Do We Really Need More ‘Thainess’?
I wonder myself why I am writing to this site; ever since it was referred to me by a Japanese friend I have always had a sort of morbid curiosity. Having read some very interesting and insightful articles, I come back here often for backlogs as such. As a disclaimer I am half Thai, my father is European and my mother is Thai (4 years apart). They each have friends who are somewhat comparable to the experience had to this site, which is where my curiosity really comes from, what makes them tick and why are they here, I am here not to judge just an observer.
You see, I have many mixed feelings living in Thailand, I feel like I have the reverse Abhisit effect.
What exactly is the Abhisit effect?
Well, consider that he was educated in Eton (posh as all hell education institute in the UK) and graduated in Oxford he has retained almost no traits which you might consider ‘western’ or at least British. You will think a man who has surrounded himself with the lives of the English folk and being brought up in the local education he would at least have some of that in him. But we had him on BBC defending out dated practices devoid of any coherent argument or logic behind his reasoning; it is as if he never left Thailand at all.
Living here for a good 19 years and moving to the UK for further study I realise how quickly I settled in with the locals, not just the University but the actual locals around the area. Not after coming back for a while did I realise how I missed the interactions I had with the local folk, genuine people with genuine problems. Not to say Thais do not have genuine problems, I just feel that there is less focus on the superficial when facing their problems.
Here I am in the latter half of my 20s realising I should just get out of here. It is not because I hated Thailand but it was because I began to understand that the values I hold dear to me just aren’t prevalent here. Maybe because I never truly felt as if I am 100% Thai (no shit, I am half). A good litmus test is to walk past MBK. I may get a decent 50/50 split between “Hey you!” and “Tarm dai na kub/ka” (you can ask us). Even as a half I am more akin to someone from the west than a Thai, yet I am constantly reminded to be more Thai at work and at home. I understand you have to adapt to Thai culture when in Thailand but this should be a two way street, both people need to make the effort to understand each other.
A good example is Thais don’t like it when you make contact using your feet or you touch their head (something about draining their soul through their temple?) yet in the UK queuing is apparently a pastime (according to the locals…) Yet in Thailand nobody really cares for queues and in the UK you can be extra touchy if you want to… So who is in the wrong when they do their own thing in the other person’s country?
I for one don’t care for being touched on the head or feet, cut me up in a queue however and you better have a reason to.
Now it’s time to get on with what I want to talk about.
So here we have a political situation that has repeated itself ad nauseam and something needs to get done, the new ‘elected’ Prime Minister suggestion is ‘Thainess,’ so his first goal is to spread ‘Thainess’ through education and media…
You see, ‘Thainess’ is something I don’t normally try to think we need more of, in fact I could argue it is the main reason we are in this quagmire of feces (politically speaking). ‘Thainess’ has its goods and bads but let me just talk to you about what ‘Thainess’ means to me and how it has shaped me to become somewhat enlightened. (Don’t even get me started about education)
If there are things I would take with me is the life lessons from the locals. By observing how some Thai cultural ticks annoy me I actually learnt to NOT do them. What are these exactly? Well in no particular order I want to talk about the life lessons I learned from doing the OPPOSITE of what many Thais do. As a disclaimer I do not say these are Thai only traits, but I am going to offend someone anyway so no point trying to save my hide at this rate…
1. Focus on doing instead of being.
That is the general gist I get from the people who I work with nowadays, they are too focused on the BEING. Graduating with masters, graduating with a PhD but they don’t seem to care about the DOING part as in, working and gaining experience or using your knowledge to further yourself. They like titles and accolades but hate the idea of using them in real life situations. Thais will readily have all their accolades on display but they never once wonder how they have to use these tools in actuality. BEING a general, BEING a police officer, BEING a politician, having a title means everything so you don’t have to prove your worth and therefore not accountable for anything that happens, right?
BEING rich is also important but that is the problem, money doesn’t grow on trees so you have to find a way to be rich. This is why I find many locals to make poor decisions with their money, always spending to show their wealth, be as ostentatious as possible!
You have a pretty wife?
Show her off, is she younger than you?
Is your car not reflecting the social status you want?
Get a new BMW!
Everything is a zero sum game here, me getting richer makes you poorer, my wife being whiter makes yours darker, me going on an amazing holiday means yours was mediocre! This is why I think the term high society ‘hi-so’ is a misnomer if you ask me. So what about the DOING part? Well considering the work ethic I find in most of my Thai colleagues (okay I admit it’s more of a new generation thing) I can’t imagine them getting very far, but then again all they have to do is cement a good job title and they can let the BEING rake in the money.
Problem with the focus on BEING is because they don’t know the value or concept of money they will spend it frivolously and eventually nothing is left. It is surprising how easy it is to burn through money (look at Mike Tyson). Only through earning something can you truly appreciate it.
Therefore I have become more humble as a person, tired of all the bullshit one-up-manship I see daily, I simply refuse to play their game. I let the actions I do decide who I am, not my titles, and if people don’t think I am who I am because of this then I simply do not care.
