My buddy Professor Kamtorn drove me up to Nakorn Sawan last week, we were both teaching classes on the weekend. Actually, we were teaching in Uthai Thani, the province next door, but Kamtorn told me that Uthai had only one good hotel and it was a high priced resort, out of our price range. He said the last time he stayed in the so-called decent hotel in town, the bed was so old and played-out that he had to finally sleep on the floor. So we went to a good, new hotel that he knew of in neighboring Nakorn Sawan.
We got there and I read the sign for the hotel, it was the first time I’d seen the name of the place. I got a strange vibe from it. In the lobby, I saw a bigger sign and thought about it some more. I was reading this in Thai, and my Thai spelling is not so great, with the forty-four consonants and the high, middle and low class, and the twenty-four odd vowels, and the little tricks that when I ask about them the answer is, “oh, it’s a Sanskrit word.” (“san-sa-krit”) It was the “hotel mai hawm.” I was substantially correct in my reading of that. So I thought that the name of the hotel was the “not a good smell hotel.”
But I had run afoul of the very variable tone markers. With a “mai-A” tone marker it would have been “not good smell;” with the “mai-toh,” the tone was high, and it meant “wood good smell.”
In the brochure, in the “ABC’s” version of the name, however, it was unambiguous: the Mai Hom Hotel. Which, when you read it out, means “the not-a-good-smell hotel.”