Friday, April 25, 2014
You might enquire – why does the Chao Phraya River feature in a blog about Thailand’s culture code? What possible impact has Chao Phraya had in shaping and defining the values and attitudes of Thai people? These are questions I am still struggling to answer but what I do know is the Chao Phraya River has played a critical and influential role throughout much of Thailand’s history – hence the reason for its inclusion in this blog on the country’s culture code. Visitors taking the river cruise are given a flimsy and superficial commentary on its significance – but can you really expect more in twenty minutes? To understand more you have to spend time digging into history.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
Who am I to talk about language proficiency? A spattering of French and Thai still leaves me hugely humbled when I teach my international students in Bangkok. Students from Germany, France, China, Nepal, Sweden, Thailand and many other nations master the nuances of my northern English accent to produce stunning marketing presentations – equal to the best I have seen in over 30 years in academia. To do the final part of an undergraduate programme or an MBA in your second language is an immense achievement – these students deserve to go places! However not all is well with the teaching of English in Thailand and the Government [once they get one] is keen to do something about it. Thailand, along with other South East Asian economies, will form a huge trading bloc in 2015 [ASEAN] and English will be the language of commerce. But Thailand is ranked the lowest in English competence amongst ASEAN countries. Why is this? A friend who teaches English as a foreign language to Thai school children reckons it is down to two main reasons. Firstly, and this is something common to all disciplines, children aren’t taught to think for themselves. Linked to this is the emphasis on memorisation as opposed to reasoning. The second is, children are expected to sit quiet and absorb knowledge – those that ask questions are penalised in subtle ways. It is not surprising that this teacher/student relationship stays with Thai students throughout their life. It was brought home to me very forcibly in my first year teaching Thai MBA students in Surat Thani. Groups of students were making presentations and where they used an unattributed statistic I would try to seek an explanation of its origin or the basis of their calculation. The students became alarmed at ‘my aggressive line of questioning’. To me I wasn’t being aggressive at all – on reflection I thought I was a paragon of patience and understanding. Oh to understand the culture code!!!! From that day forth I realised it was down to me adjust my behaviour. ASEAN, Thai parents increasingly aware of the importance of English and dissatisfaction with state-run education suggests a huge opportunity in Thailand.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
With a fast expanding middle class of consumers and rising levels of discretionary spending power you would expect there to be some impact on everyday eating habits of the indigenous population. International fast food outlets are growing by a whopping 12/15 per cent per annum. Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, French and many other fast food chains are beginning to swamp and marginalise the old American standards of MacDonald’s, KFC and Burger King.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Songkran is to the Thais what New Year’s Eve is to us in the West. It is their traditional New Year. In terms of the astrological timetable, it is when the sun passes from Aries into Taurus. It is celebrated every year on April 13th or 14th. These days the Festival of Songkran is spread over the three days 13th to 15th April. It is also has another significance – it is the time that marks the end of rice harvesting. Once completed, it frees up time for young men and women to start their courtship. There is a strong romantic feeling in the air around Songkran. Songkran Day begins with early morning merit-making mainly by offering food to monks and visiting elderly relatives. Tradition has it that younger members of the family pour scented water over the hands of relatives wishing them health and well-being. Songkran is associated with water. It is the time to start spring-cleaning which includes washing household Buddha images with scented water. This association with water extends to washing anyone and everyone within range – whether they need it or not. Unsuspecting Western tourist better look out as they will be targeted for a soaking – even if they are dressed to kill. And it is not just a cup-full or a water pistol spray – it is a full bucket! Songkran will never catch on in Liverpool!!!!! My Austrian traditional pizza making friend closes his business down during the festival. One year his customers, as well as himself, wife and wood burning pizza oven were so drenched he had to ‘shut up shop’. So be warned. The one downside to celebrating Songkran is the apparent increase in drink driving and related accidents. There has been talk of banning alcohol sales during Songkran. *Click on the page title above to see statistics about road accidents during Festival of Songkran.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
One of the defining and memorable features for the visitor to Thailand is the Wai or the ‘Thai Traditional Salutation’. It is the Thai equivalent of our handshake. It is the accepted way of greeting both friend and stranger. It is to me however more meaningful, engaging and charming than our Western handshake. To start with it requires more effort – both hands are raised, palms are joined and lightly touching the body somewhere between the chest and forehead. But this simple action can convey so much more meaning. The higher the hands are raised the greater the respect is being conveyed. It is also expected that the more junior of the two, whether it be rank or age, should be the first to give the Wai. The senior person returning the Wai would do so no higher than the chest. There is also a very close link between the position of the head and the Wai – the junior’s head must never be above that of his senior or superior. I recall a time when the wife and I were returning from Hat Yai having narrowly avoided a terrorist bombing. Our plane was delayed because the Royal Prince, who had been visiting injured soldiers, took priority over all commercial flights. Hat Yai airport was teeming with top military brass forming some guard of honour and it was fascinating to watch how the lower ranks behaved towards their superiors. If a senior officer was seated the lower ranks would virtually crawl past to maintain the appropriate head position. There is a lot more to the Wai with deeper gestures of respect and I again refer those interested in acquiring more in-depth understanding to Denis Segaller’s books on traditional Thai customs.
Monday, March 17, 2014
You might question is this a legitimate topic to incorporate into a blog about Thailand’s culture code? Well I think it is. I am very familiar with the taxi fraternity and from this experience conclude that they must undergo some devilish transformation once they get behind the wheel. They drive like maniacs, they weave in and out of congested traffic queues to gain a meter or two but here is the rub, they don’t get angry.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
You can’t go very far in Thailand without encountering one. Lavish ones are located at the front of five star hotels, exclusive shopping malls and skyscraper office blocks. They decrease in size, opulence and grandeur seemingly in direct proportion to the size of the building plot on which they are sited.