For my thirteenth visit to Thailand, I was impressed by the number of Thai women I kept meeting who seemed to want to speak out about their personal lives. They are no longer content to simply follow the tradition of doing what is expected of them but to instead take responsibility for their own lives and do what is in their best interests. I am going to back track to my latest post entitled Chiang Mai – Post COVID where I met in the park next to where I was staying a lovely Thai woman who commented in almost perfect English that she ‘liked my toenails’. I actually could not believe she had said that because in the past Thai women have been reticent to talk to farangs (visitors from other countries) out of conditioning, shyness, or a bit of both. Managing to have a conversation to find out more about each other, I noticed she was smartly dressed prompting me to ask what kind of work she did. She replied that she was ‘just a housewife’ to which I answered that this was a job in itself. Pushing the envelope further, I dared to find out more about her life so asked what her husband did and if she had any children. She responded that her husband was a retired engineer and her son was eleven years old. Of course, she was bored because her husband just wanted to put his feet up after working so many years at a job that perhaps he never really liked but stuck with to be the provider that he was expected to be. While he just wanted to relax, she was ready to move on and do something with her life.
This is a familiar story in our western culture but not so much in the Eastern culture. There are probably many reasons for this but I can’t help wondering if it hasn’t got something to do with the success of Thailand’s main industry…tourism. Thailand has been a major attraction for tourists who want to experience the culture and sites that this part of Southeast Asia has to offer. The King of Siam’s hiring of Anna Leonowens, a British teacher, to educate his children way back in the 1880’s, precipitated a trend that contributed much to Thailand’s opening up to our western culture. The close relationship which developed between this adventurous woman and King Mongkut was immortalized in the 1956 hit musical The King and I with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. This part of Asia was gaining in popularity in both Europe and North America for its tropical climate and gorgeous beaches as a great place to escape from the cold of winter. Thailand quickly became a haven for the British tourists who discovered not only its beautiful beaches and warm weather, but a peaceful country with welcoming people who drove on the left side of the road just like they did back home. They loved it! They too had a ruling monarchy with a king who was loved by his people for the dedication he had for his role and country. As for King Mongkut, in return he took as much interest in the western world. Members of the Thai royal family and those who served them were encouraged to get their education abroad in the UK and the US.
There is something else we need to remember about the Thailand: it has never been ruled or dominated by another country. Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and many other parts of Asia have all been at some point in time under the protection of a foreign country. If you go back into its history, Thailand has been invaded numerous times but never defeated. Does this not show how tenacious the Thai people have been and still are? It’s no surprise to see how COVID has tested their tenacity but through it all they have come out of it still smiling with a genuine desire to please those of us who want to come back and enjoy their beautiful country. However, it’s especially noticeable with the Thai women working in the tourist industry which comprises a huge part of Thailand’s economy.Continue reading