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Wondering into Thai Culture

Wondering into Thai Culture

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Wondering into Thai Culture

Lunghezza:
501 pagine
5 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jun 9, 2012
ISBN:
9781476406732
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Wondering into Thai Culture by Mont Redmond

Or Thai Whys and Otherwise

New 2012 Edition

Wondering into Thai Culture explores the many facets of the debate about culture and one which can never be fairly resolved on Western terms alone. It shows what these and many other issues mean from a Thai point of view. Newcomers and tourists will encounter nuggets of information and insight that may help make their stay more interesting and enjoyable. Those who have lived here a few years already may profit from explanations of Thai behavior and attitudes that constantly baffle them. Long-term residents of the kingdom will find plenty of matter intended to provoke their laughter, tears, sneers, or even vehement agreement. People who have never come to Thailand, and possibly never will, might still want to know how it feels to have a wholly different outlook on life. And Thais too should read this book, if only as a first step on the path of self-knowledge that they, and all of us, must climb.

A timeless work, first published as articles in The Nation and then printed as a book and reprinted several times.

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Jun 9, 2012
ISBN:
9781476406732
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Mont Redmond was born in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada in 1958. After studying at the University of Toronto, interrupted by a youth exchange program that took him to Indonesia, Mont returned to Southeast Asia in 1979. Following two years in Indonesia and a one-year stay in India, Mont arrived in Thailand, where he remained almost continuously for the next 16 years. Throughout the years of trying various types of work (teaching English, exporting, importing, editing a tourist publication, etc.) and raising a family, Mont lived close to the local Thai community in Bangkok. These experiences enabled him to learn fluent Thai, both written and spoken, and to crystallize his observations in "Wondering into Thai Culture" – a book now in its fourth printing. Mont and his family moved to Canada in 1998 for the sake of his children's education. He now lives in London, Ontario, and is once again struggling to understand the community in which he lives.

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Wondering into Thai Culture - Mont Redmond

