Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thai Culture

We spent most of our time and energy with foreigners while we were in Thailand. Nevertheless I'd like to reflect briefly on my experience of Thai culture.

Beauty finds a variety of expressions in this culture that I found meaningful and challenging:
a. Landscapes. Amazing mountains rising up from mostly flat fields and grazing land.
b. People. People everywhere are interesting and beautiful to me: Here I was struck by monks in orange garb, stunningly beautiful young people, noble elders.
c. Religious architecture: wats (temples) and spirit houses were everywhere, usually very ornate and well-kept. There are neighborhoods in the US where you don't see anything that is beautiful and well taken care of. In my very limited experience of Thailand, even in the most squalid areas there are little spirit houses that are in some sense beautiful and taken care of.

My most vivid memories are of riding through the mountains on a moped, walking past handicapped people stretched flat on the streets in Bangkok asking for change, and walking outside temples deserted except for monkeys sitting around like old people outside their homes.

Thai ideas of what is appropriate in dress and conduct was also striking: women do not bare their shoulders, you don't touch peoples' heads, and many people put their hands together and slightly bow their heads to each other to show respect and say thank you.

I know very little about Thai culture and history -- as an outsider I'm struck by both the amazing variety between different cultures and the similarities/humaness that are right under the surface.

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