Head Case

I could’ve sworn I was a Texan in my past life. I love chicken fried steak. I dig country music. I’m quick to adopt a drawl once surrounded by folks who talk that way. I look good in cowboy hat, and feel right at home in cowboy boots.

What all of that has to do with Thailand? I’m getting to that in a moment.

So, today, casual Friday, the one day in this longest work week of the summer (does it feel long to the rest of y’all?) we can wear our jeans, I decided to go a little country. I have on my jeans, cowboy boots, plait shirt—from Thailand, ironically—and put my hair in 2 braids.

Here I am, sitting in my spacious cubicle on 34th floor building in Downtown Los Angeles, possibly the most diverse city in America, working away at my computer, looking like a cute little country bumpkin. An All-American Asian country bumpkin.

What a sight, indeed.

It kind of goes with my name being Oakley Boren thing. When I’m introduced as Oakley Boren, people just kind of have this expression on their faces like, “I didn’t expect to see an Asian chick named Oakley Boren”. Today it’s “I didn’t expect to see an Asian cowgirl named Oakley Boren.” Anyway. Pardon my digression.

I was still looking at the monitor when I saw Random Coworker (RC) stopped by my cubicle. I spotted her on my “rearview mirror” on my computer monitor. Before I could turn around and properly engaged in a chit chat, RC stepped up behind me and got a hold of my braids as if they were a reign on a horse.

She didn’t quite say, “Giddy up, Oaks!” but with the motion she was making with my braids, she might as well just do that. And I didn’t even get a carrot.

True. Not all Westerners know about how Thai people regard our heads as the most respectable part of the body. Many theories and explanations on why we come to value our heads: from the fact that it’s the place where you store your knowledge, and more importantly, that’s where our “Kwan” is.

There is not really one word to describe what Kwan is. It’s like a part of our soul, our spirituality. For example, when someone is frightened, it is said that the kwan has left the body. You can still hear mothers console the toddlers who have been spooked say, Kwan Oey Kwan Ma – Oh, Kwan. Come back, Kwan.

Young people don’t go anywhere near the older people’s heads. You can see in the way people bow low as they pass someone who are sitting, or crawl past them if they’re seated on the floor. Same way with service folks or people of lower social statures. It is disrespectful—and rude—to be taller than older/more respectable people’s head.

I’m usually very forgiving about people who did things not knowingly about my culture. Usually very forgiving about the touching of my head, being the smaller one in the group. But once in a while, I have to explain myself and people would apologize and acknowledge the cultural difference.

But RC here has been to Thailand and known the culture thoroughly. Her husband lived in Bangkok for almost a year, and I believe she was over there for at least a month. She actually touched my head once before and recoiled in horror that she forgot about the head thing. Yet, she still took me by my hair.

I guess today she just forgets that I’m Thai. It happens to the best of us sometimes.

Toto. We’re not in Bangkok any more.

13 responses to “Head Case

  1. Khun Wit and Oakley,

    I assure you, he doesn’t like me in “that” way. He is an obxnoxious flirt (aka: Joey from Friends) and I don’t buy that stuff so he repeatedly nerves me, not to mention I’m a bit different compared to most girls he hangs with but I told him not to touch me, so he thinks quick hits are fine *grunts*

  2. Wit: It DID rake my nerves for a while. Hence, I blogged. 🙂 But what would Buddha do, right? Mai pben rai, it is!

    Betti: If you’re an adult, you do have the rights to pat children’s heads. As a child, I did expect that. Not so much as an adult. And yeah, everyone slips one sometimes. That’s too bad you don’t get to play with your boyfriend’s hair. I’m okay with Brandon touching my head because, for one, he’s older, and secondly, I love the guy and therefore he has the permission. I do allow friends to touch my head as needed, but they do know to avoid that.

    Tangram: You don’t kiss anyone in public other than your kids, really. So, on the head or any else where, it would look wrong. In private though, sure.

    Jen: I agree with Wit on this one. The boy likes you. LOL. But yeah, that’s annoying. I too would embrace violence for this case. HAHA!

    Komsun: Yey. Go Carabao. But, um, dude, I think you’re commenting on a wrong blog?

  3. Carabao Baby! I will be in No. Hollywood for the best Thai food this side of the USA next weekend. We will probably do some karaoke there…hope I don’t eat too much Thai food/desserts there!

  4. Jen –

    Sounds like he may like you and that is his way to get your attention 😛


  5. Thanks Betti,

    Actually your English is crystal clear and you made quite a number of very excellent points. Your right our western behaviours in the ways you mentioned are just as culturally ingrained as the Thai reverence for touching the head is a taboo.

