The White Elephant in Thai Culture

In my view, one of the most impressive and majestic animals is the elephant, in particular the white elephant. Hence, in Thai culture the white elephant is called ‘chang samkhan’ which means ‘auspicious elephant’. Whitness is regarded as an sign of purity in this context. The white elephant has an important meaning in both Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hinduist thought, the white elephant is related to the God Indra who is also a guardian deity in Buddhism. His elephant can also fly and it is called ‘Airavata’.

White Elephant in Thai Culture

White Elephant of Thailand (Dressed) (credit: Sodacan, wikimedia.org)

White Elephant of Thailand (Dressed) (credit: Sodacan, wikimedia.org)

This kind of elephant is thus also related to Buddha’s conception since his mother Maya is said to have been circled by a white elephant three times until it entered her womb through her right side. Thus, in Thailand white elephants (‘chang phueak’) are not only considered to be auspicious but they also belong lawfully to the King.

Have you ever seen a white elephant? In fact, ‘chang phueak’ are not necessarily albinos but are  much paler than common elephants. Their skin may be light grey, beige or even have a rosy or pinkish hue. Think of the impressive procession of eleven white elephants at the Grand Palace in honor of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Bangkok on the 8th November 2016.

In Thai culture, the status of Kings have been rated by the number of white elephants that were in their possession and they have been historicalled considered an appendage to the King’s majesty. Hence, the late King H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej owned the greatest number of white elephants. He had 21 white elephants and this can be regarded as an unprecedented achievement. Eleven of these elephants are still alive but only five of them have royal titles.

White Elephants – Monument to honour King Bhumibol Adulyadej in front of Bangkok's Lak Mueang (credit Puja1984, wikimedia.org)

White Elephants – Monument to honour King Bhumibol Adulyadej in front of Bangkok’s Lak Mueang (credit Puja1984, wikimedia.org)

Hence, how does a ‘chang phueak’ become a royal elephant? An elephant has to undergo an number of tests conducted by the Bureau of the Royal Household since it is important to ensure that the elephant is suited for the title and has not only the physical but also the behaviourial characteristics required.

The White Elephant Flag Thai national flag from 1855 to 1916, 31 December (credit: wikimedia.org)

The White Elephant Flag was the Thai national flag from 1855 to 1916, 31 December (credit: wikimedia.org)

In the past, Thai Kings also gave white elephants as presents to friends and allies. This was a blessing or curse since an elephant considered sacred was not supposed to work and at the same time it needed care and food. Thus, a ‘chang phueak’ could easily become a huge financial burden to the owner unless the King would also provide the recipient with land for the elephant.

Summing up, we may say that the white elephant has been the most sacred and auspicious animal in Thai culture since it is also considered as a royal animal related to the King.

Yours, Sirinya

 




The Supernatural World in Thai Culture

If you’re familar with Thai culture, you know that belief in ghosts and the supernatural is very prominent. Thus, supernatural beings can be divided into two main groups which are the benevolent and the malevolent spirits.

The Supernatural in Thai Culture

The benevolent spirits are primarily guardian spirits, for instance the guardian spirit of the village proper and the numerous territorial spirits which are the spirit of the forrest (Chao Pa), the spirit of the hills and mountains (Chao Khao), the rice goddess (Mae Phosop), Kuman Thong (กุมารทอง), the spirit of young children and Mae Sue (แม่ซื้อ),the guardian goddess and female ghost of infants.

Guman Thong effigies (photo: kumarnthong.com

Guman Thong effigies (photo: kumarnthong.com)

A very well-known spirit in Thai culture is the ghost of the house compound which is called Phra Phum. Every Thai house and building has a guardian spirit that lives in the spirit house in front of the respective house.

Spirit houses, San Phra Phum (photo: W. Horsch, wikimedia.org)

Spirit houses, San Phra Phum, example of the supernatural in Thai culture (photo: W. Horsch, wikimedia.org)

The group of benevolent spirits also include the heaven spirits of Thewada which are usually referred to collectively. Malevolent spirits cause trouble to people and aim at harming them. Most often these evil spirits are supposed to be the spirits of people who died violently or accidentally. It is a common belief that if a person dies violently or suddenly, his spirit wanders around in this world since it still aims at fullilling its role in this world.

Phi Krasue drawing by Xavier Romero-Frias, (photo: wikimedia.org)

Phi Krasue drawing by Xavier Romero-Frias, (photo: wikimedia.org)

However, there are also other kinds of bad spirits like Phi Pop (ผีปอบ, a malevolent female spirit that devours human entrails, Phi Krasue (กระสือ, a woman’s head with her viscera hanging down from the neck) and Phi Krahang (กระหัง, a male ghost that flies in the night) for instance. These spirits have the ability to possess people and can even kill a person and devour his viscera. Hence, it does not come as a surprise that the majority of good spirits are referred to as individual ghosts whereas the evil ones are categorized in groups.