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Contents

Introduction

A Note on Thailand, Its Regions,and the Transliteration System Used in this Book

Acknowledgments

I

Concepts and Contexts

1. LIFE (chiwit)

2. RELIGION (sasana)

3. BELIEF (khwam chuea)

4. HEAVEN AND HELL (sawan, narok)

5. POWER (amnat)

6. MORAL PRINCIPLES (khunatham)

7. JUSTICE (khwam yutitham)

8. DEATH (khwam tai)

9. TIME (wela)

10. NATURE (thammachat)

11. THE VILLAGE (muban)

12. NORMALITY (khwam thammada)

13. ART (sinlapa)

14. SITUATIONS (sathanakan)

15. FACE (na)

16. REASONS (het phon)

II

Circles and Systems

1. TIDINESS (khwam riap roi)

2. CORRECTNESS (khwam thuk tong)

3. THE HEAD (hua)

4. FEET (thao)

5. LINES / QUEUES (thaeo)

6. RESPONSIBILITY (khwam rap phit chop)

7. LEADERS (Phu nam)

8. POLITICS (kan mueang)

9. NEWS (khao)

10. CHARM (sane)

11. MASSAGE (kan nuat)

12. HOME (ban)

13. FAMILY (yat phinong)

14. STATUS (thana)

15. POSTURING (kan wang tha)

16. HOSPITALS (rong phayaban)

17. TEMPLES (wat)

18. UNIVERSITIES (mahawitthayalai)

19. MONKS (phra)

20. COMPASSION (khwam metta)

21. MERIT-MAKING (kan tham bun)

22. ELECTIONEERING (kan ha siang)

23. MONEY (ngoen)

24. SOCIETY (sangkhom)

III

Actions and Interactions

1. QUARRELING (kan thalokan)

2. FEAR OF OFFENDING (khwam kreng jai)

3. INFLUENCE (itthiphon)

4. MANNERS (marayat)

5. THANKS (kan khop khun)

6. GREETINGS (kan thak thai)

7. TALKING (kan khui)

8. SINCERITY (khwam jing jai)

9. SMILING (kan yim)

10. EYES (ta)

11. HANDS (mue)

12. FRIENDS (phuean)

13. THE TELEPHONE (thorasap)

14. WORK (ngan)

15. FUN (sanuk)

16. PLAY (kan len)

17. LYING DOWN (kan non)

18. SITTING (kan nang)

19. THE MARKET (talat)

20. LANGUAGE (phasa)

21. FAVOR CAUSING OBLIGATION (bun khun)

22. LOVE (khwam rak)

IV

Identities and Attitudes

1. FOOD (ahan)

2. COMFORT (khwam sabai)

3. GOLD (thong)

4. KNOWLEDGE (khwam ru)

5. THOUGHT (khwam khit)

6. CO-OPERATION (khwam ruam mue)

7. THE CHINESE (khon jin)

8. EUROPEANS/AMERICANS (khon farang)

9. BEAUTY (khwam suai ngam)

10. DRESSING ONESELF (kan taeng tua)

11. SERVICE (kan borikan)

12. SERVANTS (khon chai)

13. LABOR (raeng ngan)

14. FARMERS (chao na)

15. KRUNG THEP (Bangkok)

16. FREEDOM (seriphap)

17. HISTORY (prawatisat)

18. SADNESS (khwam sao)

19. ELDERS (phu awuso)

20. PARENTS (pho mae)

21. CHILDREN (dek)

22. MEN (phu chai)

23. WIVES (phanraya)

24. WOMEN (phuying)

25. SHYNESS (khwam ai)

26. PERSONALITY (bukkhalik)

27. WATER (nam)

28. PROVERBS (suphasit)

29. NAMES (chue)

30. THE THAIS (khon thai)

V

A Few Final Words

A Few Final Words

Bibliography

Introduction

She is dancing, but nothing in the slowly poured goblets of sound emptied out around her under the brilliant mid-day sun reveals when she began or when her dance will end. Golden light shines from her elaborate pointed headpiece, sparkles on her burnished belt and polished bangles, and bathes her bare arms and small, restless feet in ripe and tawny swathes. Green, blue, red, and violet cavort and vie with one another for pre-eminence of place upon her glittering costume and in the motions of her petite and graceful figure. Around and around, back and forth she goes, and always her smile flatters and invites, beckoning the observer to join in and forget himself. Yet that smile is for everyone, as are her painted eyebrows and reddened cheeks. Here is the inscrutable, exotic East personified, with intricate movements of the hands and subtle turnings of the head. What do they all mean? And who is the actress in this performance, and what does she feel as she bedazzles the admiring crowd?

Without the least warning, the silver flow of music stops, and so does the dancer. With measured, impeccable poise she brings her palms together and raises them before her face in humble salutation. Is there any reaction? Only smiles and silence from the onlookers. Good enough. Her demonstration is complete. The charming dancer turns and disappears from sight.

Such is the vision of Thailand. Watch it as you will; enjoy it as you may—you will never possess it. As well hope to seize your face from the water where it lies reflected. Pose upon picture, smile after smile… it is all illusion, and beautiful as only illusions can be. Search deeply, and you find that nobody ever believed it to be more than this. It is pure, perfect Maya, as exquisitely ineffable and irrecoverable as a children’s game of Statues, while the adult world of lofty construction and serious traffic booms and roars around it. Which do you call the more dangerous deception?

Western Europeans and Americans belong, perhaps without realizing it, to the most aggressive, overbearing civilization the world has ever known. Their speech and thought habits are mirror images of this relentless will to power. Western languages, not least of all the English used in this book, are fraught with what might be called addition-biased values. These are the gut preconceptions which tell us that more is better, existence is a positive entity, and reality is something to be striven for by revealing ever deeper meanings, preferably an infinite number of them. When we attack the problem of describing Thai culture with all this overloaded linguistic apparatus, we soon discover terms which are eminently appropriate to our object, terms such as limited, short-term, superficial, missing, deficient, non- this and un- that. You will find such expressions in this book. No matter how much we may attempt to palliate them with fraudulent adjectives like charming, fascinating, and even magical and fun-loving, we are merely covering with lotus leaves the dead elephant of disparagement. Or else we write tourist brochures, and bury our elephants and our integrity under the same beautiful white beaches.

