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Water, water everywhere…

Now hold on a minnit, you’re going to say! Water everywhere? We’re not into the monsoon season yet - it won’t be really coming down till August, September, when more rain falls than in the rest of the year put together. So why the hyperbole?

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Well, the fact is that the Thais and water go together. Fish in the water, rice in the fields and all that - flooded fields let it be noted. Thais don’t go for living in the mountains. Their villages tend to be on waterways of one sort or another so that from birth on if they’re not in a boat travelling, trading, fishing, they’ll be swimming or wading in the stuff - as well as washing in it rather more frequently than your average Westerner.

Not surprising then that they know its benefits and are well aware of its power, as their proverbs show.

‘Make hay while the sun shines,’ we say, while the Thai equivalent is nam khuen hai reep dak. “Hurry to fill your bucket while the water’s high”.

Nam noi yorm pae fai - “If you don’t have a lot of water, don’t try putting out a fire”: in other words, don’t get into a conflict unless you’ve got plenty of power.

Rather similar in its message is, nam chee-o ya kwang rua: Don’t try crossing the river if the current’s strong.

And where the mutability of life’s concerned, you can’t argue with the observation - nam maak, pla gin mot/nam lot, mot gin pla: “When the water’s high, the fish eat the ants/When the water falls, the ants eat the fish”, (but notice the neatness of the internal rhyming of the Thai couplet).

That’s partly also the message of nam kling bon bai born -“Like water rolling on a lotus leaf,” as a reference to volatility of character.

Where we say, “Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” the Thai equivalent is sorn jorakhae hai wai nam - teaching a crocodile to swim.

And one that’s very difficult to find a parallel for is, gin nam dai sork - literally, ‘Drinking water (dripping) from the elbow’. His informants tell the editor this refers especially to the position of the minor wife, who has to be content with whatever’s left over after keeping the major wife happy, so perhaps it’s something like having to be satisfied with the crumbs from a rich man’s table.

Of someone who’s over-optimistic, we say s/he’s counting his chickens before they’re hatched, while the proverb here is, mai hen nam, dtak grabork - cutting a bamboo (as a holder) before seeing water (a stream/river).

One that’s a perfect fit (and may have been adopted by one of the recent, and literary-minded, kings) is nam ning lai luek - “Still waters run deep”.

And while this is a subject on which you can run on and on, as the Thai say, bua mai hai cham/ nam mai hai khuen - “You should think before speaking”: or as an English poet of some four hundred years back warned, “Think twice, then speak, the old proverb doth say/ yet fools their bolts will quickly shoot away.”

. Cover Page



Get footloose in Chiang Mai

Ron Emmons



The Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery

Graeme Monaghan




What's on in Chiang Mai and Beyond

Your Film Page

Gourmet Visits:


A Delicious Recipe


Recommended Dishes

Thai Proverbs


What to expect in JUNE 2004

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