Thailand in Perspective - Thailand Diaries

Thailand in Perspective – Excerpt (8)


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 8 – Party time & the Fifth Precept

“Stuffed deer heads on walls are bad enough, but it’s worse when they are wearing dark glasses and have streamers in their antlers because then you know they were enjoying themselves at a party when they were shot”. (Ellen DeGeneres)

Parties and Festivals

Thailand has many religious and non-religious festivals which are eagerly awaited by young and old alike. Thais put a lot of effort into these festivals and also everyday natural events such as births, birthdays, marriages, deaths, new house blessings and young men going to be monks give everyone the opportunities they love to party. No excuse is needed and partying takes precedence over virtually everything.

The amount of importance that is placed on revelry is a constant mixture of consternation and amusement to me. I am, on the one hand, perplexed as to why priorities are so biased in favour of revelry and yet, on the other pleasantly surprised by the significance placed on celebration for celebrations sake.

dead-peoples-party-089 Thailand in Perspective - Excerpt (8)
North-East (Isaan) – 3 day party held 15 years after death in honour of two people.

Parties seem to rank above everything in Thailand, including work and they seldom last less than two or three days. Whether you like it or not, it is virtually impossible to avoid being involved.

Alcohol abuse

There is a downside however as parties naturally involve alcohol and many Thais do tend to drink excessively at party time. Unfortunately alcohol abuse is fast becoming a serious problem and it could justifiably be argued that the party addiction has played a big part in fuelling this malaise. I should add that some people also drink a lot at other times and may well do so regardless of the parties. About 95% of the Thai population is Buddhist and during many of the religious holidays observed throughout the year abstinence from alcohol consumption is officially promoted.

Regardless however, during the international New Year’s period (late December and early January) and the Thai traditional New Year’s period, Sonkhran (middle of April), many people celebrate the festive activities by drinking copious amounts; generally whiskey and beer.

dead-peoples-party-089 Thailand in Perspective - Excerpt (8)
Monks visit the villagers during Sonkhran festival. Lam Plai Mat – Buriram

Either I don’t understand the Fifth Buddhist Precept:

I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.’

or it is ambiguous.

Why should there be any need to promote abstinence from alcohol consumption on religious festivals when the Fifth Precept already says ‘…abstain from intoxicants’. It makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.

 In the rural areas and villages cheap rice whiskey (whiskey Laos) is readily available at twelve baht a shot or in bottles at forty or ninety baht. It used to be made illegally by the villagers but is now commercialised. Whiskey Laos is lethal stuff and you can regularly see Thai men in the villages trying to find their homes after dark without much success. As most of us know there is a big difference between drinking and having a drink but there are still those who can’t differentiate.

Afternoon Prohibition

There is a very odd ban on the sale of alcohol in shops and supermarkets for private, personal consumption from 2pm until 5pm and from midnight until 11am. Even locals get confused. I can understand the desire for shops and supermarkets to cut off sales from midnight through 11am as it is common in many countries, but why the mid-afternoon ban? It is very odd if you happen to be in a 7-11 or supermarket in the middle of the afternoon and want to buy a few beers for the evening. Simply put; you cannot. Even stranger; you can drink in a bar or restaurant all day and you can buy ten litres of alcohol anytime because it is assumed to be for resale. So it is okay to purchase a large quantity and get very drunk, but not okay to buy a few beers and have a quiet drink.

Work that one out if you can!!

However, it is easy to beat the ban if you are so inclined. Generally a local store that is not part of a chain or large grocery store will sell you alcohol, at any time. If you cannot buy a few bottles and need a slurp, don’t worry because bars are open close to 24 hours a day. There are some bars in the main towns that open at nine am! Most close at two am during the week and four am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; that should be enough drinking time for anyone still capable of standing or speaking. There are roadside temporary bars that will often stay open as long as you want to pay and can stand up.

In Thailand, where there’s a will there’s a way and where there is a rule, there is generally a way to get around it. Just smile and ask and there is a good chance someone will help you. And always make sure you are understood especially if you see a sign like this one seen in a Bangkok bar.


In conclusion

So what do I make of all this? Well, at first sight, it is all very confusing and contradictory. But on a second viewing it could be taken as hypocritical and a lack of deference shown for Buddhist teaching. Accepting the fact that the Precepts are only guides to good living what does the Fifth Precept mean to the Thais who drink and who purport to be Buddhists? What does it mean to the Thai owned breweries, distilleries, shops and bars that produce and sell alcohol? And what does it mean to the Government who collect taxes from those sales?

I can’t answer for them, but long may it continue because I am not a Buddhist, so my conscience is clear, and I like a beer and the occasional glass or two of wine.

If, like me, you have lived with a Thai person who has literally drunk himself to death and watched several of his drinking buddies attempting the same, it makes you realise how lucky you are if you can enjoy the pleasure of a beer or glass of wine without exceeding your tolerance level.

Thailand in Perspective (excerpt 9) – To be posted next week.



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