It is in the nature of English, then, or any other Western language, that the minimization which lies close to the essence of Thai culture will suffer by implicit comparison in the mind of the reader with more familiar, addition-oriented cultures, especially the reader’s own. Let us go deeper (which the author, true to his birthright, cannot refuse to do), and say that it is in the nature of language itself to facilitate this distortion of reality. Words have always and everywhere been believed to have a power over and beyond the sensations they describe. Language is necessarily additive (and addictive). Were this book to be translated accurately into Thai, its bias would not go away. Rather it would be transmuted into a language which would render its clarity more offensive, and be read by a people who put less faith in the claims of language to approximate reality. Indeed, as will be seen from a number of Thai proverbs, speech is considered to be a mode of deception. Thais do not thai themselves to words. Our Western culture, by contrast, is so passionately harnessed to the force of language that we can hardly forbear from clutching at it as the key to unlocking all truths, including those which lie in our neighbor’s heart and our own.

It may appear that Thais think less, or are less intellectually active. They have what seems to be a less developed moral order, work less than we Westerners do, and are less creative. Or, going at it backwards, we could say that the Thais care more about status and material splendor, have a more superficial view of knowledge, and waste more time playing and doing nothing. Are these warm and friendly people (sigh! sad to say it, but we Westerners will have the truth at any cost) inferior to us? What a pity they have to be like that; they were so nice, Mabel, even if they did it for the money, we will simply have to go back next year anyway, our typical superficial tourist will say. Westerners are just Thai enough to appreciate how good it is to have subordinates who admit their inferior status in the global pecking order, and manage to keep smiling all the same.

Less, lesser, least. In this vale of veils, this merry-go-round of Maya, those who win most can be seen far in advance, tearing off madly in the wrong direction. Perhaps, subconsciously, our friendly Thai waiter is smiling about that. Mayabe. In Thailand, if anything can be said to underlie everything else, it is this: LESS IS MORE. Less, lesser, least … Nirvana.

Nothing like success succeeds in tying us to this world. From the Buddhist perspective, the very magnitude of our achievements, not excepting our vaunted love of truth and self-expression, constitutes one of many colossal obstacles to blissful, unconditional release. Our obsessions with deep convictions, fundamental principles, immutable laws, inalienable rights, and our insufferable egos are like the roots which great trees put down for fear of being blown over by the gale. Such attachment to the soil of self, no matter how abstract and righteous its guise, leads inevitably, according to Buddhist doctrine, to rebirth and renewed suffering. Over and over again goes the karmic cycle, like a broken record condemned to repeat the same monotonous song, until the pure illusory self wakes up to the fact of its insignificance, nay, its utter emptiness of all possible predicates, and shouts: Turn the damn thing off!

Yes, the Thais tend to spend their lives more or less on the surface of things. We all do, to some extent. But the Thais prove daily that they can live without depth, while the rest of the world is busy proving that, no matter how deeply they bury themselves in new dimensions of post-coital art, transcendental media hype, and wild fungi-breeding, they cannot do without surfaces. In their chosen field the Thais are undefeated grand masters, whereas we still putter about in the muck, each man soiling himself in his own hole. By this measure, the superficial Thais are at least halfway up to a goal of non- attachment and non-self we deep Westerners may never crawl out of our mysterious caves and spectacular canyons to reach.

