Daily Archives: July 15, 2005

Hi-lo Society in Thailand

We talk a lot in these blogs and on the forums about how the farang (white faced foreigners) should adapt their thoughts and lifestyles in order to fit in with Thai society. The temptation of newcomers is somehow to “modernize” some of the Thai ways of life which they deem to be antiquated or demeaning. I must admit I have been guilty of doing this myself. I remember my early days of teaching when the students would come up to my desk on their knees or bow their body as they walked past me. I was quite shocked and uncomfortable about the level of deference they were showing me. I tried to get them to stop. I thought I was liberating them, but I only ended up watering down Thai culture so it became a mish-mash of Thai and Western cultures.

Now I understand more than ever how important it is to preserve Thai culture from the influences of the West. Things that might work in your home country just won’t work here. The Thai culture is too deeply ingrained into their way of life. So, these days, I let the students get onto their knees when they ask permission to come back into the classroom. I allow them to stand up and say thank you to me at the end of my lessons. I understand now that the students are not necessarily showing respect to me personally, but to the position I hold. Teachers in Thai society are given a lot of respect. In my local community, a parent would tell their child to wai me even if they don’t go to my school. They are paying respect to my profession, and as a teacher I need to act accordingly. I feel I have a responsibility to my fellow teachers not to let them down.

Having said that, you do see some Thai people abusing their position of power. They know that people should pay them the greatest amount of respect and they don’t seem to care whether they deserve it or not. Like any society around the world, you will find Thailand full of contradictions which will confuse newbies. I am going to finish my blog today with a final extract from the excellent book “Thailand Fever”. At the bottom of this blog I will let you know how you can win yourself a copy of this book!

High and Low: Superiors and Inferiors

How does it make you feel when someone is showered with respect simply because of his age, his job title, the wealth he inherited, or the family into which he was born? If you are like most Westerners, you probably won’t feel that he deserves any respect from you unless you get to know him and find that he actually did something himself to deserve it.

How about when your boss at work, your teacher at school, a police officer, or your mother-in-law at home talks down to you, excludes you, or ignores what you say? Unless you’re in the military, it probably annoys you whenever someone acts as if they are higher than you. It may even make you uncomfortable when someone else bows down and “kisses up” to you.

These scenarios, which Westerners like us might sum up with the negative terms, “blind respect” and “rank pulling,” are perfectly normal to a Thai. In fact, many Thais believe they are part of a natural and beneficial system that holds society together.

Like it or not, the Thai universe is fundamentally hierarchical. Every person assumes a rank in that universe relative to other people or categories of people, albeit a fluid rank. From a very young age, Thais are raised to show gestures of respects to anyone in a higher category. For example, you bow to parents, older family members, teachers and monks – even ones you don’t know – as a way to honour their role in raising their children, imparting knowledge, teaching morals, or otherwise contributing to society.

This sense of hierarchy is ingrained in Thai culture. The theme of “high” and “low”, “superior” and “inferior,” pervades the language and culture. It comes naturally to Thais, but you are going to have to get used to it, as it affects how you should treat your partner’s family members, your servants, and even your children.

Source: “Thailand Fever” by Chris Pirazzi and Vitida Vasant

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Next weekend, we will be announcing the name of one lucky reader who will be receiving a copy of Thailand Fever. The competition is kindly sponsored by Thai Hypermarket. All you have to do is answer this simple question:

QUESTION: What does “nam jai” mean in English?

Send your answer to my email address by next Friday.

Angry Thai Female

Since I have tomorrow (Friday) off to compensate for attending the first of 4-Saturday QuarkXpress program courses, I figure I’d stay up late and rant.

Uh oh! OakMonster is about to post a rant about the plight of Thai women. Close the blinds. Hide your children. No one is safe!

What is the cause of my rage today? A relationship article in The Nation called A question of relationships: Angry, alone and writing furiously Click on the link and read the article first before you proceed.

The writer criticizes the new genre of books that recently hit the shelf in Thailand, the Angry Woman literature. I guess that would be a companion category to the increasingly popular Chick Lit(erature) in the US. So I hereby dub this Thai Angry Women stuff, the Bitch Lit.

Now that you know what you’re getting into, please, I beg of you, finish reading the entry before getting your panties in a bunch. Please.

It’s about gosh darn time Thai women show their anger in public! It’s about time Thai women voice their opinion on and their dissatisfaction about Thai men!

Of all the things Thai society presses upon us, we decide to pick raising our voices and expressing our anger in public as our grand scale defiance. And some guys apparently got bent out of shape about it.

