(‘Mae Sai’ a classic song by Carabao – about a young girl who is sold into prostitution…..by her parents)
I hadn’t realized before I started writing the notes up for that last blog/article on Thai culture, just how many ideas I really had stuck in the back of my head. So many, that I decided it best spout even more trivia on the topic.
Starting off on a rather more serious tone, I’m gonna tell you about the only time I seriously got into an argument with a Thai guy in my province of Suphanburi – and I’ve been here for more than 3 years. Ironically, the geezer was working for the Ministry of Anti-Cleavage (A.k.a Ministry of Culture). At first, I wasn’t too ruffled by his propaganda brain-washing crap and anti-Farang rants, but he took just one step too far when he claimed “The big difference between Thais and Foreigners is that foreigners don’t love their children”. Pretty pished at being on the hearing end of that kinda drog, I informed him that one of my favourite Thai songs was the one by the legendary folk band Carabao ‘Mae Sai’ which concerns Thai parents selling their pubescent daughters into prostitution. I informed him that where I was from – such practice would be not be tolerated. “Northern Thais are not real Thais”, “They have their own culture” was his pathetic feeble excuse. So, intentionally (seeking a bitta a revenge) wishing to pish him off even more, I declared that in a lot of rural society, especially in the north and the north-east – that it is sometimes acceptable for daughters to go work as hookers – just as long as they brings back lotsa cash and finds a big wealthy guy (Thai or Farang) to build mom and dad a spanking new house.He got so cheesed-off that he stood up and just walked off. So, let’s hope for less of that “Farangs don’t love their children” myth.
(The tourism authorities promote ‘Likay’ as an original Thai dance. Unfortunately it is not, it is Arabian)
Allow me to turn my attention to a few things a little less serious and start with…. Thai Dance. Even the Tourism Authority of Thailand is pretty naïve to what constitutes real Thai Culture. They continually claim that one type of Thai dance ‘Likay’ is a Thai dance. Hang-up-me-tootsies, but Likay is not of Thai origin by a long-long way – but instead, Arabian. Imported Islamic Likay has had much influence on stage and TV too, in accordance to Likay culture the ideal features for a man are hunky and tall with big noses and fair-skin (Macho Arabian-looking) and so, it was Likay that first introduced Eurasian actors into theaters and later movie theaters. Until today, mixed kids play a distinguished part in the Thai entertainment business.
How about Thai language? I already mentioned some of ultra-nationalist dictator FM Plaek Phibulsongkram’s so-called cultural mandates before, which did in fact import a lotta Farang culture into Thailand. He even replaced the old National Anthem with one composed by a German. And going-on from what I wrote before – he imported an Italian to erect countless memorials and statues to encourage patriotism. A huge fan of powerful Farang fascists, he encouraged schools to teach about such leaders as Hitler and Mussolini. A true patriotic royalist like, he banned posters of King Rama VII and even sued him in a court of law.
(Silpa Bhirasri, ‘The Father of Modern Thai Art’ – an Italian)
According to the Cultural Ministry, the Thai language is a Thai culture must – but sadly that great nationalist FM Phibulsongkram, tried his upmost to simplify the Thai language and made redundant some letters of the Thai language. Again, following in the footsteps of developed Farangland, he ordered Thais to speak politely ‘as Farangs’ and to say ‘thank you’ and ‘yes sir’ etc… ( in the Thai language of course). By the way, on the subject of Phibulsongkram again, it was he and his wife Li-aid who set forth all the rules for formal rituals such as ‘marriage’ ‘ordination’, ‘funerals’ etc…. Such customs are now embedded in Thai culture, but they are quite a recent phenomenon.
Let’s turn our attention to even the subject of edible munchies – and I’ll start with fruit. Now, if you’ve been in Thailand for a while, you would have heard Thais talking about fruit and not just your everyday fruit, but specifically ‘Thai Fruit’ And again, the TAT do their mightiest to inform foreign tourists on such a delicious matter. Do a Google search on the words ‘Thai fruit’ and you will come across sites on the subject offering Thai bananas, Thai mangoes and Thai watermelons etc….. Well, wouldn’t that be the darned same as any country producing fruit and knocking it off to the world – adding only their country’s name? Ok, may be I’m being a little harsh, fruit grown in Thailand is of a high international standard but I advise Thai folk to be a little more careful in claiming what is and what is not Thai. Not once but twice in my old school, I found out that the Thai teachers were teaching their kids about Thai Fruit and near the top of the list they wrote ‘Guava’ (In Thai it is called a ‘Farang’). Just the name alone can inform even the dumbest of the folk that……”Urghhhh. I doubt it is Thai in origin”.
(The guava, called a ‘Farang’ in Thai language, is taught by some teachers as being indigenous to Thailand!)
Next up, let’s look at ‘Thai Food’ in the eyes of the Thai education system – in one of the home economics class I attended once, I was interested to note that the Thai Food speciality they were learning to cook that day was ‘Pork Satay’. The teacher didn’t look too chuffed when I informed the students (high school!) that ‘Satay’ originated in Indonesia – but certainly not using pork meat. I’ll give it to the Thais that Thai-style fried noodles ‘Phat Thai’ are very Thai indeed, but other noodle dishes are definitely from China. Official sources promoting Thai food to the world enjoy claiming that ‘Boat Noodle Soup’ originated in the Ayutthaya era. However, pick up a copy of Thailand’s most famous book ‘Four Reigns’ and it specifically states that Boat Noodle Soup was invented by the Japanese intruders during the Great Flood of 1942. In fact, a load of so-called Thai food is a mixture of a variety of foods from all over the show.
Another warning of Farang influence I have read and heard on many an occasion, is the amount of Thais going abroad for their education. One shocking report I read not too long ago was the idea to give a crash-course on Thai culture, traditions and etiquette to every Thai who has come back home after studying abroad for a long stint, ie..they may have lost their supposed Thainess. Shiver-me-timbers like – but I had always thought, from old pictures I saw around, that sending ones child abroad for his education (if you could afford it like) was actually part of Thai ways.
As pointed out in over 2,500 words now, foreign customs, ways and influence etc…are well and truly entrenched in Thai culture. Often for the better, as not all old Thai ways are that decent.I’d like to go further and say that there is no clear, real definition of what constitutes ‘Real Thai Culture’. The country is quite clearly a huge boiling pot of different cultures and that for me is what really makes Thailand ‘click’.
I rest my case.