In this book, the author will have occasion to say, The Thais are not this, The Thais are not thus, and so on. The result could be similar to that intended by a Buddhist form of instruction, in which Nirvana is indicated as not this, not that, not this-and-that, not neither-this-nor-that, etcetera (supposing there to be any more knots of mental error to be not-ted in this way). Thai society could be one vast meditation-theme or a koan-like enigma for which no theory fits, no category works, and every Western concept is finally fated to break down dead in the water as it ought and deserves to. Few mechanisms are as flashy and supremely aimless in their workings as the elaborately hollow whirl and hum of Thai society. What a resoundingly bare stage on which to build one’s hope of ultimate nothingness! And yet only God knows who is benefiting in Thailand or elsewhere, or being liberated and enlightened by this breathtaking panorama of emptiness, unless it be a certain selfless, inspired author who modestly prefers to remain anonymous.

It has been hinted that foreigners may find it hard to understand—i.e. be humbly standing under rather than characteristically standing above and looking down at—Thailand and its culture. Let us be balanced, in this as in other standpoints, and say that it is not entirely possible, nor is it altogether impossible, for a Westerner to comprehend Thais. If it were either one or the other, there would be no reason or else no way to write this book.

For the sake of international fellowship, it is therefore fortunate that we are all, Thais and Westerners alike, moral mongrels and cultural degenerates, the author cheerfully included, and so on reasonably good speaking terms. It is to be seriously doubted that a true blue Westerner or a pure, unadulterated Thai has even existed during the past fifty years. Thailand, like every other member of the so-called developing world, has been drastically stripped down and overhauled by Westernization at the same time as the West has lost touch with its essential cultural underpinnings. And yet, in this great body shop of modernization and exchange of spare parts, there burn and breathe some final cultural secrets, each of which are the vital spark and drive of one group and are incapable of transmission to all other mechanics in this global garage. The importance of appearances, to the Thai, or the importance of being earnest, for the Westerner, are basic postulates of life form which the non-believer, the outsider, can never fully fathom or feel. True culture alienates much more than it includes.

Some scholars would maintain that Thai culture is not a real culture at all, in the full-blown, self-sustaining, exclusive, and autonomously creative sense of the word. So much the better, or so little the better, rather, and more power to the Thais for having enough sense to keep their culture, too, to a minimum. When Earth is finally visited by extra-terrestrial explorers, our welcoming party will necessarily be comprised mostly or entirely of Thais. The aliens themselves will insist on it. Not only do Thais have a consummate instinct for adapting to cultural situations in which relative status is the dominant factor, their attention to nuances of behavior, their receptiveness to outside influences, their non-aggressive attitude, and their natural grace and tact make them perfect world ambassadors.

It is these traits, in fact, that may have been decisive in bringing this book into being. These articles were written by one who has traversed a great distance, led on by those appealing elements of the Thai character that both invite approach and yet defy explanation. A similar fusion of polar opposites, namely the author on the one hand and the subject on the other, has infused these writings with a sense of wonder and the spell of deep, personal necessity.

Although I dislike the modern passion for self-revelation, I believe the reader is entitled to know at least what currents were at work in creating this peculiar collection of essays about a place so far from the average Westerner’s concerns. And although Thailand and I are, or were, as unlike as any two personalities on the face of this planet can be, my main motive in writing, strangely enough, was the old Socratic maxim, Know thyself.

When I mentioned extra-terrestrial explorers just now, it is almost as if I am speaking from experience. During my first eighteen years I had developed a solitary, almost other-worldly life of intellectual intensity—a life of searing pain and exultation. Plato’s realm of pure ideas seemed in every way closer to me than the corner store. The higher my ideals rose, the greater my disillusionment, both with myself and with my surroundings. I left university after only two years of study and resolved to travel. I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and also something more profoundly true—but within or outside of me I could not say.

