This book is jam-packed with great stories, anecdotes and lived experiences by the author. No matter whether you are somebody arriving in Thailand for the first time to work, just to spend some time or somebody who has been in the kingdom of Thailand for a while already. This is a must have product. There are some incredible insights in the book and the author has covered an awful lot of ground. I thoroughly recommend the book ‘Watching The Thais’ by Tom Tuohy.
Even somebody who has never even set foot inside the kingdom of Thailand before is well aware of the Thais natural ability to smile. At times I feel so jealous about just how easily the Thai can smile and that is promptly followed by a jealousy of how graceful and beautiful they look doing it. As an Englishman my attempts at smiling and especially for photographs leaves me in a sort of half way house situation. The captured outcome bears more resemblance to the grin of a serial killer than a smile. It comes to something when your best photographs are passport photographs, because you are not allowed to smile in them.
However the Thai people are just naturally brilliant at smiling. After all Thailand of course is known affectionately as the land of smiles. The land of smiles it certainly is, but what meaning is behind the smile. In the book ‘’ Watching The Thais ‘’ author Tom Tuohy identifies 13 different meanings behind the smile. So the next time or in the next situation that a Thai is smiling your way and with the help of this book, you might now have a better idea as to why.
The Delightful Thai Smile
The author looks at Collectivism versus Individualism and the way in which Thais like to do things in a group. I must admit to always finding this difficult as being a reserved Englishman my own space and solitude are high on my priority list. Tom points out that although the Thais may operate more as a group it still allows for a great deal of freedom within the realm.
There are some great stories and experiences throughout the book. I love the old adage that ‘people travel a thousand miles but never really leave home’. It applies to the western woman who complained bitterly because her food did not arrive on time or when she thought it should have arrived. The woman was so full of her own importance as an individual that she failed to see that it hits a brick wall in a collectivist society. The mistake made by the western lady was travelling thousands of miles and expecting everything to be the same as in her own country. The one thing to expect when visiting Thailand is that things are definitely going to be different.
There is also the account of what can happen when the normal cool hearted Thais lose their cool. This is illustrated in the story of the two feuding Thai males. An altercation took place between the two men and a weapon was introduced by one of them. It was only a respectful and lengthy wai from the younger man to the older machete wielding man that saved the younger man’s life. A wai is a gesture of respect made by placing the palms of the hands together at chin height.
A view Over Bangkok
They say the gaining of a true understanding of a race of people is through their customs and beliefs. This is certainly true, but furthermore an even greater understanding is through the superstitions of a race of people. The Thais are a very superstitious people and these superstitions apply throughout the various life categories. The author identifies superstitions for every occasion including marriage, death, gambling, sport and shopping just to name a few. There are superstitions like ‘do not drop chopsticks during the Chinese new year because you won’t make a good living’. Another one is ‘do not take off a ring from someone else’s finger because you will be taking away the people they love’ One of my own favourites has a lizard (jing jok) keeping you housebound.
‘If you hear a jing jok singing or making a racket when you are about to go out, then think again. This is a bad luck and means you should not go out today’
The author takes an in-depth look at Thais in the office and the areas in which Thais and Westerners differ with regards to work and these are plentiful. For myself having worked with Thais in Thailand and in the UK for the last 25 years I am well aware of the complications that can arise. This is not only from a western point of view, but from the Thais point of view as well. In the book there are some terrific insights on working with the Thais and life around the office.
Tom Tuohy has lived in Thailand for 15 years and his profession is a teacher. So when it comes to talking about Education and his time as a teacher in the kingdom of Thailand then he really comes in to his own. It impresses Tom at how highly valued education is in Thailand. Add to that the very high status a position of teacher holds in Thai society and you would think all is hunky dory. Yet besides the high regard for education, it has not been without its problems. The author speaks fondly of his time as a teacher in Thailand with some smashing stories and anecdotes. However at times it has been a battle against poor facilities, unmotivated students and disgruntled teachers. On the other hand some of the International schools in Thailand are some of the finest you will find anywhere in the world. They really are of an extremely high standard.
Lumpini Park, Bangkok
The Royal Thai Government are taking continued measures to improve and upgrade the standard and quality of teaching in Thailand. The author gives some tips in the book for improving your job prospects and skills as a teacher in the kingdom. Things like adding a certificate or two to your CV or teaching a course you have never taught before. Learning of course is something we should do continually in our professions anyway. As they say ‘the day you stop learning is the day you stop earning’.
One of the main topics of anyone’s time spent living in Thailand is the language. For me it’s a must and I am still a continued learner today. I can read, write and speak the language to a fair degree, but am still way off where I would like to be. I can still put my foot in it with regards to using tones which gives my Thai friends a few belly laughs. My claim to fame had to be back in 1986 when I got big-headed after learning a few lonely planet phrases. I was in a hotel somewhere on Sukhumvit road in Bangkok and decided to order some food in Thai over the phone. The conversation went on with difficulties admittedly, but when all discrepancies had been ironed out I waited for the room service. The amount of food that arrived could have fed an army I mean there were still things cooking that were being carried in. The look on the faces of the room service people and mine must have been a picture. It was a hard lesson learnt as I thought I had ordered about 3 dishes. In the end and when I had eaten my quota I invited any passing staff, chambermaids etc to sit and eat. I think it took about three sittings and there were still leftovers. It was quite funny as everyone had a good laugh at my expense and nobody was hungry. Tom gives some classic language stories and I can totally relate to him on language and word play. There is a passage that goes in to word play in-depth that is really very funny. Have you ever tried any Thai tongue twisters?
It’s then on to the serious side of business for a Thai and that’s eating. Having worked in the business of Thai food for over 10 years now I am totally aware of how important food and eating is to the Thai people. When I was up-country staying in Nakhon Sawan it would not be where are we going today, but what would we like to eat today. When having found out just what everyone would like to eat (as in where their favourite food or food vendor is located) then we would know the day’s destination. The author takes you through the various tastes of the regions of Thailand. The various regions all have their different tastes and influences and you are unveiled to a world of flavours. For me Thai food has to be the most delicious and most interesting in the world and it’s well explained by the author.
Food Glorious Food In Thailand
Finally the author touches on a number of subjects including the Thais fondness for shopping, romantic cross-cultural relationships and what can happen when things go bad in the relationships.
The author covers a great deal of ground giving chapter and verse of his time living and working in the land of smiles. There is something new here for everyone. The author covers all of the important questions we all ask about Thai life and living in Thailand. A thoroughly good read of which it is both amusing and informative.
Read more from Tom Tuohy at his blog here.