Phil Roeland

Thailand 101

101 things you perhaps didn't know

Another year has passed ever so quickly. Best wishes to all readers and thanks for all the comments that were sent to me. Here’s a round-up of a few of last year’s stories that made some of you react. Some readers trying desperately to improve their English (January) asked for more advice, which I hope I provided. The Filipino issue (June) generated quite a few reactions, but to my surprise almost all of them were positive. As for Brian, the missing teacher (October), he’s still keeping us in the dark as to his whereabouts. I sometimes even get the odd reaction to an article from the year before last. Beware though, because some readers seem to confuse me with this site’s webmaster. Remember that I am just an Ajarn monthly writer, not the site’s administrator. The big cheese and I just happen to share the same first name.

The first column of 2007 (or 2550) is a collection of cultural trivia for people unfamiliar with Thailand. I guess most long-stay residents or frequent visitors can add a few lines of their own. I admit that what follows is not all there is to know. It’s only a small part of an endless collection of local pieces of knowledge and experience which I randomly jotted down. Sometimes topics are grouped, sometimes they’re not. I limited myself to 101 items. Feel free to send in your own bit of knowledge.

Did you know that?

1. For Thai people the concept of gaining or losing face is extremely important.

2. Displaying or showing off one’s wealth will result in respect from others.

3. People often spend more money on their car than on their house.

4. Half of the world’s luxury goods are sold in Asia.

5. Public display of affection – except for holding hands - is largely still a taboo.

6. Teachers traditionally get a lot of respect.

7. Foreign teachers are usually considered the clowns of the school.

8. Students behave when studying with a Thai teacher; this behaviour is usually the result of fear.

9. Corporal punishment – although outlawed - is still common in many schools.

10. Students often misbehave when studying with a foreign teacher.

11. Foreign teachers are often frustrated by the way Thai administrators run things.

12. Communication between Thais and foreigners is often crippled due to insufficient language skills from Thais and lack of cultural understanding from foreigners.

13. Getting angry results in loss of face – for yourself primarily – so conflict is to be avoided at all times.

14. Thais will never really understand foreigners.

15. Everything has to be ‘sanuk’, i.e. fun, in Thailand.

16. The sanuk-attitude might be one of the reasons why students often perform poorly in schools.

17. Thais get bored very easily.

18. The rainy season usually starts in June and ends in October.

19. Many Thais seem to think that you can master English in just 50 hours of tuition.

20. Students don’t like doing homework.

21. Women want their skin to be as white as possible.

22. Dark-skinned people are looked upon with disdain.

23. People enjoy putting salt in their orange juice.

24. Thais seem to think that all foreigners dislike spicy food.

25. Thailand is often referred to as the LOS (Land of Smiles).

26. Fast food has become big business in the LOS.

27. Never before have there been so many obese people in Thailand.

28. Thais smiles are usually genuine.

29. Thais even smile when they are pissed off.

30. Thais are completely puzzled why foreigners enjoy lying on the beach and getting a suntan.

31. Many Thais like swimming in the sea – usually fully clothed.

32. Foreigners will never really understand Thais.

33. Thailand is still mainly a society of haves and have-nots.

34. The middle class is making a strong comeback in the big cities.

35. Most farmers have replaced buffaloes by tractors.

36. You should never believe anyone who claims they need money because the family buffalo is sick.

37. Transvestites are very common in Thailand.

38. Cross-dressers are sometimes hard to spot for newbies.

39. These so-called ladyboys always dress like a lady, usually sport an above average bosom but seldom have their crown jewels removed.

40. Ladyboys are gainfully employed as sales staff or hairdressers and hardly ever frowned upon by locals.

41. All Thais love their ‘somtam’ or spicy green papaya salad, a national dish which is definitely an acquired taste for foreigners.

42. Foreigners are called farangs or falangs by Thais, originating from the word for French. Nowadays farang refers to Westerner.

43. Most Thais don’t pronounce the ‘r’ when speaking, but replace it with the letter ‘l’.

44. Chances of finding a teaching job increase exponentially when you are white-skinned.

45. Sad but true, the highest rated quality for teachers is often appearance; for Thai recruiters, race, skin-colour, age, gender and ‘look’ in general are more important than say experience and flexibility.

46. Thai primary and secondary school students cannot fail exams; if they fail, the teacher has to make the test easier or drill the answers into students before they retake it.

47. Quite a lot of expatriate farangs become somewhat cynical after having lived here for a number of years.

48. Employees are never allowed to criticise their superiors’ opinion; even offering constructive remarks or personal ideas are taboo.

49. Thailand was rated 63rd in the 2006 worldwide graft survey.

50. Saving money for a rainy day is a concept which is alien to most Thais.

51. Thai women forgive but never forget.

52. Thais have an amazing ability to catnap anywhere, anytime; put them on a crowded bus in a noisy street and they’ll still fall asleep after a few seconds.

53. Most Thais are fanatic supporters of English Premier League football clubs.

54. Many Thais love gambling, so the national lottery is hugely popular but just about the only legal option; betting on sports events, playing card games or going to a casino are all forbidden and operators have gone underground or abroad.