After two years in Indonesia and one in India I came to Thailand as a guest of a Thai student I had met in Lucknow. (Only now have I noticed how oddly auspicious that name looks in print!) My Thai friends were hospitable, and my previous sojourns in Indonesia had taught me the rudiments of adapting to the Southeast Asian lifestyle. The formalities of visa extensions were quickly mastered, and I found it convenient to remain, eking out a living, observing, and reflecting. I had decided from the outset that I should know Thai, since my former acquired fluency in Malay had been of immense benefit to me. I found work teaching English, took a Thai wife, started a family, got a work permit, and began to explore opportunities for doing business. The transition from ivory tower bookworm to worldly-wise expatriate businessman was nearly complete. But this was only the background against which a more important, inner transformation was accomplished.

Throughout this period I continued to endure the burning questions of truth and value and identity I had been burdened with since the age of twelve. I watched as my personality was tested again and again by the demands of my new environment, new not only because it was totally Thai but because I had never made my way in the world, socially and economically, anywhere on Earth before. I could no longer afford to buy the books I had depended on for companionship and knowledge. I had no one to whom I could turn for deeply satisfying conversation. I could only stay sane by making sense of what was happening around me and within me. My submersion in Thai society had forced me to construct a complete new personal outlook, linking my introverted ponderings from the past with the strong external orientation of this, the most Oriental of cultures. I found myself building ideas where no book I knew had bothered to build before. This clash of culture and character was the crucible in which an opportunity for self-discovery was born and a profound desire to understand was fulfilled. Thailand taught me things about my inner being, about my upbringing and antecedents, and about the fascinating vastness of human nature I might never otherwise have learned. And for that now, after all these years, I feel the utmost gratitude.

There is no mention in the foregoing summary of extensive research or serious scholarly endeavor prior to writing this book, for indeed there was none. Where did this guy get all this stuff? some readers are bound to ask. They may even notice the lack of footnotes, references, a decently long bibliography, and all the other normal paraphernalia of academic respectability. In reply, I can only resort to what even the most learned scholar must ultimately acknowledge—the judgment of the intelligent non-specialist concerning what is meaningful, intellectually uplifting, and true in ways that are almost aesthetic in their appeal to the spirit of man. I retained, moreover, the habits of a patient and careful reader from the great book of Thai Life, in which I was almost totally immersed for over a decade, subjected my conclusions to the approval of authors and thinkers both Thai and expatriate who are inclined to objectivity and introspection (the latter trait being essential to the former), and generally did what I could with the limited resources at my disposal. Although I try to offer an insight into Thai character such as what I myself sought so urgently when I first arrived in this country, my aim is more to stimulate thought and fresh viewpoints than to make authoritative statements. The reader will kindly consider me automatically corrected in the face of superior evidence, indisputable statistics, and even proof of my ignorance or bias. The feedback I receive from this first endeavor will, I hope, supply ample material to make amends in a revised edition.

The essays presently collected under Wondering into Thai Culture were composed in alphabetical order (according to their titles, such as Farmers before Favor Causing Obligation) and sent, week after week, to The Nation for publication as installments in my Thai Whys column. Each article had to stand on its own to a certain extent, and this has resulted in a lack of continuity between what now appear as chapters grouped under four broad section headings. Readers may console themselves for this lack of a progression or systematic development by reflecting that such an approach may well be most effective in familiarizing them with the apparent indirection and disconnectedness of Thai thought patterns. Readers should feel free, therefore, to wonder around, to start and finish their reading wherever they like.

The purpose of this book, then, is to provide some explanation, however sketchy, misplaced, or ill-advised, for half of what the average farang (Westerner) may find puzzling or obscure in Thai behavior. The other half will probably have to be pointed out to me by observers more sensitive or perceptive. Having lived in Thailand for over fifteen years, I am still enough of a thick-skinned farang to accept good criticism when I see it. Please send your comments to Mont Redmond by E-mail to redmondian@bell.net.

Thank you in advance. May this book thai you up in nots if it cannot otherwise release you.

