A Maestro of
                              Many Tongues
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100   “60 to 65 percent of Thai is based on Sanskrit, which
      is part of the Indo-European group of languages that
   ...
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2 Magazine Article on Stuart Jay Raj - Where Language and Business Meet

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2 magazine-stuart-jay-raj-a-maestro-of-many-tongues-article-dec-07-jan-08-1198111199638204-5

  1. 1. A Maestro of Many Tongues 99 2feature By Jim Algie 2magazine speaks to a man who is turning his multi-linguistic skills into the ABCs of a successful and multifarious business venture. Thai is, like, well, it’s a tonal language and they’re planning on taking them along on photo shoots much more difficult to learn than other languages, with supermodels.) says the expat, using an alibi (or a drawn-out syn- But his sense of humor often underlines a more onym for slothfulness) that you’ve doubtless heard serious sub-text. This was apparent when he many times before. asked the assembled throng about a Thai proverb Ask polyglot Stuart Jay Raj what is the major that asks whether you should hit a cobra or an speech impediment for farangs learning Thai and Indian first. Nearly everyone there shouts Ti khaek you’ll hear something different: “It seems foreign, because the cliché (also used in Singapore and but 60 to 65 percent of Thai is based on Sanskrit, Malaysia and other countries) implies that the which is part of the Indo-European group of lan- Indian will bite you first. From a different angle, it’s guages that are cousins to Latin and Greek.” a backhanded compliment about the hardnosed He ought to know. Fluent in more than a dozen business techniques of Indian people. languages (including Thai, Mandarin, Bahasa Indo- Imagine the crowd’s shock when Stuart revealed nesia and Danish), the 32-year-old is on speaking his father was Indian but that his mother was Aus- terms with around 15 more tongues. Earlier today, tralian and that he grew up Down Under. Because before our interview at the Greyhound restaurant of his language skills most locals, upon meet- near Soi Aree, he’d just received an email in Thai ing him, think he’s half-Thai. Stuart likes to keep from a Buddhist monk in Los Angeles who has them guessing. “I don’t call that lying. I call that an been using Stuart’s podcasts for RadioBangkok. investment.” Once the relationship has been solidi- Net to teach foreigners and natives about Thai fied, he will tell them he’s actually half-Indian. The language and culture at a temple. Stuart shook his usual reaction, he said with a laugh, is, “Oh, I’m head in disbelief and smiled when recounting the sorry to hear that.” email and how the monk had said “it’s funny that a But anecdotes like these serve him well as a fa- foreigner knows more than some of us about our cilitator, cultural troubleshooter and linguistic bridge own language, but thank you”. in his work throughout Asia with multi-tentacled By now, the communications expert should be conglomerates like Tesco, Pepsi and the UN. The used to such accolades. Only a few weeks before parable about the Indian and the snake is one of this rendezvous he’d been giving a presentation at those slippery stereotypes that will slither away if a government office, crammed with the biggest of you try to grasp it. These stereotypes, rooted so bigwigs from the Office of the Thai Senate and the deeply in our languages and cultures, cannot be National Language Office. Here were the folks you uprooted, Stuart advises his clients, you just have would see whispering in the prime minister’s ear to work around them. during an official overseas visit, or the first to greet As a boy growing up in Sydney, embedded in visiting dignitaries in the Kingdom. Stuart was there a community of Chinese-Indonesians, he quickly to teach them presentation skills, so they don’t say came to terms with Mandarin, Javanese, Bahasa to Dick Cheney, “Do you like Thailand?” he mocks Indonesian, and a dialect of West Timor. On a in pitch-perfect Tinglish. “You eat sapicy food?” family trip to the United States, he returned with a (In order to loosen their tongues further, he’s even renewed interest in his father’s mother tongue of Sex, Tarts and Aphrodisiacs
  2. 2. 100 “60 to 65 percent of Thai is based on Sanskrit, which is part of the Indo-European group of languages that are cousins to Latin and Greek.” Hindi. At their house, his mother entertained her Brisbane – was the ‘seed money’ for the windfall Thai friends. But most of all it was his maternal he’s now reaping. A recent two-week seminar grandfather, a communications expert in World he led in Beijing was business as usual for the War II, who fostered in him a love of decoding sys- linguist. Switching back and forth from Hindi to tems, whether they were linguistic, electronic or a Mandarin to English, Stuart had to teach a group Rubik’s cube – to the point where the two of them of urban transport professionals how to make their would communicate with each over by tapping out language, presentations and materials more street Morse code on the dinner table. level so they’re comprehensible to the people on “On his deathbed, when he had Parkinson’s dis- the ground. ease, he had to teach himself to write again. Even In action he’s a dynamic performer who comes then he could still draw the schematic diagrams off as part-businessman (the three-piece pin- for radio transceivers he used during World War striped suit) and part entertainer (the pop star’s II,” said Stuart, the managing director of his own tendrils of gelled-up hair). During the presentation company, Kogneit, whose slogan is “Think, Create, for high-ranking Thai bureaucrats, he kept the Communicate”. more straitlaced scholars enthralled by throwing Even though he still enjoys working with Austra- them tidbits of knowledge – the rolling r’s Thais lian companies, his assessment of his homeland use do not actually exist in classical Thai; they is spiked with a few wry asides. “Nice car, nice were an invention of the aristocracy – along with mortgage, nice divorce, nice psychiatrist bills. A a few Indian-style head wobbles for comic relief; 101 lot of Aussies feel that the government owes them and a high-energy floor plan that saw him rarely sit something. But there’s an edge to life over here [in down or stop moving. His references to “popular Thailand], so if you don’t perform you die.” culture” (if that isn’t an oxymoron), in a slideshow For him, what Aussies call the “tall poppy containing images of George Bush, Britney Spears Coffee Works in Thailand. Since Kenro is working And that’s the direction he sees his career and syndrome” is a double-edged sword. In one way, and Chairman Mao, which was intended to show for the UN now in Africa, coordinating some tens company moving in – what he calls the “Stuart Jay it’s meant to keep people on an even footing. In how we judge people by how they speak, kept the of thousands of people, the group has been on a Raj brand” – bringing together big business and another, it discourages anyone with lofty ambitions presentation from ascending the steps of the Ivory sabbatical for a while. But expect them to swing small enterprises, high-brow scholasticism and by ensuring they get cut down to size. Tower and disappearing into the ether of higher back into action with a new bassist in 2008. middle-brow populism, NGOs and the UN, into an But there’s no question that his homeland gave learning. Even when speaking about jazz, his obses- all-over-the-map career that could sport a slogan him a foot up on the ladder of learning that your His entertainer’s flair stems partly from his many sion with communication remains on the tip of his like “Unite and Conquer.” average Bulgarian or Cambodian would never have years as a jazz pianist. With the ROL Trio, he has tongue. He doesn’t believe that people are neces- Now how would you translate that into Mandarin gotten a toehold on. jazzed up numerous nights at local venues like the sarily more predisposed to using either the creative and brand it in Russia? His academic pursuits on both sides of the FCCT and Tokyo Joe’s. The group’s name is an or the analytical sides of their brain. By way of an lectern – doing a double major in applied lin- acronym of its members’ surnames: R for Raj; O example, he argued that all music which “is pleas- Check out Stuart’s blog at stujay.blogspot.com guistics and political science, and later teaching for Kenro Oshidari, the group’s bassist and main ing to the ear is also mathematically perfect”. to find out, among other things, how he attempted Southeast Asian studies at Griffith University in songwriter; and drummer Dale Lee, the owner of It’s the kind of insight that Stuart specializes in. to learn Vietnamese in just three weeks.
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