55. Many locally married foreigners met their sweetheart in a naughty bar.

56. Marrying a Thai girl means marrying her whole extended family; moreover, for Thais family always comes first.

57. There are no retirement homes in Thailand and few people benefit from a retirement pension; children are supposed to take care of their elders.

58. A considerable percentage of mixed marriages end in failure.

59. The preferred national pastime is going shopping.

60. Compared to other countries in the region, Thais’ proficiency in English is poor.

61. Thais love their air-conditioning; often it is turned so low that it seems they’re trying to cool down the planet.

62. When going out to dinner, it is customary for the senior member to foot the bill.

63. Among younger people, going Dutch is becoming more popular; they call it ‘American share’ though.

64. Thais love to put sugar in and on their food. Even salad cream contains up to 25% of it.

65. A lot of married Thai men seem to have one or more mistresses; amazingly, most wives seem to resiliently accept these ‘mia noi’ or ‘minor wives’ or get involved with a ‘gig’ (close boyfriend or girlfriend) themselves as divorce is not very common.

66. Huge massage parlours catering to locals can be found just about everywhere and business is brisk.

67. Prostitution is legally forbidden in the Kingdom.

68. Soy milk is extremely popular, cow’s milk isn’t; locally produced cheese simply does not exist.

69. Imported goods are invariably expensive, so going local is an excellent way to save money.

70. Teenagers and adults alike still think The Eagles and John Denver are hot.

71. Thais like their music so loud that talking becomes almost impossible without shouting; using earplugs when going out is probably a good idea if you don’t want to go deaf.

72. It’s ridiculously cheap to get a tattoo; getting rid of one supposedly costs an arm and a leg though.

73. Women – both young and old – often have a rather childish sense of fashion compared to Western norms; it’s not unusual to see a woman sporting a Doraemon T-shirt, Hello Kitty watch and Mickey Mouse bag.

74. Female university students prefer their white blouses so tight that it looks like most of the buttons are about to pop off; unfortunately, they hardly ever do.

75. It is common to see middle aged people offer their seat to perfectly healthy children when using public transport.

76. It is not uncommon to see children behave like spoilt brats.

77. Foreigners cannot buy property in Thailand, except for condos.

78. Banking rules and regulations often tend to be complicated and xenophobic; most banks buy foreign currencies but almost none sell them.

79. King Bhumibol of Thailand is the longest reigning monarch on the planet; he celebrated his 79th birthday in 2006 and has been on the throne for 60 years now.

80. The King is revered as a god and prostrating (i.e. lying face down at someone’s feet in worship) for all members of the royal family is considered normal.

81. The usual Thai greeting is the so-called ‘wai’, a prayer-like gesture accompanied by a bow of the head; the more respect you want to show (or the more ass you want to kiss), the deeper the bow.

82. Although the Thai Chinese community only accounts for a small portion of the population, it controls most of the country’s wealth and influence.

83. Thailand is becoming ever more popular as a medical tourist destination.

84. Apart from cheap plastic surgery (e.g. face lift 825 USD, breast enlargement 1,125 USD), heart and organ surgery seems to be in rising demand as well.

85. If you’re a bloke, you can have yourself turned into a woman for as little as 1,625 USD without any questions asked. (Quoted prices are from possibly the cheapest clinic in town)

86. Thailand is considered to be one of the safest places to travel.

87. Although Thailand is cheap, business proposals that seem to good to be true usually aren’t (e.g. the gem scam).

88. Teaching is the most popular profession for foreigners living in the Kingdom.

89. Although the majority of teachers are dedicated to their job, a number of midnight cowboys continue to give teachers a bad reputation.

90. Showing up late, phoning in sick, being unprepared or unqualified, and doing a runner are probably the most common problems with teachers.

91. The Ministry of Labour issues a very short list of jobs that foreigners are allowed to do; basically, if a job can be done by Thais, foreigners are banned from doing it so forget about becoming a taxi driver or shopkeeper.

92. Foreigners can legally own maximum 49 percent of a company; setting up your own company thus involves handing over ownership to trusted Thai companions or working with nominees, which is technically illegal.

93. Living and working in Thailand is completely different from holidaying in the LOS.

94. Newbies often claim that they “have fallen in love with this wonderful country and want to spend the rest of their life here” after a two weeks’ holiday.

95. Newbies should think twice before selling all their stuff, moving out here and giving up their plumbing career in their home country.

96. It is safe to drink beverages with ice and eat at roadside restaurants.

97. Gold is a common commodity in Thailand; buying and reselling gold jewellery is done every day by people needing money or wanting to spend it.

98. A prolonged stay in the Kingdom, especially Bangkok, can be detrimental to one’s physical health due to high levels of air pollution; it might also affect one’s emotional and financial well-being.

99. If you want to visit a county where the average girl is pretty, sexy, slim, friendly, smiling and helpful, don’t waste any more time and come to Thailand.

100. If you want to visit a country where the average girl is prudish, vain, small-breasted, petulant, moody and materialistic, don’t waste any more and come to Thailand.

101. The best time to travel to Thailand is anytime, so why put off the purchase of your aeroplane ticket?


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