Chula’s Marching Song: John Brown’s Body. Thai Style

John Brown's Body. Thai Style

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John Brown’s Body. Thai Style…

When Chula University’s marching video (shown below) hit twitter I was gobsmacked. My initial response was: “Words can’t describe how I feel watching that video…” I guess I just wasn’t sure if the parody was intentional or not.

On first impression I thought of the powerful USSR propaganda posters. But… not quite. On Facebook a friend mentioned the Chinese Revolution. Possible. But in the end, even though the three are similar, I’m thinking that the North Korean propaganda machine comes the closest.

Whatever the intended flavour, Chula is using a proven marketing style.

And USSR, Chinese Revolution, and North Korean propaganda aside, I went to bed Friday night with เดิน เดิน /dern dern/! rolling around my head. Yes, Chula’s marching video grew on me.

Translating Chula’s marching marketing video…

A great way to learn the Thai language is to translate Thai songs. Which I have. But as I’m sometimes clunky at translating Thai please leave any corrections, suggestions, and comments in the… comments. Trust me, I won’t mind (I welcome the help).

But before we get there… Chula’s video is sung to the tune of a popular American marching song from the American Civil War, John Brown’s Body. If you remember, the lyrics go like this:


John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, mouldering in the grave, mouldering in the grave. John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, his soul is marching on!

So now that you have the tune dancing in your head… here we go…

เดิน เดิน เถิด เรา /dern dern tèrt rao/
walk walk let us…

นิสิต มหาจุฬาลงกรณ์ /ní-sìt má-hăa-jù-laa-long-gon/
…uni students Chulalongkorn University.

Let’s march, march, students of Chulalongkorn University.

เดิน เดิน พร้อมหน้า /dern dern próm-nâa/
walk walk all together…

เพื่อ นำ ชัย มา จุฬาลงกรณ์ /pêua nam chai maa jù-laa-long-gon/
…in order to bring victory to Chulalongkorn

March, march, all together, in order to bring victory to Chulalongkorn.

ชโย ชโย จุฬาฯ /chá-yoh chá-yoh jù-laa/
hurray hurray Chula…

สถาน ศึกษา สง่า พระนาม /sà-tăan sèuk-săa sà-ngàa prá naam
…place education elegant royal name

Hurray, hurray, Chula, the elegant education place with a royal name.

ใคร จะ หยาม เกียรติ จุฬาฯ /krai jà yăam gia rá-dtì jù-laa/
anyone will look down the honour Chula…

เรา อย่า ยอม เรา อย่า ยอม /rao yàa yom rao yàa yom/
…we don’t allow we don’t allow.

Anyone who looks down on Chula’s honour, we don’t allow, we don’t allow.

เชียร์ เถิด เรา เชียร์ ให้ /chia tèrt rao chia hâi/
cheer let us cheer to…

ชิง ด้วย น้ำใจ เป็น นักกีฬา /ching dûay nám-jai bpen nák-gee-laa/
…compete with spirit be sportsmen

Let’s cheer to encourage the spirit of sportsmen.

เชียร์ เถิด เรา เชียร์ ให้ /chia tèrt rao chia hâi/
cheer let us cheer to…

บำรุง น้ำใจ พวกเรา จุฬาฯ /bam-rung nám-jai pûak-rao jù-laa/
…encourage spirit us Chula

Let’s cheer to encourage Chula’s spirit.

พลี เถิด พลี กาย พร้อม /plee tèrt plee gaai próm/
sacrifice please sacrifice body together…

เลือด เนื้อ เรา ยอม ยก ให้ จุฬาฯ /lêuat néua rao yom yók hâi jù-laa/
…blood fresh we allow give to Chula.

Everyone together, sacrifice to devote our bodies and minds to Chula.

จง มุ่งหน้า พา เอา ชัย /jong mûng-nâa paa ao chai/
do forward bring get victory…

ให้ จุฬาฯ ให้ จุฬาฯ /hâi jù-laa hâi jù-laa/
…to give Chula to give Chula.

Let’s go forward to bring victory for Chula, for Chula.

And in case you missed it, it won’t hurt my feelings if you leave corrections or suggestions in the comments below.

And now for the chorus in English…

The English is where Chula runs smack into a problem that comes with dictionary plucking.

I totally sympathise. Choosing the right word from a foreign dictionary is the bane of my life too! A word that had one meaning years ago will sometimes change over time, so unless you are a native, it’s often missed.

Chula’s English chorus:

March march along we sing a song we sing so gay.
March march along we sing a song for C.U. way.
C.U. will win again just as the same as previous day.
We will sing C.U. Will win! Will win!

The word in question is ‘gay’. And while generations of westerners have grown up knowing that gay no longer means lighthearted and carefree, the rest of the world might not have noticed.

Oxford Dictionary: Gay meaning ‘homosexual,’ dating back to the 1930s (if not earlier), became established in the 1960s as the term preferred by homosexual men to describe themselves. It is now the standard accepted term throughout the English-speaking world. As a result, the centuries-old other senses of gay meaning either ‘carefree’ or ‘bright and showy,’ once common in speech and literature, are much less frequent.

The word gay cannot be readily used unselfconsciously today in these older senses without sounding old-fashioned or arousing a sense of double entendre, despite concerted attempts by some to keep them alive. Gay in its modern sense typically refers to men (lesbian being the standard term for homosexual women), but in some contexts it can be used of both men and women.

When I discussed this subject with a Thai friend she didn’t understand the problem because to her, gay didn’t mean, well, gay.

As I was curious, I asked what Thai words started out with one meaning 40 years ago, yet have a totally different connotation today. I’ll save her answer for a different post but if you have any of note, please leave them in the comments.

