Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
Ah-bin
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Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Postby Ah-bin » Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:17 pm

I wrote this inspired by Amhoanna's excellent series on Indonesian Hoklo. I am not up to writing it in Hokkien at the moment though... sorry!

I can only speak for the small area I have been able to explore in the city of Chonburi, or Ban-hoe-hut 萬歲佛 as the local Chinese write it, which is two hours southeast of Bangkok. I have quite a limited area in which I can walk, but what i have found out through asking people and trying to talk to is quite interesting, i think...to me at least!

I have been staying in the main street here, and have been interested to see how many businesses still have a sign in Chinese above their door, usually with the name of the boss, or the name of the company. But when I open my mouth to make conversation in Teochew, very few people seem to be able to reply. People in their forties understand that i am speaking in Teochew, but cannot reply or understand that well. I sometimes point to the sign and read it out in Teochew (or my close approximation) and get a glimmer of recognition - but nothing more. Then I have to switch over to Thai. A woman in her sixties sitting in a stationary shop could speak a bit of Tng-oe 唐話 back to me but on the streets and in shops, Thai seems to have taken over many years ago. An interesting indication of this that i found rather interesting is that some of the Chinese can't even remember their original surnames. i talked to one man with a very long Thai surname who had to think for 20 seconds before telling me he was originally a Goh!

I found an exception to this in the Siang-hut-si 仙佛寺, a temple down a back alley near the bus stops. There the woman who administers the temple and the monk who lives there could both speak fluent Teochew, I guess because they are the true hub of the less assimilated Chinese community (it is a Mnahayana temple). I was invited to sit in the office and asked about all sorts of things. Eventually one's ear becomes attuned to Teochew i think, once one has got the main vocabulary differences down. I can't say i am at that level yet, ad was always saying kong 講 by mistake instead of taⁿ, but they seemed to get most of what i was saying.

The surgeon who I came to see is also a Teochew, and got a big surprise when i started speaking to him in his parents' language. I also came across Thais who knew phrases like chiak-png 食飯 and pang-sai 放屎, but not much else.

There is also a squarish "Chinese" why of writing Thai that appears on signs for Chinese restaurants and books about traditional Chinese culture. I'll try to take a photo of this some time. It is much more prevalent than that sort of "chopstick lettering" that is sometimes found on the signs of westernised Chinese restaurants in New Zealand.

I guess in Bangkok it would be easier to find more speakers of Teochew because Chinese were more concentrated in one area. That will have to wait for another trip, though.

I managed to order a Thai manual on how to learn Teochew as well, I hope it will arrive soon. If it was like a Cantonese one I have already seen, the whole thing is written in the Thai alphabet. I suppose with the tonal spelling system it is actually quite easy to write Teochew in Thai. We shall see.

Mark Yong
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Re: Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Postby Mark Yong » Thu Jan 17, 2013 2:37 pm

Ah-bin wrote:
...Siang-hut-si 仙佛寺...

This is interesting. I gather the Teochew dialect transposes quite a few words with -n endings in Hokkien into -ng. One example that I may have mentioned before (http://www.chineselanguage.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=7092#p27060) was how becomes tiang in Teochew.

Another interesting one I heard in a resthouse up in Fraser’s Hill over a decade ago was when the caretaker’s wife said to her husband “ngÓ tī, ngÓ tī”, which I suspect was “我知, 我知”.

Ah-bin
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Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Re: Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Postby Ah-bin » Thu Jan 17, 2013 4:14 pm

I think most of the -ns become -ngs.

As for what "Ngo ti" means.....It sounds either like someone reading 我知 in literary pronunciation, or someone beginning their phrase in Cantonese (ngo) and ending it in Hakka (ti)!

I found a Teochew-speaking 頭家 yesterday when I was out looking for nice street food, but have only talked to his son so far, I'll visit that place today for dinner I think. Maybe 肉粽 are a dead giveaway for a Chinese business, as I found out the owners of the restaurant were Chinese through commenting on the 肉粽. This one had a 照妖鏡 (don't know how to say this one in Hokkien) above the main opening, like most shophouses here, but no Chinese writing. So there may be a lot more hidden 頭家 right under my nose who just never expect that any angmoh can use anything other than rudimentary Thai.

