Thailand: Ten Surprises
Motorists drive on the left side of the road.
Little or no English adorn Thai signs. I found myself in a beautiful setting of temples and had no idea where I was or the significance of my surroundings. Visiting this country takes more reading and research than typical.
Thailand has long been home to the elephant, but experts estimate the elephant population has dwindled to 3,000-4,000 (down from 100,000) over the past century, due to threats from tourism, logging, poaching and human encroachment on elephant habitats.
It’s not as if the language is challenging enough, Thai is sometimes different based of the gender of the speaker. For example, take the use of the polite words krab and ka. Men end a sentence with "krab" (pronounced “kab”); women with "ka" (pronounced like Bostonians pronounce car, without the "r."). Put them in the end of the sentence for a polite conversation. It appears, people in Thailand speak with these polite” endings even to their parents, brothers, sisters and younger people. When you want to say “Thank you,” men add “krab” and women add “ka.” For women, thank you is “Khob khun ka” or spelled ขอบคุณค่ะ. For men, “Khob khun krab” or spelled ขอบคุณครับ.
Thailand literally means “the land of the free.”
The head is considered the holiest part of the body and should never be touched…not even a child’s head.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, and most Thais adore their king and queen. Many families display the king's face in their homes, and it’s pretty much illegal to speak ill of him. The Thai royal families have been so revered that, in the past, no one could even touch them; in fact, in the 1800s, a queen drowned when her boat capsized and no onlookers came her to rescue due to this strict rule.
Thai meals, at home or at a restaurant, are family-style meals. Imagine my surprise when I ordered my favorite luscious unagi---grilled eel---at a sushi restaurant and everyone started digging in! Yes, they were polite; they didn’t eat every last bite, but, really, this was MINE! However, I went with the flow, only to find out later, this family-style is the norm.
Thais believer strongly in the concept of saving face, i.e., avoiding confrontation and endeavoring not to embarrass yourself or other people. The ideal face-saver doesn’t bring up negative topics in conversation, and when they notice stress in another’s life, they usually won’t say anything unless that person asked for help. This belief also spills over into talking loudly. Don’t. It’s rude.
Three hundred thousand monks reside in Thailand. Walk the streets early in the morning and you’ll catch the flash of shaved heads bobbing above bright ochre robes, as monks gently walk barefoot, engaging in bindabaat, the daily house-to-house alms (food) gathering. People give them food in exchange for blessings. Please, do not touch their bowls.