Thainess: An Introduction

I recently began teaching Kindergarten at a large school in Phuket Town, southern Thailand. The school gave me a bare-bones curriculum which simply includes a title for me to determine a topic from. For example, last week the title was “Andaman Pearl”. Through some inquiries, I discovered that the topic was to be “Places in Phuket”.

This week, the curriculum states “Conservative Traditional”. It turns out I am to teach the children about Thai Traditions and Culture. These are K2 students which is one quick step outside of pre-school with minimal English skills, let alone any knowledge that Thailand is a country separate from others.

I have lived in Thailand long enough to appreciate the uniqueness of the Land of Smiles from its intense national pride and respect for the monarchy to the widespread belief in ghosts and other spirits as well as the frustration in knowing there are thirteen different smiles.

Thais living in the more tourist-oriented areas have become a bit more Westernized but many more who live in other parts of the country hold on to the old traditions or at least are aware of them. There are plenty of programs on Thai television that serve to “educate” the younger generation on the more unique aspects of Thai superstitions.

Preparing for my lessons this week got rejuvenated my interests in what we tend to call “Thainess” and my desire to share some aspects of it to the folks back home. Thus, the seeds for what I originally envisioned as a single (long!) blog post examining Thai culture and traditions, both well-known and mysterious to the outsider. Thankfully, I decided that a multi-article series would be a better format.

This series will attempt to explain some of the “unusual” things a foreign visitor may notice in the villages, cities, and countryside of Thailand. From the well-known greeting using the wai to the lesser known practice of asking a ghost’s permission for a visitor to stay in one’s house, I will try to cover as much Thainess as I can. While foreigners are generally welcome in Thailand, we will always be on the fringes. It is my hope that explaining a bit of the culture of this wonderful country of contrasts will help the visitor in appreciating it that much more.

Join me on this journey through the vastness of Thainess. Part One will begin soon, concentrating on Greetings.

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