The future of every nation lies in its youth. Thailand, for a long time free from Western influences, maintained her traditions and passed on its cultural heritage successfully to later generations.
However, relatively recent influences from other cultures caused significant changes in the behaviour and value system of Thailand’s youth. Many fear that the old ways may be lost forever.
Let me share with you a contemporary perspective of a Thai teen, by quoting an award-winning essay, “A Portrait of a Young Thai”, from the Junior IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards for Thailand conducted by The Nation last year. I kept the essay all this time, because it had a profound impression on me. You’ll find out why, if you read below.
A Portrait of a Young Thai
by Chompunoot Tangtavorn
If you ask me what a portrait of a young Thai is, I will find it difficult to answer although I am a Thai teenager. I am quite different from many of my teenage friends. I have never had any boyfriends or followed foreign fashion or had a strange hairstyle. This is the reason why my parents and teachers are proud of and love me. However, many of my friends tell me that I have nearly lost the colour of my teenage life. I do not feel sad about this as I am satisfied with the way I am.
In this essay, I would like to reveal a portrait of a young Thai through my life and my closest friend’s. We are very different, but, I think, both of us are the portraits of Thai teenagers.
I have always obeyed my parents, so my life is nearly what they want it to be. When I was a little ten-year-old girl, my father told me to be studious and that I would have to go to university. That was the first time I heard the word “university”, and when I asked him what a university was, he explained that it was a place where I had to study before I began to work, since the knowledge and a certificate from the university were necessary. I remember asking him: “I want to be a great pianist, daddy. I think that I would like to play more attention to my piano lessons and practice. There’s no need to go to the university, don’t you agree, daddy?” He looked at me and answered seriously, “You have to go to the university. You can continue your piano lesson as long as you want, but it must not be your main job. Listen, you have to go to the university as it will make your future bright.”
This answer made me believe that my father had a plan for my future. He was lucky that I once read the book that said, “Now, I’m sixty. I realise that if I had known that my life would be like this, I would have believed my parents when I was young”. Therefore, I decided to believe my father, in other words, believe in his plan.
When I was about thirteen years old I knew that my closes friend wanted to be a violinist, but her parents wanted her to study medicine at the university. She thought that the university would not help her reach her ambition. She began to ignore lessons in class. She told me that she always argued with her parents many times about the grade she received from school examinations. She said to me, “You want to be a pianist, don’t you? Whey don’t you pay more attention to your piano lessons? Don’t you want to reach your ambition?” I could not answer these questions, but one thing I could explain to myself was that I had to believe my parents otherwise I might be unhappy when I grow up.
When I was fifteen years old there were many great changes in teenage culture. At that time it was said that Thai teenagers were influenced by foreign culture. Many of them wore very short skirts and had strange hair colour like Japanese pop stars. Some of them had boyfriends or girlfriends like young Americans. My mother said to me, “You must not be like that”. I believed her and behaved as she wanted me to, not because I realised that sentence in the book, but because I got used to obeying my parents. If I did something that I was sure my parents did not like, I would feel that I was wrong or that I made a mistake.
Nevertheless my closest friend did as many teenage girls did at that time. She wore short skirts and had her hair cut although she knew that it was not the school rules. She had a boyfriend, and, of course, she still insisted that she would try to reach her ambition of being a violinist. I asked her if her parents were satisfied with her behaviour and her decision. Her answer was “no”, but she said that it was her life and she would do what she wanted to do. This surprised me very much. I really wondered if she felt wrong or sad when she disappointed her parents like that. However, I forgot that question a few days later because there were some more interesting questions that came to my mind. I eagerly wanted to know why other teenagers including my friend behaved like that and why I, including some of my classmates whom the teachers considered “good girls” decided to follow their parents’ orders all the time. All of us were young Thais but why did we have very different thoughts. I could not find the answers at that time since I was too young and had very little experience.
At present, I am eighteen years old. My parents have stopped giving me orders on how they want me to behave as I have already got used to this kind of lifestyle, the way they want me to be. Sometimes I spend my spare time thinking back to when I was a pre-teenage girl, and used to wonder why my closest friend and I had very different thoughts. But at this time I realise that although we are different, we have at least one thing in common. It is that both of us are in the “frame” which is created by our parents. The frame has no door or window, so we cannot open it in order to see what’s outside. Many teenagers like me have asked our parents when we were young if we could have other lifestyles out of the frame, just as I asked my father if I could be a pianist and not go to the university. When they said “no”, we decided to believe them since we felt that it was “safe” to stay inside, and felt good when teachers appreciated our behaviour.
However, other teenagers wanted to be different and eagerly wanted to see the outside. They tried to make a “hole” in the fame. Unfortunately, whenever their parents saw the holes, they tired to close them because, I think, they never went or looked outside the frame when they were teenagers themselves. The relationship between children and parents was more close in the past than at present; this means they were more obedient than teenagers today. Therefore, when they have children, they do not want the children to go outside the frame before growing up into teenagers.
I realise that at present the frame is very old and there are very few holes that our parents cannot notice. Some teenagers see a different culture from the holes and go according to it since they believe that it can help them to go outside, in other words, make them different. They may be influenced by that culture, but do not understand the reason for it because the holes are so small that they cannot see it clearly. They may be dressed like Japanese stars as they do not know that the stars do it to look attractive but it is inappropriate for them to do so.
This is the portrait of a young Thai that I have seen in my life so far. When I realise that I am in the frame I decide to walk to the centre and see many teenagers trying to make holes. Because of the old frame, which has unnoticeable holes, Thai teenagers’ lifestyles have changed gradually. I cannot predict what will happen to Thai teenagers in the future, but all I know is that meeting at the half way and building windows in the frame to make teens see outside clearly may be the best way.
Nangsao Chompunoot can write very well, don’t you think? I like her style very much, and her thoughts are also those of a mature, responsible adult – more so than most of her peers.
Lucky are the parents who are blessed with children like her. 🙂 Her example shows that there is hope after all.