Thailand in Perspective - Thailand Diaries

Thailand in Perspective – Excerpt (7)


Thailand in Perspective is the Third Volume of my Thailand Diaries and is nearing completion. But before I publish it as an e-book I decided to post a selection of excerpts which I hope will encourage you to download and enjoy the whole book. Here is the latest.

Excerpt 7 – Balance the View

Creating an illusion

“What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet”. – Woody Allen.

It is a part of Thailand’s psyche to create illusions and the people are very imaginative and colourful in the way they do it. Dubbed ‘The Land of Smiles’ Thailand is very adept at creating illusions so how are we to know what is real and what is just a facade? How can we spot the difference? How do we know if someone is faking happiness when they are smiling? And don’t kid yourself that Thais smile any more than anyone else. Insincerity is not always obvious. If it was there wouldn’t be any ‘con men’. Car brochures and showrooms around the world are cleverly designed to create the illusion that a brand new car is so desirable that a potential buyer could not possibly resist it. Young, and not so young, ladies from all parts of the Globe spend far too much on make-up and hair-do’s to create the illusion that they are more desirable than they are. Make sure you wake up with the same person you went to bed with!

Jai yen yen

“Holding onto anger is like grasping onto a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one who gets burned.” Buddha (563 BC – 483 BC)

As you will probably know Buddhism teaches a non-adversarial approach to life; accept what is, deal with it in a passive way and move on. ‘Jai yen yen’ is the way to be; non-interfering, laid back, quiet, smiling politely and above all never getting physically or verbally aggressive. It took me some time to work out that Thais themselves have either, cleverly or subconsciously, used the Buddhist teaching of ‘jai yen yen’ to create the illusion that this is how all Thai people are. It really came home to me when I started to observe what so many Thais watch on TV. If you have ever watched Thai TV Soaps then you will know what I mean. The contradiction between the Buddhist teachings of non-conflict and what the TV stations put out is stark. Thai TV Soaps focus on feuding families, screaming at each other from start to finish, with men and women physically fighting. Far worse than Eastenders!  I find them abhorrent but guess what? Thais love them. And believe it or not, they’re often true to life. Are these the ‘jai yen yen’ people most Thais purport to be or is it just an illusion? Isn’t that just like most places in the world?


The act of spontaneous, self-less generosity, called ‘Náam-jai’, is the yardstick by which Thais judge each other. Many are driven to give their time and resources, financial or otherwise to their community; but by what are they driven and for what reason? In the villages I see some people drop everything at a moment’s notice to do something requested of them by the Mayor. Derived from Buddhist teachings the good feeling of contributing without financial gain should be the reward but I believe the kudos and self-esteem it is supposed to bring is often more important to many. In any event, ‘Náam-jai’ appears to be gradually ebbing away as the younger generations are forsaking the villages in search of a better life and dare I say it; independence! Now, there are far fewer people available to perpetuate this ancient tradition and the ones left are simply too busy maintaining themselves or are just too old. But the new ‘movers and shakers’ from Thailand’s lower ‘class’ will always return to their roots, if not permanently, certainly for major festivals, such as Sonkhran. You can see them, every April, driving in convoys from Bangkok to their villages all over the Country. If the concerns for each other are genuine and it makes everyone feel good to contribute then, of course, the old tradition of ‘Náam-jai’ is admirable.

The act must be spontaneous, self-less generosity genuinely felt and given by the person. It cannot be considered as ‘Náam-jai’ when coercion or manipulation is used, as it sometimes is, to embarrass a ‘Farang’. He may be told that it is good for his self-esteem and will make him feel proud to continually lavish his life savings on his partner’s extended family. There are always exceptions but it is sensible to remember that most Thais think all ‘Farangs’ are rich and many will bend the meaning of ‘Náam-jai’ and pressure the ‘Farang’ to take advantage where they can. So, to all you ‘Farangs’ out there, make sure you are true to the spirit of ‘Náam-jai; if you are so moved, give generously but don’t be coerced and don’t ever expect something in return; you could be waiting a very long time.

Fortunately I have never been in this kind of situation but I have heard the same story many times.

So, never assume anything and always balance the view.

(Farang – pronounced falang – is what all Thais call a white Westerner)

Thailand in Perspective (excerpt 8) – To be posted next week.



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