There is a building not far from my home in salubrious Samut Prakan that I happen to pass whenever I take a shortcut to Sukhumvit Road. It's a boring, designless concrete factory or shop or something or other. And out the very front, in very big letters, is the name of the business: "NEWISH GERMS".
PHOTO: PORNPROM SARTTARBHAYA
It's a name that has left me wide awake on starless nights when I really should be getting some sleep. For the life of me I can't work out what it means. I mean, it has to be a lab or chemical processing plant ... but Newish Germs? As opposed to, say, Brand New Germs? Or Second Hand Ones?
And what is the market for such germs? Is it one of those BOI factories only allowed to export? Or is it a product solely for the domestic scene? Yes, I know Samut Prakan is the hub of all things dirty and manufactured, but even out here I can't imagine locals fronting up to the counter of this establishment in their plastic flip-flops and Imperial Samrong sarongs asking for a kilo of newish germs.
"And don't give me brand new ones like you did last time! I'm onto you!" I can hear them saying with eyes like slits.
Company names. It's one of the great mysteries of life in Bangkok, and another example of the way Thais can take innocent, virginal English words and twist them, decapitate them, perform heinous sexual acts upon each and every syllable, then put them back together and bang! There's a brand new company name that no native English speaker could have thought up.
I pass a shop every day with the name "Culminate Airy". It's on Srinakarin Road, and it sells air-conditioners, of course. See how I said "of course"? While admitting to it being a silly name, doesn't it actually conjure up the idea of coolness?
The managing director probably opened a Thai-English dictionary for the first time in his life, found the verb "to culminate" and liked the idea of it describing his bank account once he opened his air-conditioner shop. And we all know air-conditioners make the room "airy", so ... why not?
Most of these clumped-together names are, indeed, attempts at describing bank accounts rather than products. Bathrooms in Bangkok are festooned with porcelain from a company called Billion Million, or Billion Billion, or Million Billion, or all of the above. That's plain ostentatious, but every time I see it on a toilet bowl I figure it's describing the number of germs in the general vicinity rather than a bank balance.
Once I was at a wedding when a work colleague of mine introduced her husband to me. Like all good middle-class Thais, he instantly handed over his name card in the vain hope it would help to pull him out of that social strata. He was managing director of his own company, which went by the name of Zenith Profound.
I laughed out loud - it was a reflex action like when the doctor knocks your knees - and instantly regretted it. They immediately wanted to know what was wrong with the name. I quickly changed the topic to how hideous the bride was looking, but it didn't save me. The truth is, there's nothing funny about it ... except that "zenith" means the very, very top, and "profound" means the very, very depths, and you've clumped them together like a mad scientist grafting an extra head onto a body in some B-movie so that it could chase big-breasted blondes at night time.
I still keep the card for reference, in case something happens in my life where I would require the services of a company called Zenith Profound - but I foolishly failed to ask what services it provided. Trips to Mount Everest and the Pacific Ocean, perhaps?
Oh, don't let me go on about this. Along Phetchaburi Road there is a little supermarket called "Stable Minimart". As opposed to um, all the unstable ones dotted around the city? It's sandwiched between a divorce lawyer and a shop that rents out S & M leatherware. I guess when you look at it like that, it's a bit like the meat in the unstable sandwich, isn't it?
You could pass these names off as examples of business owners who lack a general knowledge of English, or who don't have the resources to consult a native English speaker, but that's not always the case. Back in 2006 it came out that the then prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, had set up a company in the Virgin Islands to facilitate the sale of AIS to Singaporean company Temasek - for the good of the country, of course. The name of this company? "Ample Rich".
I don't know about you, but "Ample Rich" immediately scrapes up against that part of my brain that likes English words to go together peacefully and without any fidgeting. Ample Rich? When could you possibly use those two words in a conversation? "I have ample rich chocolate cupcakes on my plate - is there anything more savoury on the petit four tray?" Knowing Thaksin's unbridled desires, he probably wasn't talking about the taste of cupcakes. Did he mean "Amply Rich", which would have sounded much better, though hardly two words you would have expected to spill out of the good ex-PM's mouth.
"I am amply rich now. From now on, all profits from my investments go straight to the impoverished and underprivileged of Thailand." Nod of the head. Ethereal look. A momentary beat before he loses it and breaks into uncontrollable laughter. "Just kidding. Another northern Thai sausage, Yingluck?"
All these names are of course approved by the Trademark and Company Names division of the Ministry of Commerce here in Thailand. They all get passed, unlike when I tried to get my name registered as a company in 2005. The same people who approved Culminate Airy and Zenith Profound rejected me on the grounds that "somebody else had already registered the name 'Andrew'." What?? Like, only one company can use that name? It turned out to be St Andrew's School, which required me to write a long document explaining that Andrew was so common and boring a name anybody possessing it had to change it whenever he went to a nightclub to pick up chicks, and since when could you copyright a name that half the Commonwealth had after Prince Andrew was born in the early 1960s?
My appeal was accepted. Just as well. I would never have considered sending anthrax in the mail as revenge, but a few newish germs in a postpack may not have gone astray.