Pride is a common thread that runs through Thai culture. I’ve seen the pride of ethnicity, culture, food, and nature in a handful of interactions this past week. In the Hmong village, the village leader spoke of his community with great love and conviction. He praised their ability to peacefully coexist within a religiously diverse space, their sustainable agricultural practices that pave the way for other hill tribes, and the impenetrable bond that allows the youth to study in the city but then feel moved to return. Shamefully, I must admit that when I was walking around the village I felt impressed but also very sure I wouldn’t want to reside there. HOWEVER, I also came to the realization that the people in this community CHOOSE to live here.
This situation reminds me of a book I read last semester called “The Art of Being Ungoverned”. The book discusses the hill tribes residing in the mountains of Southeast Asia and challenges the narrative that they are the “forgotten” ones who were skipped by modernity and civilization. Instead, the author recounts the agricultural practices, choice of crops, and reliance on spoken languages to actively resist the state and it’s imposed practices. Basically, the communities living on the periphery actively chose to resist “civilization” because the conditions under state law (poverty, indentured servitude, disease, pollution) hindered their freedom and decreased their quality of life. They have the option to live in the cities and in “modernity” but choose not to. THIS is why the immense pride voiced by the Hmong village leader cries not for our pity of their perhaps antiquated technologies and way of life but of praise to their ability to lively freely.
(This may have been a tangent)
Question number one
At the Wat Temple I noticed a few things about Thai culture. Body language, body parts, and space between bodies informs others of status, communicates unspoken messages, and can be seen as sacred. In regards to body language, when giving a wâi, the position and height in which your hands are represents how much respect you give the receiver. Saving face is important to Thai culture and one of the ways they do that is smiling even if they are embarrassed, angry, etc. Additionally, different body parts have different meanings. One’s feet should not be pointed towards others, especially the Monk. The head has a spiritual importance and they do not touch or pat someone’s head because it is seen as rude. Finally, the space between each other also informs on who holds status. The women all sat on the ground surrounding the monk who sits on a higher platform that was distanced from the audience. The meaning and interaction of and between bodies shows how unspoken communication plays an important role in Thai culture.
Question number two
During our trip to Thailand I hope to understand how religion, tradition, and rituals positively impacts the people. Often times Millennials, including myself, see religiosity, tradition, and practices as something of the past that actually harms and discriminates against populations instead of uniting them. I have seen the harmful effects of conservative ideologies and racist institutions that use a narrative rooted in “maintaining the status quo” only because it ensures the survival of a few privileged persons. Thailand appears to be a place, whether accurately portrayed or not, where the maintenance of these old beliefs, rituals, and practices benefits the population as a whole and fosters an environment of perseverance, peace, interconnectedness, and respect. Hopefully, my cynical views can be broken down a bit!