A humerous comic version of Phi Krahang (photo topicstock.pantip)

A humerous comic version of Phi Krahang (photo topicstock.pantip)

The benenvolent spirits are supposed to assist and protect the living. In return the good spirits receive offerings and sacrifices made by people. In this way, the spirit has to be pleased so that it will help people. Hence, we may speak of a reciprocal relationship between the spirit world and human beings. As far as the malevolent spirits are concerned, people often make an offering first in order to pacify the spirits. If that does not work, the assitance of the benevolent spirits is needed. Thus, it might also be the case that Buddhist rituals are necessary to pacify the malevolent spirits.

Taksin Memorial Spirit House (photo: wikimedia.org)

Taksin Memorial Spirit House (photo: wikimedia.org)

What is more, it is a general belief that if human beings behave badly and disrespectfully towards a good spirit, this ghost might turn malevolent. Hence, we may say that the distinction between good and evil spirits may not always be clear cut.

Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine offerings, portraits of the spirit and dresses (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

Mae Nak Phra Khanong shrine offerings, portraits of the spirit and dresses (photo: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

Summing up, we might be justified in claiming that generally, in Thai culture, spirits and the supernatural are very important. Ghosts are classified by their nature of origin as benevolent or malevolent. Some of them also have their own shrines for worship like Mae Nak who is the famous female ghost who died at childbirth.

Yours, Sirinya




Thai Taxi Altars & Talismans

In Thailand, a taxi ride may be an introduction to Thai culture and belief. Hence, it might even become a kind of religious experience regarding all the sacred objects and talismans that Thai taxi drivers arrange on their dashboard altars.

Thai Taxi Altars & Talismans

Amulets as blessings on the road*

Amulets as blessings on the road*

You may aks yourself the reason for these talismans. Well, since the majority of Thai people are Buddhist, they believe in karma and that each person’s fate is predertermined by previous actions. In other words, this means that what happens to a person, happens because they have caused it with their actions.

A typical yet unusual combination of talismans and mascots in a Bangkok taxi*

A typical yet unusual combination of talismans and mascots in a Bangkok taxi*

Thus, Thai people to some extent believe that safety, driver’s skills and speed are not necessarily related to the probability of having an accident. In other words, if someone becomes a victim in an car accident it is because of his negative karma that has finally caused this result. Strange as it may seem to a rational Westerner, the fate of a taxi might be influenced by the spirits of the passengers that ride in it.

Thai Taxi Altars: Too much is never enough*

Thai Taxi Altars: More is More*

Therefore, on the one hand Thai taxi drivers turn to pok pong which is magic or spiritual protection against danger and harm and pong gun, on the other hand, to avoid accidents by minding practical safety measures such as wearing seat-belts and helmets.

On the road with Buddha*

On the road with Buddha’s protection*

Nonetheless, pok pong plays an essential role to counter the negative influences radiated from the passengers. Thus, taxi drivers transform their cabbies into spiritual life insurances: they decorate their dashboards with numerous talismans and amulets. To bless their car, some drivers have a Yantra drawn by a monk on the ceiling.

Yantra painted on the ceiling of a cab*

Yantra painted on the ceiling of a cab*

Many drivers also hang Thai flower garlands and amulets on the rearview mirror to honour the journey goddess Mae Yanang. The dashboard may also harbour Buddha statues and pictures of enlightened monks and royal images that are considered auspicious.

Flower garlands for blessing the journey goddes Mae Yanang*

Flower garlands for blessing the journey goddess Mae Yanang*

Sometimes not only the inside of a taxi is decorated but also the outside. Thus, Taxi drivers may customise their cars with mascots, stickers, lamps and flags. They also serve as protections against negative karma. But well, finally it’s all about driving good and safe 🙂 Thus, ‘Kup rod dee dee’ whereever you go!

In a nutshell, we can say that Thai taxi altars & talsimans are really special since they reveal a lot about Thai culture, auspicious belief and mentality. Hence, riding a taxi in Thailand can become a spiritual experience.

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: Thai Taxi Talismans, FB page

Further reading:




The Myth of Mae Phosop: The Rice Goddess of Thailand

Worshipping goddesses like Mae Phosop (โพสพ), the rice goddess, has been a part of Thai culture and tradition since prehistoric times. Even though the role of female deities became subservient since the introduction of male-dominated faiths such as Hinduism, Brahmanism and the official religion Buddhism, the power of the matriarchal spirit has always played an important role in Thailand. She is also known as Mae Khwan Khao (แม่ขวัญข้าว), the ‘Mother of Rice Prosperity’.

