El último paseo

Traducido por Lua Gatchan (from the original in English The Final Walk).

 

El camino a casa desde el muelle es uno de los pequeños placeres de la vida. Normalmente es un paseo de 20 minutos, pero a menudo puedo tardar hasta una hora o incluso dos, ya que me paro a charlar con todo el mundo en el camino, con los comerciantes, con las personas que conozco de vista o incluso con desconocidos. Esta es la costumbre en mi pueblo en el sur de Tailandia, donde encuentras sonrisas y todo el mundo te habla.

Old dog

Bombom was old and tired, ready for his final walk to the temple.

El clima es casi siempre caluroso y soleado, entre 29° y 38°, hoy hace exactamente 32° según mi equipo de buceo. Por supuesto hay lluvias durante la temporada de lluvias, pero sólo duran una hora o dos y todo se seca pronto, dejando una sensación de frescura y olor a tierra mojada en el aire. A veces llueve tanto que las calles se convierten en ríos pequeños, pero todo el mundo se lo toma con calma, con los pantalones arremangados; la vida continúa (literalmente) con una sonrisa.

Después de haber completado tres inmersiones, una de ellas con fuerte oleaje, como de costumbre me muero de hambre. En estos días, mi trabajo en Tailandia consiste en la gestión biológica del medio marino que, básicamente significa bucear, a veces con estudiantes, otras sin, hago fotos a los peces y a los corales que veo, y luego escribo un informe. Sí, ¡esto es lo que yo llamo un trabajo! Me paro en uno de esos extraordinarios vendedores ambulantes en la calle principal para comer algo. La comida en la calle es tan barata y tan buena que no vale la pena ir a casa y cocinar.

Buddhist Monk and Dog.

Buddhist Monk and Dog (image by John Lander).

Mi restaurante favorito (que se parece más a un garaje abierto) es una empresa familiar, al igual que la mayoría de los negocios en Tailandia. Los dueños viven allí. Tienen un televisor y una cama para los niños en la parte trasera, es decir, detrás de las cuatro mesas para los clientes. Todo está a la vista de todos. Claro, no quieren dejar a los niños solos en una habitación. Los niños (y los perros) son una parte inherente en la vida Tailandesa, los ves en todas partes. Se les permite hacer lo que quieran, pocas veces se les regaña o se les grita, y sorprendentemente son muy educados. Me desconcierta cómo manejan esto, sobre todo cuando pienso en algunos de nuestros mocosos en Occidente, tanto humanos como caninos. Todavía tengo que descubrir su secreto, pero supongo que tiene algo que ver con el hecho de que son parte de la vida cotidiana desde el día en que nacen; están perfectamente integrados sin ningunas construcciones ni zonas artificiales “para niños”. Lo mismo ocurre con los perros; son miembros como todos los demás, sin preocupaciones y sin ninguna atención especial, sin tratar a unos o a otros de una forma especial.

Sawasdee kha khoon, Logel”, Phee Malí me saluda con una gran sonrisa cuando me ve.

Phee significa hermana mayor y Malí significa Jasmine, que es su nombre. Soy Logel porque los tailandeses siempre te llaman por tu nombre de pila. Los apellidos son un invento relativamente nuevo que se les impone por el Gobierno en respuesta al crecimiento de la población y una sociedad más moderna. La guía telefónica está ordenada por el nombre de pila. El Rey Rama VI introdujo los apellidos en 1920 y él, personalmente, inventó apellidos para unas 500 familias. Todos los tailandeses tienen apodos. ¡Te diriges a tus amigos por sus apodos y ni siquiera conoces su nombre real! Soy Logel porque la mayoría de los tailandeses no pueden pronunciar el sonido de la letra “r”, ni siquiera en su propio idioma y sorprendentemente tienen la “r” en el idioma Tailandés.

Dog in Temple

Thais often take the dogs to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha.

“¿Estás bien? ¿Has visto algún pez hermoso hoy?” me pregunta Phee Malí en ‘Tenglish’ (inglés-tailandés, que es un lenguaje en sí mismo, encantador y adictivo). En poco tiempo y sin ni siquiera darte cuenta, empiezas a hablar Tenglish. Yo hablo una mezcla de Tailandés y Tenglish con los lugareños. A medida que mejora mi tailandés hablo menos Tenglish, pero el tailandés es difícil porque es una lengua tonal. El tono con el que se pronuncia una palabra cambia su significado, y a veces de una forma dramática. Hay palabras que siempre pronuncio mal y a los tailandeses les da un ataque de risa, ya sea porque estoy diciendo un disparate o digo algo mal. Les encanta cuando se trata de la segunda opción. Incluso me animan a decir una palabra que sé y que ellos saben que no puedo pronunciar bien sólo para divertirse. Pero esa diversión es sana y sin ningún ánimo de faltar el respeto. Por el contrario, me dan un trato preferencial porque hablo tailandés.

Transcribiré a continuación algunas de nuestras conversaciones en inglés, traducido directamente de palabras tailandesas, con el fin de dar a mis lectores una idea.

Sí”, contesto. He visto peces hermosos y corales. El Thale (mar) Andamar estaba muy bien.

“Oh!, estás tan negro!” Exclama con el ceño fruncido y una sonrisa. “Negro” en realidad significa bronceado o quemado por el sol. A las mujeres tailandesas no les gusta estar morenas. A ellos les gusta el blanco, como suelen decir, y se preocupan cuando ven a alguien con lo que en Occidente llamamos un bronceado saludable y atractivo.

“You hung’y ‘ight, gwai teeaw moo pet mak ‘ight? Phee Malí me pregunta riendo. Ella sabe exactamente lo que tengo en mente; me encanta un plato de Gwai teeaw moo, caliente y picante, especialmente después de un día duro de trabajo. Es una sopa de fideos y carne de cerdo o pollo o camarones,  con todo lo que puedas imaginar. Incluso lo sirven con un plato de vegetales frescos que cortas con los dedos y los metes en la sopa como prefieras. Lo mezclas todo tú mismo con chili seco, chili fresco, salsa de chili, salsa de pescado, soja, pimienta, sal y un poco de azúcar (sí, azúcar, pruébalo y verás por qué me encanta). Es delicioso y puedo asegurar que también es muy saludable.

Me como mi Gwai teeaw moo y disfruto de un té verde helado sin azúcar. El sol se pondrá dentro de una media hora; aquí siempre se pone a la misma hora, siete grados al norte del ecuador. No hay lluvia hoy. ¡Disfruto de la vida en el Paraíso!

“Thao THALE SA Baay dee Mai”. Los niños van corriendo a preguntarme sobre los peces y en especial sobre la tortuga marina, su favorita, y es una buena oportunidad para practicar mi tailandés. Me llaman Lung Logel (tío Roger), en deferencia por mi edad. Entonces llega el turno de decir hola a los perros, un idioma que sé, que no tiene ningún acento y se habla igual en todos los continentes.

Thai Child wai.

The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

Veo a Ae al otro lado de la calle (AE es un nombre divertido de un juego del escondite de Tailandia). La conozco a ella y a sus padres. Su padre trabaja en uno de los barcos que utilizo con regularidad en mis excursiones de buceo. A menudo le ayudo a atracar el barco cuando llegamos al muelle cuando no hace un clima perfecto y a veces tomamos una cerveza juntos después de haber asegurado el barco, descargarlo, etc. Ae está en cuclillas al lado de su perro, uno de esos perros de Tailandia que se parecen a todos los demás. Los perros de aldea en Tailandia son todos iguales, como si fueran de una raza particular, producto de una reproducción aleatoria a lo largo de los años. Yo los llamo “el perro por defecto”.

“¿Ae está triste, verdad?” Le pregunto a los niños.

“Oh, el perro de Ae está muy viejo. Mañana el padre de Ae llevará al perro al templo”, responde Chang Lek (su nombre es Pequeño Elefante).

Termino mi comida y voy a hablar con Ae, que todavía está en cuclillas junto a su perro, acariciándolo. Puedo ver que Bombom está viejo y cansado. Es un perro bueno y agradable. A menudo se le puede ver paseando por el pueblo tranquilamente por el vecindario. Él increíblemente siempre está muy polvoriento a pesar de que Ae y su madre lo bañan cuidadosamente y con frecuencia. Cuando me acerco a ellos, él a penas levanta la cabeza. Se muestra afable y resignado de sí mismo.

