Monthly Archives: December 2008

Going Native in Thailand

An expression often used during the colonial period was “going native”. It referred to the people who forgot the ways of their home country and started to behave like the natives. It was meant as a derogatory term as if Western educated people were of a higher class and standing. To “go native” meant to behave like someone from your host country. For example, accept the customs, attend their religious events, and even to dress like the local people. These days, it would be insulting to our hosts if we referred to them as the “natives”. However, people still use this term. In fact, an expat living in the city of Pattaya recently told the readers on his nightlife blog that I had “gone native”.

This Westerner blogger, who incidentally posts anonymously, had this to say about one of my blogs; “If you want to look like a complete farang goof, then follow the fashion tips from Richard Barrow at Thai Blogs. He’s one of those ridiculous white guys you always cringe at as they parade around in color-coordinated lockstep with the natives.” He didn’t like the idea of me wearing yellow on Mondays or pink on Tuesdays. He knew I was doing it to honour the King, but my actions embarrassed him. To be honest, I would prefer not to wear pink but as a teacher, it has long been part of our uniform. I didn’t really want to wear yellow the very first time that it became fashionable. It was way too bright for me. But, you do get used to it. And if everyone else around you is doing the same, then it becomes much easier. I know the Thai people certainly appreciate it when you show respect and admiration for their King in this way.

I wasn’t really bothered by this “gone native” label that had been given to me by someone who lived in the seaside resort of Pattaya. If anything, it was good as it made me stop and evaluate my life and actions in Thailand. I think it is true to an extent that the longer you stay here the more you become integrated into the Thai way of life. I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision to do some of the things I do. It just felt right at the time and now that I do them so often, it just comes to me so naturally. Like many other Westerners in Thailand, I respect the Thai culture and try to behave in a fit and proper manner. As they say in Thailand, “When in the land of the people who wink, you should wink too!”

When I enter houses I will automatically take off my shoes. I will also be careful to step over the threshold as to not offend the spirits of the house. I will give a respectful “wai” to the elders of the house. I will dip my head when I walk past them and will never step over someone if they are lying down. When I sit down, I will make sure that I don’t stretch out my legs or cross them so that the sole of my foot is pointing to anyone. I will offer and receive things from them with my right hand. I will speak calmly without getting bothered about events around me. When I walk down the street I will do so in a relaxed and calm way even if I am late for an appointment.

When I go to a temple I will also act in a respectful manner. I am not saying that I will act completely like a Thai as Buddhism is not my religion. But, I do behave in a manner that will not cause embarrassment to anyone. At my local temples, where I often go to photograph different events, I do make a point of giving a “wai” to the monks that I know or before I speak to them. However, I do not prostrate at their feet three times. When I sometimes attend a chanting session or a sermon, I will sit in a respectful manner if I am not taking pictures. However, I do not sit there with my hands together in a prayer like gesture. It is not my religion. I know other Westerners might do this, but it is their personal choice. It is between them and their god. Thai people can already see from the way I act when taking pictures at the temple that I have the greatest respect for their culture and religion.

Some Westerners might go a step further by wearing a loincloth or fisherman’s pants which seem to be so popular with foreign backpackers. Depending on the setting, I think this is perfectly alright. It is certainly more comfortable in the weather conditions. But, I would never do something like this in the area where I live as people are more “westernized”. As I live in a city close to Bangkok, most people wear clothing much the same as in Europe. Though, I do still find it strange when I see kids and sometimes adults going to the local 7’Eleven wearing pajamas. I cannot see myself doing that. In fact, I cannot even if I wanted to. As a teacher, and therefore a respected member of the community, I have to dress and behave properly at all times. It is like I am on duty all the time. It is only when I go into Bangkok that I can relax as I can be anonymous amongst all the other foreigners.

I guess we notice these subtle changes in ourselves when we go back to our home country for a holiday. On the London Underground or even just walking down the street, everyone acts differently. They walk fast with their arms swinging. They sit on the seats with their feet up on the opposite chair. If there are no seats left, they also sit on the floor with their legs stretched out, forcing you to step over them. They talk loudly or just sit there in silence with no smile on their face. Children seem naughtier and run around screaming and bringing attention to themselves. Parents join in with the chaos by shouting at them and hitting them across the face. After every dose of “culture shock” that I got when I returned to the UK, it was always nice to go back “home” to Thailand.

