Being Thai 101

 |  May 27, 2009

June, 2009.
Last year an Australian friend of mine, who has been a teacher in Thailand for ten years, was informed that the Minister of Education required her to take a Thai cultural course followed by the passing of an exam in order for her to retain her teaching license. This all sounded good and fair to me and I told her to stop grumbling and get on with it.

A few weeks later as we were catching up at our favourite watering hole, I sat, eyes like saucers and mouth gaping as she told me some of the questions she faced during her exam:

Who should take a child to school?

A. The mother
B. The father
C. Parents
D. Head of the village
E. Guardian

What do you do if a M.3 student threatened to jump off a 5th floor building?

A. Put a mattress down underneath
B. Tell her friends
C. Nothing
D. A and B

This is a conversation between which two people?
“Would you like a drink?”
“Yes, water please.”

A. Waiter and customer
B. Flight attendant and passenger
C. Mother and daughter

What is the role of the mother?

A One pot cooking
B.Making som tam
C.Fruit carving

Seriously, hands across heart. And to think that the guys who wrote this exam are the same ones setting the educational standards for our students? A frightening thought indeed.

So, a few days ago, I was sitting yet again at the same watering hole with the same friend when this old topic came up. We started regaling other friends at the table of this if-it-weren’t-so-stitch-in-the-side-funny-it-would-be-criminal story when someone posed the question: What do farang want to learn about Thai culture? What followed was a fascinating discussion and suggestions which I wish to pose for the Minister of Education’s consideration.

Rubber Bands and Plastic Bags:
Go to a market, order take-home noodles and with one flick of a finger a Thai can magically unwind the convoluted rubber band knot. Most farang would still be pulling and prodding the strands of the band, getting rubber burn on their fingers and swearing in frustration by the time a Thai had flavoured and finished slurping half the bowl. My husband simply gets a pair of scissors and…snip. But, a friend pointed out, you can’t reseal the leftovers if you use such drastic measures. Therefore a course in the art of tying and flicking off a rubber band should be essential to any cultural cirriculum.

Suggested exam question:
What do you do if you want to get into a plastic bag sealed by a rubber band? A. Use my new skill learned by the Ministry of Education to enjoy my noodles. B. Swear, sweat, and beat the bag into a pulp. C. Cry for help.

Balancing Poodles:
With wind in their hair, tongues lolling in delight and eyes half closed in ecstasy, poodles, shitsus and all manners of dogs are a common sight perched on handle bars or back seats of motorbikes, owner and canine completely oblivious to the imminent death posed by the speeding pavement below. I know of no dog schools which teach such a skill. Perhaps it is time they do.

Suggested exam question:
What do you do if you have to take your pet to the vet on your Honda Dream? A. Perch my pooch on my handle bar and go. B. Get an officially approved canine carrier bag, place canine in container, lock it and double check lock, strap the carrier on the vehicle, make sure the canine is properly ventilated, fed and watered, make sure driver and canine have government issued helmets, drive within the speed limit. C. Get a tuk tuk.

The Squat:
*Skip this paragraph if you are too delicate for toilet talk. While squatties are being replaced nation-wide by more comfy farang seatings, they are far from obsolete. It therefore behooves the Ministry of Education to inform all farang – especially women – how to attain that fragile balance without leaving shiny speckles of urine all over their legs.

Suggested exam question:
What do you do if you have to use a Thai toilet? A. Utilise my new skills as per my recent course to stay dry and clean throughout the pleasurable experience. B. Make the most of the filthy episode. C. Contract a bladder infection by clenching.

Shrill. Beep. Shrill:
We know they are whistling, but what does it mean? Thai parking attendants speak a different language to anyone else in the world. A course on understanding the various nuances of this ‘speech’ should be mandatory.

Suggested exam question:
What does ‘beep’ mean? A. There is a Mercedes wanting your space, so please go away and find another space. B. I have nothing else to do all day, and I am having fun irritating you. C. Your wheels need to turn at a 28 degree angle to the left before you reverse at a speed of 3 kilometres per hour.