“Sawasdee khrap, Ae”.

“Sawasdee kha,” me responde la niña, y se apresura a mostrarme un wai para mi. El wai es el saludo tailandés, levantando ambas manos a la barbilla. Todavía me parece el saludo más hermoso que he visto nunca.

“Bombom es viejo, verdad?” le pregunto.

“Sí señor”.

“Bombom ha tenido una vida feliz. Tú eres una buena amiga de Bombom”.

“Sí señor”, dice suavemente.

“A Bombom le gustas mucho”, le digo quedándome sin palabras.

“Mamá y papá mañana llevarán a Bombom al templo”, responde ella, y veo que le cae una gran lágrima por su mejilla izquierda.

“Sí, lo sé”, le digo. Otra vez sin palabras, añado “Ae, voy a comprar un helado para que nos sentemos aquí comiendo helado y hablando con Bombom, ¿te gusta la idea?”

“Sí señor, muchísimas gracias señor”, dice ella, y se las arregla para regalarme una sonrisa encantadora.  “A Bombom le gustan mucho los helados”, me dice la niña, y ahora sus ojos están llenos de lágrimas jóvenes, tristes.

En la cultura y creencia tailandesa, todos los seres que viven bajo el mismo sol merecen el mismo respeto. Las especies no importan. Ellos aman a sus mascotas y cuando llegan a la edad de morir, algunos tailandeses los llevan al templo local para que puedan morir en paz, en compañía de los monjes y cerca de Buda. Por eso siempre hay muchos perros alrededor de los templos, y a veces es un problema real. Los templos son pobres. Un monje posee sólo siete artículos. Los vecinos cocinan para ellos y para los perros por la mañana antes de ir a trabajar.

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

La vida es maravillosa.

R—

Related articles

為了讓你跟狗狗可以快樂地在一起 “16件別再這麼做的事情”

譯者 translator: 林明勤 ( Ming Chin Lin) — from the original in English “16 Things You Should Stop Doing In Order To Be Happy With Your Dog

Roger Abrantes in 1986 howling with husky.

Cover photo from the author’s book from 1986 “Hunden, vor ven” (The Dog, Our Friend) (photo by Ole Suszkievicz).


如果您希望與狗兒生活地更開心並且擁有穩固的關係,以下有16件您必須停止再這麼做的事情。會很困難嗎?一點也不。你只需要產生想做的念頭,然後很單純地就去行動。也就是說,閱讀完這篇文章後,您就開始著手進行了!

1.  別再過度挑剔—別擔心,享受過程吧。 Stop being fussy—don’t worry, be happy

如同對於我們生命中的大部分事物來說, 當一個完美主意者是有其優點及其缺點的。當你養了一隻狗,你的生活會傾向莫非定律的模式 。任何會出差錯的事情將會出差錯。因為事情總有變數,也因此事情的發展很少百分之百如你期望的方式進行。您能夠做的也應該做的則是計畫並訓練,但需要做好準備的是,在沒有任何人(狗)會受傷的情況下,接受所有各種變動性、臨時性以及微小的事故。畢竟,在大部分的情況來說,比”完美”差一點點的往往都比”做的好”來的更好,所以為何要擔心做到完美呢?”完美”,這個僅存在於您腦袋裡的概念並不會讓任何人都開心,不論是對您或者您的狗兒來說都是。

2. 別老是太嚴肅—笑一下吧!Stop being too serious—have a laugh

如果你沒有很好的幽默感,那麼就別和狗兒生活在一起。哈哈大笑在很多事故發生時,通常是最好的解決方式,也同時可以讓狗狗與主人的關係升溫。會因事故而感到難堪、尷尬的只有我們的心裡。您的狗甚至不懂尷尬是什麼,而您應該跟隨狗狗這樣的方式。只要沒有任何人、狗受傷,那麼對於您或者您的狗狗犯下的過錯,就一笑置之吧!

3. 停止你想要控制任何事情的慾望—當狀況發生時,接受它。Stop your desire to control everything—take it as it comes

當您用莫非定律來決定您與狗兒的生活方式時,如果您企圖控制您的狗兒的每一個行動, 您最後得到的會是潰瘍或者陷入失望、沮喪之中。放棄您需要控制一切的想法。當然地,您應該要在安全的考量下,有理智地控制管理好狗狗,不過您應該將一些對生活或者死亡無關緊要的事物給拋在腦後。

4. 別再”散撥”你的責罵—繼續前進。 Stop apportioning blame—move on

當事情出了差錯(我可以跟您保證,事情就是會出錯)別浪費你的時間在分送你的責罵。是否是您造成的錯、狗兒造成的錯、還是鄰居的貓害的?誰在乎呀?

向前看,並且如果你發現當下的情況全都令人失望,那麼就試著預先想好未來可能會發生與這次類似的情節,並且避免它的發生。假如不是件很大的事情,那就忘了它吧。

5. 別再去相信關於狗狗的祖先是狼的傳言。 Stop believing in old wives’ tales—be critical

這世界上充滿的許多不合理的、毫無根據的狗狗的狼祖先傳言。這些日子來,網路提供了一個快速及簡易的管道讓我們可以獲得許多珍貴的資訊,同時也有很多是垃圾: 不好的觀點、不好的定義、未經證實的申明、謬論、情緒化的呈述、偽科學、促銷活動、被隱藏的政治議程、宗教道義等。當然,以表達個人言論的自由來說,我相信任何人都可發佈任何自己想要表達的看法,甚至單純地就一派胡言。但您和我都有權不去相信它、有權去漠視它。運用您的批判性思考。不要停止問自己“這怎麼有辦法發生“及“他/她是怎麼得到結論的?“ 直到您有時間好好深深地思考之後,才停止你的批判及行動。如果有必要,則尋求第二或者第三者的看法。如果這個論點非常可靠並且你喜歡,那麼就可以這麼做;如果這個論點很可愛但你不喜歡它,那麼就不要做,並且想的仔細一點;假如那個觀點不可靠,那就拒絕它並且不要再想了;為你自己做下決定並做你認為對的事情。

6. 別在意標籤—別憂慮!Stop caring about labels—be free

因為標籤的販售,我們因而被過度地淹沒在標籤之中,但它們之所以存在而被販賣,只因為你買單。你是否應該是個正向、極度正向、正增強、正正增強、正增強負處罰、達到兩者平衡、自然派、道德派、保守派、實際派、激進派、響片訓練者或者獨裁主意者的飼主呢?停止在意您該被貼上什麼標籤。當您與您的狗狗享受一個完美的時刻,您所被貼的標籤是不相干的。標籤是一個負擔;它會限制您並讓您奪走自由。標籤是給那些需要躲在圖片後並毫無安全感的人用的。請相信你自己,成為你想要成為的飼主,而且你並不需要標籤。

7. 別再去管別人怎麼想—過你自己的!Stop caring about what others think—live your life

在與您碰面的大多數人中,您在這些人身上只會花了非常少的時間;大多數的時間您則是花在家人及親近的朋友身上。所以,當您可能甚至不會再次見到這些人或者只會偶爾見到的人人,為何要在意其他們對您身為一個飼主或者您的狗狗的行為的看法呢?