Even if you can still use the term “going native” these days, I don’t really think I have “gone native”. I have certainly changed and adapted to my surroundings. But, I am still British in my upbringing. Much to the amusement of Thais, I still say “thank you” to the cashier at 7’Eleven and even to the bus driver when I get off the bus. I do also like eating an English breakfast of egg and bacon or corn flakes with milk. I like my cup of tea in the afternoon and prefer to watch a BBC drama or comedy rather than a soap on Channel 7. But, unlike many of the expats who stay on Sukhumwit Road or in Pattaya, I do not live in a sanitized capsule of Westernization. Those places are more like European countries where Thai people and their language seem to be a minority. I think in order to survive here you do need to integrate to a certain extent. You do need to become a little “Thai” otherwise you will go crazy and become one of those letter writers to the Bangkok Post who always complain and compare everything. When that happens, it is time to go home.

Top 10 Thai Photos 2008

It is time again to reveal the Top 10 Thai Photos over at our sister blog I will first give you the run down month by month and then finish with the Top 10 for 2008. The links will take you to the pictures for that month with the most popular at the top.

January: The big news for this month was the sad death of H.R.H. Princess Galyani Vadhana. In political news, Samak Sundaravej became prime minister of Thailand.

February: Thaksin returned to Thailand and kissed the ground as he exited the airport.

March: Viktor Bout, known as Lord of War, was arrested in a sting operation in Bangkok on charges of arms dealing. Nine months later he is still waiting in prison to find out whether he will be extradited to USA.

April: 54 illegal immigrants from Myanmar died of suffocation while being smuggled into Thailand.

May: PM’s Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair resigned from office after police filed lese majeste charges against him. In Bangkok, a small group calling themselves PAD started protest rallies in Bangkok.

June: A new law was passed that allows divorced women to change their title from “Mrs” to “Miss”. The PAD surround government house in order to force out the prime minister.

July: Thailand and Cambodia sent troops and heavy guns to their disputed border, where hundreds of soldiers faced off over the Preah Vihear temple. Vatana Asavahame does a runner to Cambodia and Pojaman Shinawatra is sentenced to three years.

August: Thaksin flees to England. President Bush visits a Thai slum. Christopher Paul Neil is sentenced. The PAD protests in Bangkok intensify.

September: Bloodshed, bombs and death on the streets of Bangkok. Somchai Wongsawat becomes the next prime minister.

October: More bloodshed in Bangkok. Teargas and bombs result in more deaths.

November: The cremation for Princess Galyani Vadhana takes place in Bangkok. The PAD close down the international airports.

December: Abhisit Vejjajiva becomes the third prime minister for 2008. The red shirts take over from the yellow shirts and decide to surround parilament house. Let’s hope 2009 doesn’t see a repeat of this year.

Top 10 Thai Photos 2008

  1. Thai Sex change Operation
  2. Miss Thailand Universe 2008
  3. Thai Girls Win Beach Volleyball
  4. Illegal Thai Wildlife Trade
  5. Bangkok Climate Change
  6. Winner of Miss Thailand Universe 2008
  7. Miss Tiffany Universe 2008
  8. Thai Soap Opera Too Sexy
  9. Yanin "Jeeja" Vismitananda
  10. Bloodshed and Riots in Bangkok

We now have a new blog at where we will be reposting some of our best blogs from five years ago. Many of the blogs will have new pictures and added information. In addition, we will be re-running Panrit’s “Gor’s World” column from the Bangkok Post with additional, never before seen, pictures and extended text. Visit for daily photos from Thailand.

How to Tell the Time in Thailand

It can be confusing at times about telling the time in Thailand. I remember my first conversations with local people who often had the habit of translating literally from Thai to English when they arranged a time to meet or go somewhere. If a Thai person tells you that the bus will leave at two o’clock, then don’t presume that he means 2 o’clock in the afternoon. He could mean 8 o’clock in the morning. Others might tell you that they want to meet at 1 o’clock to watch a movie. But, they could mean 7 o’clock in the evening. I was often baffled when my students used to tell me that they went to bed at 3 o’clock. Were these primary 6 students really night owls, out dancing all the night? No, they meant that they went to bed at 9 p.m.

In newspapers and on television, the 24 hour system is often used in telling the time. Even big posters advertising events will show the time using the 24 hour system. But, in every day conversations, Thai people will use a system that divides the day into four blocks of six hours each. Once you get used to this idea, it does kind of make sense. Here is a list to help you better understand:

The first block is “chao” which means morning.