Mark Yong
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Joined: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:52 pm

Re: Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Postby Mark Yong » Thu Jan 17, 2013 4:45 pm

At the Malaysian-Thai border of Bukit Kayu Hitam and Sadao, Chinese Thai's who see inbound Malaysian Chinese tourists (normally ride the Thai-operated white 10-seater vans) will readily speak to them in Hokkien, and with a Northern Malaysian accent to boot!

These vans normally pick up passengers from Penang, and bring them up to the Hatyai van depot, where they alight and change vans if they want to travel further (apparently, there is some law that vans going all the way south into Penang to pick up passengers, cannot travel with passengers any further north than Hatyai - but this restriction does not apply if the passengers are picked up within Thai territory). Back in 2001-2003, this depot was run by a Chinese Thai lady who readily spoke to all of us in Mandarin, and in an accent not so different from the average Malaysian speaker. Too bad we didn't think of trying out Hokkien or Teochew with her at that time.

Limet
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Joined: Tue Oct 26, 2010 11:06 pm

Re: Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Postby Limet » Mon Feb 10, 2014 5:30 am

I just wanted to make a small correction that the part of Thailand that the OP visited is actually considered Eastern Thailand. Southern Thailand would be almong the Isthmus of Kra (Phuket), and all the way down to the Malaysian border.

Interesting experiences - thank you for sharing.

Ah-bin
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Joined: Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:10 am
Location: Somewhere in the Hokloverse

Re: Teochew in Southern Thailand - reports from the field

Postby Ah-bin » Sat Mar 22, 2014 6:57 am

Thanks Limet, yes, I won't say "southern Thailand" for that area again.

This time a went and nosed around Bangkok Chinatown around Yaowarat Road for the day. In that area it is still possible to speak to people in Teochew, even with the Hokkien words like khòaⁿ 看 and kóng 講 that are almost impossible to keep out of my own speech if I am not concentrating.

The first day I visited I was unlucky with the first two or three people I talked to - they didn't even know what I was saying. I think if they had heard a local saying things in Teochew, they would have said "I don;t understand Teochew" but in this case I think they might have assumed I was speaking some other language. Later I found some more people to chat to. If you jus start in Teochew rather than Thai, and can keep trying in Teochew rather than mixing it up with Thai (which also happened a bit to me) people seem quite happy to speak it.

I didn't hear anyone actually speaking Teochew out loud in the Chinatown to each other, and many of the shop assistant were Thai, which meant that only the 頭家 thâu-ke· and 頭家娘 thâu-ke-niâu could speak to me. As in Amoy, I did not hear any children speaking, but it was a school day and there were hardly any around anyway.

At the Nam-bui bookshop I did my usual rick of feigning ignorance when spoken to in Mandarin, so got a good chance to talk, right at the end I busted out my Mandarin, telling them that I had to do that all the time with Cantonese, otherwise people would speak Mandarin to me, and i wouldn't get any Teochew practice in.

It takes an average of ten seconds for people to click what i am doing (speaking Teochew, not English) and then they seem to be fine. At Wat Traimit, the ticket seller was surprised that i could ask for my ticket in Thai, and turned out to be a Teochew as well, and invited me into the booth to have some fruit and a chat a sound recording from him, just asking about where he was born, grew up and went to school.

As far as I know, there are three different teaching materials for Teochew written in Thai, but I have only managed to track down two, a book of proverbs, and a phrasebook used for travelling in China, the latter is a little outdated in all the wrong ways, talking about "foreign exchange certificates:" and "friendship stores". The third book i have been unable to find. It seems Thais and Thai Chinese are now mostly interested in learning Mandarin only. I did notice some books about Teochews and Teochew culture written in Thai that have characters and the transcriptions for many words into Thai, but there is no dictionary of Thai Teochew available.

The other resource for people who would like to learn, (and I feel it is a little too influenced by Mandarin as well in some of the word choice) is the book 泰國的三個漢語方言 "Three Chinese Dielects in Thailand", which has a vocabulary of around 2000 words in Teochew, Hakka, and Cantonese, and details about grammar and words specific to Thai Teochew.


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