8. 停止抱怨—不要浪費你的時間。 Stop complaining—don’t waste your time

您只有在一種情況下會有問題,也就是當您期望的事情與事情原貌之間有差異的時候。如果您的期望是很切實的,那就嘗試看看並且做些可以達成期望的事情。如果不是,那就停止抱怨,這浪費的是時間及精力。假如您可以為那件事情做些事,那就做吧!如果不行,那為當下畫個句點後,就向前邁進。

9.  別再為自己找藉口。 Stop excusing yourself—be yourself

您不需要為您的作風或者您的狗兒找合理化的藉口。只要在您不打擾任何人(狗)的狀況下,您有權做您喜歡的方式並且作你自己。您不需要對任何事都非常擅長,不論是服從訓練、敏捷犬、與狗共舞、在音樂中讓狗狗腳側行進、飛球活動、護衛犬、牧羊犬、嗅覺活動、動物輔助治療、雪橇犬比賽、跳水狗活動、Field、Earthdog、Rally-O、Weight Pulling、Carting、Trials、 Dock Dogs、Dog Diving、Disc Dogs、Ultimate Air Dogs、Super Retriever、Hang Time、Lure Course Racing or Treibball; 關於您做不到的事情,您不需為自己解釋不擅長的原因。當然,您也無需說明您的狗沒有標準坐姿的原因。另一方面,針對您想要改變並且能被改變的事物來努力;別把時間跟精力花在去想您不想要的、不需要的或無法改變的事物。無論您與您的狗享受的是什麼,就去做吧!只要您們喜歡,您跟狗狗才可以同時是快樂的。就是這麼簡單!

10. 別再為某些事難受立刻行動。 Stop feeling bad—act now

如果您對於在您與狗狗的生活中的某一項特定的層面而感到不開心,那麼就做一些事情來改變它。辨別問題且立下目標、擬定一個規劃進而實踐它。僅專注於難受的感覺或愧疚對於事情本身、對任何人、您的狗或者那個與您分享生活的可貴的人來說,都無濟於事。

11. 停止您對於擁有的慾望───作伴!Stop your urge to own—be a mate

對於一個生命具備享有權的奴隸制度,很慶幸地早已經被廢除了,因此,別過時地把自己看成是您的狗的所有者。要把您的狗狗當作一個您需要為之負責的伴侶。如同您並不擁有您的孩子、您的父母親或者您的朋友。

12. 停止依賴— 釋放自己。 Stop dependency—untie your self

愛基本上與依賴、著迷或渴望無關,甚至與這三者的必要性關聯是恰恰相反的。您可以愛您的狗但不要建立對彼此的依賴。您要有一個自己的生活並且給您的狗一些空間。您跟您的狗兒是兩個獨立的個體。就像是自由球員一樣,您們享受與彼此一起生活,但不是對彼此著了迷。停止把自己的影子投射在狗狗身上。

13. 別把狗狗當作一個替代品—展現尊重。 Stop turning your dog into a substitute—show respect

每一隻狗都是一隻狗,而他都是一個獨一無二的生命。你要愛他、享受有他的陪伴但不要把他當作任何一個人、朋友、小孩或者另一個配偶的替代品。

期待任何人/狗成為一個替代品對一個人、一個非人類的動物或者對您自己來說都是非常不敬的。別再讓您的狗狗為您扮演一個某一個角色,您必須開始用愛一隻狗的方式來愛你的狗。

14. 別試著合理化—請保持真實。 Stop rationalizing—be truthful

所有的關係如同經貿交易般是有付出與獲得的往來。

只要兩者能取得平衡,那麼就沒有任何問題。要對自己誠實 :

您的狗給了你什麼,而你又為你的狗做了什麼?如果你發現你們其中一個幾乎都是供給者或是接受者,思考這個問題並且調整這個平衡。你的狗需要你,就像你需要你的狗一樣,而且只要你跟狗狗都是有付出及獲得,那麼這之間並沒有任何問題。你不是因為為了拯救這個可憐的小動物而養牠。您養你的狗是因為你們兩個可以一起享受一個美好的豐富的夥伴關係。

15. 別再去奢望那些你不能擁有的事物—對於當下所擁有的要感到開心。 Stop wanting what you can’t have—be happy with what you’ve got

這是十分常見的人類特性。你總是奢望那些你無法得到的;對於您已經擁有的那些美好視而不見。

你的狗已經提供了你一個非常好的交易呢!儘管你的狗狗無法對於每件事情都很擅長,但你們兩個是可以非常完美地開心在一起!當狗主人說著他們多愛自己的狗但卻花著大部分的時間試圖去改變狗兒的行為,這是多令人吃驚的呀!把焦點放在你擁有的事物上,而不是你沒擁有的事物,感受並感恩你所擁有的。

16. 別再打擊你自己—跟著心意走。 Stop fighting yourself—follow your heart

有非常多種不同的方式可以成為一個好的狗主人。你有你自己的方式、別於他人的方式。這是你的人生。只要你不傷害任何人(狗),那就用你覺得自在的方式活著吧!仔細去聆聽專家的建議,好好地思考他們的建議,但最後,做你感覺是對的事情,跟隨你的心。做你自己。

生命是美好的!Life is great!

R—

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I’m a citizen of the World

I’m a citizen of the World,” I say, when asked where I come from—and I am, in mind and heart.

Woman saving dog from the flood

Woman saving dog from the flood (photo by Dave).

 

Diogenes, in about 412 BC, was probably the first to use the expression and express the very same sentiment. When asked where he came from, he replied: “I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolitês)”. Socrates (469-399 BC) concurred: “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” This was indeed a revolutionary thought, because at that time, social identity in Greece was either bound to the city-states, Athens and Sparta, or to the Greeks (the Hellenes). Perhaps it is just as revolutionary today.

Kaniyan Poongundran, the Tamil poet, wrote (at least 2000 years ago), “To us all towns are one, all men our kin.” Thomas Paine (English-American philosopher, 1737 – 1809), said, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren and to do good is my religion.” Albert Einstein (1879-1955) thought of himself as a world citizen, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

I’ve travelled over most of our beautiful planet, seen mountains above the clouds with perennial snow tops, and oceans reaching far beyond the eye can see. I’ve lived in temperatures from 40º C below zero to 40º C above. I’ve eaten all kinds of weird and wonderful dishes prepared by humans and spent many a day and night enjoying the company of people with the most peculiar cultures and habits.

Asian child with cat and dog.

Child with cat and dog.

 

What’s my favorite place? I don’t have one. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve discovered new pieces in the amazing puzzle of life. Everywhere I’ve been, from the most glamorous cities to the poorest, war-torn areas, I’ve met kind and gentle people. I’ve shared water with the Masai in the African desert and rice with the Chhetris in the Nepalese mountains. I felt a strong kinship with all of them: no country, no culture, no language, no divide—we were family, we were humans, we were sentient living beings.

My blogs are read all over the World. I have readers in places that you may never have heard of: Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Kyrgyzstan, Brunei, Réunion, Oman, to name just a few. I speak nine languages and understand at least sixteen, but write in English, as it’s the language I feel most comfortable with. I write about matters concerning my profession (biology and ethology) and also about life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I’ve been so fortunate to acquire during my life with all those who wish to receive it. My blog site, on which I share blogs, articles and books, is free to everyone.

I write in English, which is fast becoming a lingua franca, understood and spoken by most, allowing my blogs to reach far and wide. However, there are many people who do not speak or understand English and, therefore, from time to time, I publish a translation of one of my blogs in a language other than English. This is the least I can do for my loyal, non-native, English speaking readers from around the world.

Boy and dog sleeping on the street.

Boy and dog sleeping on the street (photo by Gemunu Amarasinghe).

 

As my blog site is free of charge, I have to keep costs as low as possible. I therefore use the WordPress platform, which is efficient, but has its limitations, one of which is that subscribers cannot be categorized by their native language; which means that all subscribers receive notifications of all my blogs whatever the language. This shouldn’t really be a problem, as, if you receive a blog in a language you don’t understand, you can either click the blue link that takes you directly to the English original, or you can simply discard the notification email. However, this seems to upset some native English speakers to the point where they send me messages asking me to remove them from the subscribers list unless they only receive blogs in English.

Unfortunately, that’s impossible if my blog is to remain free of charge because WordPress doesn’t provide that option. Such readers need to decide whether the inconvenience of receiving a message about a blog entry in a language you can’t read outweighs the benefits of having free access to all the other stuff you can. As of today, I’ve published 49 blogs (including several articles and six small books) of which only eight are in languages other than English. You can do your calculations and decide whether you get enough for your money (the money you don’t pay, that is).

As long as I receive messages like the one below, which overwhelms me, makes my heart beat a little faster and my eyes well up, I’ll continue to offer the sporadic translation.

