I am currently enjoying an extended stay in Cambodia; long enough to try to learn some of the language, but not long enough to get to grips with the writing. Because I will be leaving for Japan in a while, where another language and a highly complex writing system awaits me, I have decided to remain illiterate in Khmer and focus only on the spoken language.
One problem with this is trying to record words in romanised forms. I have a dictionary which gives Khmer words written both in the Khmer script and also uses the Roman alphabet. However, there is very little agreement on how the words should be written. One essential item here is a silk scarf, which protects the neck from the sun. Some people spell it 'krama', others 'kroma', while my dictionary gives it as two words and starts with 'g'.
In Vietnam, I tried to buy a bottle of water and a couple of other things; my knowledge of Vietamese goes no further than 'thank you', so I had no idea what the woman on the stall was saying. She couldn't write the numbers, so she counted the correct money out of her purse and showed it to me so that I could work it out. She counted the money out for each item separately, presumably to show that she was charging the correct price. By pointing and waving the money, she was able to show me how much I needed to pay. I handed her the cash and forced out my version of 'thank you'. We parted company, both smiling. I am slowly learning the skills needed to be illiterate in a foreign society.
Categories: Asian Blog