The male-dominated voice speaks through this columnist at the Nation, condemning the Bitch Lit to nothing but emotional sewage spewing from women who are “First, all the female writers appear to be close to or over 30. Second, they are desperate. Finally, their lives are void of both love and dates.”

This writer continues that the Bitch Lit writers “…can probably count the relationships they’ve had on the fingers of one hand and base their judgements on highly limited encounters with the opposite sex,” and that they’re writing advice column about relationships. Well, duh, Sherlock. Who sets up the rule that the more dates/love experience the girl has would lessen her worth?

Brother, please. These are arguments befitting an over-confident 16-year-old pimpled boy whose proposal for a date was rejected by the cheerleading captain.

But if that is a representing voice of Thai men, then the article gives Thai women another reason why the Bitch Lit should continue.

This is the 21st century. With all due respect to other aspects of Thai cultures, the cultural view on women must change to allow women to be all that we can be.

We don’t want to stay at home to keep the house, or spend hours in the kitchen. (Not that Thai women these days have to, anyway.) We don’t want to be treated as soft, dainty object that should only be seen and not heard. We don’t want to keep our emotions bottled up so we can appear pleasant to you men at all time, so you would love us and won’t go frolicking into the arms of another women. We don’t need to be married by 30 to be considered “successful”, or to have any value to our lives.

I must admit, yes, us women do have our flaws. We are only human. Then again, so do men. Now that Thai women are pointing things about Thai men out to the world at large, venting their anger in public, Thai men are not happy about it. In such a male-dominant society, hearing criticism from women seems to have blindsided men, shook them off balance, and lost control. Men, in general, don’t like not being in control, and now they feel like they’re losing control on the women. That really shakes things up.

Thai women today are smart and independent. They don’t feel the need to pine for men’s attention as much, and certainly they could easily make their own living. They feel they are entitled to their opinion, and their rights to have their voices heard. And they’d go out and do it. More than half of my graduating class is not married, and some of them couldn’t care less. Seriously.

There are definitely changes in the air. And some men think it just stinks. These are men who are not as open minded, who do not have the same respect for Thai women, who don’t think Thai women can be more than just the silent, pleasant, subservient fragile flower.

Tough luck, brothers. Tough. Luck.

A Thai male reader may just be saying, no kidding this OakMonster chick couldn’t find a Thai guy. She’s too damned opinionated.

Good riddance, dude.

My point exactly. This is probably also why many young Thai women these days went looking outside of the Thai circle. Thai men just don’t appreciate the “modern” Thai women and their having an opinion and saying it up front and center.

Anyways. I digress.

Of course, not ALL men are like that. Better yet, not ALL Thai men are like that. Kudos to you “modern” men who are not afraid of my and younger generations of sass, who love us for our minds as well as our bodies, and who let us truly be ourselves.

My hopes lie with the younger generation of Thai men. I have already seen some changes with boys of my generation. You certainly can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but the younguns are catching on.

There are real gentlemen out there in the world as well as I’m sure you lads on Thai-Blogs are. For that, I thank you.

And to all, thanks for letting me rant. Now I can enjoy my day off.

P.S. Thai and non-Thai sisters (and perhaps brothers too) out there who feel outraged about this article, I encourage you to write to the Nation at either relations@nationgroup.com or letters@nationgroup.com.

How do you say…?

My First Thai Book

My First Thai Book

“How do you say…love?”

That was a snippet of conversation (as best as I can remember) that introduced me to the Thai language. Mid-June of 1990 at a state park on the Chesapeake Bay. Kim and I walking closely down a forested path; almost touching shoulders, but not quite. Let me explain….

I was a Navy boy. I was stationed in Norfolk, VA from March of 1989 until June of 1992. I had really never been out of Seattle before that time (I don’t count two trips to Vancouver, B.C. when I was 8). My idea of a cool evening after work was to drive my 1982 Toyota Corolla to a nearby mall and hang out (I miss that Corolla, believe it or not).

Sooo, I go to the mall one evening. I saw a girl that changed my life. Her name was Kim. I was all of 20; she was a bit older (it’s not polite to reveal a woman’s age :)!) She said that she was from Thailand. Thailand? She’s Taiwanese? She speaks Chinese (I know, laughable now, but..hey, I was 20!)?

We exchanged phone numbers that night at the mall. We spent a wonderful six months together..and then no more (that’s for later).
In those six months, I engulfed that first Thai book. I learned the Thai alphabet forwards and backwards. To those familiar with the book, I learned about Thai nuns, monks, and rice farmers. I learned about bowls and tigers…shirts, and wood. Wow!

