Daily Archives: October 3, 2005

A kiss is just a kiss…or is it?

P. D. A. You may know it as the acronym for “Personal Data Assistant”. You know, PalmPilot and such. But there’s also another term it stands for. Public Display of Affection.

Today, we’ll talk about one aspect of the PDA in Thai culture that, depending on the word used, can mean two different actions that is pretty much the same thing. It’s the “Kiss”.

Brandon and I were laying on the couch watching TV one day. He had his arms around me. I guess my mind was elsewhere when I thought I gave him a kiss on the arm.

“Honey. Um. What the heck did you just do?”

“What? What did I do?”

“I think you just tried to snort my arm hair.”

“No. I kissed it.”

“You used your nose to kiss?”

“Well. That’s how Thai people kiss.”

That was indeed a Thai expat Freudian slip of sort.

As I was growing up, the only kind of “kiss” I know is what Thai people called “Homm”. Homm literally means a pleasant smell. As a verb, it means to put your nose to the other person’s skin and inhale quickly, as if to take in the scent of the person, creating a brief vacuum on the skin, and let go. It’s a very chaste PDA.

Yes. That is what my parents showered us with growing up. That is what my grandmother gave us on the cheeks or on the top of our heads. That is what I did to show my affection to my entourage of stuffed animals.

I guess this is how we have come up with the phrase Nuea Homm–fragrant skin—to describe an attractive man/woman with a throng of suitors. Because to show affection to that person is not by taste on the lips but the scent of their skin.

That is what you see on Thai soap operas and movies: the leading man homm the leading lady. Even when things get, well, a little hot in the bedroom, the action you’d see on the screen is of the leading man nuzzling the leading lady. Not using his mouth on her, but his nose.

The act of homm even goes as far as when we’d imitate Western cultures in theater and movies with the greeting of kissing people on the cheeks and kissing on the hand. I’ve seen people do it with not their lips but their noses. That leads me to wonder sometimes how our very own Cardinal Michael Meechai Kitbunchu “kiss” the Pope’s ring…

Now. Flip the TV to your VCR and play your American movies. We are now seeing people using their lips on each other.

Kissing in the Western sense is defined in the dictionary as “to touch or caress with the lips as an expression of affection, greeting, respect, or amorousness.” This is what Thai people would call “Joop”.

While a homm is Thai standard of PDA, a little one on the cheek here and there in public sometimes people are willing to ignore. But if it is a joop, usually implies a kiss on the lips, now that’s scandalous. Until recent years, I believe, you don’t see anybody putting their lips on anybody on Thai television.

Back in the early 1990s, the original Koo Gham (aka. “Sunset at Chao Praya”) soap series caused a huge brouhaha when the word was out about “the kiss”. It was such a cultural uproar that they would have our Japanese solider hero Kobori, played fantastically by Thailand’s mega entertainer Bird McIntyre, kiss our heroine on the lips in their “love scene”. (She was married to him in a politically arranged marriage and there would be no consumation of marriage. She “hates” him because he’s the enemy, but he truly loves her. So he returned home one night drunk as a skunk and foreced himself on her. It is common in Thai soap for this love-rage type thing. It’s not a “rape”, mind you. That’s another blog for another time.) If I remember correctly, that kiss, more of a lip mashing really—was the first on-the-mouth screen kiss for television.

They said they weren’t going for a more realistic joop to protect the actress’ real life innocence, but they did want to convey Kobori’s passion and therefore the kiss on the lips was necessary. The media went into a frenzy about the lead actress’ “first kiss ever” onscreen and if was also her first kiss in real life as well. (I mean, HELLOOO, having P’Bird for your first kiss? A Thai girl can’t possibly ask for more than that!) The media also went as far as questioning the actress’ ability to ever work as the prim and proper leading lady again after having been kissed on the lips on screen.

The night the show aired, the whole country rushed home to watch that pivotal moment. Almost the entire country witnessed the first Thai joop paak—kiss on the mouth—ever broadcasted. Collective hearts of teenage girls everywhere, including yours truly, skipped a beat as we imagined that it was OUR lips P’Bird mashed with. And/or that one day all of us would get our lips mashed by a handsome and sensitive young Japanese solider.