“Teacher sir Roger I’m not good English I no computer Read from computer shop read your article from dictionary info I like so much I have many dog other animal too I very much appreciate your help very much You long life healthy”

The only regret I have is not being able to write in more languages than I do. Until then, I’ll continue writing in as many languages as I can—and yes, I’m a citizen of the World!

Life is great!

R—

Note: According to the CIA World Fact Book, only 5.6 % of the world’s total population speaks English as a primary language. That number doubles when people who speak English as a second or third language are counted. By conservative estimates, that means that well over four-fifths of the world’s population does not speak English.

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The Thai Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose hero from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

We all know Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave mongoose from Kipling’s ‘The Jungle book.’ This is the story of Mah Noy, the brave dog from Koh Lanta Yai in Southern Thai.

Koh Lanta Yai (เกาะลันตา) remains one of  Thailand‘s well-kept secrets (I shouldn’t even reveal the name). It is relatively close to the better-known islands of Koh Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, but is practically inaccessible, requiring two flights, a long drive, and two ferry trips. Tourists are few and far between on this particular South Andaman island and it is virtually devoid of Western influence, except for a few resorts for those who want a taste of unspoiled paradise. Koh Lanta Yai is the biggest of 52 islands of which only 12 are inhabited.

Of course, it’s much easier for me to get to Koh Lanta, as I am resident on a neighboring island only 43.5 nautical miles away. The beaches of Koh Lanta are idyllic: the sand unsullied the water clear and warm (about 86-88º F) and the underwater world along the coral reef just breathtaking (although not literally, I’m happy to say). I always look forward to my diving assignments nearby, drifting above the Staghorn and the Anemone corals monitoring the various species’ fortunes. What a great job!

Thai Fisherman With Dog

Thai fisherman like to have their dogs with them for company and practical purposes.

When I’m working in Koh Lanta, I always go ashore in the evening and stay in modest accommodation right on the beach. On one of these occasions, just before sunset, I was sitting in front of my bungalow, cleaning my equipment, when two children came along to talk to me, as always, curious about foreigners.

I had seen them both before; they belong to the food booth where I often eat, just behind the bungalow. We talked about the sea and the fish and about my diving gear, which of course fascinates them.

After having washed my gear, I decided to walk the 30 yards up the cliff to grab something to eat, and the kids followed me. My Thai is not as good as I would like, but my inadequacies have their advantages. As it is so difficult to pronounce words correctly, I nearly always commit embarrassing mistakes that produce a great deal of giggling—and giggling is the best way I know to decrease distance between strangers.

Woman with her dog: Thai street food booth

Thai street food cooking and selling is a small family business and since dogs are part of the daily life in Thailand it is not unusual to see them with their owners at work.

“Khun cheu aria?” (What’s your name?), I asked the little boy who was giggling the most and who happened to have one of his front teeth missing.

He told me his name, which sounded funny to me. Thais have all sorts of interesting nicknames, and they are especially fond of animal names. Elephant, shrimp, crab, fish, bird, duck, rabbit, turtle, and even chicken are common names—but I’ve never heard a nickname like this little boy’s. It was then that his mother, Poo (Crab), the owner of the food booth, told me the story.

Five years earlier, two days after giving birth to the now gap-toothed boy, Poo was cooking dinner whilst the family dog catnapped behind the cradle where her newborn baby was happily babbling away to himself.

Thais usually cook outdoors. It’s always warm and they don’t like the smell of food indoors. The dog was typically Thai, of unknown origin, the size of a small spaniel, with an unruly black and white coat, and friendly, deep brown eyes. They had found him on the street a couple of years beforehand and had fed him. For want of a better name, they called him just (หมาน้อย), Mah Noy. He stayed around and finally moved in a couple of weeks later after conquering their hearts. The pressure of natural selection for dogs in Thailand is on kindness. The kindest dogs have a greater chance of survival and pass on their ‘kinder’ genes to their progeny.

On that particular day, Mah Noy gave Poo such a fright she almost lost hold of her hot pan, which could have resulted in serious burns. The dog had suddenly emitted a deep growl and then in two agile, determined jumps, just missing the baby’s cradle, he launched himself on top of a cobra, biting it firmly behind the head.

Thai boy and puppy

Mah Noy (หมาน้อย), the boy, got his unusual name for a good reason.

The Andaman Cobra (Naja sagittifera) is an impressive snake, measuring about three to four feet in length. The effects of its venom are devastating; it is capable of killing a human in 30 minutes.

Poo was terrified, rushed to pick up the baby, and ran out of the front gate into the street where she began shouting for her husband. Na (short for Chai Cha Na = victory) came running to the scene and charged into the backyard to grab a spade. The cobra was lying a few feet from the dog, apparently lifeless, but, just in case, Na cut it in two with a well-aimed strike with the spade. Mah Noy looked up at him, gasping for air, and barely able to wag the tip of his bushy tail. Na understood right away that the dog was dying, picked him up and, holding his dog firmly on his lap with one hand, he rode his motorbike as quickly as he could to the local vet.

On the way to the vet, Mah Noy peed and pooped on his lap. Na stopped to get a better grasp on the dog. Mah Noy looked at him, gasped for air for a last time and gave a final wag of his tail. Na understood it was too late for the vet and the strong fisherman from the South Andaman Sea began to weep like a child, right there on the side of the road to Klong Dao, in the fading light of the day on which he had come so close to losing his first-born baby boy.

When Na got home to Poo and their newborn, they buried Mah Noy in their backyard and placed a yellow marigold on top of the grave (yellow is the color of friendship for Thais). That evening, they decided to call their baby boy หมาน้อย, Mah Noy, which in Thai means ‘puppy.’

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

R—

The Final Walk

My walk home from the pier is one of life’s small pleasures. It’s normally a 20 minute stroll, but it can often take up to an hour or sometimes even two, as I have to stop and chat with everybody on the way, from merchants to people I know by sight, or even complete strangers. This is the Thai way and the way of my village in Southern Thailand where everybody smiles and talks to you.

Old dog

Bombom was old and tired, ready for his final walk to the temple.

 

The weather is nearly always hot and sunny, between 29º and 38ºC (85º and 100º F), Today it’s exactly 32º C according to my diving computer. Of course it rains during the rainy season, but only for an hour or two and everything soon dries off, leaving a sense of freshness and the smell of wet soil in the air. Sometimes it rains cats and dogs, turning the streets in the village into small rivers, but everyone takes it in their stride and, with shoes off and pants rolled up, life continues (literally) with a smile.
After having completed three dives, one of them in a strong surge, I’m starving as usual. These days, in my ageing youth, my job in Thailand is marine biology environmental management, which, basically, means I dive, sometimes with students, sometimes without, take pictures of the fish and corals I see, and then write a report—yes, I call that a job! I stop at one of those remarkable street vendors on the main street to grab something to eat. ‘Street food’ is so cheap and so good that it doesn’t make any sense to go home and cook.

Buddhist Monk and Dog.

Buddhist Monk and Dog (image by John Lander).

 

My favorite ‘restaurant’ (it looks more like an open garage) is a family business, like most small businesses in Thailand. The owners live there too. They have a TV and a bed for the kids in the back—that is, behind the four tables for the guests. It’s all on view for all to see. Of course, you don’t want to isolate the kids in a room by themselves. Children (and dogs) are an inherent part of Thai life; you see them everywhere. They are allowed to do whatever they want, are seldom scolded or yelled at and, amazingly enough, they are pretty well behaved. It puzzles me how they manage it, especially when I think of some of our little brats in the West, both human and canine. I am yet to discover their secret, but I guess it has something to do with the fact they are part of every aspect of daily life from the day they are born; they are perfectly integrated with no artificially constructed, designated kids-zones. The same goes for the dogs, they belong there like anyone else: no fuss, no extra attention, no special treatment one way or another.

“Sawasdee kha khoon Logel,” Phee Mali greets me with a big smile when she sees me.

Phee means big sister and Mali means Jasmine, which is her name. I’m Logel because Thais are always on first name terms. Last names are a relatively new invention imposed on them by the government in response to the growth of the nation and a more modern society. The telephone directory is ordered by first names. King Rama VI introduced the practice of surnames in 1920 and he personally invented names for about 500 families. All Thais have nicknames. You call your friends by their nicknames and sometimes you don’t even know their real name! I’m Logel because most Thais can’t pronounce the ‘r’ sound, not even in their own language and, surprisingly enough, they do have ‘r’ in Thai.