I still remember sitting in that Corolla outside of the laundromat on those hot summer days, waiting for my clothes to dry. I wrote the Thai letters from the book onto a pathetically thin little notepad I kept in my glove compartment. I still have that notebook, with all those chicken-scratch Thai characters that I wrote. There are also little notes from Kim. “Honey, I am here, don’t leave without me!” she wrote and left on my windshield outside of the mall one day when we were supposed to meet. It still pains me to see those little notes.

Anyways, she introduced me to the Thai language. The minute I went to the library and opened up that book I was hooked. The written Thai language…how beautiful. How fortunate I was to stumble upon such a treasure trove of life experience to follow.

More to come

Drinking a Chang beer with a chang! Nov. ’04

Drinking a Chang with a chang!

Drinking a Chang beer with a chang! Nov. ’04

Well, it is an honor to finally write a blog on this webpage. I have been reading everyone’s postings for about one month now, and I have to say that coming to this site to read blogs has been something that I have looked forward to each and everyday.

Since this is my first entry, I would like to tell everyone a little bit about myself. I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle to be specific). I made my first trip to Thailand in March of 2000. Ever since then I have tried to make yearly treks back, as it is truly the loveliest place on earth. The food, the people, the language…okay, everything!

I don’t wish to get too specific on my maiden voyage into blog-land, so allow me the indulgence of rambling on a bit out of chronological order. My intent, later on, is to write about how I came to know about Thailand, and how I became enthralled with everything that is the Land of Smiles, and my ensuing adventures!

Back to a little introduction of myself. I recently was married (Feb. 14, ’05) to a Thai woman. Her name is Sudaporn and she’s the love of my life. I met her in Bangkok back in November of 2003. I was fortunate enough to meet her on the second day of my 30-day trip (my third trip to Thailand). We went everywhere together. It made my vacation, as Bill & Ted would say, “most excellent!”

Anyways, I made two more trips back to see her and to spend time with her family. Then she came back to live with me. I couldn’t believe how smooth it was to get her Fiancee Visa. I heard all sorts of horror stories; but our saga went off without a hitch. She has been here in the States since December ’04. We were married 2 1/2 months later. She’s now in ESL classes at a nearby technical college.

My Wife, Sudaporn

Sudaporn (Pon)

Okay, so that is where I’m at now. Let me tell you where I’m going. In 12 years and 2 days (yep, it’s that exact) I am going to retire from my job and move to Thailand to live permanently. My wife, I will now refer to her as Pon, bought some land near her parents’ village and we are going to build a house there, hopefully as early as three years from now. It’s a small village 31km outside of Chiang Rai called Bahn Bong Chang. It’s a pretty cool place.

Pon’s parents are rice farmers. They are lovely people and they readily accepted me as one of their own (a somewhat pale version of a Thai son, I reckon!) Pon has two siblings; an older brother and an older sister. Both of them have moved to Bangkok for a better life. Pon’s sister is a seamstress and her brother is a manager at a disco.

Pon’s dad headed for the fields!

I hope I haven’t rambled on too much. Like I wrote earlier, this is my very first blog ever. I’m feeling my way around, so please bear with me. My intention is to not only tell you about my adventures, but I would like to write blogs that are subject-specific. My aim is to produce a blog that is thoughtful, entertaining, and at times, thought-provoking. Thank you very much!

On the river in Chiang Rai

On the river in Chiang Rai

My wife learning thai

The thai radio is great. I know this should probably in a forum, but I really wanted to add this to the blog. My wife is an American whom went to Thailand with me this past March. She could not speak a lick of Thai, but learned a lot while she was there. It burned a passion for the language and culture, where she was engulfed. She learned quite a bit in term of language. By the time we left (2 weeks and a half), she was able to understand a lot more in Thailand than twenty thousand parties of thai people for years. I play the radio every week, probably twice. She has learned a lot.

Thank you to Richard, and the other people supporting this website.

She is learning a lot. To be frank, so am I. I can converse in Thai, with a lot of effort. However, my days of the week were like an infant. With the radio, I can play it over and over till I am able to pick it up. I would advise anyone that is really interested in learning thai to pick it up. Or vise versa. I would imagine it would work.

Now this blog is not the normal blog one would write about cultures, activities, differences, similarities. Though its something a couple can do. My wife is American. Farang. She is someone whom never had pad thai till I met her. We are from Chicago, and she has never had a Gyros till she met me. (Gyros is a meat that is a combination of lamb and beef with a bunch of spices) Its fast food. Its almost the sal-a-bow of Thailand. (Sal-a bow; bar que pork bun) Any way, she does not venture out much in food. Most of her upbringing was as Americana as you can get. She is great. She is very intelligent. An amazing woman that has embraced Thai culture, and now its language.

So thank you.