2. Treat others with respect.
This is a surprising one, isn’t it? If you speak Thai to a decent level and overhear conversations between a Thai and the person who is serving them, you will notice one thing. How loud and obnoxious the Thai is being to the person serving them. Maids, drivers, waiters and taxi drivers all to some extent take shit from other Thais. This is prevalent in Bangkok, where we never seem to treat those who serve us with any respect and we think because we pay them the money they have to take our shit. It may be due to the elitist behaviour from the so called ‘hi-so’ crowd who believe they are now above the other Thais. This even happens to those who were originally from Issarn (for example) and make it ‘big’ in Bangkok. They then begin to think their boots are too big for their home town and start giving the populace back home shit for being poor.
I remember someone said how the tonal nature of Thai allows for great sensual style of speaking which translates to great phone sex (apparently), but this tonal language also allows for great levels of malice and hate (just you remember that).
Walk around or drive around Bangkok for a while – nobody pays any heed to general etiquette when walking or driving. Moving around in Bangkok has simply become a chore (unless you can get there via BTS) because they do not respect simple things like one-way roads, riding motorbikes on payments, setting up stalls on the side, nonchalantly browsing the stalls whilst blocking 50% of the remaining path for people to walk on etc… There have been recent attempts to start the ‘left side for walking, right side for standing’ spiel on the BTS stations yet nobody cares.
Look at the whole ‘hazing’ craze, people are dying because of university initiation from their seniors yet because they are seniors they seem to show zero compassion, and it is as if their true sadistic nature shows up the moment they realise they are above you. I find the shit you do in a Oxford and Cambridge’s gentlemen’s club was childish and dumb but somehow these take the cake. The whole thing is a microcosm for Thailand, juniors get initiated, they take shit from the seniors, seniors graduate, juniors become seniors and because their previous seniors gave them shit they now believe they are entitled to give shit to their juniors. It’s like a gift that just keeps on giving. Keep passing the shit, boys!
The security guard? Taxi driver? Maid? Waiter? Talk to them like a human being! I use all the polite mannerisms and always say a hearty hello. People are confused and say that I am very polite, but shouldn’t this be the norm? Why do I assume because I somehow got dealt a better hand in the game of life that I can treat them with disrespect. The perception of being nice or kind is akin to being vulnerable is a load of bullocks, I know how to stand my ground and I have a sharp tongue (it isn’t even allowed through airport security!). People keep talking about protecting Thais from foreign employees, I think we should be protecting Thais from other Thais (especially Thai Chinese), we seem to be so capable of so much hatred and malice towards people of our own kind it has really made me learn the value of treating anyone (regardless of standing) with respect.
Any philistine with a sense of survival can talk nice and kiss ass to someone who is above them. The true test of personality is how they talk to people who they have no stake in or are below them. <Fantastic quote, I love it! – Stick>
This goes again to being humble which brings me to the next point.
3. The importance of humility
If there is one thing I learned from traveling to Japan is that I really enjoy being in the company of people who are humble and down to earth. I am not going to straight out say that no Thais I have met have qualities I will describe as humble but the problem is many really don’t. This comes straight back to treating others with respect, and we seem to easily forget that we are all in the same boat.
I could argue that we sacrifice humility for the prospect of face-saving. Who cares about being humble if we can remain our larger than lives selves that we like to project in public. Face-saving is a massive vice. We build a persona base on our titles and material possessions. We strive to protect the façade we have built with all our might and in-turn sacrifice any sense of humility or integrity that we might have. Why is this façade so important to us? Why are we so keen on keeping up with appearances? There is a term for this – it’s called a charlatan and it isn’t a positive adjective. This now also brings me to another point.
4. Money does not equal class or sophistication
If there is any peeve I have about traveling with Thai friends is they don’t really know how to have a good time when away from their home country. “It is too cold!” “Where is the Thai restaurant?” The impression I get is they travel just to tick the boxes. Why would I go to a different country and do the exact same things I can do in Bangkok? Similar to the negative stereotypes of Americans who travel abroad, I think Thais also seem to be very culturally non-adaptive. Maybe I am just free-spirited and try everything but isn’t that the point of travelling? When we travel we invest in life experiences – do everything whilst you can!
Rarely do I talk to ‘hi-so’ people who fair well abroad. The most ‘hi-so’ (read as wealthy) person I know (as in billionaire) went to Australia and lasted about 3 months. What happened exactly? Well he seems to forget that in Thailand can you truly be intimidating by being wealthy, it simply comes with the amount of things you can get away with here (like murder I guess?). But he was just a ‘small fry’ to most Australians, got into an argument with someone at a club and they knocked the shit out of him. Came back crying to everyone in Thailand (me included) in which I just imagined that he might have just deserved it…slightly.
Now this is not to say I have not met Thais with sophistication, it is just that they normally do not regularly associate themselves as ‘hi-so,’ there is some sort of strange middle ground. Not too wealthy enough to be upper-middle class or too rich to give a damn, though the latter is a rare breed. These are normally the areas where you will find well-traveled people with wealth of interesting experiences abroad, though some of them like it a bit too much and don’t want to come back. But similar to the example about our ex-PM, many locals living abroad for a large portion of their lives will merely come back and be 100% Thai again.
