Heard in Bangkok




A very revered anchorite monk (known here as 'forest' monks) was asked by a journalist from the Bangkok Post "What is the meaning of life?" The monk roared with laughter. "I've absolutely no idea! But I can tell you this: Nobody ever died wishing they had spent more time at the office."


The policeman overtook the taxi on his motorbike and flagged him to stop. He leaned into the driver's window. "Why didn't you stop at that red light?"
The taxi driver looked suitably penitent. "Because I didn't see you standing there."


A friend told me he went on a Buddhist Awareness Course in a forest monastery somewhere up in the North of Thailand. The usual collection of misfits and New-Age freaks were gathered round a Buddhist monk who had once been a German industrialist:
"All time iz transient, no? Ve must remember all things, as Ze Buddha says, - including Time - are transient. Zere is no such ting as Time. It iz an ILLUSION. Ve are an ILLOOOOSION. Time iz a man-made ILLOOOSION. Ve must not be ze slaves of Time, no? Time should be OUR SLAVE. Ja! Ve must tame ze concept of Time for our own enlightenment...." etc etc - and he went on in much the same vein for over an hour.

Suddenly he looked at his watch."Gott in Himmel! It iz vell past eleven o'clock. Ve must break for coffee!"

None of the New-Age freaks moved a muscle.


I have a splendid new washing machine. I don't quite know how to put this kindly but... when the washing cycle is over it plays in a nasal, electronic piping the whole of the first verse of Schubert's 'Die Forelle' ('The Trout')


I am always wary of foreign language dictionaries ('Thai in Ten Simple Steps') ever since my first week in Bali over 10 years ago. I had been to dine alone at a nearby restaurant - the first weeks in a new country are always the worst - and realised on my return home I had left my cigarette lighter there. Armed with a recently purchased Idonesian/English dictionary, I laboriously looked up all the words to string together a sentence which might make sense: "I have left my lighter here. Do you still have it?" In front of my bathroom mirror I practised and practised it before I was confident enough to return to the restaurant and dazzle the waitress with my perfect Indonesian.

I gazed fondly at her as I entered the restaurant in Ubud. 
"I have left my lighter here. Do you still have it?"

She looked at me puzzled. "Apa?" She asked incredulously - what?

I repeated my Indonesian slowly: :"I have left my lighter here. Do you still have it?"

She turned to her colleague and said a lot in Indonesian which, now I know more, was probably "We've got a right nutter here."

Still beaming, I repeated my hard-won phrase a third time: "I have left my lighter here. Do you still have it?"

This time she burst into hysterical giggles and I knew something was not quite right. In the time-honoured fashion of all travellers, I clenched my fist, held my thumb in an upright posture, made lighter-clicking gestures and shouted inEnglish "LIGHTER? LIGHTER?"

"Ah!" She said, the dawn creeping over the horizon. "Korek! Korek!" and reached below her counter to bring triumphantly from below my lighter.

Distinctly miffed, I went back to the dictionary when I got home and looked up the the Indonesian word for 'lighter' in the reverse process. Light dawned. I had said in immaculate Indonesian: "I have left my small, flat-bottomed boat in your restaurant. Do you still have it?"

Being an inflectional language Thai is even worse. The word 'mai', for instance, has seven different meanings depending on how you say it. I naturally want to use the inflections of English when trying to speak Thai to my colleagues at the university, but these falling and rising tones are so crucial to the Thai language I end up speaking absolute nonsense. Thai dictionaries are hopeless; they have no standard way of transliterating Thai script into English and are even less successful at encapsulating the tones. The results are alarming:

Faculty Secretary: 'Ajarn Lobert do you have any classes today?"

RW: "Unseasoned cords of wood today."
...and two days ago I really went beyond the pale:

New oboe teacher: "Where are you living now, Ajarn?"

RW: "In Sukhothai Road - quite near the bridge of the woman's genitalia."