Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Telling time in Thai

One of the things that is still unclear to me after living here for over two years is the time. There are so many ways of telling the time here in Thailand. There are many places where the 24 hour system, or military time, is used. This is pretty easy as they just use the number from 1 to 24 representing the hour of the day, and follow it with the word for "clock" นาฬิกา pronounced 'naa-li-gaa'. So...

8:00 AM = "แปด (8)นาฬิกา"
pronounced 'bpaet naa-li-gaa'

6:00 PM = "สิบแปด (18)นาฬิกา"
pronounced 'sip bpaet naa-li-gaa'

Simple, but I usually only hear this on the radio, evening news and official type announcements, etc.

Americans break time down into two 12 hour periods...AM and PM. Colloquially the Thais tell time by breaking the 24 hours of the day into six groups, most of the groups indicating how many times a drum or chime has been struck. In ancient Thai society, like you see depicted in Asian kung fu movies, watchmen or guards would wander around the village and ring a bell each hour. These bells, drums, gongs have outlasted the times as they are still mentioned millions of times daily as Thai people ask and give the time.

Here's how it works. From 1 AM to 5 AM the word 'di' is used. 'di' is the Thai word for "hit" or "strike" referring to the striking of a gong in the wee hours of the morning. ตีสอง 'di song' for example refers to 'striking a gong two times' which occurs right after midnight...meaning 2 AM. Striking of the gong five times then would mean that it was 5 AM.

1:00 AM = ตีหนึ่ง 'di neung' - one gong

2:00 AM = ตีสอง 'di song' - two gongs

3:00 AM = ตีสาม 'di sam' - three gongs

4:00 AM = ตีสี่ 'di si' - four gongs

5:00 AM = ตีห้า 'di ha' - five gongs


After the gongs come chimes. From 6 AM to 11 AM the word โมง 'mong' is used for "chime" and เช้า 'chao' is used for "morning". 6 AM (หกโมงเช้า 'hok mong chao') was represented by the noticeable brightness of the morning sky. (Not sure if any chimes were rung) After the sun rose in the morning, a chime was rung, and thus, the first chime represented one hour past sunrise or 7 AM. Two chimes would mean that it was two hours since the sun came up, or 8 AM, and so on. In the outer provinces, further from the big city, this is still used.

6:00 AM = หกโมงเช้า 'hok mong chao' - sunrise

7:00 AM = ตีสอง 'neung mong chao' - one morning chime

8:00 AM = ตีสาม 'song mong chao' - two morning chimes

9:00 AM = ตีสี่ 'sam mong chao' - three morning chimes

10:00 AM = ตีห้า 'si mong chao' - four morning chimes

11:00 AM = ตีห้า 'ha mong chao' - five morning chimes

Since I live in the city though, I more often hear 6 mong chao, 7 mong chao, 8 mong chao, 9 mong chao, 10 mong chao and 11 mong chao which is much less confusing.

12 noon or midday is the simplest term and is spoken เที่ยง 'thiang' which simply means "noon" or "straight" obviously referring to the fact that the sun was straight overhead in the sky.

12:00 PM = เที่ยง 'thiang' - noon

1 PM to 3 PM is indicated by the word บ่าย 'bpai' which means "slant, decline, or deviate" and again the use of the term โมง or 'chime'. I'm pretty sure that "slant" refers to the sun beginning to fall from its highest point in the sky, right after noon.

1:00 PM= บ่ายหนึ่ง 'di neung' - one hour past noon

2:00 PM = บ่ายสอง 'di song' - two hours past noon

3:00 PM = บ่ายสาม 'di sam' - three hours past noon


4PM to 6PM again uses โมง or chime, but also uses เย็น 'yen' which translates to "cool, eve" I'm guessing that chimes in the cooler evening told people what time it was. I can imagine a mother reminding her children to be sure to get home quickly after hearing two evening chimes for dinner. I can't say for sure if chimes were used at this time or not though. Anyone know?

4:00 PM = สี่โมงเย็น 'si mong yen' - four evening chimes

5:00 AM = ห้าโมงเย็น 'ha mong yen' - five evening chimes

6:00 PM = หกโมงเย็น 'hok mong yen' - six evening chimes

The last six hours of the day were given by beating of a drum. The word "drumbeat" or an onomatopoeia of the sound a drumbeat makes is ทุ่ม 'thum'.

7:00 PM = ทุ่ม 'thum'- one drumbeat

8:00 PM = สองทุ่ม 'song thum' - two drumbeats

9:00 PM = สามทุ่ม 'sam thum' - three drumbeats

10:00 PM = สี่ทุ่ม 'si thum' - four drumbeats

11:00 PM = ห้าทุ่ม 'ha thum' - five drumbeats

12:00 AM = หกทุ่ม 'hok thum' - six drumbeats


I've also heard midnight referred to as "straight night" or เที่ยงคืน 'thiang kheun'

So, if you think it is difficult to figure out military time, try your hand at Thai time. Like I said, I'm still getting used to it. You will often see me asking the time that a meeting is supposed to be or what time a football match shows on t.v. and the answer I get is always followed by my brow wrinkling in concentration and fingers adding all these "o'clocks"! Definitely one of the challenges of this language, but one that that, when you get a hang of it, gives you a feeling of hope!

The drum just beat six times...I better let Pae use the computer before the gongs start being struck!

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