Monthly Archives: November 2005

Left v.s. Right

I left a comment on Richard’s entry about Thai Manners that:

A natural born lefty, my instinct tells me to use my left hand first. So when it comes to the lessons in manners in school, I kept getting into trouble for using my left hand in giving and receiving items.

As it turns out, this left v.s. right conversation has sparked some interests, and brought up another cultural nugget I should point out.

Thailand is a right-handed society. From what I could find on this Sunday morning, this belief of ours are influenced by both India and China. In India, it’s the left hand that does the dirty work, namely, well, wipe yourself after you’ve gone to the bathroom. In China, it’s the linguistic point of view where “left” means improper.

Again according to linguistics, it’s easy to see in English that left is bad. In many European languages, “right” stands for authority and justice. Being right-handed has also historically been thought of as being skillful: the Latin word for right-handed is “dexter,” as in dexterity also means right. Ambidextrous actually means to be right-handed with both hands.

On the other hand—no pun intended—the English word “sinister” comes from Latin and it originally meant “left” but took on meanings of evil and/or unlucky by the Classical Latin era. The modern-Italian “sinistra” has both meanings of sinister and left.

RIGHT hand is the correct hand. LEFT hand, well, that’s all that’s left. In Thai, on the other hand, there is no distinction in the language. Right is Kwah and left is Sai. They don’t mean anything other than just that. But yet, the implications that left is evil doesn’t have to do with words.

That is why you use your right hand to hand people things, and to feed yourself with your own hand or with a spoon or chopsticks. The only time you’re allowed to use your left to feed yourself is when you use a fork and a knife. *Additional info thanks to Richard S’ query* I was brought up on the European/Continental dining etiquettes, surely passed down from the Princess Grandmother. The knife is in the right hand, and fork in the left. Unlike American style which the fork is switched to the right, the fork stays on the left hand tines down.

When I was growing up, being a lefty is a bad thing. It makes you different. A freak of some sort.

I remembered grabbing pencils with my left hand back in pre-school. One of the pieces of early childhood memory I have. The teacher would put the pencil in my right hand to write with. “Everyone is using their right hand, sweetie,” was the reason I was given then. I didn’t dispute it. But then again, when it comes to Thai calligraphy sort of thing, I never really score well. Actually, neither did my English cursive later on in life.

Then there was this girl in kindergarten at Mater Dei. She is half-Thai half-white. I believed she was born in the US. She was allowed to write with her left hand. I remembered her having a lot more problem once we get to 4th grade, learning cursive, and starting to use fountain pen for our work. It was more difficult for her to write without smudging all over the place.

Similar thing happened when I was about 9 years old and starting tennis lesson at Polo Club. The evening before, I, the gorgeous Chris Everts, was in an intense match against that evil Martina Navratilovas, smacking the pillows to her left and right all over the LivingRoom-bledon. My brother walked in:

“You’re holding the racket in the wrong hand.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“But this hand works for me.”
“Yeah, but how’d you like to be in a tennis class all by yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“Lefties have to be taught separately. They hit all the opposite ways normal people do. Do you want to play by yourself?”

The next morning at tennis, I held the racket on the correct hand. My forehand stroke, still, flails about yet my double-handed backhand stroke has both accuracy and power. Go figure.

And then, there was a left-handed girl in class. Sure enough after general drills, she went off with another instructor to a private session. I’ve known a few lefties in my school as well.

One thing these lefties I’ve known all had in common are one of these: having a Western parent or really “progressive” ones, or they grew up in another country. They’ve already been allowed to use their left hands for a while before joining the “right” herd so they were allowed to continue being a lefty.

Lucky for them. And poor me. I’m all confused.

I write with my right. I play racket sports with my right. I play softball lefty both throwing and hitting. I dribble and shoot hoops with my left hand. I carry heavy stuff with my left hand. I’ve learned to use the scissors the “right” way, played guitar the Lennon way (Again, I picked up the guitar lefty, and my brother again “corrected” me. Nobody can play the left-handed guitar unless you’re Paul McCartney, he said), and managed to figure out the can opener eventually.

And of course, there’s the trouble with manners class as my left hand shoots out to offer and receive things.

I don’t think I’m truly ambidextrous, but I’m sure I am a born lefty who was forced to do all things on the right side, and happen to adjust very well to the right-handed world.

I haven’t noticed the reverse in the trends until Khun Don’s comments:

During my visits to the Kingdom, various Thais have told me that to be left handed in Thailand is considered to be very intelligent -is this true? – or just flattery? Anyone know?

I haven’t heard about that one before, but I am willing to believe that the belief that left is bad perhaps is being overthrown. (Folks, feel free to fill me in on this.) Perhaps it is another effect of the Western influence on Thai culture.

Maybe the words are out that lefties are “smarter” and/or “more creative”. Scientifically, when you compare statistics of lefties v.s. righties in the intellectual arena, there is no conclusive evidence. Although, it is true that left-handers’ brains are structured differently in a way that widens their range of abilities and the genes that determine left-handedness also govern development of the language centers of the brain. That’s enough research any Thai parents need to hear to allow their kids to carry on with their left hands.

But then again, lefties are also linked to higher rates of dyslexia, stuttering and child autism among others. Oh, just some minor details compare to potentially better grades and successful future.

As much as I’m happy for the next generations that they can now use their left hands, but we are still going to hit that social ceiling set by hundreds of years of culture when it comes to using the correct right hand. It’s just one of the things we can’t fight to change–and not sure if we want to. Just another right-handed way we have to adapt to the best we can.

