Thailand is a land of incongruity. Some call it two-faced-ness but that is over-simplistic, beloved of Facebook posters, tweeters and Thailand newbies who think they know it all because they have been to Khao San Road and read a guidebook on the best place to buy banana pancakes.
For the benefit of my non-native speaking readers – and those unfortunates who missed out on the non-culinary full English, namely education – incongruity is a noun related to the more commonly use term of being incongruous. Appearing strange or wrong within a particular situation.
My adopted homeland is chock-a-block full of it. In fact, the only way to survive here sometimes is to try to gain a reasonable understanding of all the situations where it rears its metaphorical head. Or just accept it blindly – as many Thais do, as per their cultural wont.
One of the benefits of their education system is the superb ability – innate one might say – not to question anything too deeply. Outrage on Facebook is more than enough for most situations enabling the population to get back to far more important issues – like dinner or what color to wear on Mondays.
The week on Thaivisa was full of incongruity inspiring a myriad of posts on the forum from those who should know better and those who never will. Call me a Thai apologist if you will – but you won’t get an apology from Rooster for anything that I write.
As many have said about this column and countless barking vicars would affirm – this is my Sunday sermon and I’m sticking to it. So settle back with a coffee and an open mind and relax.
Firstly, take the issue of the Thais up in arms in Koh Pangan over nude yoga on the beach. One foreign poster got a huge number of likes for effectively calling out the Thais for being two faced. I mean don’t they have girly bars everywhere and haven’t they recently started recording their condo neighbors’ having noisy sex and posting the grunts on social media.
In my first months in Thailand Rooster split his time between Patpong and polite society. My excuse for either is that I wanted to learn Thai language from all walks of life. I was also grappling with the paradoxes and a trip to Koh Samet opened my eyes further. Some foreigners were in their birthday suits on the beach causing my party of jabbering Thais to express their concern.
“May dee na! Mai naa tham baep nii noh! Thee nii muang Thai na phee!……How terrible but how funny that not one of them could keep their eyes off the curves on the beach as we tried other small talk over BBQ chicken and som tam. It was the 1980s – if they had had phones and social media it would doubtless have ended differently.
“What about Patpong?” I ventured in my Thailand innocence. If the raised eyebrows could speak they would have said: “What in the name of Lord Buddha has that got to do with farangs being disgraceful in the nuddy?”
Thais have an inordinate ability to compartmentalize everything and give even the most scurrilous behavior its time and place so long as it does not impinge on accepted social mores or cultural values in public. In a nutshell the behavior can be in your face in nature but mustn’t be in your face. If that makes any sense.
Call it two faced if you will but I prefer the term “convenience”. No wonder so many 7/11s came along in the years thereafter.
Nudity, bonking – all many of raucous antics – go on in places where they are allowed to go on, behind closed doors. You can’t take them to the beach – and if you do don’t rub the locals’ noses in it by adding “naughty yoga” to the mix.
Just lie down, face down preferably, and think of Thailand.
Many would claim that if incongruity is a feature of Thailand life then hypocrisy is as much its national sport as Muay Thai. But there we are losing sight of the important issue of “Keeping Up Appearances”.
This was the title of a long running British sitcom starring Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced bouquet). If there is any truth in the world it is that the English rival the Thais in the dark arts of making the best of a bad job and making things look acceptable. We didn’t colonize Thailand but at times it looks like we did.
Further evidence was the granting of citizenship to three of the stateless kids and their coach found alive in the Chiang Rai cave. Posters were ranting about “What about us?” “We’re married to Thais!” “We contribute to the Thai economy” “They make us jump through ninety day reporting hoops”…. ad bloody infinitum.
Scream for all you’re worth. This was the Thais doing something nice in public and making everything look hunky dory when the issue of the statelessness of millions has been a huge problem for decades.
But even in this case the Thais were scratching their heads when it was suggested that coach Ek might face prosecution for leading his charges into the depths of Tham Luang in the first place. Incongruity, scapegoating, meanness…say what you like but here was just another example of appearing to act.
The chance of Ek facing charges is as close to zero as the possibility of any tourist facing a 100,000 baht fine or a year in jail for dropping a cigarette butt on the beach.
