On the last day of class for my weekend term, I decided to have the students do a Christmas word find, which for whatever reason, Thai students love. (I like them too especially when travelling. Much more than crosswords, crosswords are not fun for me. Crosswords suck!)
I put on a Christmas CD and it instantly created the mood. Then I had the students memorize the word find list. I did this twice for different Mathayom 3 (13-14 year olds) levels. With the lower level, they had a spelling bee of only 5 of the Christmas words like sleigh and reindeer, for the higher level class, they had 8 words.
Then I put the students in groups and they had to create a Christmas story using 5 of the Christmas words. I didn’t know what to expect, so when they all knew the story of Santa Claus, I was surprised. They knew about the cookies and milk! And in one story, my students acted out Santa going down on bended knee to give a gift to Frosty the Snowman.
So very Thai. In the United States, Santa would never go down on his knee. But here, this is the way we give gifts.
When I first moved here, the idea of going down on my knees while in front of the Buddha seemed fine enough because I was used to it from childhood. But my mom never made us prostrate ourselves three times as is customary while in front of the Lord Buddha. So the first time my cousins insisted I do it, it felt a little strange.
In United States, we are too upright and “good” for such humility. This kind of body language has king versus servants connotations, it feels old fashioned and a generally a bad idea. The idea of bowing down, being supine is absolutely dreadful and I dare say, ridiculous to us. I think it is because we don’t like the idea of someone else being “above” or ruling us. And Americans are not very good at being “small”.
Something else that Thais do that is completely different than Americans is they point to their heads, not their hearts. When an American is asked, “Can you come here?” for example, she will 99% of the time, point to her chest or heart, as if to say, “Who me?”
But if you ask a Thai, as in my students, they will point to their head. One of my Chinese students did this too. And for a culture that has the word heart built in to so much of the language, I find this fascinating. Who is me? For Westerners “me” is their hearts, for Thais it’s their heads. Me is located in their heads. But understanding enters their hearts, kâo jai, and etc.
Yet I suppose this makes sense given the fact that Americans ask, “How are you doing?” as a form of greeting. I explain to my students that we care or like to ask about feelings. But for Thais it’s about doing. Have you eaten yet? Where are you going? So maybe that is why we Americans are a temperamental and complaining bunch of bananas.
Although don’t ever mistake the “meek” appearance of a Thai, especially a Thai woman for weakness. This is the mistake the Western minds make. Thais are not weak-minded, quite the opposite. They know how to bend. This is important to living and life. This is the lesson I am learning now. Thailand teaches me.