Then again, that’s no problem. After all, we are the smart ones. 😉

Getting a life….

I’ve been having the writer’s block for a few weeks now. So many things to blog about, no idea where to start…. so now I’ve decided to plunge in, still no idea where this blog is going to end up…. but hey, that’s exciting! This November was exactly about that: plunging in, having no idea where I would end up.
So, here I am, having moved countries with merely a backpacker’s backpack and a laptop. Let alone countries…. continents. Seasons. Cultures. Personalities. It’s like a reincarnation within the same life, having the chance to take my diploma, my financial background and my experience. Nothing more I could ever ask for…. or…? We’ll see.
I flew in four weeks ago. Spent a few days with a friend in Bangkok learning to laugh and go places again. Visited Richard’s school for a couple of hours. Went off to Ko Chang to chill out for a few days, and got a marriage proposal there out of the blue 🙂 (and the usual sunburn). Then packed up and came to Chiang Mai two days before Loy Krathong. Within three days I landed my dream job in a kindergarten, I’m gradually learning to deal with the unusual things (and the low salary), and getting the feel of what is expected of me at this extremely laid-back place. I bumped into my ex in the street and we are still on speaking (and dining together) terms. I met SiamJai and I enjoyed his company a lot (wish I could see more of him!) Loy Krathong was magnificent, I felt like I can continue my life exactly where it got cut off two years ago, when I left on the third night of the celebrations. Sometimes it feels sooo perfect I start worrying I’ll have to wake up. Sure, I still have the butterflies all over (not just my stomach) because of my visa situation, and I still have no place to settle down. No culture shock, and I don’t expect a serious one in the near future, but loneliness keeps haunting me every now and then, we are in for a few fierce battles it seems. There are so many faces of loneliness – but at least one is delivered a blow here in Chiang Mai: you will never be alone. Whether it’s just a surprise backrub from the internet cafe girl, or my boss comforting me when I’m crying, or a vendor smiling at me and giving a few extra donuts, people DO care, and it makes a mountain of a difference. An entire mountain range of a difference. I’m learning to be happy again, to live, to see the simple beauty of everyday things, to relate to people, to teach kids again….
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t have had the guts without the inspiration from these blogs and the forums, and the people behind the words. I would like to thank you all again for helping me get myself together and fulfill a dream.

The Million Baht Project

Paknam Web Office

Some of you may know already, that these blogs are produced by the Paknam Web Network. It is a company here in Thailand that I set up with a group of my ex-students. The picture above shows our office and some of the students hard at work. We not only produce the web site, but also more than 30 others which include:,,,,, and These web sites are among the most popular in Thailand as we get more than 50,000 visitors every day. The blogs themselves are now averaging about 5,000 visitors a day with a one-day record of 8,000 visitors the other day.

This popularity may all sound very good, but it is starting to prove to be very expensive for us. Although the blogs don’t have as many visitors as some of our other sites, it is actually our second most expensive web site to run.  In the beginning, the web sites were supported with profits from our online book store. But now the server and other expenses are costing us thousands of dollars every year. We recently did a major upgrade which cost us a lot of money. However, it didn’t help for long. Some of you may have noticed periods of time when the blogs are opening very slowly. This is happening between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thai time. This is peak time for our major web sites and the server is having a hard time coping with so many people connecting at the same time. We now have to do another upgrade.

We were planning on continuing to pay for these upgrades ourselves. But someone came up with the idea of the Million Baht Project. This is basically how much we would need to keep these web sites running for about three years. We have recently had people come up to us offering to donate money to help keep the web sites running. This is basically what the Million Baht Project is about. If you make a donation you will become part of the history of the making of Paknam Web Network. You can also have some fun as everyone who donates has a chance of winning a portable DVD player!

If you would like to make a donation, then please visit

How to Have Thai Manners 3

This is continuing with the story of the parents that took their daughter to visit her grandmother. Arriving at the front door, they are greeted by their niece. As she is a lot younger than them, notice how much more respect she is showing to the two adults. For them, all they have to do is a “receiving wai” as their niece is still a child.

The mother then turns to her daughter and tells her to say “hello” to her cousin. As they are not of similar age, the younger cousin has to pay more respect. Notice that the niece, who is probably about 3 or 4 years older, is just doing the receiving wai. However, the daughter, being the youngest, has to do a full and deep wai. If the two children were of the same age then they would only need to do the standard straight wai without the courtesy.

Now they are shown into the presence of the grandmother. She is probably the eldest of the family and so therefore the matriarch. Everyone has to pay her the greatest of respect.  Notice how they are all approaching the grandmother. They are doing this on their knees because she is seated. It is important that their head is not higher than that of the grandmother. Notice also how the niece is sitting respectfully off to one side.

Now they entire family are doing the respectful “seated wai”. You saw some close-ups of something like this the other day. See how they are not actually kneeling but sitting on the left leg. They then bow down to the floor with both the hands and elbows touching the surface. This is, of course, very different to how Thai people pay respect to a Buddha image. I showed you those pictures the other day. With a Buddha image they would kneel and then prostrate to the ground with their hands flat on the surface in front of them.

I will continue later with this story of how to have good Thai manners. The pictures were taken at Sriwittayapaknam School who are leading the way in promoting Thai culture to the world. Visit the web site at

A life, many times lived

According to Hindu belief, life is divided into 4 stages. ( They are Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (gradual detachment) and Sanyasa (renunciation). For lay Hindus, it will be uncommon for them to follow the stages.

I admire some of our Farang friends in Thailand who left a well-paid white-collared job and hit for places like Isaan to teach English. It is hard for many to understand the motivation.