Dog in Temple

Thais often take the dogs to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha.

 

“You OK, you see beautiful fish today?” Phee Mali asks me in ‘Tenglish’—or Thai English, which is a language in its own right, most charming and highly addictive. Before long and without even noticing it, you begin speaking Tenglish. I speak a mixture of Thai and Tenglish with the locals. As my Thai improves, I speak more Thai and less Tenglish, but Thai is difficult as it is a tone language. The tone with which you pronounce a word changes its meaning and sometimes dramatically so. There are words I consistently mispronounce which has the Thais in fits of laughter, either because I talk utter nonsense, or I say something naughty. They love it when it’s the latter. They even encourage me to say something they know I can’t pronounce just to amuse themselves. It’s all good-hearted and good fun, with no disrespect intended. On the contrary, I get preferential treatment because I speak Thai. I’ll transcribe below some of our conversations in English, directly translated from the Thai words, in order to give my readers a feel for it.

“Yes,” I answer, “I saw beautiful fish and corals. Thale (sea) Andaman very good.”

“Oh you so black!” she exclaims with furrowed brows and a smile. ‘Black’ actually means either tanned or sun burnt, as the case may be. Thai women don’t like to be sun tanned. They like white, as they say, and they become very worried when they see someone with what in the West we call a healthy, attractive tan.

“You hung’y ‘ight, gwai teeaw moo pet mak ‘ight?” Phee Mali asks me laughing. She knows just what’s on my mind—I love a hot, spicy gwai teeaw moo, especially after a hard day’s work. It’s a soup, containing noodles and pork, chicken or shrimp, with everything else imaginable thrown in. It even comes with a side plate of fresh vegetables that you tear into pieces with your fingers and add to the soup as you please. You season it all yourself with dry chili, fresh chili, chili sauce, fish sauce, soy, pepper, salt, and a bit of sugar (yes sugar, try it and you’ll see why I love it). It’s delicious I can assure you, and healthy too.

I eat my gwai teeaw moo and sip down my iced green tea, no sugar. The sun will set in about half an hour; it always goes down at the same time here, seven degrees north of the equator. No rain today. I relish life in Paradise!

“Tao thale sa baay dee mai.” The kids come running to ask me about the fish and especially the sea turtle, their favorite—which is a good opportunity for me to practice my Thai language. They call me Lung Logel (Uncle Roger), in deference to my age. Then, it’s the dogs’ turn to say hi—in Doggish, one language I do know, no accent and spoken the same on every continent.

Thai Child wai.

The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

 

I see Ae on the other side of the street (Ae is a funny name deriving from the Thai peekaboo game). I know her and her family. Her father works on one of the boats I regularly sail with on my diving tours. I often help him dock the boat when we arrive at the pier in less than perfect weather and we sometimes have a beer together after having secured the boat, unloaded, etc. Ae is squatting beside her dog, one of those Thai dogs that looks the same as every other. Village dogs in Thailand all look alike, as if they were a particular breed, the product of random breeding throughout the years. I call them ‘default dogs.’

“Ae sad, right?’ I ask the kids.

“Oh, dog Ae old already, tomorrow father of Ae bring dog to go temple,” Chang Lek (Little Elephant is his name) replies.

I finish my meal and go over to talk to Ae, still squatting beside her dog and petting him. I can see Bombom is old and tired. He’s a good, friendly dog. He can often be seen strolling around the village, quietly surveying the neighborhood. He’s always incredibly dusty despite Ae and her mother painstakingly and frequently bathing him. When I approach them, he barely raises his head. He gives me that affable, resigned look of his.

“Sawasdee khrap, Ae.”

“Sawasdee kha,” she says to me and hastens to wai to me. The wai is the Thai greeting when you raise both hands together to your chin. It still strikes me as the most beautiful greeting I’ve ever seen.

“Bombom is old, right?” I ask her.

“Yessir.”

“Bombom already had happy life. You are good friend of Bombom.”

“Yessir,” she says gently.

“Bombom likes you very much,” I say, lost for words.

“Tomorrow Mum and Dad bring Bombom to go to temple,” she replies and I see a big tear roll down her left cheek.

“Yes. I know,” I tell her. Again lost for words, I add “Ae, I go across the street to buy ice cream for us to sit here eating ice cream and talking to Bombom. You like that?”

“Yessir, thank you so much sir,” she says and manages to give me a lovely smile. “Bombom likes ice cream so much,” she adds and her eyes are now full of thick, sorrowful, young tears.

In Thai culture and beliefs, all living beings under the sun deserve the same respect. Species is of no relevance. They love their pets and when they are old and dying, some Thais take them to the local temple so they can die in peace, in the company of the monks, near Buddha. That’s why there are always many dogs around the temples, which sometimes is a real problem. The temples are poor. A monk owns only seven articles. The villagers cook for them (and the dogs) in the morning before going to work.

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

R—

Life’s All About Food And Sex

Pandas at the Chiang Mai Zoo in northern Thailand.

To offer food to females in exchange for sex works well for most males in various species, except when one eats too much of it. At the Chiang Mai Zoo in Northern Thailand, the male panda, is apparently too fat to have sex and his partner, the female Lin Hui, has lost interest. Zoo keepers have done everything to spice up their sex life including showing them movies of other pandas having sex!... (photo from Chiang Mai Zoo).

The other day I went to my favorite bar (and yes, of course it’s Irish) to drink a couple of beers, play some pool and have a bit of fun. The regulars, my mates, are an eclectic mix of professions, trades, ages, economic status, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations, all with very different interests in life. Mostly, we just have fun, drink beers and martinis, play pool, discuss football and holidays, complain about how everything got to be so expensive and the incompetence of politicians, and we laugh at a good as well as a bad joke. Sometimes, someone throws in a kind of provocation, a more complex question.

“Cheers, mate!” someone shouts to me from across a table. “You’re a biologist, so you may be able to answer my question for the day: what’s life all about?”

Fruit Fly Boozing

Sex-deprived fruit fly males drink alcohol four times more than others (photo from Geekologie).

“Cheers to you too, mate. You can’t ask a thing like that. That’s not a bar question,” I say. “But, no problem there. Life is all about food and sex,” I add, taking a slug of my wonderfully cold beer and confirming my view that the first beer always tastes the best.

“Hey, I’m asking a serious question,” he protests, “gimme a serious answer!”

“I’m giving you a serious answer. Everything living organisms do is to get either food or sex. Food is a great thing. Firstly, it is necessary to survive and you need to survive in order to have sex, because, if you’re dead, you can’t have sex. Secondly, females in particular love food because they need food to survive, so they can have sex, so they can have progeny; and their progeny needs food, lots of food.”

“Maybe for other animals,” he argues. “But for us humans, there’s more to life than food and sex. What about science, for one?”

“Very simple—science is a means to an end. Why do you think there are many more male scientists than female? Because they need to invent easy ways to get food to give to females, because the females then get all crazy about them and they have sex. Then, they get more progeny who need more food, which implies more science, more sex…”

“You’re far out, mate, we’re more than that. We have a soul, we produce great art!”

“Most good art is produced by unhappy males. How often do  you hear of a great, happy artist? Do you know why they are unhappy? Because they don’t get the sex they want. That’s why they produce art. Females like beauty because the more beautiful sons or daughters they have, depending on the species, the more grandchildren they will have. Also, artists are normally safe, they are sensitive and it is unlikely they will kill their progeny. So, males produce all the art they can to impress the females so they have sex with them. Then, they get more progeny, and the progeny needs more food, which…”

“OK, I got it,” he says, “artists are sensitive, but what about power?  I guess you’ll say it’s another way of getting sex.”

“You’re right. You’re a quick learner. Powerful males can in theory provide better for their progeny so females like powerful males. For the males, this is good news because if they don’t have a clue about art, they can always try to become rich or powerful, which are basically the same thing. Power means more sex because progeny that are well provided for survive longer, have more sex and have their own progeny, which means grandchildren. This means they need more food, more science…”

“What if I’m not good at art or at the power game?”

