One of the favourite pastimes amongst the community of Thai Chinese middle class mothers in Bangkok appears to be one upmanship. This takes several forms. For some it's the degree of facial whiteness one can achieve - the goal being a colour best described as ‘embalmed white'. For others' it's the amount of jewellery that can be worn at any one time, the aim of this exercise is to carry enough gold to pay off a significant chunk of the national debt.
Another way to gain respect in the community is to have a bright child. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done as the process can't entirely be controlled by the authoritarian Mother. Mother Nature also has a say in the matter and, more often than not, she can be a bit of a bitch.
Instead of evenly distributing the intelligence genes between all the kids in the family, often they are all bestowed upon one lucky child. The others are left wander through life with all the sparkling wit and mental sharpness of a box of tissues. Therefore for every sibling who excels there are two or three others who find that all subjects, from Art to I.T., just pass them by in a blur.
Judging by the amount they learn, it's as though the teachers speak at a frequency that's imperceptible to their ears, and every textbook must have been written in ancient Hebrew. What's the use of teaching a kid how to program a computer when he can figure out how to tie his shoe laces?
All this leads to fairly humiliating scenes at the regular Sunday tribal gatherings in Chinatown restaurants. How do you compete when one kid's showing off her tennis trophy, Level 4 piano certificate and debating the Central Bank's fiscal policy, whilst your budding prodigy is sitting in the corner trying to switch on his Gameboy without parental assistance - and failing miserably?
The despairing parents will often try all forms of extra curricular activities in a last ditch effort to find something, other than walking into large stationary objects, that Junior excels at. Junior is therefore subjected to the rigours of additional classes, in every pastime and sporting activity imaginable, in one last ditch attempt to find some way in which your progeny can hold his head up high in the company of other kids his age.
As his bulk tends to negate his chances of ever achieving sporting success worthy of a few back page column inches, Mother wisely steers her child towards more stationary activities. In fact, she'd dearly love him to be able to pass an I.Q. test with flying colours but that's about as likely as getting him into a private school without having to pay any ‘tea money'.
Fairly recently there was a new development in this battle of Khunying wannabes. The E.Q. test. For those not up to speed with the latest educational bullshit, then your Emotional Quotient is a measure of whether you're ever likely to go ‘Columbine' or not. A low E.Q. and your parents should keep you away from video games, sharp objects and things that go bang in the classroom.
Now, I.Q. I know. It's a measure of intelligence, and, rather unfortunately, for a lot of Thai learners doesn't take the form of a multiple choice test. This, along with the snob appeal of having a high E.Q. may be the first step in explaining the popularity of the E.Q. test here.
Admittedly, I didn't know much about E.Q. In an effort to find out more about it I took the online multiple choice test at http://www.homearts.com/cgi-bin/eq.cgi and passed with flying colours - 48/48, apparently: " I excel in managing emotions, handling relationships effectively, and empathizing with others."
Which only goes to how easy it is to get a good score, once it clicks that all you have to do is choose the option that you'd never take in real life. Another website supplies us with another insight into the popularity of E.Q. tests in Thailand :
" . . . don't get wrapped up in the labels of ‘right' and ‘wrong' The purpose of this test is to learn more about yourself."
Let me get this straight, there's no right answers and no wrong answers, there's no grades given and so no passes and no failures - everyone's equal there's no loss of face at any point. Methinks I have found yet another of the pieces to the jigsaw which explains the popularity of E.Q. testing here.
As I said earlier, if you go off the information and sample tests on the Internet, it appears relatively easy to achieve a high E.Q. without any real effort - other than choosing the most blatantly obvious answer.
Maybe you could build an I.Q. test into the E.Q. assessment procedure. Time people to see how long it took them to figure this out for themselves. As a benchmark, most lab-trained gerbils can do it in about 2.4 seconds. Basically, E.Q. strikes me as a simple way to make simple people feel adequate and not simply born losers.