A Note on Thailand, Its regions, and the

Transliteration System Used in this Book

In one of history’s coincidences, the only Asian nation to escape European or American occupation came into being at about the same time, i.e. 700–900 years ago, as the European constellation of nation-states was acquiring a form similar to its present outlines and character. Like the nascent French kingdom it resembled in so many ways, Siam’s control over its territory was originally rather nebulous, waxing and waning according to the competence of its kings and the fortunes of regional rivals. While northern and central Thailand, particularly the basin of the Chao Phraya River and its tributaries, have long represented the heartland of traditional Thai culture as it gradually spread southwards from Yunnan, much of the rest of the country became Thai at a relatively late date, and in some cases by force.

The vast tableland of Northeastern Thailand, therefore, retains much of its predominantly Lao character and dialect, while the provinces adjoining Kampuchea reflect the racial and linguistic influence of the ancient kingdom of the Khmers. Malay influence is strong not only along Thailand’s southern border but far up the peninsula as well, and has lent to the entire region a personality readily identified as Southern.

The distinctiveness of the four regions, Central, Northern, Northeastern, and Southern, is not as pronounced now as it was before the advent of railways, roads, and mass media. While trips to each region will provide the modern tourist with a catalogue of observable differences, the remarkable feature of these four types of Thais is how similarly they behave when cast together into the maelstrom of Bangkok. The comments made in this book generally refer to Central Thais, the touchstone by which the other three groups can most easily be measured, but they are also reasonably accurate in describing the smooth and artful Northerner, the stolid, amiable Isan native, or the alternately stubborn and resourceful Southern folk. With these essays as a guide, a perceptive reader can undertake a more refined and precise analysis on his or her own.

Transliteration

This book employs the Royal Thai General System of Transcription for rendering Thai words in Roman script, with one exception: the Thai consonant จ is transcribed as j rather than ch, when it appears in the initial position of a syllable. Also, proper nouns that appear frequently in English are allowed to maintain their most common (and most easily recognizable) Roman spellings, for instance the Chao Phraya River and Patpong.

Acknowledgments

The contents of this book represent the compressed results of at least ten thousand conversations, one hundred thousand practical demonstrations, and one million mental steps made in that process of wondering my way, often half-consciously, into Thai culture. Of course the final product is a very personal one, with many (but by no means all) of my idiosyncrasies present for the enlightened reader to discount or discard at leisure. This same reader, I hope, will notice that I have taken great pains to see things from as many points of view as possible, and that I have especially labored to fathom the viewpoint that is least familiar to the average Western reader, even when that viewpoint conflicts with mine. I could have taken a safer, less provocative approach in many cases, but I do not feel I have sacrificed accuracy for the sake of controversy. The truth is always the most exciting option, and generally the most offensive to those who are enjoying the fruits of their complacency.

To shake my own complacency I listened to taxi drivers, schoolteachers, housewives, monks, missionaries, executives, fishermen, farmers, civil (and not so civil) servants, restaurant owners, factory workers, students, small traders, policemen, prostitutes, beggars, soldiers, airline hostesses, secretaries, copywriters, entrepreneurs, engineers, construction workers, and even persons who had lived with the Royal Family. I was the typical anonymous non-threatening outsider, with the added advantages of good listening skills and complete fluency in Thai. To all those persons, each of whom had a unique and compelling story to tell, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude. Their vitality has made a great difference in the writing of this book.

More specifically I am indebted, and in the best sense of the word, to numerous individuals who entered my life at favorable moments in order, I believe, to nudge this book along from mere musings to its present form. First on the list are Kanha Saengraya, who provided the motive, and Muhammad Salim, who has been a constant companion and corroborator of virtually all I have written here. I received penetrating insights from Kanha’s friend in Nakhon Phathom, a university professor whose name, unfortunately, I can no longer recall. Valuable encouragement was provided, usually just when I needed it, by David Squires and his colleagues at The Nation, by Christopher Moore and Diethard Ande, by Dr. Ralph Flores, Dr. Jeffrey Race, and Dr. Henry Holmes, and by Hans Durrer. Khun Suthee on Soi Tonglo and Suchada Tangtongtavy were also quite helpful with their comments. Dr. Ralph Flores, Hans Durrer, and Kundhalee Kong-aum deserve special praise for reading through the entire manuscript and providing many fine suggestions for its improvement. Furthermore, as might be expected in matters of culture, my (Thai) wife had a decisive influence on the contents and character of these essays. Due to her bold, original, and independent perspective, I deferred to her judgment in almost all cases as final, and derived from her the confidence with which I have made many of my more controversial assertions.

