Newbies to Thailand might believe the simplistic guidebooks that claim the Thais are demure and known for always turning the other cheek. Anyone who has been here the proverbial five minutes knows otherwise!
While it is true that most Thais will do most anything to avoid conflict – and the loss of face that inevitably entails – when things do go pear-shaped it can be very unpleasant indeed. Much of the skill – and it is a skill – enabling a foreigner to live happily in Thailand revolves around how much to be Thai and how much to be foreign. And it involves knowing the difference; knowing when barriers are crossed and knowing how far those barriers can be pushed.
Some don’t care about this and pay the consequences. Some let the Thais run roughshod over them in benign acceptance that this is “not their country” – this leads to consequences, too, in the lowering of self-esteem and a feeling of disempowerment. (And leads to venting on Thaivisa forum about Thais…..but that’s another issue for another day!)
One area of life in Thailand that everyone can relate to is use of Thai language. Rooster has been in both a happy and difficult position for years regarding what legendary columnist Bernard Trink always referred to as “the vernacular”.
I am not a native Thai speaker but I have advanced skills. This is a double edged sword – having the abilities I possess means expectations are high. Anyone who knows me would criticize me – perhaps not to my face! – if I used Thai language that was even a wee bit inappropriate. He should know better!
For 15 years I was head of Thai language and culture at Harrow International School in Don Muang. It was a privileged position and one that led to tightrope walking the like of which few foreigners in Thailand would ever have to tread. It also set me apart as a kind of go-between. I was between the expatriate teachers and the students and senior management. I was between those self-same expatriates and the hi-so parents who were our clients. It was a balancing act at times and one that always kept me on my toes.
Apropos language the school always had a problem – we had so many Thai students and the teachers wanted them speaking English but many preferred Thai especially out of class. This was grudgingly accepted by some teachers as an inevitable consequence of 80% Thai enrollment. But what really got many goats was their belief that the children – some in primary – were swearing like troopers in Thai. Only a few expats could pick up on it leading to what some saw as a problem. Many parents complained that they heard a lot of bad language around the campus.
I was asked many times what the Thai swear words were. I was always somewhat reluctant to advise people officially because I believe that your Thai skills have to be fairly good before you could be remotely sure what a child had said especially in a noisy playground. So I advised caution.
But when pressed I came up with a list of what to listen out for in the corridors of the school. And in order to take the pressure off non-Thai speakers I implemented a system where offenders who were suspected of swearing in Thai were sent to my office.
The miscreant was welcomed in sternly and told to wait (stew). Rather in the manner of the Thai police and their suspects they were advised to admit to their crime before we moved on. No re-enactment was necessary! Softening, I spoke of my own use of Thai swear words and that swearing makes one part of a club. I never once said that adults don’t swear but I impressed on kids that there was a time and a place for it. School was neither the time nor place.
Finally they were just warned – Thai style again – but if they re-offended they could expect their parents to be told and their place at Harrow to be questioned. They then signed that they grasped the consequences.
No one was reported to me twice. The problem was never eradicated but a lid was kept on it that most accepted was the best we could do.
If you are not a native speaker swearing in a foreign language is tricky. I can just about get away with some rough language with people I know well, especially if it is accompanied with a smile. But by and large I avoid it unless I am speaking facetiously or trying to otherwise be funny. I still come a cropper at times but, hey, that refers back to what I said earlier about pushing the boundaries.
Life is dull without that.
Two people who knew no such boundaries in the matter of swearing featured in my favorite video of the week on Thaivisa. This was a foul mouthed duel between a taxi driver and a portly woman who was obviously trying to rip him off by not paying the fare. The driver pursued her all down the soi as “every Thai swear word under the sun” (as the translator put it) was hurled back and forth like profane ping-pong.
Buffaloes, elephants, water monitors and other animals were invoked. Their sexual proclivities and those of mothers were raised. Parts of the body too rude to mention (soles of feet and heels no less!) and their unseemly association with loftier physical attributes were made. It was what Brits of a bygone era like myself refer to as “fruity”.
The good thing about the verbal violence was that it did not escalate into something decidedly worse. How many times in recent years have we seen tooled up taxi drivers or road-ragers produce “sparta” or fruit paring knives, swords and machetes, or even guns. All too often I am afraid. It was great to just kick back on this occasion, get the popcorn out and enjoy the foul-mouthed free-for-all.
One man not averse to the occasional swear word is General PM Big Too. He has often brought the officer’s mess into the public arena to create an even worse mess. One comment I particularly liked on the forum this week concerned the swearing heard throughout the land when he starts to deliver his Friday treatise on national TV. Swearing from the public, that is, as they turn off the TV and do something more interesting instead.
This week Prayut headed for a Krabi hospital to meet the Finnish father of a five year old who was savaged by dogs on Ao Nang beach. While this caring act will do no harm to his political ambitions it was good that he went just a bit out of his way (he was in the south anyway). It will be even better if he followed up by barking some orders that would help to end the menace of soi dogs in the kingdom.
The boy survived – just – but next day a toddler was attacked at his house. A quick ‘neighborly’ offer to recompense the family to the tune of 100,000 baht reveals how serious it was. Of course the Thai press loves to jump on bandwagons – vehicles that often pass by fast and are never seen again – but this one, along with the carnage on the roads is one that should not be allowed to go away “until next time”.
