A while ago I stumbled upon a very funny and surprisingly accurate website called Stuff White People Like, which pokes fun at the “typical” things that left-wing white North Americans are into. It includes stuff like Teaching English in Japan, Bob Marley, Camping, Hummus, Having Gay Friends, Expensive Sandwiches, Sarah Silverman, and Riding Bicycles.
So I decided to compose my own little top-ten list of my cultural insights into Thailand, and thus, the list of Stuff Thai People Like was born.
1. Thai Food: Thai people are extremely loyal to Thai food; more than any country I have ever seen. In general, unless you grow up in a rich urban family in Bangkok, Thai people do not like to eat farang (foreign) food. If it doesn’t have at least five red chillis, it’s not real food. Japanese food? Too boring. Indian food? Unclean, in their eyes. Pizza? Maybe, but only if you douse it with spoonfuls of crushed red chillis. Spicy papaya salad, tom yum goong, and morning glory, on the other hand, all pass the test. Cucumber sandwiches are not considered as edible in this country.
2. Sleeping: Power gone? Cable out? Internet on the fritz? Roads flooded? Boyfriend gone? Nothing do, nowhere to go? The only logical thing to do is sleep. Thais have an amazing ability to shut down for a few hour’s rest, or just to pass the time if there is nothing else to do. Vendors having a slow day often have a fold-out cot nearby to lie down on, or to put their kids to lie down on. I guess the kids learn early.
3. Karaoke: This is true across Asia, actually. Though it is a Japanese invention, no matter whether you are in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul or Bangkok, you can find a karaoke place with the hottest local pop songs and the lamest English songs. Expect to see a lot of videos where the star-crossed lovers spend a lot of time on motorbikes or jet skis.
4. TV: From the moment a Thai person wakes up, the TV turns on. Every single home, every single restaurant, and every single shop has a television on as long as someone is awake. It can be left blaring in an empty room, but it is never to be turned off.
5. Drama: Gossip, intrigue, cheating, drugs, funerals, and chopping off your cheating husband’s cock are all good entertainment in this country. Don’t be fooled by Thailand’s nickname “The Land of Smiles”. They smile because secretly they want to kill you! And, related to #4, they also love TV dramas, particularly from Korea.
6. White skin: Every single semi-liquid cream being sold in the skin-care aisle is supposed to make your skin whiter. Face wash, moisturizer, exfoliate washes, and even sunblock all have “whitening agents”. There is a simple reason for this and it applies all over Asia: If you have dark skin, it means you are a peasant who spends all their time in the fields doing manual labour. But if you have creamy milky white skin, you are blessed with a big condo and a high-power office job which keeps you pale and rich. This is why in Asia many half-Asian-half-white kids end up as movie stars.
7. The Royal Family: Well this is a no-brainer. The Thais are loyal to their King and Queen. Every single home has at least one calendar with a big picture of the King on it in various poses, such as taking pictures, or planting seedlings. But I never knew how far this loyalty went until I went to a cinema in Bangkok. After the previews, suddenly the screen went black, telling everyone there to stand up and pay respects. The National Anthem started playing, along with a video tribute to the King. Apparently this happens before the start of every single movie! Now that’s loyalty.
8. Ghosts: There is no question that Thais are highly superstitious. From the little Spirit House on every piece of land to the amulets people wear around their necks, the Thais are mindful of ghosts. Thai people I have talked to have all confirmed that they have seen ghosts. And if you tell them you don’t believe in ghosts, they give you a real funny look. So if you are in Thailand and a local is telling you a ghost story, don’t laugh in their face. They might chop your cock off.
9. Gadgets: In a country rising from the third world to the developed world, economic indicators are important. This is why gadgets are so hot in Asia — and so widely copied. Thai people always seem to have the absolute hottest gadgets around. My phone, in comparison, is a dinosaur. Even the poorest Thai has a touch screen phone. Once I went into a local market, and the woman selling vegetables was lounging on a chair with an iPad in her lap. It was probably fake, but compared to my ancient cell phone, it was very cool.
10. Shopping: A national obsession. If you are in Bangkok, the reason why it takes so long to exit the train station is not because there are too many people. It’s because vendors have set up shop all over the sidewalk, and all the Thai women cannot resist slowing down and holding up the traffic to see all the cute things on sale, whether they are slippers or blouses or hair clips or handbags. In fact I have to say that the Thais give the Hong Kong girls a run for their money — both are raging shopaholics.
So, that concludes my 10-point list of Things Thai People Like. I’ve only been here a few months and of course that is nowhere enough time to get a true, deep understanding of any culture. But all I know is that if a Thai person invites you to their home to eat somtam and watch Korean soap operas, you better say yes, or they might sik a ghost on you…