Remember, the Issarn girl who has had made a fortune via the trade will still talk with a mouth full of food, throw rubbish on the floor and spit on the floor. These are not all end-all and be-all of habits but when she starts acting like her shit doesn’t stink because she is now ‘hi-so,’ someone has to point out that it indeed does stink.
Now it comes to the next point which might be harder to explain…
5. Beauty is not everything
The reason why this is hard to justify is because sexual attraction and sex is a bias in it itself. It means different things to different people. Some people have priced it at 1,000 B a night, maybe some at 10,000 B, maybe a 25 Million B condo sometime in the near future. Some want to wait, some want to have it as often or as rough as they can get. You see, sex is what you make it and what you make of it is none of my business (unless it begins to harm others) so I am not the one to tell you sexual attraction doesn’t matter. If you are going for the long haul then having two completely opposite opinions of sex is going to be a bumpy ride. But as my grandmother once told me, “When men marry, they expect that their wives will never change. When women marry, they expect that their husbands will change (for the better).”
To quote Shakespeare “Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye, Not utter'd by base sale of chapmen's tongues,” or a more modern quote would be “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” we all have our opinion of beauty, for Thailand everyone seems to have decided that its pasty white, long black hair and youthful.
The top three topics of conversation in Thailand (especially amongst women) is, Skin Colour, Losing Weight and Food (in no-particular order). I could argue that this has occurred before the introduction of Korean celebrities (circa Full House 2004, Thank you Mr. Rain…) but things definitely got worse. The media has defiantly begun to portray that as long as you are white and beautiful (regardless of any deficiencies) you will get the perfect man with a perfect bank account. I could easily argue this for any media outlet in any country but this is about what I learnt in Thailand. There is a Thai adage somewhere about if you are beautiful you can never do any wrong. I get this every now and then when women just jump queues or selfishly block paths. What reaction do I get when they know they have displeased others? A smile and a giggle and apparently I am expected to pardon them for everything (up to killing my parents).
But I am not a man to hold grudges. If I hold grudges in Thailand for queue jumpers, path blockers, people who keep weaving their hair and elbow my face on the escalator and people who carry umbrellas to block the sun but refuse to pay attention to their surroundings so I feel like I could get my eyes pocked at any time…I would never reach the end of the day. However, my daily commute to work on foot does raise my heart blood pressure a few notches every day.
I hear many Thais using skin and weight as a conversation starter “Are you losing / gaining weight?” “Did you get lighter / darker?” People talk about it whilst you are eating, don’t eat too much you are gaining weight! At some point in work I merely got fed up of the whole gossip about these topics, you see I can take this from a Thai women (Though personally I am 188cm weighing at 77kg I don’t see how I keep getting so much flak for being fat), but every now and then when the snide comment comes I will just retort with “Well, you’re black”. You see if I said this anywhere else I would be considered a racist, but sometimes I feel like I have to stoop to their level to cope with everyday interactions. Then when they are displeased that some half-Thai taro guy called them black, they don’t seem to realise how I feel when they keep commenting on my weight.
Do not misunderstand, everyone likes a pretty face, but the obsession with it has really brought something to my attention. Why is it whenever it comes to a topic of finding perfect man no.1 they never seem to explore the other more important part of humanity? Our personality. It always has to come down to our weight, skin colour or face. Maybe you could argue that it is because Thai men are just as shallow and look for these things in women, but then doesn’t that just mean we are just a shallow bunch? I remember when a few Thai people talked to me after going to the UK and France, about black men and black women being successful with their lighter skin counterparts. Well, it is because there is no ‘stigma’ with dark skin there (that or you are just all racist…), beauty is about perceptions and our perceptions of it in Thailand are driving people up the wall.
But nevertheless I realised that the pursuit of beauty seems to be the downfall of many. Beauty is fickle, it goes with age and it goes with time. At the end of the day when we are all old and haggard, the core that we have left is our personality and our principles which drive our decisions in life. We cannot let our beauty carry us forever through life. Some manage it but many don’t. The men who go for beauty seek to find mia nois the moment they realise they aren’t seeing a pretty face in the morning anymore. Some just go for a pretty face and become whipped for the rest of their lives, financial and emotional.
In conclusion to it all, just as I said previously, these are not intrinsic to only Thailand. Though I feel they are prevalent enough to have me deciding that I have had enough of it all.
You don’t have to agree with me on any point and definitely I don’t expect you to agree with all my points but I think that since I am half Thai the argument of ‘you don’t understand’ isn’t going to cut it. You can tell me “Well, Vietnam has it worst,” or “Go back to Europe then, if you don’t like Thailand.” Well, you see, this is how children argue. Until as a country we can accept criticism without resulting in childish antics, then AND ONLY then, can we begin to improve. Saying to go somewhere else is fine and dandy cause I have a EU passport but YOU, my friend, the average Thai people are shit out of luck. So we better start getting our collective shit together.
So do we need more of this in our lives Mr. General?
Instead of just saying we need more ‘Thainess’, I think we should start moulding ‘Thainess’ into something better before we inject more of it into our society.
What a pleasantly refreshing perspective, and it is so nice to hear from someone who understands the meaning of the word respect.