Many years ago I had returned to my home in Australia after a six week holiday in Thailand and was speaking to an Aunt of mine who lives in Sydney about the trip. Over the years my Aunt had always taken a great interest in my travels from Australia, but this day she threw a question at me that totally stumped me and I struggled for an answer. The question was actually a very simple one – “how do people in Thailand fill in time”.
The question came after I had described where my sister-in-law lives in Bangkok, which is across the river from Chinatown. Basically an extension of Chinatown, this area of Bangkok is a rabbit warren of Sois, busy roads, and markets with a mind boggling number of people living cheek to jowl. Soi 13 off Tad Din Daeng road where my sister-in-law lives leads into a large market. Like all such markets in Thailand it sells a vast variety of produce including ready cooked food including satay, fish, noodles and an endless choice of sweets. As a consequence, the only cooking that my sister-in-law has to do is turn on the rice cooker. Combining this with a shoe box sized home in Soi 13 means that the amount of housework required is miniscule.
This of course prompted a veteran housewife like my Aunt to ask –how does she fill in the day? I could only offer a feeble “I don’t know” Of course in Australia like other western countries time is a commodity constantly measured and evaluated. As an:”advanced” society we don’t waste time anymore talking to our neighbours over the back fence as we don’t have the time because we are preoccupied with our children complaining that they are bored because they have to much time on their hands etc etc. In contrast my experience of Thailand, is that time is not the ruthless dictator it has become in the west. Thais seem to simply treat time as a commodity that is there to be used.
Of course this is not to say that Thailand is a “Manama” society that is often suggested. My observation of Thailand has always been that it is as busy and time conscious as other societies e.g. Thai airways usually takes off on time, and the national anthem is played on the dot at 8am and 6pm each day. The main difference between Thailand and the west is that Thais are so much more adept at dealing with the peak and gullies of stress and boredom. Some of my fondest memories of visits to Thailand over the past 28 years are about times where I have done absolutely nothing – just kicked back and done just that – nothing. My mentor in this practice is my 82 year father in law who lives in the Isaan village of Ban Phutsa. Still fit and healthy he potters around the house and the village but still has a lot of time on his hands. He deals with this down time with an equanimity that I would love to emulate.
With the benefit of hindsight, my answer to my Aunt’s question should have been – “don’t worry about it”
Anyway that’s enough windy nonsense. I just checked my watch and I have exactly 9.5 minutes before my favourite TV show comes on. After that I have penciled in some quality time with the family.