Suratthani, day, bookstore / stationery store / print shop on main blvd. "Legacy"-type business; elegant two-story-high gold lettering overlooking street corner. Walk-in visitors maybe not welcome, poss. more focused on wholesale business -- supplying school districts with notebooks, etc. Two 60ish men speaking seriously in low tones at heart of shop floor. Sounds Hokloid. I catch the word "pêng'iú" as I breeze past. Twenty secs in, 30ish woman intercepts, asks where I'm from (in Thai, I think). I say Taiwan. She switches to Mandarin, asks what I need. I ask if they sell learning materials for Thai, in Hokkien. She says, "爸", and hands me off to her father, the man that said "pêng'iú". He asks if I'm looking for maps (in Mandarin, I think). I repeat my question, in Hokkien, twice. He's not understanding me. I switch to Thai. He says no, they don't carry that. I leave. He was probably wondering if this was some kind of set-up.
Suratthani, evening, street. Friend goes inside a shop. I wait outside. Boss-lady next door comes over, encourages me to go inside the shop too. I decline. She asks where from, I say Taiwan. She says (in Thai) that the TWese speak Mandarin. I say we speak Hokkien. Somehow in a matter of seconds, I'm speaking Hokkien and she's speaking Teochew. She says her father came from China but has already passed.
Suratthani, morning. Pull up alongside corner dim sum restaurant to look at menu. The place is called "叔 something", but in Thai script. Lots of "tone 3" and "tone 4" markers on the menu (in Thai), a sure sign of loanwords from other tonal tongues, in this case poss. Hainamese. A group of friends and family milling around in my line of sight seem to get uncomfortable as I slowly peruse. A lady in her 40s, poss. the owner, calls out to me in a friendly manner. Maybe she thinks I might be someone that knows someone she knows and came to join the gathering. I can't make out what she said. It was prob. in some form of Southland Siamese.
Nakhon, morning, dim sum palace. "COFFEE" in the name of the place is spelled "KOPI" in Thai script, indicating a Hokloid connection, poss. even Hokkien, given the fame of Trang's Hokkien coffee shops. At one point I get stuck tryinna communicate with waitress b/c I don't remember how to say "kind / type" in Siamese. She calls this other lady over, a lottery vendor who speaks a very Southern type of Mandarin. Speaks good Thai but turns out to be an immigrant from Hainam. Says she wound up there b/c she had a friend in the area. A Hainamese woman in her late 30s or early 40s, selling lotto tickets in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Most definitely sounded like a story to me. She didn't look Hainamese but her Mandarin did have a tropical ring to it. Before leaving, I notice this ad on the wall refers to headaches as "頭眩", ~ "thâu hîn" in Hokkien.
Suratthani, gold-and-diamonds shop. I notice the store calls itself a "金璇店". First time I've ever seen 璇 on a sign. My guess is it would be Hokkien soān or Hokloid equivalent.
Sichon, day, mom-and-pop eatery. This is a town on the coast straight north of Nakhon, on the road to Suratthani, before the road cuts into the mountains. While approaching, I'm struck by how Chinese the owners or staff and many of the clientele looked, in contrast to the food, most of which would be way, way hard to find in Swatow or Bunsio (汕頭, 文昌). A real, real old Chinese lady accompanied by a "simpática" 40ish Thai sista took an interest in our party, inc. motioning for us to sit at their table, which I declined, thinking it maybe inappropriate. We didn't communicate well w/ my limited Siamese and her limited hearing. She was at least in her mid 80s. I would've been surprised if she wasn't fluent in some Hokloid language, but since I have no Hainamese skills, and w/ other people all around, I soldier on in Siamese. Soon, as she was leaving the shop, she stops again to speak to me. I politely get up and go over to where she stands. She says something I don't catch at all, in Siamese, but I "answer" that we heading to some beach. In hindsight I think she was inviting us to her place nearby for a cup of tea and some conversation, and would've taken my "answer" as a polite turn-down. I kind of regret the situation. It may've been a bad job of 惜緣.
Back to eating. I glance at the shop's ciaupâi. It says "cé Niâuⁿ", in Siamese script. First syllable has the "Tone 3" mark that tends to show up in loanwords from Hokloid languages. At pay-up time, I ask boss-lady if the sign's in Teochew. She says she Hainamese. She doesn't seem to want to talk so I leave it at that.
Overall, the presence of Hokloid languages in the area is interesting. Given the fast decay of Hokkien on the Phuket side, which was part of the Penang-o-sphere till the 60s or 70s, I would expect the pickings to be even slimmer on the Gulf side, which has been part of the Siamosphere for hundreds of years. I can't pretend to know what's up at this pt.
Some other observations. Nakhon and Suratthani are only 140km apart, but there's a mountain range in btwn and there is a sense of the two towns being in slightly different worlds. The Siamese dialectology seems to bear this out. Apparently Suratthani speaks the "Western" dialect of Southern Siamese while Nakhon speaks the Eastern. There's also a Singgora (Songkhla) dialect and a dialect spoken from south of Singgora into Kelate (Kelantan), but the main split would be Suratthani vs Nakhon. Apparently local Ranong and Phuket Siamese speak the "Western" type while Trang and maybe Hat Yai (Ha̍pcái) speak the "Eastern" -- so, despite the maritime underpinnings of the Andaman coast of Siam, the Siamese dialects there apparently fell into place the overland way.
Orang Cina around both Nakhon and Suratthani seem to be strictly an in-town affair, w/ Suratthani seeming to be a newer town w/ a stronger Cina component. Many or even most of the shopkeepers in Suratthani "looked" at most one generation removed from fluency in a Hokloid tongue. This didn't seem to be the case in Nakhon. On the other hand, Nakhon is shockingly cosmopolitan, w/ a huge Muslim Malay (but mostly Siamophone) population and Hindu temples that have been active since the days when Nakhon was the seat of an independent kingdom.
Chaiya, just north of Suratthani, is also supposed to have been a major town in the empire of Srivijaya at one pt. Chaiya is run-down, wooden and dimly lit w/ a "Malayic" vibe that I recognize from Kota Belud (Sabah), from northern Bali, from the 3 Phans coast south of Nha Trang (VN). The most un-Hokloid town I've ever been in in Siam.
There is a Muslim-pride element in Nakhon that I never noticed in Phuket, Krabi, Hatyai or even Singgora. A town with very strong sense of place, well-centered-in-itself in the same way as Canton 廣州.
Hoklo-wise, more "fieldwork" is in order, poss. by someone who can hold a half-minute conversation in Hainamese. There's a website that states that much of the Hainamese diaspora on Ko Samui is actually Hlai, but I really doubt that. I think the person who wrote that just got very confused.
Discussions on the Hokkien (Minnan) language.
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One more thing. While I was outside the dim sum palace, I overheard someone say iûcia̍hkóe in the midst of a conversation in Siamese. The rhythm and pronunciation seemed very Hokkien and not Bangkok Siamese, as in "code-switching" and not "loanword", but there is the X-factor of Southland Siamese, so I can't be sure.
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