6 a.m. – hok mong chao (6 hour morning)
7 a.m. – mong chao (hour morning)
8 a.m. – song mong chao (2 hour morning)
9 a.m. – sam mong chao (3 hour morning)
10 a.m. – see mong chao (4 hour morning)
11 a.m. – haa mong chao (5 hour morning)
12 p.m. – tiang wan (noon)

The next block is “bai” which is early afternoon and “yen” which is late afternoon. The word “yen” means “cold” and Thai people often translate 4 p.m. as being in the “evening” when speaking English. So, don’t be surprised if they say “good evening” to you at that time.

1 p.m. – bai mong (afternoon hour)
2 p.m. bai song mong (afternoon 2 hour)
3 p.m. bai sam mong (afternoon 3 hour)
4 p.m. – see mong yen (4 hour late afternoon)
5 p.m. – haa mong yen (5 hour late afternoon)
6 p.m. – hok mong yen (6 hour late afternoon)

The next block is “toom” which is the evening.

7 p.m. – neung toom (1 evening)
8 p.m. – song toom (2 evening)
9 p.m. – sam toom (3 evening)
10 p.m. – see toom (4 evening)
11 p.m. – haa toom (5 evening)
12 a.m. – tiang keun (midnight)

The last block is “dtee” which is the Thai word for “hit”. This is probably due to the gong being beaten to mark the hour during the night.

1 a.m. – dtee neung (strike 1)
2 a.m. – dtee song (strike 2)
3 a.m. – dtee sam (strike 3)
4 a.m. – dtee see (strike 4)
5 a.m. – dtee haa (strike 5)

Hopefully you will now have a better understanding of telling the time in Thailand. However, don’t expect any Thai person to turn up on time. There is another factor that I like to call “Thai time”. When I arrange to meet someone, I always ask whether the time of the meeting will be “Thai style” or “Western style”. When I was brought up, we were always taught to be punctual for meetings. Before I came to Thailand, I would obsess about setting off at the agreed time or rushing across town to meet someone at the appointed time. Something which is not easy with Bangkok’s infamous traffic. To say “Thai time” really means we will leave when we leave. If you are stuck in a taxi in the middle of a traffic jam, there is no point in getting all steamed up like most Westerners. You need to have a more relaxed “mai ben rai” attitude of not worrying and just saying to yourself, “I will get there when I get there”. Life is too short to be worrying about making appointments on time. However, you must never forget that Western educated Thai people or even fellow Europeans will probably expect you to turn up on time!

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How to cook… Penang Curry

Penang curry is one of my favourite Thai dishes. It is simple to make as long as you can buy the ready-prepared chilli paste. In the ingredients below, you can see coriander, sliced beef (you can also use pork or chicken), sliced spur chilli, thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil, coconut milk and penang chili paste in the middle. If you don’t have the chilli paste, you can use a carton like the one in the picture that already mixes coconut milk, chilli paste, fish sauce and palm sugar. The taste is good but not really authentic as it is for foreigners. The paste contains ingredients such as dried chillies, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemon grass, coriander root and shrimp paste.

Fry the chilli paste in a pan making sure it doesn’t dry out or burn. Gradually keep adding more coconut to keep it moist. Keep going for about four minutes or so. Next, add the sliced beef. If you didn’t use the pre-prepared sauce, season the curry with fish sauce and palm sugar. Make sure that you taste it to check the balance of flavours. If too sweet, add more salt. Adding more coconut milk can also help with the final taste but this shouldn’t be a runny curry. Finish with the spur chilli, sliced kaffir lime leaves and coriander. Save the sweet basil and some kaffir lime leaves for decoration. Check out our websites at and for more pictures of Thai food.

Merry Christmas from Thailand

All of the writers at would like to wish all of our regular readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. These are pictures I took this morning of activities at the school where I teach. Although the majority of our students are Buddhists, they still wanted to have fun and a learn a little about another culture at the same time. As the students arrived at school this morning, they were greeted by Father Christmas and little angels who handed out candy.

During assembly, the students sang Christmas carols and danced around the Christmas tree. They also listened to a story about the birth of Jesus. Everyone had a lot of fun and I think they learned a little bit about the spirit of Christmas. They were certainly good at singing “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. The kindergarten students also sang “Away in a Manager”. As I walked to school this morning, complete strangers wished me a “Merry Christmas”. Even a motrocycle taxi driver. I think this sharing of cultures is good. I have no problem with Thai people celebrating Christmas in their own unique way.

Do Thai people celebrate Christmas?