A year or so later, I believe there was another soap that has the “joop” in them. First it was the leading man with the bitchy/slutty soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. I think they got better at kissing with this one because the girlfriend is supposed to be morally corrupted and “experienced”. Therefore she and our leading man could kiss more passionately. Still, it was not what you’d see in American programs. Definitely awkward. And, of course, we’re back to the lip mashing with the leading lady at the “breaking the will” love scene.

Moral of the story? Bad people can “joop” really well because they’ve lived in sin and well experienced in the arts of love while the good ones are awkward and wooden because they’re innocent and pure. Hence, kissing with the bad girl and forced lip mashing with the good girl.

In that case, I am totally a bad girl. But I don’t kiss and tell. Well, at least not here. 😉

Anyways. I don’t know why we do what we do, using our nose instead of out lips to show affection. Maybe tasting people is gross, but taking in their scent is not. Maybe because using your lips make the action more erotic than a good clean sniff of the cheek so we stick with something more chaste. Who knows!

But at least now you know about the differences in Thai kisses. Just in case some of you get lucky and someone lays a good smack of the nose on your cheek, you wouldn’t be completely caught off guard.

Muay Thai!

It feels like the very air itself is electrified. Once you step into the arena the energy of the justling, shouting crowd overwhelms the senses. The tickets for these seats are way too expensive but you have your connections so it didn’t hurt your wallet too much. Still you are here in the midst of a true Thai carnival of sights and sounds, all is excitement that can barely be contained. The din of noise threatens to raise the roof! Carrying it all along you hear the rhythmic high pitching whine and *ching*, bleet and drum of the wai kru ram muay. The music sounds to your ears like it is from an even stranger and more exotic place. You can only imagine what it’s like up there in the ring. Men calling out bets with a shouting and frenzied voice going higher and higher with each well landed punch or kick as one fighters victory seems assured over anothers defeat. It’s hot and smokey and thick with emotion here. A mans world for sure pumping out testosterone with every impression felt on you. This is the Thai sport of Kings born from the warrior arts that have kept Thailand free for one thousand years. All around is chaos focused on the main event playing out in the ring. A pair of combatants clash with fists and knees and elbows in a fury of violent yet unimaginable beauty like pugilist ballet! A symphony of flying kicks and punches, Straight punch, overhead punch, hook and swing! Savage poetry. Spinning back fist, jump punch and upper cut! Superhuman blurs of skilled hands and feet deliver a barrage to defy the imagination. They do battle until one or the other can no longer stand or sometimes get’s killed. Even now that still happens but mostly upcountry along the borders of Burma or maybe Cambodia. It’s illegal but it happens. The price for blood lust can be high. It is the time of the gladiators reborn but this is far from ancient Rome or even ancient Thailand. Elbows not to be out done offer up their own arsenal elbow slash, forward elbow thrust, spinning elbow and chop! A sudden stunning blow and one opponent is send crashing to the ring floor. He doesn’t get up again but the crowd explodes in jubilation. The champion still standing obviously the crowds favorite still, his opponent is not getting up. Something is wrong as men crowd around him calling for the doctor. Even the champion now is kneeling by the fallen fighters side a look of grave concern on his bruised face. It is an odd scene of caring and grace to see. In America you would never see the winner totally forget everything like this. After a few tense moments, the crowd pausing to see what is happening the young fighter down on the mat stirs. He’ll live but must be taken out of the ring on a stretcher. Relieved the champion now smiles and welcomes the cheers for his victory. It is a strange experience to see such fury and gentleness but then this is part of the experience and why you are here. This is Thailand and is a world that seems almost as magical as it is paradoxical from anything you knew in the West. After a brief intermission the next contestants for the ring come and it begins again. The dance, the music begins again and swells. You are enthralled to watch as it all begins again. It is a ritual, like life, a spectacle to be played out over and over again.

Continue reading