Expat

Do hi-so Thais lack culture?

If you have money then you can live a comfortable life here. Of course, if you have money, you can live a comfortable life anywhere. But one of the reasons why expats like Thailand is you don’t need a lot of money to live well.

As I was shopping at Pantip Plaza, an electronics mall, and Siam TV, a kind of Best Buy, I took note of the foreigners also perusing electronic products and appliances in a pristine showroom, which led me to the idea of how money insulates you from Thai culture.

Sure, shopping is a culture in itself, as is money. But there are a fair number of expats and their families who enjoy the same kind of comforts as they do back in their home country, contrary to popular belief. It’s probably safe to say that some enjoy an even better standard of living because they can afford to.

And while there is a language barrier and a cultural-this-is-how-we-do-things here hoola hoop, a certain amount of cash, will more likely put you in contact with those who speak English. Then you are able to move through the culture with relative ease, and so I wonder, how much of Thailand are you experiencing?

This phenomena is not unlike US military bases around the world. Families and folks who live in these compounds don’t really interact with the locals, unless they are at Church’s Chicken ordering dinner. Some people prefer it this way because what is different than us makes us uncomfortable. I mean, it’s fascinating to see how people act and react when language is a problem.

Hey, I’m not saying I’m some grand poobah of politeness and perfection. My mom’s Thai, so growing up, I got all my teasing, yelling and frustration out on her. My brother and I laughed at the way she said purple or I would go out of my mind trying to figure out that she wanted the scissors.

So I think you can eliminate most of these conversation clashes when you have money. Money has a habit of putting you above the rest of society, and this occurs in all countries I would imagine. This makes me think, Is β€œethnic” culture a mid to lower class thing?

What is culture? is a question I tried to tackle when I first got here. If we talk about Thai culture, not hill-tribe culture, but Thai culture, how much culture are expats getting? Just because we reside in a different country, are we living in the culture? Are we even supposed to?

High society Thais, in my observation, do the same things and have the same things as Westerners. And Westerners seem to lack culture, unless we associate the West with Apple products and fast food. Of course we can argue that hi-so Thais are modern Thais, like modern culture. And as modern culture takes over the globe one Subway sandwich, one Starbucks coffee, one SUV, at a time, where does ethnic, local, regional culture fit in?

Mono-culture is before our eyes, one world, one internet, one language and I’m not saying this is bad or good, it’s just what I see. It’s funny, because one of the most common things I heard from people visiting Hawaii for the first time was, it’s a lot more developed than I thought it would be. I think the same thing can be said about Thailand.

What makes a culture unique? The differences from yours to theirs, and when those differences become obsolete? Will we create the sci-fi movies of our nightmares or dreams?

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6 thoughts on “Do hi-so Thais lack culture?

  1. Hi Lani, if I may summerize your post as; Will it be a good or a bad thing to have a homogeneous culture or a low diversity in civilization? I try not connect any ethics to this question, since they tend to blur reality. Defining culture as human knowledge, belief, social skils, fashion, art, shared attitudes in ethics and personal goals, a prerequisite would be to have equal distribution of wealth and resource. (hi-so vs lo-so)Some may think we are heading towards such a global society in several aspects and if reached in all aspects indeed this would be a Sci-Fi dream or an ultimate nightmare. In nature, diversity is the power of evolution, so if people would have reached an equilibrium where they all would be equal, would evolution stop due to lack of diversity?And would people only be busy with gaining scientifical knowledge like in Startrek.I guess this condition would be highly unstable, since humans simply like to differentiatem, such as the 'bad' boys and girls in school uniforms who will wear different sizes and cut or dye their hair to stand-out in their group.There will always be people who distinguish themselves by extravertism or introvertism, opportunism or realism, optimism and pessimism, adultism or infantism, external and internal locus of control – ism.People considered most fit stand up as leaders and the others will more or less follow. At least untill now.We live in an age where a computer can drive a car and the first car is soon to get it's driver's licence.In analogy to the car it is imaginable that one day we run certain hardware and software which is proven to operate more sound, stable and efficient than a human based government.I assume a human court of justice would still be sysadmin though :)The first open source software used for crowdsourcing is already operational in Reykjavic and soon for all citizens of Iceland, see: citizens.is.If the main system of governance is equal and transparent, we would be more able to compare laws and other specifics for us to be favourable. Due to transparency people would move to nations with laws adjusted to a specific target groups rather than sub-groups aka. old wealth.Most likely a multitude of smaller nations would arise for niche 'markets', think of the USPP, the United States of Pattaya and Phuket.The world would still be highly diverse, but in this way inside the nations there would be more involvement and support since adults would live in a self choosen place of destination, which should bring some harmony, even when like aboard Startek's Enterprise inhabitants coming from all over the planet.Anyway back to the real world, my partner just imitated various birds, I found the ostrich the funniest..

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  2. Hi I-nomad,You raise a lot of interesting points but I'll stick to the one that I found most interesting: diversity and equality.I'm not sure if all of this globalization will make everyone equal. It seems that way, feels that way at times and maybe everyone will reach a point where we all basically have the same material things, but does that make us equal?

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  3. Many many questions… not enough time :-)”If we talk about Thai culture, not hill-tribe culture, but Thai culture, how much culture are expats getting? Just because we reside in a different country, are we living in the culture? Are we even supposed to?”I'm getting about as much Thai culture as I can take… I love living in Thailand and learning how things tick but I don't have an overwhelming need for a heavier dose of Thai culture than I'm getting from the comfort of my expat cocoon. It's similar to when I lived in a Muslim country for nine years. I studied their history and traditions, enjoyed local markets, had Muslim friends, went to certain ceremonies… but other than that, I didn't develop an overwhelming desire to get closer than that… to wear a headscarf and hang out in mosques and malls (same as they did).But do the members of Thailand's hi society live like expats? Except for having enough money to partake in a more modern world, I don't think so (but then again, I don't have a lot of hi-so acquaintances). Tied to their families, don't they still have the strong restraints of their society/culture?Ask hi-so Thais what they do during traditional holidays, funerals, family get-togethers… Will many expats (unless they are married to Thais) be doing the same on a regular basis? Or will they enjoy it as a shallow, tourist-type experience? And would that really be counted as experiencing Thai culture?Too many questions… too little time…

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  4. We're all a bit of an “armchair anthropologist” when we expat or travel to a different country. That said, what struck me about hi-so Thais is that they are becoming part of this mono-culture or globalization that is taking over the world.I work with a lot of teenagers and young adults, and I see them shaking off tradition (as the youth should do), questioning the status quo, etc. Coupled with the influx of money and modernization, well, I just feel like culture is changing in Thailand and it's supposed to, I think.You do raise some interesting thoughts though, tourists having shallow-like experiences and regardless of money or status being immersed in the same culture.When I think about the US and it's culture, in the WonderBread sense of the word, I do think working class. Maybe because this is from my perspective…when I think about or picture in my head Thai culture, I see the same thing – working class.Now isn't that INTERESTING? So I just wondered, is culture a lower class, working class, “hill tribe” thing?When folks think about Hawaiian culture they don't think of modern Hawaii, they think of old Hawaii. I mean, they don't think rich Hawaii, wealthy Hawaiians of the past were fat! They think of pretty slim hula dancers :PI can't believe how many ways this post has spun, thanks Cat!

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