“Then, mate, you are in deep s… in terms of sex, but don’t worry, it happens to most males in most species. You can always bluff. Most males do.”

“Well, that’s maybe why I’m here drinking with my mates…”

“Could be. Fruit fly males deprived of sex drink four times more than their mates that have sex.”

“You’re kidding me!” he exclaims.

“No, I’m not, that’s scientific proven. It’s all a question of maintaining the levels of a neuropeptide in the brain and if you can’t have sex, booze seems to do it—for fruit files, that is. Fruit flies don’t play pool though, so no worries about that,” I say.

“Doesn’t sound fair to me,” he replies, “but who programmed this bloody thing anyway? Don’t tell me it was…”

“Nobody. Genes have only one goal, which is to reproduce, no matter what genes we’re talking about. It’s all about surviving and reproducing, eating and copulating. It’s like an algorithm, a very simple one indeed.”

“Not that I’m complaining, mate, not too much anyway, but it does bother me. It seems like the females control everything.”

“They do. In most species they choose the males. Virtually all females will mate and reproduce. For the males, it’s a lot more difficult. Competition is fierce and females are picky. Many males never get a chance. That’s why they have to trick the females with all their cunning, but food is the best and most direct way. Males try desperately to improve their chances, in some species by means of attractive exteriors, in others by appearing powerful. Basically, it’s all a bluff to impress the females.”

“So, the females are picky so they can get the best progeny and the best progeny of the progeny. Did I get that right?’

“Too right, mate. Males bluff, but females get better and better at calling their bluff because their main concern is to produce good progeny.”

“OK, I understand that and I can see what the females get, but one things beats me: what about the males, what do they get?”

“Sex.”

Have a beautiful day!

R-

The Magic Words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’

Roger Abrantes and Dog

'No' is a signal. It means 'stop what you are doing.' It is not a punisher (photo from the EI archives).

Yes and no are two very short words, yet they convey the most important information many living beings can receive, on one level regulating their organic functions on another, their behavior, and ultimately, their survival. If I say these words don’t require any explanation, everyone would probably agree and yet we’d be wrong. Did you know that in some languages yes and no don’t exist?

In my book “Psychology rather than Power,” written in 1984, I define ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in dog training for the first time. ‘Yes’ means “continue what you’re doing now” and ‘no’ means “stop what you’re doing now.” I explain how to teach our dogs these signals and I emphasize that ‘no’ is not a punisher and that it should always be followed by a reinforcer as soon as the dog changes its behavior. As the years passed, I reviewed, improved and refined all definitions, especially the ways to teach dogs these signals. In 1994, I wrote the first draught of SMAF, which provided the opportunity to analyze signals and teaching methods (POA=plans of action) with increased precision. The definitions of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ remained the same, but we could now clearly distinguish between the two completely different ways in which dog owners and trainers were using the sound ‘no.’ One was as a signal as I describe; the other was as a punisher. The punisher ‘no’ was pronounced more harshly than the signal ‘no’ but was basically the same sound. Transcribing it into SMAF, we had no doubt that we were talking about two different stimuli. The signal is No(stop what you doing right now),sound(no) and the punisher is [!+sound](no).

Using a punisher as a signal to encourage the dog to do something is never a good idea as the function of a punisher is to decrease the frequency, intensity and/or duration of a behavior. Conversely, the function of a signal is to produce a behavior which we increase in frequency, intensity and/or duration by reinforcing. Therefore, in order to increase the effectiveness of No,sound (the signal), we had to explain very carefully to owners and trainers that they should never use ‘no’ as a punisher. Amazingly (or perhaps not), many dogs could distinguish between the two ‘no’s,’ but we didn’t want to risk them forming a respondent association between the sound ‘no’ and an aversive. We should use any other sound (word), e.g. ‘phooey’ (‘fy’ or ‘føj’ in the Scandinavian languages) as a punisher.

Why the word ‘no’?

The word ‘no’ seemed to me at the time, the best option to convey, “stop what you are doing right now.” After all, implicitly or explicitly, this is the way most of us use this word (when we have it in our language, that is). Of course, some people cannot say ‘no’ properly, but the fact that some people have bad manners doesn’t detract from the meaning or the value of the word itself.

The magic words ‘yes’ and no

‘Yes’ and ‘no’ are two words used for expressing affirmatives and negatives. The words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are difficult to classify under one of the eight conventional parts of speech. They are not interjections (they do not express emotion or calls for attention). They are sometimes classified as sentence words or grammatical particles.

Modern English has two words for affirmatives and negatives, but early English had four words: yesyeano and nay.

If you’re a native English speaker, you know what yes and no mean and you have no problem using these words, from a linguistic point of view, that is. You might have a problem using the word no from a psychological point of view, but that’s a completely different story.

If you are a native English speaker and have never ventured into learning other languages, you probably believe there is no problem in simply answering any question with yes or no. After all, most things either are or are not, are either true or false, right? I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you by demonstrating that you are wrong.

Even though some languages have corresponding words for yes and no, we do not use them to answer questions. For example, in Portuguese, Finnish and Welsh, you rarely answer questions with yes and no. Portuguese: “Estás bem?” (Are you OK?) “Estou” (I am). Finnish: “Onko sinulla nälkä?” (Are you hungry?) “On” (I am). Welsh: “Ydy Ffred yn dod?” (Is Ffred coming?) “Ydy” (He is coming).

In Scandinavian languages, French and German (amongst others), you answer questions with yes and no, but you have two different ways of saying yes depending on whether the question is an affirmative response to a positively-phrased question or an affirmative response to a negatively-phrased question: Danish and Swedish (ja, jo, nej), Norwegian (ja, jo, nei), French (oui, si, non), German (ja, doch, nein).

So far so good, but if you venture into the Asian languages,  it gets far more complicated. Some Asian languages don’t have words for yes and no. In Japanese, the words はい (hai) and いいえ (iie) do not mean yes and no, but agreement or disagreement with the statement of the question, i.e. “agree.” or “disagree.” はい can also mean “I understand what you’re saying.” The same in Thai: ใช่ (chai) and ไมใช่ (maichai) mean “correct,” “not-correct.” In Thai you can’t answer the question “คุณหิวข้าวไหม” (Are you hungry?) with “ใช่” (correct). It doesn’t make sense for what is it that you are confirming to be correct? The right answers are “หิว” (hungry) or “ไมหิว” (not hungry). In all Chinese dialects, yes-no questions assume the form “A or not-A” and you answer echoing one of the statements (A or not-A). In Mandarin, the closest equivalents to yes and no are 是 (shì) “be” and 不是 (búshì) “to not be.”

Latin has no single words for yes and no. The vocative case and adverbs are used instead. The Romans used ita or ita vero (thus, indeed) for the affirmative and for the negative, they used adverbs such as minime, (in the least degree). Another common way to answer questions in Latin was to repeat the verb like in Portuguese, Castellano and Catalan (e.g. est or non est).  We can also use adverbs: itavero, etiam (even so), sane quidem (indeed, indeed), certe (certainly), recte dicis (you say rightly) or nullo modo (by no means), minime (in the least degree), haud (not at all!), non quidem (indeed not).

In computer languageyes and no appear as a succession of “A or B” conditions. If condition A is true, then action X. A computer’s CPU only needs to recognize two states, on or offyes or noone or zero for us to instruct it to perform complicated operations.

The theories of quantum computation suggest that every physical object, even the universe, is in some sense a quantum computer. The universe itself appears to be composed of yes and no. Professor Seth Lloyd writes: “(…) everything in the universe is made of bits. Not chunks of stuff, but chunks of information—ones and zeros. (…) Atoms and electrons are bits. Machine language is the laws of physics. The universe is a quantum computer.”

