Striking a Balance

What I’ve found the most interesting about living in Thailand is that, more than anywhere else I’ve visited or lived, it quickly separates the glass half full kind of people from the glass half empty types.  In any given situation, your perspective can dramatically alter how you will react and what you’ll take away from it.  Some of this has to do with differing cultural expectations, but mostly it depends on the personality of the individual.  When I was thinking about what to write in terms of a pros and cons of living in Thailand list, I kept coming back to the fact that I’ve both loved and disliked the same aspects of living here in different moments, making it hard to categorize the experience.

The best example of this is adjusting to and dealing with the idea of saving face, and how it impacts day-to-day life.  To give the most basic explanation, saving face is the idea that it’s of vital importance to protect your reputation and honor, and that of your family, above all else.  As a result, it’s incredibly rude to embarrass someone else and cause them to lose face.  It also means that if you are having an argument with someone, it’s important to give them an out that allows them to concede without losing face.  As such, some interactions are VERY passive aggressive.  Example: instead of getting mad at our apartment manager for losing the tiles he was supposed to fix in our kitchen, we had to approach it as “the tiles went missing!  weird!” as if they’d gone missing of their own accord.  Some (generally older and crankier) expats who seem to thrive off of ragging on Thailand are quick to point out that someone may smile to your face (it is the Land of Smiles after all) and then gossip about you behind your back.

But while Thais are pretty conflict-averse, the flip side is that the vast majority are genuinely friendly most, if not all of the time, simply because that’s how you’re supposed to treat people.  With kindness, respect and consideration, keeping their desire for dignity in mind as much as your own.  So yeah, it’s annoying that my boss at work is NEVER simply direct about what she wants me to do, or that I sit at intersections for far longer than necessary because no one wants to be the one to go first.  But the examples of abounding niceness are hard to ignore, and are too numerous to list here.  And I think on the whole, it’s been really good for me to learn to bite my tongue and smile when my gut instinct would be to lose my cool.  It’s made me a better listener, a better sharer, and a better person.

The picture in the header are three machines that are set up in one of the temples in Chiang Mai.  You put money into the robot monk’s bowl, and it says a prayer for you.  I think they’re pretty funny, especially when you could just walk right up to the real monk and get a legit blessing. 


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