This issue – another fine example of incongruity if ever there was one in litter ravaged Thailand – once again hit the news this week down in QUOTES – the Queen Of The Eastern Seaboard. The ‘tessakit’ chief in Pattaya pooh-pooh the whole idea of jail terms or large fines.
Great, but I bet that if his hands were not tied by ‘phor ror bor’ legislation and he was able to prosecute under environmental laws his men could surely extract more serious tea money. The tessakit really ought to have brown shirts – the Thais would just see a colorful new uniform while the European tourists, if not the Chinese, might behave themselves better.
Back in February the foreign community were up in arms about the beach smoking ban and its draconian penalties. But here is a prime example of the saving grace of saving face.
Real environmental issues that require a lot of thought can be shelved for the time being or shifted to a committee while we do something that looks better – and is a damn sight easier!
Meanwhile stories abounded this week about the floods imminent from the Kaeng Krachan reservoirs as Bangkok based tourists cancelled their plans to head to Hua Hin and Cha-Am for the long weekend. Reading the headline before the story I half expected that the floods were caused by Tourism Minister Wearysak crying his eyes out after being sacked for incompetence. Alas no.
Mind you Rooster should be careful – those incongruous defamation laws that we constantly hear about are no laughing matter.
So let me phrase it differently: “Khun, no, Than Weerasak khrapphom – I respect you enormously and the Chinese were awfully silly going on that boat trip – at sea as well, daft oriental wallies, eh! And 670,000 holiday cancellations, a mere bagatelle, my dear minister. And what a great idea about the new lane for our Chinese friends at Swampy. Top hole, sir!”
Apropos defamation it was then announced by various online lawyers that claiming Thai women have small breasts is a mammary “no-no” and using the vernacular for a Water Monitor could mean a year in clink.
Bless – the lawyer said that inferring that Thai women do not have pendulous cantaloupes is not libel. After all when something is true it cannot be libel as Oscar Wilde once found to his cost.
Of course, truth doesn’t unduly concern the Thais especially as the lawyer said that the breast issue falls into the realm of simple insult. He didn’t mention incongruity. Probably because Thai lawyers have limited vocabulary having only a couple of years training before being let loose on an unsuspecting public.
The same insult tag is also true of the word “hia” as mentioned shortly after by another online brief. Rooster, who is just about able to use the word for comic effect with people I have known for several decades, is of the opinion that if you started throwing Thais in jail for using that slur the countryside would be empty in days.
Thais swear like troopers but they are very cautious about what they put in print or what they say on TV soaps. A time and place for everything again.
And you’ll almost never see so much as a kiss even after the Royal News threshold on Thai TV. The actors’ faces get oh so close – then pull away. Keeping up Appearances “encore une fois” as my French learning mother liked to say.
Visits to funerals, ordinations and weddings often feature the kind of behavior that have even the Thais scratching their heads to explain incongruities. Funerals are invariably anything but sad, solemn ordinations at temples feature gyrating go-go dancers on gaudy stages and six year old twins tie the knot all meeting with general if not totally understanding approval.
This week a raid at a temple in Sadao near the border found all the mourners behind the coffin playing cards and hi-lo. Certainly not news to anyone who has ever seen a Thai off the premises. Now if the corpse was having a flutter that might have been interesting….
My final incongruity comment concerns the Thai Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who want to see an end to temples looking after stray dogs and monks profiting from buying caged birds so that they can be freed to make merit.
Good luck with that – it’s a bit like expecting an immediate response to not accept plastic bags. Changing behavior at temples like 7/11 or even those shiny roof ones takes time.
Meanwhile the death toll on the road continued with Daily News’s now well known campaign to announced the number of stiffs at the roadside on a daily basis. But is this actually achieving anything more than keeping the matter in the public eye?
This raises the entire question of the other word in my sermon – apathy. Sadly the issue of the carnage on the roads is not just a question of demanding action from the authorities. The apathy of the people themselves to firstly demand change and secondly to take the initiative in improving their observance of the law is striking.
Compare this to what has been going on in Bangladesh over the past week. There, in Dacca, a city of 18 million people was brought to a virtual standstill for a week as young people in particular poured onto the streets to protest about just two child deaths. The people are fed up that 4,000 pedestrians die a year in Bangladesh.