The rice goddess of Thailand

 Thailand’s rice goddess. Note that the letters seen top right are Khmer script (photo credit: devata.org)

Thailand ’s rice goddess. Note that the letters seen on top right are Khmer script (photo credit: devata.org)

Mae Phosop is considered the spirit or soul of rice, that is the main staple of the Thai diet. Thus, it is a common belief that without rice, a person cannot sustain and live long. The myth and legend of the rice goddess says that she is badly mistreated by an old widow. Hence, she flees and finds shelter with a friend. This friend is a fish that leads the goddess into the deep forest where no human being can find and reach her.

A mae Phosop statue in Chiang Mai (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

A Mae Phosop statue in Chiang Mai (photo credit: Xufanc, wikimedia.org)

As a consequence, all human beings begin to suffer from the absence of Phosop and try all that is humanly possible to find her. Finally, the fish advises the goddess to return to the humans because the next Lord Buddha will soon come to the world. Thus, the blessing of the rice goddess is needed since the Buddha will not be able to fulfil his duty on earth without Mae Phosop. Hence, she comes back to the community of mankind to stay forever. However, before her return, the goddess asks human beings to promise her to treat her with respect forever after. In return she promises to bring abundant crops to mankind. Man keeps his word and so does Mae Phosop.

A Thai paddy field, abundant crops arevital (photo credit: Takeaway, wikimedia.org)

A Thai paddy field, abundant crops are vital for mankind (photo credit: Takeaway, wikimedia.org)

This story explains Thai fertility rites concerning the cultivation of rice. Thus, we may be justified in claiming that the relationship between humans and the ‘soul’ of rice is mutually dependent. Hence, there is also a saying that ‘The virtues of rice are 69, while the virtues of the Lord Buddha are only 59’. This proverb speaks for itself and what is more, it also seems to point out the conflict between animistic beliefs and Buddhism. In addition, it reveals an intrinsic connection and relationship between mankind and what sustains its source of life.

Thai Mae Phosop (photo credit: devata.org)

A depiction of the Thai Mae Phosop (photo credit: devata.org)

When the spirit of the rice goddess is invocated, the person who performs the rite will address the spirit with sweet, kind and respectful words. The invocation runs as follows:

‘Dear Spirit of Rice, Mother Phosi, Mother Phosop, Mother of the Nine Stars, Mother Chanthewi, Mother Si Dusada, come, please, come’

A painting of the Thai rice spirit (photo credit: devata.org)

A painting of the Thai rice spirit (photo credit: devata.org)

Mae Phosop is addressed by the title of mother (mae) who provides food for her children (i.e. mankind). Thus, people are her children and they treat her with respect as they would their natural mother. Here is a clip demonstrating how the spirit in invocated. By the way, according to Thai tradition, children are also taught to Wai, i.e. put their hands in the position of obeisance and respect, after finishing their meal.

Summing up, we may say that on the one hand, the myth of the rice goddess in Thailand shows how animistic and Buddhist belief were combined in the past. On the other hand, it also reveals mankind’s dependency on a good rice harvest. Hence, people feel grateful to the rice goddess and behave respectful towards her.

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference: Siraporn Nathalang, Thai Folklore. Insights Into Thai Culture, Chulalongkorn University Press, 2000)




Mueang Boran – The Ancient City

Mueang Boran (เมืองโบราณ) means literally translated ‘Ancient City’ and is accordingly referred to as ‘Ancient Siam’. It is a park and probably the world’s largest outdoor museum created by Khun Lek Viriyaphant (1914-2000) who also constructed the Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan. Visiting Mueang Boran can be compared to a Thailand-round journey within a day!

The Ancient City

At the Ancient City, Samut Prakan**

At the Ancient City, Samut Prakan**

Mueang Boran, created in the early 1970s, is also located near Samut Prakan in close proximity to the Crocodile farm, about 30 km south-east of central Bangkok, near the coast to the Gulf of Thailand.

At one of the 'Salas' in Mueang Boran*

Amazing architecture at one of the ‘Salas’ in Mueang Boran*

This museum park has the shape of Thailand and spreads over 200 acres. What is more, it features 116 miniature structures of Thailand’s famous monuments and architectural attractions of various provinces such as Prasat Hin Phanom Rung, Wat Mahathat Sukhothai, Phraphuttabat Saraburi, Phrathat Mueang Nakhon, Phrathat Chaiya and many more.

A historical Thai building**

A historical Thai building at Mueang Boran**

Apart from replicas of historical buildings, you may also encounter stunning mythical beings from Thai culture like the Naga which is the mythical snake.

