What would you say is the most important thing to you in relation to the day to day running of your life?
I’ve lived in Thailand for nearly 10 years now and those years (with all their ups and downs) have been formative to me as a human. All of us that have re located to a country with significant cultural differences have had to go through some process of adaptation. Some find this easier than others; in my time living and working here I’ve witnessed people crumble in weeks as they try to acclimatize, get used to the food and deal with cultural differences – some which can be difficult to navigate.
We all have certain ideals and images when we think of tropical countries such as Thailand. I, myself can remember envisioning teaching here as being as being right near a sandy beach, wearing shorts and flip flops. Nothing could have been further from the truth – teaching is a respected profession here and dressing smart is an imperative – even more important than being any good at it. Top priority at the school where I worked for 9 years was that there were smart, smiley (preferably beautiful) westerners at the entrance to greet parents and children in the morning. Should any teachers neglect their duty I would hear of it immediately.
When you come to live in Thailand (or any other alien culture) you have to be prepared to adjust your moral compass or at least be more open-minded somewhat- something westerners generally don’t find easy.
Life in Thailand offers a much slower paced , more relaxing lifestyle (unless you’re in Bangkok) and Thais love to say ‘Mai Bpen Rai’ (it doesn’t matter). It’s imperative to take on a more go-with-the-flow attitude to life in Thailand. The English especially love a schedule and get really rather irked if that schedule gets disrupted. I’m experiencing it right now with obtaining my first marriage visa. My growing impatience at the process is due to my western brain that loves to plan and be prepared. Scenarios such as this occur: ‘the immigration officer will come to take pictures of your house at 17:00 pm’. ‘Ok, what day?’. ‘Today’. ‘That’s in 2 hours’!. ‘Yes’.
On top of this, losing your temper is very inadvisable. Have you ever been in a situation where somebody loses their temper in a public setting? That feeling of awkwardness as to how you should respond. Say something, or just set your attention anywhere but at the individual blowing his / her top? Thais generally hate that feeling and it’s considered very culturally insensitive to be the cause of it. Thais will avoid confrontation to the point of not communicating something if they feel there could potentially be an argument or problem. This can be infuriating for Westerners – I’m sure we’ve all avoided saying something to keep the peace but generally aren’t too shy to say something if it needs to be said. Admittedly it was a skill that took me some time to learn the importance of as a manager but an important lesson it was.
Anyhow, the point being here, that in answer to the question I posed – I feel that ‘time’ is the most important thing to westerners with regards to the day to day running of their lives. We love nothing more than killing two birds with one stone and saving ourselves an hour and God help anyone who gets in our way. It feels like you’ve won the World Cup or at least deserve a big old pat on the back. If you come to live here it will serve you well to adjust to the concept of ‘Thai time’ – this basically means it will happen at some point in the future, in the mean-time chill out and smile.
So what’s the most important thing to Thais with regards to the day to day running of their lives. It’s certainly not making the best use of time. Let’s face it, it’s food. If they’re not actually eating it, they’re talking about it or thinking about it. Gin kow reu yang (have you eaten) is like a greeting, often asked before ‘how are you’?. In fact the one thing Thai people really do plan is what they are going to eat next. And why wouldn’t they be excited about it? It’s absolutely amazing. So full of strong, exotic flavours; it’s the 2nd best cuisine in the world in my opinion. I find it unbelievable that people come to live in this country and don’t eat the food. It wipes the floor with pies and potatoes. Also the way they eat it; everything goes in the middle for all to share. In stark contrast to: mine’s the Bangers and Mash, touch it and you die.
The moral of this short meditation: if you can’t learn to relax, chill out, go with the flow, and accept the country (whatever country) for its differences stay at home. I’m regularly blown away by people complaining about how bad the country they’ve chosen to live in is. Living in Thailand has certainly done me a lot of good and made me a much more open-minded, patient person (I can literally hear my wife scoffing) and I love this country and the people in it. I hope it never changes.