Is it not time that the Thais took to the streets to demand action on the 25,000 dead per year in the kingdom? Is it not time that the young people started calling out their peers like in decades past? Nah – there just isn’t time in the day between watching Korean Series and posting on Facebook what you just had for dinner.
At least the Thais are now asking the Japanese what to do about road accidents, a story that got the forum in a right un-apathetic froth this week.
Unfortunately I won’t be holding my breath on this initiative – expecting the Thais to take on technologically advanced, law abiding Japanese attitudes is Madness, certainly One Step Beyond their current capabilities.
Once again a huge number of stories tickled the forum funny bone in an eventful week. I make a note on a daily basis of all the things that make me laugh – my ten baht school notebook was full!
Admittedly I was the cause of some of these titter-fests with legitimate headlines like, and I paraphrase: “Trust your lawyer, says lawyer”.
The denouement to the “mystery” as to why a Bangkok cabby was pretending to be possessed and freaking out his passengers was also hilarious. The explanation was simple – driver “Oi” was fed up with his clients pulling bogeys out of their nostrils while he was trying to concentrate on the road.
“Disgusting manners” he told the DLT saying that was why he started speaking in tongues. He was warning his passengers by pretending to be a ghost to avoid getting his lights knocked out for interfering in their nasal excavations.
Not surprisingly the DLT sent him to a psychiatrist after ordering the face saving temporary cessation of his license.
Mind you anyone who has seen Thais snorting on a street corner might think driver Oi had a valid point. Yet more incongruity displayed from the locals obsessed by the need for good public manners and hygiene and doing the opposite!
And there was me promising no more incongruity!
Laughing more in a Shadenfreudian manner were many posters thrilled by the idea that “Jet Set Monk Wirapol” was convicted of 42 counts of fraud and given 114 years. He can only serve twenty and probably not even that but I sense that the authorities may be keeping the kiddie fiddling charges to one side – just to boost his rice gruel intake with a few extra years should it prove necessary in the future.
Someone doesn’t like Wirapol and the feeling is mutual.
Many Thais also laughed at the antics of a Ramkhamhaeng housing estate resident who has not paid his maintenance fees for nine years and is in legal disputes with the management. The humor emanated from the disgruntled resident tossing trash, damaging property and doing a little jig for the CCTV cameras. Less funny were all the unpleasant things he has been doing to his neighbors.
It is a wonder no one has risked jail by calling him a water monitor or suggesting he has small man boobs. Only the security guard seems to have the courage – he provides the miscreant with a single finger each morning instead of the standard moo baan salute.
And so to this week’s Rooster awards. Sorry if I am sounding like a broken record in continually awarding “Best Post” to Darcula but the prize is based on how loud I “lol” and the decibels don’t lie!
This week remarking on the Koh Pangan ‘Nude Beach’ and yoga story he said:
“I will never do yoga on the beach. I hate it when sand gets in my asana”.
While “asana” is not a position Rooster intends to adopt any time soon, I would also like to commend the humor of Udom Suksaneh a US guy who grew up in Thailand and posts to millions of Thais on Facebook with his wacky northern dialect humor. This week he was hacking down a banana tree after a doctor advised him to eat more fruit: “gluay pen ton”.
The play on “for example” and “a tree” may not be the height of sophisticated humor but the delivery is excellent. Udom – regularly in touch with Rooster – hopes that this mass following may one day prompt the authorities to grant him Thai citizenship. It would certainly be a better route than getting lost in a cave for two weeks…..
Finally at a Bangkok tower where I occasionally go to earn a crust I was delighted to see two highly attractive and well endowed “PR” ladies doing their level best at a booth to promote the new Richard Branson “Virgin Active” fitness centers in Bangkok.
Smiling Rooster refused the brochure saying something absurd in Thai that with a body like this who needs to join a fitness center. The dollies’ suggestive, okay sympathetic smiles amid the polite lunchtime throng were appreciated, but the slogan on their skimpy t-shirts was what tickled my ageing fancy even more.
“Making exercise irresistible”.
Reminding me that despite or perhaps even because of the incongruity….
This writer could only leave Thailand through a temple chimney.