This photo is the banner for the true story "I Am Going to Kan!" by A. J. Windless.  
"I Am Going to Kan!"
Have you ever been in another country and smacked your head right against a real communications barrier? One day I was on a bus on my way to Kanchanaburi. The bus attendant asked me where I was going and I replied "Kanchanaburi" but she could not understand me. Soon there were six other people trying to help her and none of them could understand where I was going, even though I kept repeating "Kanchanaburi". Now what is amazing about this is that once you reach the next city, Nakornpathom, there are only three direcitons you can go, north to Supanburi, south to Ratchaburi, or straight through to Kanchanaburi. You would think that by multiple choice at least one of the them would figure out what I was saying. As we entered the city and prepared for the bus change, having been this way several times before, I finally I told them I would board bus number 81. Then all at once she exclaimed,"Oh, you mean Kanchanaburi!" As I heard her pronounce the name of the city correctly I realized that I had been pronouncing Kanchanaburi with a middle tone on the second "a" when I should have been using a falling tone. What's really humorous about this is that today I hear young foreigners calling the city "Kan" or "Kanch" and everyone knows exactly what they are talking about. Chuckling to myself, I wonder if this came about because I wasn't the only one who had this "Kanchanaburi" conversation. One of the things that makes learning Thai so hard is that it has tones. English has tones, too, for example, at the end of a sentence we use a rising tone to indicate a question. But Thai has tones for every word, there are five of them, mid, high, low, rising, and falling, and each tone gives the word a totally different meaning. And if that isn't confusing enough, the vowels may also be short or long, which also changes the meaning. For example the word "kao" in Thai has eight totally different meanings depending on the tone and whether the vowel is short or long. If you're planning a trip to Thailand, however, don't worry about it. You can always find someone around who can speak some English, and this story is the most extreme example of deadlock that I am aware of. I find that when speaking Thai,  there is a huge variance from one peron to another. Some Thais I can communicate with quite well, while occasionally there are Thais that I cannot communicate with at all. Often I say something in Thai to two people and one understands while the other does not, then I find the one who understands telling the other person what I said.
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