Daily Archives: September 20, 2007

How to Keep Your Cool in Thailand

There Powderis a Thai phrase that goes “jai yen yen” which you might hear a lot while in Thailand. It basically means “keep your cool” or “calm down”. It is mainly aimed at defusing an argument between two people or if it seems like you are getting hot under the collar about something. A Thai person would tell you to “take it easy”. Which is basically what the Thai people are expert at 24/7. On the surface they never seem to take anything seriously. Nothing seems to bother them. Even work has to be fun for them otherwise they will quit and go and work elsewhere. When I first came to Thailand, so many things bothered me. Little things like the Thai inability to keep an appointment. As an Englishman, if someone set a time for an appointment I would move mountains, and sweat buckets, in order to meet that deadline. But, for Thai people, their attitude is that they will get there as soon as they arrive. And not a moment sooner. Which, of course, is the key to keeping a different kind of cool in Thailand. It is the answer to why foreigners seem to sweat far more than Thai people.

The longer you stay in Thailand the more you change and become assimilated to the local culture. You don’t always know that this is happening. It only becomes obvious when you return to the culture of your birth which is what I did recently. Living in Thailand for so long now, people in the land of my birth say that I have become docile. That I am no longer pro-active. Which is true. I am more accepting of events around me now. If I am driving to an appointment and there is a bad traffic jam, then it doesn’t worry me so much now. There is nothing I can do about it so I shouldn’t stress myself. If anyone talks about me as I walk around a new town, and say things like “there is a farang coming”, then I ignore it and just smile at them. They have probably never met a foreigner in person before and I have just given them something to talk about for the rest of the day.

An obvious way to stop sweating so much is to slow down. Look around you. How do Thai people walk? Do they walk with long strides with their arms swinging back and forth? Do you ever see them run to meet an appointment on time? No, and that is one reason they don’t sweat so much. They take it easy and just stroll down the street. They also make good use of any shade available. So they walk in the shade of trees or buildings. They shield their face with a newspaper or magazine. At bus stops, they don’t stand in lines parallel to the road. However, they do often stand in a straight line under the shadow from the bus stop pole. These are all good tips because once you start to sweat, (loose your cool), then it is downhill from there.

You might ask about the motorcycle taxi drivers and other people who can wear jackets in the mid-day heat. How do they keep their cool? When I first came to Thailand I used to sweat a lot and had to often take a shower. I couldn’t understand how Thai people could wear so many layers of clothing when I wanted to do the opposite. For me it was important to wear the minimum amount of layers that decency allowed. Which basically meant a shirt and tie without undervest or jacket. But I still sweated. I would go home with my shirt sweat stained. Thai people are generally too polite to say anything, but they are very fussy about personal hygiene – not only their own, but other people’s too. That is when I started wearing an undervest.

It may seem strange to wear two layers of clothing in order to stop sweating, but it does work. After I shower, I put on some talcum powder and then the vest and shirt. It wasn’t very comfortable to start with but I soon realized that most days my shirt was no longer soaking wet. As the months and then years went by, I became more proficient at keeping cool. I also realized that taking it easy while walking wasn’t enough. I also had to take it easy in my mind as well. I had to relax more and not to take things so seriously. On the days that there was so much work to do, I found the solution by making a decision as to what tasks didn’t need to be done on that day. Productivity went down at first, but in the long run I became less stressed and probably healthier.

Now, my next step was to mirror the motorcycle taxi drivers that wore jackets. That is what I have been training to do for the past three months. I really wanted to see if I could maintain my cool and be more like a Thai. And it is working. At first I could only wear the three layers of clothes when I walked to school in the early morning. When I arrived at school my brow was sweating. But, after a month the amount of sweat subsided. Then I started wearing the jacket when I walked home in the evening after work. The ultimate test for me was then to wear the jacket in the mid-day heat when I walked home for my lunch. And it is working. I am not saying that I don’t sweat at all, but I am now very comfortable in wearing a jacket in most situations. I feel I have past a test and I have become more Thai.