Greetings from Bangkok! We’re starting to get settled in, and so far everyone at the school has been unbelievably nice – as have all the locals we’ve met. Our apartment is great, the neighborhood is lovely, and I think we’re both feeling a mix of jet lag, excitement and disbelief that the move went so smoothly.
We’ve only been in Bangkok for two days, and I’ve already accomplished one of my most feverishly anticipated goals, which was to find a Thai chess set. I got a cheap plastic set with a newsprint board in Carrefour for peanuts, and it’s pretty cute although I had to cut off a lot of leftover plastic on the mold lines.
The Thai version of chess is called Makruk and is, from what I can tell, the closest extant version to the ancient Indian game of Chaturanga. So Makruk is a lot like the original version of chess from which our European chess, as well as Chinese Xiang Qi and Japanese Shogi (seen below).
I mention all of this because my experience with researching the history of the game of chess has been a lot like my experience with new languages and cultures. As I was growing up, I was certain there was only one kind of chess. If I had known that there were Asian versions of chess (I didn’t), I would have definitely said that the European version was the only and best.
Now I know that versions of the same game are played all over the world, and I can’t imagine only being interested in one version. It’s the contrast between the different versions, their spectrum of colors and shapes and sizes, and the history behind how the different versions arose, which seems interesting to me – more interesting than the game itself, even. I feel the same way about languages, and the same way about cultures. How could I be content with knowing about just one?