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pla (ปลา)

Thai for ‘fish’. The word is used to define the un-aspirated letter P of the Thai alphabet which is called ‘po pla’ (ป - see Thai consonants), as well as a prefix to any kind of fish, e.g. pla kad, pla tihn, pla tu, etc. It also often appears as part of any food dish prepared with or from fish, e.g. pla thod (fried fish - fig.), tom yam pla (a spicy, hot and sour soup with fish), nahm pla (fish sauce), pla rah (fermented fish), etc. Fish are also often fed, or bought and released into the water, usually near temples, as a popular way of making merit (tamboon - fig.). In Buddhism, the ever-open eyes of fish represent eternally active compassion, and the mount of Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy, is a huge Koi Carp (fig.), that is able to subdue demons and malicious beings. In Chinese, fish are called yú (鱼), a word with the same sound as yú (逾) meaning ‘to exceed’ and yú (余), meaning ‘surplus’. Due to this, fish frequently appear in Chinese iconography and their symbols are typical Chinese good luck charms, especially goldfish (fig.), as those are called jīnyú (金鱼) which sounds the same as jīnyú (金逾) or jīnyú (金余) and can be translated as ‘surplus of money’ or ‘gold in excess’ (fig.). In addition to this and usually portrayed in pairs, they symbolize tenacity, domestic felicity, as well as fertility and a state of fearless suspension in the harmless ocean of samsara, free and without danger of drowning. As such, they are one of the eight auspicious symbols or Ashtamangala, that Buddhist missionaries brought from India to China. In Cambodia, the currency is the Riel (រៀល), a name that literally means ‘Small Fish’ and which besides the often silver colour of fish, akin to that of coin money likely derives from the country's former bartering system, i.e. a mode of payment by exchanging goods for food, especially fish, that was commonly used in the past in the many fishing communities, that today still exist around Tonlé Sap (fig.), the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia (fig.). In Christianity, the fish is a symbol of Christ, as well as a sign to profess ones creed, used by Christians worldwide. In Koine Greek (Κοινὴ Ἑλληνική), fish are called ichtus or ichtys (ἰχθύς), an acronym for Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter (Ἰησοῦς Χριστός θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ), meaning ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’. Christ often used metaphors to compare the righteous and righteousness with fish, in contrast to Satan and evil, which is often compared with a snake, e.g. ‘What man is there of you whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or, if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?’; ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men’, etc. In Thailand, a mainly Buddhist country, the Ichtus symbol is only occasionally seen as a bumper sticker on cars (fig.). Both the world’s largest known freshwater fish and the world’s largest known sea fish are found in the waters off Thailand, i.e. the Giant Catfish and the Whale Shark (fig.), respectively. Sometimes transcribed plaa or plah. See also THEMATIC STREET LIGHT (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5).