Thailand Travel Guide - with Wired Destinations
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People of Thailand – with Wired Destinations
The attitude of "cool heart" not only makes the Thais delightful to meet, it has also helped them survive as a sovereign nation.
Underlying the distinctive Thai warmth, to visitors and to life in general, is sanuk, a word that can be translated as "fun" or "enjoyable". The quantity – and quality – of sanuk, whether in work or play, determines if something is worth pursuing.
Thailand's culture and society has traditionally been centered on agriculture, an activity that nurtures a sense of community, especially during the planting and harvesting seasons. The shift to urban life has changed much of the countryside's ways, but it is a rare Thai who does not enjoy getting together with friends. Most are puzzled by westerners (farang) who dine or holiday alone, as they do not understand the need for occasional solitude. In general, Thais consider such singular experiences as mai sanuk (not fun).
Thailand's Easygoing Charm
The sense of family about Thai activities does not exclude outsiders. The community spirit extends to the workplace, where it is not unusual at the end of the day for a group of coworkers to gather together into a small party, with the attendant music, snacks, and alcoholic drinks to relax and release the day's tensions.
When a visitor encounters a tense situation, it is usually because of language difficulties. In this instance, it is best to adopt another Thai attitude, jai yen, or "cool heart", to deal calmly with a problem. Thais believe expressions of anger only exacerbate the situation. A smile or apology work better at defusing conflict.
Indeed, it is difficult to stir a Thai to real anger in public. But touching a Thai, on top of the head, threatening their strong sense of independence, or speaking disrespectfully of the monarchy will affect a hostile response. Visitors should also be aware that pointing their feet at Thais is considered a great insult, as they consider the feet to be unclean.
Closely allied with jai yen is a concept that provides the answer to all life's vicissitudes: mai pen rai, a phrase that eludes precise translation, but usually rendered as "never mind". A Thai would rather shrug shoulders in the face of adversity than to escalate a difficult situation. Solutions that re-establish calm are welcome. In fact, the Thais have survived intact as a sovereign nation by adopting a superb sense of compromise, putting trifling matters in perspective, or else ignoring them.
Thailand's Stable Monarchy
The three colors of the Thai flag are revered as symbols of stability amid changes – values evoked in 1992 when Thais rose up against the military’s grip on political power with massive street demonstrations that sometimes turned bloody. King Rama IX (Bhumidbol) ended the political crisis between the prime minister and his chief opponent, which had threatened civil war. The two men prostrated themselves at the king's feet, on live television, as the king lectured them to bring the country back to a peace. Within hours, life returned to normal.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy therefore King Bhumidbol does not rule the country. But his influence on government and society cannot be overlooked, as he has earned the respect, trust, and admiration of the nation by keeping to the words he spoke at his coronation, "We will reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people."
Bhumidbol came to the throne in 1946, the latest king of the Chakri dynasty that has produced several fine monarchs over the past 100 years. He was born in Massachusetts, USA, in 1927, where his father, Prince Mahidol of Songkhla, was studying medicine at Harvard University, and his mother, nursing. The 18-year-old Bhumidbol ascended the throne unexpectedly after the death of his elder brother, King Ananda (Rama VIII).
Thailand Colors of the Flag
Thailand's national flag is raised at 8am and lowered at 6pm in every Thai town and village, accompanied by the playing of the King's Anthem, which replaces radio and television during the ceremonies. The modern flag - introduced in 1917 to replace the earlier red flag of the absolute monarchy emblazoned with a white elephant - is composed of five horizontal bands of white, red, and blue. Outer bands of red, representing the nation, enclose equal inner bands of white, evoking religion. The blue band, the central third of the total area, symbolizes the monarchy. The design reflects the complementary nature of these three pillars of the Thai nation.
Thailand's Parliamentary Government
Since the 1950s, Thailand has largely been ruled by military dictators. But in the 1980s the farsighted General Prem Tinsulanonda willingly shared power with an elected parliament. Since 1992 the country has been governed by an elected parliament and a prime minister.
In many successive elections, no party emerged with a majority, so fractious coalitions were formed. The trappings resembled British parliament, with an upper house (senate) appointed by the prime minister every five years.
Thai political parties do not pretend to have political platforms. They revolve mostly around the personality and purse of a single man, and it is normal for politicians to jump from one party to the next. Most Thais only hear from their MPs at election time. In between, they resort to protest rallies, which can turn violent.
Thailand's Role of Women
The status of Thai women is also undergoing change. In the past, women were not entitled to the same legal rights as men in matters of land ownership, marriage or citizenship, despite the fact that women obtained the right to vote at the same time as men, in 1932.
In the past few years, changes have been made to permit a woman monarch, and many of the land restrictions, such as forbidding a Thai woman married to a foreigner to purchase land, have been overturned. Historically, Thai women have enjoyed more power and liberty than, say, their counterparts in India, Japan or China. They worked by the sides of men in the fields, could inherit property and had considerable freedom of movement.
Thai women have been at the top of big businesses for generations, especially the service industries. Thai businesswomen often joke about the difficulties of convincing Japanese businessmen that a woman really is in charge.
Women also are involved in the public sector and have reached the upper echelons of many government agencies. They flourish as market vendors, cooks, and storekeepers; more than half of factory laborers are female and, at the very bottom, women work alongside men on construction sites, albeit on lower wages.
Yet much still needs to be done before women achieve legal parity. The paradoxes are probably explained by differences in class. Girls born into the upper and middle classes, have much the same options as their brothers. The university population is equally divided between male and female, and the elite now are just as likely to send daughters as sons abroad for an education.
Women in the lower ranks (the majority of the population) don't have any choice but to work. From a young age, girls are instilled with a sense of responsibility to the family, and women may even end up as the family's sole support, even at the age of 12 or 13.
Thailand and the Chinese
When King Rama I selected Bangkok as his new capital, the site on which he wanted to build the Grand Palace was occupied by Chinese shops. He moved the owners a kilometer down the river to Sampeng where they settled in what is today Bangkok's Chinatown. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Chinese immigrants were denied land ownership and participation in government, so they naturally drifted towards trade and commerce.
The Thai Chinese, however, unlike their counterparts in other Asian countries, have been assimilated to a remarkable degree into the life of their adopted land. Chinese and Thais have intermarried freely and there is no deep-rooted anti-Chinese bias in Thailand, nor have there been the racial conflicts marring the histories of neighboring countries.
Only among the older generation do people speak of themselves specifically as "Chinese" or "Thai". The younger generation thinks of themselves as Thai, speak Thai as their only language, voice loyalty to the Thai monarchy, and have only a cursory interest in Chinese affairs or culture.
Life on the Chao Phraya River
The notorious Bangkok traffic problem drives most visitors into taking river transport during their stay; few return to the roads willingly.
Tourists enjoy traveling on the Chao Phraya River more than the average Bangkok resident. This is no surprise as the city grew up around the banks of the Chao Phraya and many of its oldest and most spectacular buildings are best seen from the vantage point of a river craft. River travel also has some very obvious benefits in a city choking with traffic. Speeding in an express boat from one tha (pier) to another with the wind cooling your face it's hard to imagine, as you pass under a bridge packed with cars, why anyone would travel any other way in Bangkok. The answer is the same all over the world: people love cars. For a log time Bangkok public transport was thought to be inadequate and in Bangkok no one would walk anywhere if they could help it.
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