The way computers use yes and no is the closest to our own general use of these terms. ‘Yes’ means “continue what you are doing right now.” ‘No’ means “stop what you are doing right now.” This is the implied meaning of yes and no in the majority of the sentences. “Are you hungry?” The answer “yes” would result in you getting food and “no” in the opposite. “Shall I turn right? ” followed by a ‘yes’ would make me continue with what I intended to do and if followed by a ‘no,’ would make me stop doing it. A ‘yes’ in response to  “Did you buy rice today?” would prompt me to continue doing whatever I might be doing and a ‘no’ would lead me to interrupt what I’m doing to go and buy some rice. There are many other examples, but in general ‘yes’ prompts or encourages a continuation and ‘no’ does the opposite. There is nothing particularly positive or negative in either. Both are valuable bits of information that we can transform into behavior for our benefit. Both save energy, the most important resource for all living organisms.

Two peculiar aspects of ‘yes’ and ‘no’

As we have seen, some languages don’t have words for ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ This is a cultural phenomenon. For example, in Japan and in Thailand, it is bad manners to be direct. Japanese and Thai people consider ambiguity to be a beautiful aspect of their language. The objective in courtesy is to convey the true meaning between the lines. The way the message is communicated should be as unclear as possible, especially when criticizing someone or rejecting an invitation. This linguistic feature is probably related to the sense of self-respect and honor that is so pronounced in both cultures, i.e. one doesn’t want to hurt other people’s feelings, or lose face.

For example, I can’t say to a Thai employee that arrives late to work “Arriving late is not acceptable. Please, rectify this in the future.” If I do, I won’t have an employee coming to work at all the next day or maybe ever again. I’d have to say “If we had employees that arrived late, we would have to ask them to come at the right time, don’t you think?” That would have the desired effect. If you invite a Japanese to an event that he or she is not the least bit interested in, they will answer “I want to come, but unfortunately it is impossible on that day.” That would suffice for me to understand that they not interested without making me lose face. Suggesting another day (and missing the point) is considered impolite.

Thais use คฺรับ (khrap, by men), ค่ะ (kha, by women) and the Japanese use はい (hai) to show that they are listening to you because it is impolite for them to let you talk for any length of time without their acknowledgement.  However, it does not mean they agree with what you are saying, or that they will comply.

In terms of animal training, if a signal is “everything that intentionally changes the behavior of the receiver” and a command is “a signal that intentionally changes the behavior of the receiver in a specific way with no variations or only extremely minor variations,” the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are probably the closest we come to commands (‘yes’ means continue and ‘no’ means stop and, as with most behaviors, there are not many possible variations in continuing or stopping, if any).

Is ‘no’ a bad word?

‘No’ is not a bad word, on the contrary it is a very useful word. It conveys information in a precise and efficient way. To get ‘no’ as an answer is as important as getting a ‘yes.’ Both save us energy and lead us to our goal. Personally, I like the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ equally and I wished people would learn to use them properly and more often.

The other day, I went to a busy store at a busy hour with busy employees and I didn’t have the time or the patience to wait. I said to the employee: “I have a question that you can answer quickly with a yes or no. Do you have a Time Capsule 2TB?”

“I have one, but it’s reserved for a customer,” he answered.

“What does that mean? Is he coming to pick it up or not?” I asked again.

“Yes, he is.” He answered.

“Well, than that’s a no right?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

Why couldn’t he just have said no the first time? It would have saved us all time: me, the other customers in the line, and not least himself.

Another example:

United Airlines desk at the gate boarding to ORD: I approach and ask: “Do you have an empty seat on this flight?”

The United operator answers me: “That depends on your ticket, sir.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I reply, “whether or not you have empty seats does not depend on my ticket, It depends on whether all the seats will have butts on or not.”

A colleague of hers smiles and checks. “Sorry, sir, this flight is fully-booked. I have one seat on the next flight, but… it’s business class.”

“No ‘but’, you can put a comma or an ‘and’ in there,” I say. It blows my mind. A seat is a seat and that’s what I asked for. A seat is not less of a seat because it is a business class seat.

“Excuse me, sir?” she says with a smile, plainly not understanding my remark based on linguistics/logic.

“Never mind. Here’s my frequent flyer card. I have an e-ticket for the 7.13 pm flight. Upgrade it on the card, please. Thank you.” I smile to her in an attempt to reinforce her for having been able to think clearly (yes/no) for two seconds and for checking availability on the next flight.

“Yes, sir.” Finally a short and precise answer!

Why couldn’t they have just answered first ‘no’ and then ‘yes’ until they got the next bit of information, if I had any to give them? It would have saved me (and them) time and energy. If the lack of words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in Asian languages is frustrating for the Western communicator, the refusal to use them or their incorrect usage in languages where they exist and are well defined is exasperating.

Why don’t some people like the word ‘no’?

Cultural differences apart, some people don’t like the word ‘no’ for the same reason that some dogs don’t like it either: because they associate ‘no’ with aversives. Parents are just as bad as dog owners in distinguishing between signals and punishers and they make the same mistakes which will later create problems for their children.

Of course, parents have to yell ‘no’ if  the toddler is about to  stick his fingers in the wall outlet (plug socket). There’s nothing wrong with that. What is wrong, and creates the aversive respondent association with ‘no’, is the constant repetition without a reinforcer when the behavior stops. The toddler only learns that sometimes parents go berserk and, has no idea why or how to avoid it. The toddler becomes so sensitive to the word ‘no’ that later on, like many others, he or she would rather live with regret than to risk hearing a ‘no.’ This conditioning can also happen later in life to which abusive parents, irate spouses, tyrannical bosses all contribute.

An elementary mistake, committed by both parents and dog owners, contributes to the aversive connotation of ‘no.’ If we have to use punishment, we should never (ever) punish the individual, we punish the behavior. Punishing the individual is what creates traumas, a lack of self-confidence, the feeling of rejection, etc. Punishing the individual rather than the behavior can even produce aggressive behavior rather than decreasing the intended behavior.

The reason why some people don’t like ‘no’ has nothing to do with the word or the message conveyed, but with the aversive(s) to which it was (respondently) conditioned. To change that goes beyond the scope of biology, animal behavior and linguistics, and pertains to the realm of psychology.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with the word ‘no’ and particularly not with the message it conveys. There is something wrong with abusive parents, irate spouses, tyrannical bosses and ignorant people (all potentially abusive animal owners). To forbid the word ‘no’ or to replace it with another, e.g. ‘stop,’ does not resolve the problem. The only thing that does solve the problem is to educate people, to teach them to respect others independently of species, race and sex.

‘No’ in dog training

The signal ‘no’ is indispensable in dog training. I use it constantly when training detection dogs and rats, and the animals respond correctly with no emotional response at all. I give the signal ‘search’ by means of sound, the dog searches, I reinforce it. I give the dog the signal ‘no,’ the dog changes direction, I reinforce it. If the dog stops and looks at me, I give the signal ‘direction’ with a stretched arm toward the desired direction, I give the signal ‘search’ by means of sound, the dog searches and I reinforce it. If necessary, while the dog searches, I can signal ‘yes’ to encourage the dog to continue searching (‘yes’ functions here as a signal and a reinforcer, not an exception at all).

For those of you proficient in SMAF:

PRS1. {Search,sound => Dog searches => “!±sound”};

PRS2. {No,sound => Dog changes direction => “!±sound”};

ALT2. {No,sound => Dog stops and looks at me => Direction,arm + Search,sound => Dog searches => “!±sound”};

If necessary:

PRS1. {Search,sound => Dog searches => “!±sound” => Dog searches => Yes,sound};

/* Yes,sound also functioning as “!±sound */

In languages where there are no words for ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ such as Thai, I use ใช่ (chai=correct) and หยุด (yut=stop) respectively for “continue what you are doing right now” and “stop what you are doing right now.” I don’t use ไมใช่ (maichai=not correct) because the sound is too close to ใช่ (chai=correct).

Some trainers don’t allow their dog owners to say ‘no’ at all in their classes. This is an option, particularly if we have a class full of bad-mannered dog owners, but if our class consists of average, well-mannered owners, I cannot see any reason to do so. If they are not well-mannered, maybe they should learn good manners before beginning training their dogs; and maybe, by training them to be polite to their dogs, we could even make a change for the better in their lives in general by teaching them good manners toward their fellow humans as well.

