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Why knowing the word for ‘slice’ in Samui is essential

The word for slice in Thai is chin. The way to ask for a slice of ham is s̄ảh̄rạb chîn k̄hxng ḥæm. This may not seem like groundbreaking news or even a very essential element of life here in Koh Samui if you are not Thai, but after a visit to Macro yesterday I can assure you it is.

In all the years that I have used Macro I have never found the need to know words such as slice. At the cold meats and cheese counter I have never encountered any problem ordering the four slices of BBQ ham that finds it’s way into my fridge on a weekly basis. A bit of a hand gesture and saying ‘see’ (four in Thai) has until now been sufficient, but things have changed.

ham 1When I visited Macro yesterday I was disappointed to see that the BBQ ham that I so enjoy was missing from the counter. My disappointment was short lived  however when I spotted a much smaller size ham that in fact looked far superior to my usual cut so I picked it up and handed it to the assistant, after I finally managed to get her attention after about five minutes of waving and gesturing to her that I had made my selection and would like to be served.

I decided that due to the smaller size of this piece of meat I would go for six slices and in my normal fashion handed the ham over to the lady, said ‘hok’ in Thai and used a chopping gesture with my hand to indicate that I wanted six slices. The woman looked at me as if I had fallen off another planet and I assumed that my pronunciation of the word six was wrong, as often is here in Thailand so to clarify any confusion I put up six fingers, then pointed to the meat again and repeated the slicing action previously demonstrated with my hand. She then gave me a look that assured me that the penny had dropped and she went off towards the cutting machine.

ham 4At that point my boyfriend and I started to peruse the cheese counter, looking for something tasty to eat with our ham salad lunch. We must have got quite engrossed by the cheese because by the time I looked up the meat lady I had handed the ham too was half way through slicing up half a ton of ham that she can only have got from the back store room because nothing of that size could have possibly fitted on the cold meat counter.

I looked around for the F&B manager who had clearly jumped the cue and asked for enough ham to feed his entire hotel of guests with a ham fetish but surprisingly there was nobody else around. We then started to wonder where our, rather delicious, cut of ham was and noticed that it had been discarded next to the cutting machine. I then called to the lady, who was now feverishly slicing and placing slice after slice after slice of ham on an ever increasing pile and working up quite a sweat doing it. I tried to establish why she was taking care of another order when mine would have only taken a few seconds and suggested that she stop. At which point she weighted the monstrous pile of meat, wrapped it up and handed it to us.

Feeling very confused I tried to explain to her that I simply wanted six slices of the other ham that was still discarded at the back of the machine, but she seemed to not have a clue what I was saying and getting her to take six kilos of ham back seemed to be an impossible task.

My boyfriend suggested that we find a way to ‘dump’ the ton of ham somewhere else on the store and ask for six slices of the one we originally wanted but at this point I felt anymore meaty mishaps could tip me, or the assistant over the edge.

From this experience I can only assume that the Thai sign language for kilos is a chopping motion made with your right hand, and the fact that I had said six prior to this, indicated that rather than six slices, about all there was left on the first ham, I wanted six kilo’s of something far larger that was hanging about in the back storeroom. I can’t think of any other reason a Thai lady faced with a farang gesturing six and making chopping signals would assume she wanted six kilos of ham!

After several hours trying to discreetly dump the item before scurrying from the store, we gave up and have spent the last twenty four hours googling recipes that require copious amounts of ham as well as how to ask for four, or six slices of ham in Thai!

My advice is, that if you didn’t know the word for slice prior to reading this letter, you write it down and keep it in your purse unless you know a lot more interesting ham recipes than I do!

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