By L. Morffi
Okay, why Li? Fair question. Rest assured, it is not some plot to confuse the hell out of all of you! It all begins in that great peninsula known as Iberia! For some strange mystical reason, which I may never understand, Spaniards younger than 15 or 16 years of age have absolutely no problem pronouncing my name. They say ‘Lincoln’ quite clearly. Adults don’t seem to share this ability. The very old may periodically call me ‘Clinton’; it’s happened about a dozen times in ten years. To this I usually respond: “Right idea, wrong President.”
My first forays to Spain were to Madrid. I had a few friends there and started to go out and meet new people. They had trouble pronouncing my name. By ‘they’, I mean just about everyone I met there! Someone began to call me ‘Li’ for short and it quickly spread among my new Madrid acquaintances. It would eventually follow me like a bad cold to Valencia when I moved there a couple of years later. Who started it? Now I honestly don’t remember whether it was my ex-girlfriend, her sister or this guy named David that I hung out with a lot my first year there. It could have been any of them or perhaps someone else that started it.
Before long, if I ever found a note for me on the fridge door or my mailbox, it would be addressed to ‘Li’, not Lee. As Spaniards don’t have the double-e as in English and apparently the “…ncoln” bothers them, only the ‘Li’ was kept. More interestingly, someone developed the diminutive of ‘Li Li’. I guess, “Lito” or “Lilito” was simply not an option for my Spanish friends! I also believe that the Tenacious D song “Lee” played a role in this permutation!
Many folks in my second home call me Lincoln and nearly all make the effort. As I no longer lived in Madrid, ‘Li’ eventually took on a slightly different significance in Valencia. My new girlfriend and current wife would use it when we were alone or with close friends or her family. Without realizing it at first, Li became a nickname for family and close friends only. Completely unplanned! It’s curious to me that most use both interchangeably. They may call me ‘Li’, but always introduce me as Lincoln.
When I first registered for HelpX to seek out a volunteer job I could do, I used Lincoln ‘Li’ Morffi on the profile. I figured that if I go to Asia, the folks might have a hard time pronouncing my name. I suspected things like “Rinkong” or “Rinkoling” or “Ling” like my Andalusian neighbor used to call me! So when I got to Thailand, I introduced myself as Li. It was easy for them and I’ve always liked my Spanish nickname in large part because only the best of friends there call me that now. In Spain many ethnic Chinese have their birth name and there Western name. There are many Chinese Juan’s and Maria’s in Spain, but all have their original Asian (often Mandarin) names. So I was sort of doing the same thing in Thailand.
The ‘Pi’ was the product of my students at Wat Tung Jan school in Paktongchai. I don’t remember the whole explanation, but among the Thai the word ‘Pi’ may be used before a proper name, I guess as a form of respect. Someone told me that it roughly translates to ‘older brother’ and someone else told me its just a way of respectfully addressing someone older, or in a position of authority. A Thai friend I met in 2011 told me that teachers get much less pay, but way more prestige in Thailand than lawyers or doctors. I’m not sure if there is any validity to this, but I can tell you that everyone treated me with great respect! Once they found out I was a volunteer teacher, many folks would offer me gifts of food. So among the Thai of Khorat province, I was “Pi Li” throughout that trip.
Nowadays in Asia, most know me as just “Li” or “Mister Li”, but all the kids know me as “Teacher Li”. In Siem Reap, Cambodia it was near impossible to walk through town without eventually hearing a youngster call out: “Teacher Li! Teacher Li!” After a time, even a few adults forewent the ‘mister’ and began calling me “Teacher Li” instead.
So in the West I’m “Lincoln” and in the East I’m “Li” and in both places I am me! “A rose by any other name…”