Finally there is one who, I believe, is content not to be named in this milieu. You know who you are.

I

Concepts and Contexts

1. LIFE (chiwit)

Taking Short Cuts to Nowhere

On the surface of things, Thai life is like life everywhere in the world these days.

Arriving in Bangkok, as most newcomers to Thailand do, you notice altogether too much that is internationally familiar. The cool desolation surrounding the artificial throngs at the airport. The arrogance of concrete slabs, frozen into rivers and stacked up over the landscape, and of the metal denizens which swarm on them, their only true home. You see the massive billboards and their reassuring messages in English. Tall office towers loom up as you speed towards the city’s center. Stoplights, road signs, hotel lobbies all have that Not Made in Thailand look about them that allows you to take in ease your first night’s sleep in this country.

But there is also much that is refreshingly unusual, and this uniqueness can be pleasant too. The odd, rectangular jumble of Thai lettering on signs. The exotic become reality in seeing golden jedi spires and bright orange temple roofs for the first time in your life. Young office workers gulping down rice and kuai tiao at roadside stalls. Hostesses, radiant with charm, greeting you with a wai instead of a handshake. The chaotic clutter of shops, vendors’ carts, spirit houses, and motorcycles that contributed to the bloom of Thailand’s recent boom. Yes, you tell yourself, there’s no place like Thailand.

Then again, after a few weeks or months of surprises and adjustments, you conclude that Thai life is not so different after all. The smiles that dazzled you during your first days somehow begin to fade. You strike up a conversation with a monk dressed in bright orange robes and find him to be a very ordinary fellow. You acquire acquaintances, and learn that under all that surface charm and smoothness is a seething cauldron of prosaic problems and worries—debt, divorce, death in the family, disease, desire, and distress. Delve into the countryside and come up with more rural utopias than you ever dreamed of—every one of them conceals a virtual Peyton Place of unholy passions. Is nothing sacred?

Yet it’s nice to know that Thais are just like us. You smile, and they smile back. They nod to show assent, like Europeans, instead of wagging their heads diagonally as Indians do. They believe in the same things, have similar needs and ambitions, and live their lives almost identically to the mass of mankind. There are good and bad among them just as there are everywhere in the world.

If your stay lasts years, however, and if you are more than ordinarily perceptive, you will discern an even deeper level in the lives of Thais. Those niggling discrepancies of behavior and attitude, cultural relics which hitherto hardly caused a ripple in your picture of universal human nature, are beginning to form a pattern. Just as there was a difference beneath the sameness, and a deeper sameness beneath the differences, so is there an even more fundamental and coherent otherness about Thai life which is practically unfathomable. Thais themselves hardly have the words to explain it.

A view of life which is almost inaccessible to us is so self-evident to Thais that it passes perpetually unspoken. Thais do not go around talking about it; they live with it.

One thing that is continually underestimated and so is forever springing out at us when we least expect it, is the high-low factor. Intellectually, we know that Thais read the world around them in these terms, but emotionally, pre-intellectually, we forget, and hence are never really ready or aware. We force ourselves to play their game, politely humble to those above us, politely patronizing to those below, and then suddenly discover that Thais are in mortal earnest about the whole charade. It is a shock to which we will never be entirely immune.

The statement can be written, but never fully comprehended: for Thais, this game is real. Or, if not real, there is nothing more real than it. The Buddhist, materialist analysis of phenomena is here not meant to attack the surface of things, but to destroy their depth. No self, no permanence, no happiness means: seek no more. What you see is what you get, and what you’re seen to be

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