Saturday, December 16, 2017

Thai Traditional Culture

I spent one last day in Bangkok with Natcha, one of my students from 5 years ago.  She took me to a traditional market in Bangkok.  She made an observation that stands out:  "No one is speaking Thai here."  Then we went to a couple of malls, which might have been located in any U. S. city, except for everyone there (except me) was Thai.  (Actually, it could have been located in almost any country in the developed world, and quite a few in the undeveloped world.)

The Thai are going to the malls.  The malls look just like ours, even to the country store kiosk.  (Which was on the 5th floor of the mall.  Or maybe the 6th.  Or 4th.  Once you get inside, you lose track of which floor you are on, and how many basements there are.)

They wear western clothing (Only the tourists wear elephant pants.)  They build skyscrapers, and they are innovative in design.  They are buying cell phones (just like us.)  They ride trains and drive cars.  (Trains are easier.)

Well, there is one difference:  One cell phone company has huge advertisements in the train stations advertising that they take the best selfies.  Most U. S. advertising promotes like best service, most memory, ease of use, the quality of the camera in the phone...And did you notice that is in English, not Thai?

Are we contaminating Traditional Thai culture?  Even that statement is suspect...are we insisting that the Thai stay in their traditional culture, so we can experience it when we travel?  Shouldn't they choose how they want to dress and where they want to shop and what they want to be when they grow up?  Should we insist that they only eat Thai food?  I had a choice of food from all over the world in the malls.  (It was majority Asian.)

So I asked Natcha at dinner what Thai culture is now.  And she answered, after some thought:  Being polite and respectful.