Truthfully, I’m looking forward to coming Chula videos. Chula has the means and the talent, that’s for sure. And Chula, if you are reading, please pass my kudos to your talented performers.

BTW: Chula also has a wonderful C U Polka Boom Boom video. It also uses a few words that are not quite right but the energy and talent is there!

11 thoughts on “Chula’s Marching Song: John Brown’s Body. Thai Style”

  1. Catherine I reckon John Brown’s body will be turning in his grave if this tune gets within earshot of him.

    In the past I have listened to Thai songs (mainly Sek Loso) in an attempt to learn more of the Thai language but unfortunately I sung (very badly) into a brick wall. The Thai language has too many same same words (mai mai mai mai mai)and my efforts to translate fell away quite sharply.

    Boom Boom. Basil Brush would be knackered if he ever visited Pattaya.

  2. Lani, I had to bite long and hard before I pushed the publish button on this post 😀

    Snap, the final word is still out on the C.U. Polka but I know more now than this morning. I received an email from a reader who pointed me the right direction (thanks!) Following his tip, I found that the C.U. Polka is a remake of an old song from the 60’s. But… that does not excuse the boom boom part (theme of the song).

    BTW: I was going to discuss the C.U. Polka in this post but changed my mind so deleted it… here’s a quick rundown…

    Boom boom started in Vietnam during the war (1955-75) with American servicemen. As we all know, many were either stationed in Thailand or came to Pattaya for R&R. I’m waiting to find out more from guys who were actually in Thailand at that time but the Internet tells me that boom boom was a term used in Issan especially (where the Americans were based). I’ve also read that Pattaya was no stranger either.

    The term “boom boom” is most often associated with south east asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos and is used to describe the act of intercourse, usually that which is purchased by males frequenting brothels and whorehouses in those locations. The term is thought to have been created by prostitutes possessing limited english language ability; ie- it is far easier for a non english speaking Thai prostitute to say “You go boom boom”? than it is for her to say “Would you like to go make completely unemotional and detached love with me”?

    The Routledge dictionary of modern American slang and unconventional English:

    Boom Boom = sex
    Boom Boom girl = prostitute
    Boom Boom house/parlor = brothel

    So there you go (in a nutshell)… I’ll let you know when I find out more (and hopefully I will).

  3. The use or the misguided use of the word ‘gay’ doens’t even bother me after listening to the C.U. Polka. As we touched on, via facebook, boom boom (even if it’s not boom boom as we know it) in favour of books? forgetting lectures? pass the RE-exam?????? If someone’s sitting for a RE-exam, they failed in the first place, yes?

    I’d love to hear more about the C.U. Polka 🙂

  4. Hi Colin. Sorry about coming in late. To see if I could see what you were seeing, I had to play the video again. And as I played it way too much the first day, it’s been banned in my house so I had to wait from some alone time.

    I’m not really seeing gay but I can understand the western logic of connecting pink to being gay. I assumed that the pink flags were in support of the beloved ruler (at one point Thais changed from yellow to pink t’s for the King, who was hospitalized). Ditto on the instruments of choice.

    I see nationalistic furor communist block style. Their super proper body positions with lighting to accent the pulled back shoulders, the emphasis on flag waving, the marching population, and the drama with the dark lighting around the pointing people and flag is classic.

    But instead of going for an oppressive look, Chula introduced fun elements into the video with their rollicky choice of music, the robotic actions of the drummers, and the way the pointing was done – all pulled together by a blue sky background, fluffy white clouds, pink flags, mostly white uniforms, and shiny brass instruments. It really is a fun video.

  5. I initially thought this was an intentional use of the word gay, mainly due to the whole camp nature of the video and the large pink flags.

    Any reasons for the pink flags? What are CU trying to achieve with video? Is there a C.U gay society????

  6. Ester, do you believe that Chula is parodying a country who’s leader is starving his people? Or just having fun with a powerful style? Personally, and NK’s politics aside, the more I watched the video the more I enjoyed what they came up with (but on YouTube the darks were too dark).

  7. Hamish, I know in Thailand it’s not unheard of to ask someone higher up the ladder for approval instead of a person with the needed insight. People on ladders are busy. And. Well. And maybe you are right, the English chorus could be so old (pre 1960’s) that it’s a fond memory and not so much a snafu. And maybe that goes for the Boom Boom lyrics too. And hopefully someone will enlighten us!

  8. It is indeed a total minefield dictionary plucking, isn’t it. I sometimes agonise over the minutia of subtly when translating a Thai word into English, and you take your reputation into your own hands when doing the reverse. However, I can’t help thinking CU missed a trick when they didn’t just go and ask a native English speaker to spend the 55 seconds it would have taken to hear them sing their translation before committing it to the internet and therefore to eternity. Heck, if the numerous visiting professors or international students were all out on lunch, then surely a backpacker waiting for his henna tattoo to dry would have pointed out that they needed to be sure about their choice of the word ‘gay’, even if he didn’t spot the mangled grammar of ‘C.U. will win again just as the same as previous day’.

    Now that I’ve had my face-palm moment, it’s probably fair to ask when the English version was written. It’s perfectly plausible that it was written when gay meant happy (exclusively) and the lyrics have been enshrined and sung (by cohort after cohort or eager young students since the establishment of one of Thailand’s most esteemed seats of learning) with little thought to their meaning. Just in the same way that children still enjoy reading Blyton’s tales of Dick, Fanny,Titty and the rest of them, despite some (probably fairly sensible self censorship in more recent years).

    Ahh language, you ever changing, wonderous, thing you.


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