Careful! Farang fluent in Thai
Globetrotting diplomat Mark Kent lives up to the international spirit of his favourite football club, Arsenal, certainly in the sense that he can speak French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and some Vietnamese, as well as his native English. Now he's speaking and writing Thai as well, fittingly enough for Thailand's new British ambassador.
Set to assume his duties here in mid August, Kent has prepared well, studying the language for the past year. He totes around a backpack that contains, among his top-secret stuff, a notebook full of his practice scrawls in Thai.
He's also signed up for a political-science course at Chulalongkorn University.
So Kent goes well beyond the simple "Sawasdee krub" greeting. He can keep up a pretty sophisticated conversation. Not many foreign newcomers can toss around words like sakkayaparb (potential) or sathienraparb (stability).
"I listen to the news on the radio and watch it on TV," he said - in delightfully fluent Thai - on an unofficial get-acquainted visit to The Nation this week, but he admits that the discourse on Thai soap operas leaves him befuddled. (Join the club.)
Kent allows that the language is quite difficult, and the more he learns the more he realises there's still more he has to learn, mainly to do with the linguistic hierarchy. Still, the speed and efficiency with which he's picked it up are impressive.
Meanwhile he's spotted similarities between Thais and Englishmen - we all tend to avoid speaking straightforwardly - pood trong trong, as he readily put it - and rely a great deal on diplomacy in our conversation.
A member of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office since 1987 and with a career that's extended as far as Latin America, the ambassador is expected to be a solid source of global analysis for the news media. Asked about analysing the political situation here, though, we'll give him some time. "I'm just a student for now," he says, again in Thai. Obviously he's learned the Thai way of dodging questions too.