Tourism will be affected. Innocent children will die. Ordinary people just out for a walk, jog or cycle will feel threatened while the dogs are giving better treatment than many humans. Animal cruelty laws have gone too far and need to be reined in to allow public authorities greater freedom in containing and hopefully one day eradicating this menace. The problem is multi-faceted – not just a simple Buddhist problem as many posters contend – and political will is needed.
Politics, of course, was gaining even greater attention this week as election fever spiked. Some posters on the column last week even wanted to hear my take on various issues that have surfaced in recent weeks regarding high profile candidates. Suffice to say that when it comes to some figures in Thailand I won’t cross those aforementioned boundaries. To keep the dog theme going, I think “self-muzzling” is often a great idea.
This avoids being bitten, something that has never happened to me in Thailand. It also helps to warn off the necessity of divorce.
More concerning this week were efforts made by the junta to silence political opposition with a number of amateurish moves against their opponents. The fresh faced leader of a party attracting considerable influence among young voters will hopefully not be unduly worried by the KUBs (khaki underpants brigade). One day they might have a lot more to answer for than putting a few porky pies on a website.
Though not a news item I clicked on a forum topic that mentioned porky pies and saw that it garnered a great deal of attention. Expecting to read comments about Thais lying (rhyming slang porky pies=lies for the uninitiated) I was a tad disappointed that it was about pigmeat in a pastry casing. It did make me hungry, however, and reminded me to tell the kids who are visiting from the UK over Songkran to bring lashings of Branston.
One set of places that have often made me feel like swearing are hospitals and doctors’ surgeries (and don’t get me started on banks…). This week we were reminded that hospitals can’t force patients – or even the doctors – to make people fill their prescriptions at their own pharmacies. This was not news to frugally minded Rooster who has connived with doctors for years to circumvent their employers and save money. I would advise everybody else who cares about the baht in their pocket to do likewise as new laws requiring hospitals to be fair are as likely as no one getting sick anymore.
Much comment was made on several other stories of both quirky and irritating natures. Quirky was a post of a woman on Facebook who said that an “aunty” got on the MRT and promptly sat down in her lap. Sanook went to town quoting many netizens one of whom suggested, if the offender was indeed a foreigner, that the “lap-sitter” should be taught that lovely Thai swear word that is rarely spelled out – e-dork (whore). It’s a powerful word that should be avoided – no wonder prostitutes in Thailand are referred to as “women looking for something to eat”.
Overstepping the mark was a Slovenian who had planned to propose to his wife on Valentine’s Day. When she didn’t turn up for a romantic dinner he took out his frustrations – along with a bit of Slovak slang I shouldn’t wonder – on campaign posters in the neighborhood. It emerged the reason for this was that she was out canvassing but all ended well as the candidate forgave him and wais were exchanged.
That Thai habit invariably gets my vote!
Great comment accompanied a story that suggested there were less accidents on booze free Buddhist holidays, like last Tuesday. Lo and behold the stats showed that “only” 24 perished on the day in question and the debate was reignited further. Rooster would have been happier if Bacchus had ordered his followers to drink milk and Sir Walter Raleigh had just brought back potatoes to the old world. Drink and fags have got a whole lot to answer for.
Questions were also raised this week about an altogether more pleasant drug that is never out of the news these days.
Ganja. Fears are being raised that new regulations designed to pave the way for medical use of the drug and possibly recreational use in the future are becoming confusing and being misinterpreted. I’m afraid that given the Thai’s penchant for not having a cunning plan and making things up as they go along I will not be surprised when this results in an unholy mess with the RTP interpreting the law for their own pecuniary pleasure.
I shall be taking Mrs Rooster up to Loei next week – the children started ten (ugh – TEN) week Thai holidays. One eye I shall keep on the kids and the road outside gran’s and the other on the adjacent sugar cane field that hopefully one day might be a pot plot.
So to a few Rooster awards. “Surname Of The Week” goes to a policeman who felt he was defamed after an irate member of the enemy (the public) went online to complain about his checkpoint. The Pol Capt’s second name was “Sa-artnak” or “squeaky clean”. It reminded me of Cyril Fletcher of “That’s Life” fame on UK TV who once featured a real life name of a solicitor who came to his attention: Robin Bastard.
“Employee Of The Week” also goes to a cop, well a concrete one of the “Ja Choey” variety referred to as “Sergeant Standstill”. A Songkhla woman had apparently won three lottery prizes because of him and had now set up a shrine at the cop’s solid feet to get a fourth. With the usual amount of inactivity from the RTP this was most impressive – maybe Sgt Standstill can be given overall responsibility for tackling the carnage on the roads. He won’t be any worse and may be cheaper.
The “Glenn Hoddle” award for “Services To The Afterlife” goes to the hi-so Mustang driver and his girlfriend who got a security guard to turf out a disabled woman’s trike from a handicapped person’s parking spot at Terminal 21 in Pattaya.
Glenn paid the penalty for believing in karma too.
Finally, the “Rotten To The Core” award goes to Krisana “Mona” Suwanpitak the ex-beauty queen who murdered her “insubordinate” teenage maid. She has finally been jailed for life.
I’m tempted to swear when reading about people like this but, considering the boundaries again, I shall just content myself with a Thai proverb along the lines of beauty only being skin deep.
“Suay tae roop, joop mai horm”.
Beautiful on the outside – but the kiss is not fragrant.