Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Openness of Thais

It was only after a few days of being in Thailand that I really understood why so many people have called this beautiful country the “land of smiles.” In our five weeks here, I have met very few grumpy Thais. All are welcoming to the farang (foreigners), and even more are happy to see farang attempting their language. This is important because millions of tourists (26.5 million in 2013) come to Thailand every year. There is very little judgment in their demeanor and actions, but rather respect and consideration.
This has shown me how open the Thais are to other ideas. They are not so caught up in their own ways that they don’t see the benefit of other customs. Some of the Thai customs are actually adapted from western behaviors, like using forks and spoons for eating. Thai people take the best parts of other customs and adapt them to their own way of living. The history of Thailand itself is an example of the huge jumble of different cultures (For more information on Thai history click here). Before Thailand was an established country, it was an area that had been occupied by several different groups of people. This has created a sense of blending as a natural tendency for the Thai people.
A Thai dish is traditionally eaten with a spoon and fork,
adapted from Western tradition.
Along with this blend of cultures, the Thai people have adapted aspects of different religions into their traditions. Thais have always loved elephants. It is not a surprise then that Ganesha, a Hindu god, has the head of an elephant, has made way into Thai worship. Many individuals wear the “ohm” symbol and many ask Ganesha for blessings. Thai people are so welcoming to other religious ideas that they adopted a deity outside their own religion.

Ganesha is the Hindu god of obstacles.
Another great example of the Thai tendency to adapt is the Erawan museum. The structure itself is a giant three headed elephant that stands 29 meters tall designed after the fashion of Hindu mythology. On the inside of the building are four metal pillars that are intricately carved. Each pillar represents a different religion: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The carving on the pillar depicts teachings and stories from that religion. It is impressive to me that a Buddhist temple in Thailand is not only shaped like a giant three headed elephant, but contains teachings of other religions inside it as well.
Buddhism itself is a religion that teaches about the acceptance of others and not placing labels on people. They are extremely open-minded, and respect the beliefs of others. While visiting the temple on Asahna Bucha Day (Buddhist Lent), we were able to talk with a monk that explained that finding happiness was important. However it is more important to help others be happy by dedicating your life to serving others (For more information on Buddhism, click here). How could one make others happy if at first they are not open to the differences in the other person? These aspects of Buddhism greatly affect the attitudes of the Thai people since it is so prominent in their culture.
The pillars within the Erawan museum represent the four main religions of the world. 
I have been absolutely amazed by the Thai people and their openness to others who are different from themselves. Even in the everyday encounters with strangers, I have felt respected. This is big deal for a farang who has only the most basic Thai. Even today, as Haley, Alyssa and I walked from the omelet cart to the apartment, a kind Thai woman followed us with an umbrella to shield us from the pouring rain. The atmosphere through out the entire country has been welcoming and accepting of people from different backgrounds and beliefs.

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