I know I am back in East Asia (specifically Thailand) when . . . .

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by Neil Godfrey

I know I am back in Thailand when . . .

— at my place of stay having one of the regular uniformed security guards snap to attention and salute me every time I walk by

— our residence, like every residence here, has something like the following shrine in its enclosure:

— and supermarkets have an additional row for “ceremonial products”:

— there is a young person employed to stand at a door between a carpark and main shopping mall and hold it open for anyone entering or leaving. They are usually tasked with politely greeting everyone who passes through. (I sometimes get the urge to ask them how much they are paid and if the job is given them as a punishment for some misdemeanour.)

— a busker at a railway station performing a traditional Asian dance in mask and costume

— no-one points directions with their finger (very rude), but with the full hand (or thumb)

— money is handed to me with both hands, never one, and I feel like an uncouth westerner if I take it with merely one hand. Ditto for the exchange of business cards. Always take time to read in full a business card you have just been handed. Never merely pocket it for later reference, how rude!

— a young woman dressed astonishingly sexily/glamorously, very high heels, short pink pants, swaying pink ear-rings, at a shop front speaking into a microphone to invite other very responsive women to enter, look around and purchase cosmetics.

— bookshops and games and recreation areas in shopping malls that promote goods and activities and things to give your young child “a genius IQ”.

— a gaudy shopping mall complex hosting all-day singing entertainment by young (some very young) children with the sound system at full rock-concert totally deafening volume!

— extremely polite service staff at a railway platform, rushing over to lead an elderly person away from escalators in order to take a nearby lift instead.

— alcohol sold at most food and grocery shops but only during certain hours of the day; you’ll be politely pointed (with full hand, no finger) to a sign saying you can’t buy alcohol if you are there at one of the forbidden times — though a more downbeat family store may not be too worried about abiding by that law. (Is this unique to Thailand? I can’t recall.)

— strange billboard ads like this one (it’s for some sort of timber protection):

— which reminds me of one of the first things everyone sees when leaving the airport in Bangkok — a large billboard with a message replicating this one:


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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “I know I am back in East Asia (specifically Thailand) when . . . .”

    1. And be prepared for a monk to ask you to move along a seat so he can avoid sitting next to the woman there. I find that request troubling, but it is how things are done here.

        1. I can think of nothing good in a religious rule that treats women as unclean/contaminatory by nature or as some sort of inevitable inciters of uncontrolled lust in men. Besides, I can’t believe that Buddhist celibates are any “purer” or less hypocritical than Catholic celibates. Still waiting for the day when the scandals being exposed in Christian churches will be found in the Buddhist institutions, too.

          1. The issue is not that women are unclean, nor necessarily that they arouse lusts in men, but that monks must behave in ways, set forth in the Vinaya, that protect them from rumours about their non-virtues and help them to cultivate discipline.

            There have been scandals exposed with Buddhist institutions – most notably Tibetan Buddhist groups.

            1. What other rumours are monks admonished to take extraordinary (even anti-social) steps to avoid? (Why is not simply being a monk sufficient to disarm hasty or unwarranted suspicion?)

              1. Well, monks are prohibited in the Vinaya from talking about certain matters, lest they create rumours that they are not monks in spirit but only in external garments. Matters such as success or failure in warfare, political matters, gossip, or arranging marriages between people.

            2. There are plenty of scandals involving Thai monks. They are reported with we-are-so-horrified-but-duty-bound-to-tell-you-about-it relish in Thai newspapers.

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