    For me it is easy to refrain from making this ‘faux pas’ with Thais because in general I am a pretty reserved person in real life. It is fairly easy for me to emulate Thai behaviour although when I am with my faen, who is Thai, we are both comfortable being intimate and affectionate almost the same as American ways but not quite.

    Part of that is because like you illustrated very well it’s a natural relax action on my part. But I’ve been in relationships before that even simple gestures like holding hands were extremely awkward.

    I guess I am lucky this time I am seeing someone who is Thai and everything I like about Thailand but also just western enough that I can be at ease being a regular farang too. Now how far back I wonder did my train of thought leave the track of this conversation 😉

    In the end as the song goes, it’ s all each to his own as everybody knows..


  6. here comes another miniblog 🙂
    even if we do know something to be quite the opposite to what we are used to in another culture, it is difficult to control moves that are kind of instinctive and more or less automatic. in this part of the world, it is customary to touch people’s head. to pull someone’s hair for a playful joke, to stroke children, even if they are not your own but maybe your students aged 3-8 (for example is they are really bright and you want to give a small “reward”, or need some comforting), lovers like to play with each other’s hair (if any), and in certain Christian rituals, the priest gives a blessing to people while touching their heads gently or holding his hand just over the head. baptism also involves the head. so it’s an entirely different set of values around the topic, and even if we KNOW your way, the wrong move sometimes just comes before we can stop it. this sort of cultural difference is the most difficult to get used to for me personally, because I am deprived of a sort of metacommunicational positive tool that I would need given that my knowledge of Thai is pretty limited. it just creates a sense of something missing if I have to hold back and cannot stroke a Thai child’s head for example while staying with a family in a guesthouse and playing with the child for hours. also, my Thai boyfriend couldn’t stand being touched on the head (whereas I love someone playing with my hair for hours). I made these kinds of mistakes over and over again despite being aware of the rule. (sorry, my English is pretty lousy at 1:30 am. hope it’s still clear.)

  7. would kissing someone’s head be looked wrong too in Thailand?

  8. I’m usually very forgiving about people who did things not knowingly about my culture. Usually very forgiving about the touching of my head… But once in a while, I have to explain myself and people would apologize and acknowledge the cultural difference.

    I’m like that too sometimes. There’s this Filipino guy from school who just does not act normal towards me, and he recently hit me over the head with his stupid letter and I told him before not to touch my head. I could only sock him in the arm but not enough to do lasting damage because he had his baby sister. There’s no need reasoning with him, he’s just asking for me to “chok” him unconscious and next tiem I’ll gladly do it (^.-)

  9. Oy! And you didn’t say anything to correct her? That would have rankled my nerves if someone did that. Not that I actually have any hair to ‘grab hold of’ up there on the old dome but there’s playfulness and then there is invading private air space!

    Still, good point you made and an interesting blog too. RC is from here (I’m guessing) so it is easy to be aware of something like the cultural differences in Thailand for a short while when it is fresh in the minds experience. But some folks just kinda forget after awhile since such practices are just not ingrained in people here like in Thailand. Shame that.

    I wish we had cultural practices like Thailand here. It might make us Americans better people. However an admirable idea though it’s impossible since everyone in America is actually from somewhere else with their own cultures and practices. Mai bpen rai.

    LOL btw, does it seem to anyone like I write mini-blogs rather than comments??


  10. Oak: LOL! Yes, maybe lovers should not kiss in public. But could a gradmother (or someone that age) be able to kiss a young child on his/her head? Or someone showing affection to someone very upset?

  11. Oh yes. Family members showing affection is fine. Other than that, to help calm someone hugging between friends usually is okay too.

  12. Californian Dude

    You know what guys, sometimes my kids will play
    with me and sometimes they will mess with my hair. Here I am living in the USA, so I usually don’t
    make a big deal out of it. I guess I’m just practicing, ” When in Rome just do what the Romans do”.
    I told them for Thai people, Their head is a most sacred thing. They’ll ask me why is that? I tried to explain the best I can. But I know no matter how good I explain to them. Deep inside their thoughts, they just scratched their head and just say, I don’t get it. Especailly my six years old boy.

  13. About 15 years ago, one of the Airlines had an advert on American TV that was promoting their “Pacific Skies”. One of the clips on this advert showed pictures of Thailand with a voice over saying ” never touch a Thai person on the head.” I was sitting in the school cafeteria and, after seeing that advert the night before, one of my friends came up behind me and started patting me (gently) on the head. I turned around and stared at him. He grinned and said, “I just wanted to see what would happen if I touched a Thai person on the head!”
    Thais also have a thing about feet. My husband has unusually agile toes…I swear sometimes I think he is part chipmanzee. It really annoys me when my husband uses his feet to point or to pick up something. I keep telling him not to use his feet, which he finds amusing even though I’m not trying to be funny.
    By the way, I love American country music. My favorite is Brad Paisley.