|  September 28, 2011

Apasara Hongsakul, Thailand’s first and most beloved Miss Universe, is my role model. And before you start sniggering at images of me prancing around my living room in a ball gown, binging you blind with my tiara and swishing my satin sash, hear me out.

Though Apasara became Miss Universe in 1965, long before I was even a twinkle in my daddy’s eye, she had been a lifelong friend of my mother; both of whom were air force children, living in the same compound (though my dad always seemed to get a twinkle in his eye when she was around too!). So, auntie Pook, as I called her, was a part of our family from childhood and someone I was very proud to know and enjoyed showing off to all my envious friends – yes, I was a brat.

However, it is not the extra candy my friends would bribe me with in the playground before each one of my aunt’s visits, which led to her elevation to role model, but something entirely different.

As a child, and I am sure the thousands of luk krung out there can relate, I oscillated emotionally between east and west. Am I Thai? Am I British? How Thai am I? How British am I? Where are the Thai bits? Where are the British bits?…you get the picture. Sometimes I would find myself being the perfect Thai girl, then for no reason, I would reject all Thainess within me, start chewing gum, and rebelling against one typecasting.

So, it came about, during one particularly difficult tween hormonal time period, when I looked down my nose at all things Thai. Auntie Pook came for a visit just about then, and I refused to wai her, or anyone else for that matter. So, she, with her mesmerising beauty, sat me down for a gentle little chat. “Pim, everywhere I go in Thailand I meet people who know me. I don’t know them. Do I ignore them? No, I put both hands up, join them together and I wai them. Does it hurt me? Does it take anything away from me? Does it mean that I am any less than I am? No, all it means is that I show respect to them, I recognise them, they exist to me. Can you do that too?”

And there it was, a simple lesson in humility, in compassion, in manners, in pride of being Thai.

I walk around today and I see so many people who don’t wai anymore, or, more typically, who expect – due to their social station, their age, their ego, their wealth, their fame – to receive wai first, before condescendingly bestowing their own.

I say to them pish-posh. If a woman, who was probably the second most famous woman in Thailand from 1965 until at least the late eighties, can let go of her ego and lift her two hands up to wai people first, who are we to struggle with such a simple task. Of course we are not expected to go around waiing all and sundry, but in this case, more is more.

Some foreigners choose to wai, at times adoringly inappropriately (to children, for instance), and get told off for doing it wrong. I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. Others find it harder to do so, and that’s perfectly understandable as well; it’s not how they were brought up, it’s not their culture, so instead they smile, they wave, they bow, they say thank you. They show their respect and they recognise someone else’s existence in their way. And that is good.

[cue a low wai] I hope you have a fabulous October.

Citylife this month:

Faces of Expats may sound like an odd issue, coming from a magazine, which always caters to our over 60% expatriate readers, but we thought this month could be a good time, not to look too deeply into the history or demographics of expats, but just to introduce you briefly to a sample of expats living here in Chiang Mai and let you know of their achievements, passions, interests and lives.

I spend time with four remarkable men who, in their own ways, are going green while balancing life and business. Our photo editor Boontawee Russaminin brings you many many faces of expats in his photo feature, I do hope you enjoy them and James Austin Farrell convinced me to fly him down to Bangkok to interview a footballer nicknamed ‘God’, Robbie Fowler, and though the interview was a disappointment, being all of 7 minutes long, the story is a fun read.