Forbidding the signal ‘no’ in dog training is a grave mistake (and misunderstanding) in my opinion. Firstly, it is one of the two most crucial signals in life. Secondly we all need a quick, efficient signal to stop a behavior which might be life threatening for someone we care about (human or animal). Thirdly, it would be an untenable waste of time and energy if we had to resort to diverting maneuvers every time someone (our dogs included) did something undesirable.

Substituting the signal ‘no’ with other sounds (words) such as ‘stop,’ or ‘off’ doesn’t solve the problem. It only transfers the conditioning to those new words. The problem is that some people just can’t speak nicely to anyone. Most dog owners yell their dog’s name and they yell ‘come.’ What are we going to do about that? Forbid them to use their dog’s name and the word ‘come’? What’s the next thing we are going to forbid them? Rather then forbidding, it seems to me a much better option to teach them to communicate properly. We need to explain to them that the words they use, in the way they use them, are not signals but punishers and by definition they will not achieve the desired result, quite the contrary, they will get an undesired outcome. We need to show them how appropriate signals effect appropriate behaviors.

Bottom-line: The fact that some languages don’t have words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and that Latin uses quantifiers instead, suggests that there are cognitive as well as emotional elements connected to the meaning of both words. Maybe the logical human brain likes the precision and simplicity implied in ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ but the emotional human brain doesn’t. The universe and computers have no queries with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ perhaps because they are not emotional. Perhaps ‘yes’ and ‘no’ appeared in some languages at a stage when action became more decisive than emotion. We don’t know. I haven’t been able to clarify any of these questions. Nevertheless, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ convey important bits of information in a succinct and precise way. In the languages, which contain them, we can use them correctly for our benefit.

Enjoy and don’t feel guilty because you are well-mannered and know how to say no.

R-

References

The Paper Book is Dead, Long Live the E-book!

“The paper book is dead, long live the e-book!”

Home is where my books are, I always said. I’ve been the most avid book reader and buyer. Books have accompanied me everywhere, they have been my friends, my sanity, my comfort, my safe harbor. I owe more to books than to anything else. They are an integral part of me. I love to page thru them, the sound of turning a page, the smell of paper and ink, the slight cracking of the spine of a new book, the feeling of holding a weighty tome. I don’t remember my life before I could read and I’ve slept with books since I was four.

As much as I cherish my 3500+ books surrounding me in my den, I have surrendered. Since I got my iPad, I haven’t bought one book. As of today, I carry 47 books with me around the World in my iPad and the number is growing. Undoubtedly, for a globetrotter like me, the e-book is a gift from the gods. Packing my backpack, I will have no more the dilemma of choosing which books to take with me and which ones to leave back home (and miss later on). Gone are the days of heavy bags full of new book acquisitions. My backpack is amazingly light now.

And yet, I miss them, the books. I miss them terribly, I have daily withdrawal symptoms. My hands search desperately for that comforting feeling of printed and bound paper. I could fall asleep with my iPad on my chest, but it’s not the same as letting the book, like a safety blanket, gently rest on my breast as I close my eyes and depart to dreamland.

For all the advantages of the e-book, I will never dispose of my books. Like testimonials of a time past, reminders of an overwhelming present and admonitions of a future to come, they will stay with me until my eyes close and I depart once more, this time on a one-way ticket to another kind of dreamland, I suppose, of which I know nothing. My books, though, will survive me and the iPad—like papery ghosts they will alert the consciousness of all readers, like and ode to life, they will inspire generations to come.

It is with a bleeding heart and shaky voice that today I pronounce the words “The paper book is dead, long live the e-book!”

Keep reading, life is an open and unread book!

R~

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Facebook Censorship?

I discovered recently that Facebook does run censorship. When we sign up with Facebook, we agree to a set of rules and guidelines about the content of our pages and our wall posts, but apparently Facebook goes beyond ensuring we respect our agreement. Even though the wording of all agreements are subject to interpretations, some of the content Facebook has disallowed cannot be justified by an interpretation of the rules.

Facebook started as a social network, but with time it has also assumed the role of a new form of free and democratic press. Like any other publication, Facebook has to follow guidelines and limitations and to negotiate rules and legalities about what it considers proper, which we have to understand and accept. So far, so good.

It is a tricky business to define proper or to decide what is proper and what is not. Proper may refer to content and wording, which are two separate issues. What some might find proper, others might not. Sensibilities vary enormously, from one side of the scale to the other—and from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other within basically the same culture. The question is not so much to draw a line between proper and improper, but how improper content and/or wording must be before we filter it out (censor it): how hard shall we turn the content and wording filter? Most people in Europe would probably accept everything except pornographic content, obscenity, violence, obscene language, (but we’d have to agree as to whether f-words are obscene these days). In the more puritan (or uninformed) USA, the list of the unacceptable would be longer than in Europe.

How hard shall Facebook, then, turn the content/wording filter? Turn it too little and you will lose some customers; turn it too hard and you will lose others. Facebook is really between a rock and a hard place, but so are all other publications (and all of us).

It’s not only tricky, but fundamental for Facebook to take the right decision about the level of its content filter. In the end, we are talking about freedom of expression and freedom of speech and we must not take these topics lightly.

After some research on the internet (see links below), I discovered that the problem is not filtering wording. Facebook seems very liberal in that context and its users keep a good tone in general. The problem is that there are several examples of content, which Facebook disallowed—and that amounts to regular censorship, which is not compatible with a democratic ideology and freedom of expression (nor the American first amendment).

It is with freedom of expression as it is with pregnancy: you cannot be a bit pregnant. It’s an either/or attitude as Noam Chomsky wrote “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Similarly and much earlier, Voltaire wrote ”I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Facebook stands at a crossroads now. Requiring guidelines like a certain tone of speech is one thing. To censor ideological, political or religious content is another—and that defines your image.

It’s tricky indeed to choose a content filter and to decide how hard to turn it on. Everyone that has held a post to moderate discussions, forums, blogs, knows that. Personally, I will always, like Voltaire, defend the right to freedom of expression, but we have to understand what it means. Many confound freedom of expression with disrespect and one has nothing to do with the other. Likewise, there is a huge difference between disputing the argument and attacking the person behind it.

As far as I am concerned, you have the right to say and write all you want, independently of what I or anyone else may think, and even if it would seem as pure nonsense for most people, as long as you in your choice of words and phrases do it in a way in which you respect everyone independently of species, race, appearance, sexual orientation, or any other individual characteristic. You may disagree with me and tell me “you’re wrong,” “your argument doesn’t make sense.” It won’t upset me and I will even thank you for it in many instances—and I will certainly continue talking to you. On the other side, if you call me numskull, it won’t upset me either, but that’s the end of the conversation.

Disagreement is allowed, disrespect is not. We are all responsible for our acts, including our written and spoken words. If we claim the right to say what we want the way we want it, we must confer others the right to react to it. If we don’t like the probable consequences of what we want to say, we’d better not say it, because we also have the right to think before we speak and not seldom, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.” as Soren Kierkegaard wrote.

As to Facebook, I’d like to be my own moderator and filter the content/wording I like (except for pornography, obscenity, obscene language, violence, inciting to violence, any form of discrimination and spam, which Facebook is welcome to filter away for me (after defining those terms precisely). Political and religious filtering? No, thank you. Most probably, I won’t read it anyway, but I want to reserve the right to do it myself.

I like Facebook, it’s a great initiative and it’s well done. The company is still young and bound to make mistakes (see links below). Maybe, Facebook is just reacting to the “loudest complainers” (the puritans, the extremists, the fanatics) in which case maybe it’s about time the rest of us, demanding freedom of expression in a respectful tone, should become louder. I think we should give Facebook a chance to find its foothold, correct its mistakes and stick to freedom of expression. Facebook is too good not to do it.

My own case with Facebook, which prompted this blog, and which I discovered by accident, is fairly irrelevant. I just wrote a funny (at least I think it is) comment about Twitter including the words “sex” and “condom.” After a bit of research I reckon that the word “Twitter” was the culprit (see links below), which is a bit silly, not the other words. My comment didn’t reach any of my friends after the first five minutes or so (the Facebook algorithm is good). If you’re curious, you can still see it, but you’ll have to go directly to my wall.

Life is a blank (Face) book. Write on!

R-

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