full of references to the people's revolution, the proletariat, working classes rising up, bosses being cruel etc.