As a teenager the bus to school would stop at traffic lights outside a pub called the Crispin & Crispianus. I remember thinking it a strange name, and wondering what it would be like to be called Crispy Anus? In fact, I’m not sure I’d particularly like to be called any moniker containing an “anus”. A group of Thai people have a slightly different problem with their “anus” name. But to begin at the beginning …
There is one word in Thailand that is so offensive that it’s rarely uttered. To call someone this is likely to provoke a brawl. That word is hia (เหี้ย). Here’s a hia:
It’s Varanus salvator, a Water Monitor. This magnificent lizard can grow up to 3½ metres in length and weigh up to 25 kg (though most adults are about half this). It has a sturdy, muscular body, strong claws and a hefty tail. Its body is gorgeously striped laterally giving it its more polite name in Thai, tua ngern tua thorng (ตัวเงินตัวทอง) which means silver-body gold-body. Unfortunately, its propensity for eating farmers’ chickens and eggs has given it a bad reputation. (It’s also occasionally referred to as tua gin gai (ตัวกินไก่) – chicken eater. It also poses another serious threat …
A few weeks ago such a lizard fell out of a tree in Lumpini Park – one of the few green areas in central Bangkok. Unfortunately, it landed on a woman who was slightly injured and needed a few stitches. In response the park officials rounded up all the lizards they could find (about 50 in all), put them in sacks and took them away. I somehow doubt they released them into a more suitable habitat – unless their natural habitat is swimming with the fishes. Of course, this was nothing to do with the perils of falling lizards in the park – though having a lizard fall on you is considered rather unlucky in these parts
Last year a senior official suggested that these beasts be rehabilitated by changing their name to Woranoot – a charming female name, and very close to the Thai pronunciation of Varanus. (Thai people pronounce “s” at the end of syllables as “t”.) And therein lies the rub: the lovely Voranoots of this world rather objected to being linked to hias. The proposal was quietly dropped.
The hia has been brought into political service in the run-up to the election by “The People’s Alliance for Democracy” (better known as the “yellow shirts” – the people who closed the airport and ruined the holidays of tens of thousands of tourists.) Don’t be fooled by the name – they’re not really in favour of democracy. In fact, they’re running a “vote no” campaign for the upcoming election. They put up this billboard in the centre of Bangkok.
The strapline translates as “Don’t Let Animals Enter Parliament”. Notice our friend the hia there, along with the buffalo (a symbol of stupidity). Khwaay (ควาย) is a term commonly used by those euphemistically known as “bar girls” to refer to their western clients.
The tiger is considered particularly cruel. Thais say หน้าเนื้อใจเสือ, literally “nice face, heart of a tiger”.
There’s another quaint Thai idiom ผ่าตัด หมาออกจากปา which literally translates as “perform surgery to remove the dog from one’s mouth” and means to stop saying really stupid things, so the dog’s symbolic, too.
Finally, there’s the monkey. Not too sure what its exact significance is, but naughty children are refered to as ling (ลิง) as monkeys have a reputation for being mischevious.
The billboard has now been banned by the police as inappropriate.
Crispin and Crisipanus were two 3rd century English saints, both shoemakers, now the patron saints of bookmakers.
The pub is a grade II listed building, and was built in the early 17th century. Apparently Dickens was a regular here.
Earlier this year fire broke out, and the pub is now gutted and boarded up.