Saturday, August 21, 2010

No winning post

I've come across many people in Thailand who tell me that one of the reasons for them being here is to try and understand Thai culture and society. Try and make sense of it all. Well, in my humble opinion, there's nothing wrong with trying. That is that as long as you realize from the outset that in the game of trying to make sense of it all there is no winning post. Because just when you think you've got a handle on things here you see something that just blows everything away. Something that just knocks you for six.
                                              I was born and brought up in a country 6000 miles away. So, of course, i have different values,understanding and a view of life far removed, and not just by distance, from that of my wife and family. In an effort to better understand the way of things here i've often asked Laong the eternal question, why?  Things like: Why do young Thai boys carry a 10 baht coin lodged in one of their ears when they have perfectly good pockets? Why do people in Thailand think it's ok to drive on the wrong side of the road  as long as they are only going a few hundred yards? Why do sparks crack and fly out of the socket every time i plug the kettle in? Why do young Thai mothers think it's ok to do the school run while still wearing pajamas?
                                          Laong has quite often never given me a suitable answer to most of my questions. Her replies are usually no more expansive than"up to him" or "up to her". On the other side of the coin, Laong has been to England 3 times and asked me about things that she doesn't understand. Things like: Why does the whole country grind to a standstill in bad weather? Why do we have to prove to a bank that we have a vast income in order to obtain a loan that we have just proved we shouldn't need? Why do we complain about how expensive something is but but still buy it anyway? I've found myself unable to give reasonable answers to lots of her questions.
                                       Maybe the best way to understand a foreign culture is first to accept it before you try to understand and become a part of it. For myself, i've come to realize never really being able to make sense of it all, never really reaching the winning post is what makes every day living in Thailand such an adventure.


  1. You're right. In my limited experience I've found that most things in most cultures cannot be easily explained, and even less verified or justified.
    Acceptance is the only way to go.
    On a good day understanding follows acceptance.
    Thanks for an interesting post.

    All the best, Boonsong

  2. Hi Boonsong,
    I really don't know what is about to happen next and thats what makes it so interesting here. I've even stopped asking "why" and i just go with it.

  3. 'Why do we have to prove to a bank that we have a vast income in order to obtain a loan that we have just proved we shouldn't need?'

    Now that gave me a titter this Sunday morning. You have a wise wife, Tom Yam.

  4. I agree with you 100% about acceptance. I think that when we refuse to accept that things are the way they are we suffer because of it. There have often been things in Thai culture that seemed absurd, but my wife has also found the same when she has visited Ireland. How do you explain that being confrontational can be a good way to get things done – the squeaky wheel gets the oil? How do you explain the importance of being assertive when dealing with professionals like doctors? How would you explain that some people are willing to beat other people up because they made eye contact or happened to be wearing the wrong football shirt? When my wife is in Ireland there is very little she can do to change our culture; she just has to accept it like I do here.

    On the other hand acceptance doesn’t have to mean going along with everything. Sometimes we do have to make a stand. I remember when my mother-in-law wanted to change our son’s name (his English name) because she thought it was annoying to the local ghost population. I accept her belief, but wouldn’t allow it to be a basis for renaming my son.

  5. Hi Dan, Thanks for checking in.
    You're right about Laong. But wisdom is just one of her many attributes and i'm very lucky to have her taking care of me.

  6. Hi Paul,
    Yes, you're right about taking a stand somewhere at times and you were right to do so over the name of your son. In my early days here i took a stand on lots of things before i realized that you have to choose very carefully about the place you wish to draw a line in the sand.

  7. Nicely put again Tom Yam. If I choose my battles carefully I get to win now and again :-) I think this is the one of the benefits of being generally accepting about things. When we do need to put our foot down people can tend to be more respecting of our opinion - especially if we do this respectfully.

  8. Fascinating observations, should really be the tale in all walks of life