04 April 2012

Thailand - Info Resources

I've been perusing a number of books and websites to try to get a handle on Thailand and what to expect when I get there.

Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands (Terry Morrison)
This is a book I used a frequently when I was traveling a lot for work. Anytime I'd be headed for a new country or expecting students from somewhere else, I'd pull out this book and read up on the country. The book is directed at business travelers and talks a lot about conducting meetings, negotiating contracts, and the like. However, there are also sections on general world view, how to dress for various situations, if there are general things you should know, etc. The copy I have at work is more than a decade old, so I got the 2nd edition from the local library and read the Thailand section.

Things I picked up...
  • Punctuality is a sign of courtesy...be on time. (this is quite contrary to my experiences in Central America and some other places...)
  • Eat with fork and spoon unless you're in a Chinese restaurant (then you can use chopsticks). Cut with the edge of the spoon. Use the fork to push food onto the spoon. Don't ever put the fork in your mouth.
  • Monks are not permitted to touch women. Women should never hand something directly to a monk...either put it in front of them where they can reach it or give it to a man to hand to the monk. The giver says "Thank you," the monk does not. This is because giving to a monk is a way to better your own life/future (karma-wise).
  • Always give up your seat on public transportation to monks. (last time I was there, the river taxis had special sections reserved for monks)
  • Greet Thais with a wai. A 'wai' is pressing your palms together in front of your chest in a 'prayer' position....or 'namaste' for you yogis. The higher the hands are relative to your body, the more respect you are showing. Putting the heels of your hands up by your forehead is about as respectful as you can possibly get. A chest-level wai is the common form. Lower ranking people wai higher ranking people.
  • Titles are important to Thais. Khun is the common, short form of address and can be used for "Mr", "Mrs" or "Miss".
  • Politeness and a calm demeanor are highly prized. Always avoid being rude, displaying a temper (or any strong emotion), or agitation.
  • Public displays of affection between opposite sexes are frowned upon. However, same-sex friends can touch or walk holding hands.
  • To beckon someone to you, hold your hand palm down and wave your fingers (held together) toward your body. (this is the same in El Salvador...the crooking index finger common in the US is meaningless there, too).
  • Gifts are never opened in the presence of the giver.
  • Good hostess gifts are cakes, fruit, or flowers...but not carnations or marigolds because those are 'funeral flowers.'
  • Flip-flops are considered very low-class.
  • Wear old shoes when you go to visit temples. Since you have to take them off and leave them outside, they may be stolen.
  • Casual clothing for women should be a light-weight dress or skirt/blouse. Capped or short sleeves are ok...sleeveless is not. Long shorts are ok, except in temples. There will be people renting sarongs there, in case you arrive improperly dressed and need to cover shoulders or knees (men or women).

Travelers Tales: Thailand
There are a whole series of these books, focusing on various countries or regions or traveler demographics. I checked this out from the library and started reading it. It's mostly a collection of short essays about different parts of Thai life and experiences and the first couple I read were very interesting and well-written. The essays are grouped into broader categories.

I started to read this and thought it would be the perfect book to read while traveling. I prefer short-story or essay collections for travel reading. Something about the short bits seems to lend itself to the interrupted reading time...a few minutes while waiting for boarding, a few more during final loading and cross-check, maybe a little longer while reaching altitude before something is served, etc. For me, it's less disruptive to read short things in those intervals than try to repeatedly re-enter a novel.

Long story short, I returned the book to the library and bought a copy to take with me and read on the trip.

Culture Smart! Thailand (Roger Jones)
Another series similar to Travelers Tales only this is more of a pocket guidebook to all things Thai...not essays or stories. This is another book I'll be packing but may also start reading in the meantime.

And, of course, there's always Mr Google. The internet is an amazing wealth of information. The problem is usually wading through the dross to get to the good stuff...and then determining the validity of that stuff.