The Naga-Makara - Mythical Snake and Crocodile Composite'

The Naga-Makara – Mythical Snake and Crocodile Composite*

Hence, historical structures are saved in this way and the park can be regarded as an educational area preserving Thai culture and historic building techniques. A dedicated team of local artisans work alongside experts from the National Museum of Thailand. Hence, you also find woodcarvers and other craftsmen at work there.

A woodcarver at work in Mueng Boran**

A woodcarver at work in Mueng Boran**

A craftsman at work**

A craftsman at work, Samut Prakan, Ancient Siam**

However, not all buildings are miniature, there are also some full-size replicas of existing or former sites.

Monuments from Thai history at the Ancient City*

Monuments from Thai history at the Ancient City*

The facsimiles have been created with the help and assistance of experts from the National Museum in order to ensure historical accuracy. The most outstanding structure of the Ancient City is the Grand Palace of Ayutthaya which was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Further extraordinary replicas are the Phimai Sanctuary in Nakhon Ratchasima, and Wat Khao Phra Viharn located on the border to Cambodia.

Replicas at Mueang Boran*

Chinese style replicas at Mueang Boran*

In the museum park, there are artificial watercourses and mountains. Sometimes you can also spot some shy red-deers that browse the green areas. Apart from the 116 monuments, there are many statues which represent famous incidents in Thai history or literature. For instance, the following picture shows the Dvaravati Buddha at the Stupa of Phra Maha That, Chaiya, Surat Thani.

I think this is the Dvaravati Buddha statue*

I think this is the Buddha Image of the Dvaravati Period, Ancient City*

The Buddha's face*

The Buddha’s face, Dvaravati Period*

Generally, the museum presents different periods of Siamese craftsmenship ranging from prehistorical times, Dvaravati, Srivichaya, Khmer to Lanna, Lan Chang, Hariphunchai and Sukhothai. The following periods called Authong, Ayutthaya, Thonburi and Rattanakosin are also represented there.

A re-creation at the Ancient City**

A re-creation at the Ancient City**

The landmarks are all in geographical order. Visitors of the museum receive a map in which all monuments are listed and numbered consecutively. Apart from the replicas there are also rare traditional folk arts and cultures. However, sustenance is also provided there – check out the restaurants, food and drink outlets and the Floating Market 🙂

A waterway at Mueang Boran**

A waterway at Mueang Boran**

If you wonder how to move around the large park area, you may hire a golf cart or a bicycle. In addition, private vehicles are also allowed at a fee.

Amazing sight at the Ancient City**

Amazing sight at the Ancient City**

Finally, we may claim that the Ancient City is an extraordinary outdoor museum that brings Thailand’s history under one roof. Hence, this park also helps to preserve Thailand’s rich cultural heritage.

Yours, Sirinya

(photo credit: *Amporn Konglapumnuay, ** Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)




Hindu Gods in Thai Culture

You may certainly have noticed that Hindu gods are very prominent in Thai culture. Thus, there are often images of these gods in Thai temples and shrines. In fact, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are the three most important Hindu gods representing the recurring and continual cycles of birth, life, death and rebirth.

At the Ganesha Park (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

At the Ganesha Park (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Hindu Gods in Thai Culture

This trinity, along with the god Indra, Ganesha and some enlightened divinities and demons, have been converted to the Buddhist doctrine according to Buddhist belief. Hence, these gods often occur as guardians of temples and monasteries. In addition, they may also be seen attending the Buddha on important events in his life.

Brahma, Hindu gods (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Brahma, Hindu gods at the Ancient City, Samut Prakan (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

First there is Brahma (in Thai: Phra Phrom) who is the creator in the Hindu trinity. He is commonly depicted having four heads and the book of Vedas in his hand. His female aspect is the goddess of learning, Sarasvadi and his mount is the mythical celestial swan called Hong or Hamsa. Brahma is considered a guard of doors and pediments in temples. Furthermore, he is also popular as a protector of Thai hotels. Thus, in Thai culture, he is a deity of good fortune and protection.

Wat Yannawa Brahma (credit: photo dharma, Anandajoti Bhikku, wikimedia.org)

Wat Yannawa Brahma (credit: photo dharma, Anandajoti Bhikku, wikimedia.org)

In Thai art, Brahma is depicted in attendance to Buddhism along with Indra, at the crucial events in Buddha’s life. Hence, he is also considered to be converted to Buddhism. By the way, Hindu gods might also be the subject of one or the other Thai song. For instance, Noi (Krissada Sukosol), singer of the band Pru, featured a song called ‘Brahma Brahma’. I think this song is from the horror movie ‘Pawn Shop’ (Long Jamnam, 2013).

Another important god is Vishnu who is the preserver deity of the Hindu triad. In his hand, he often holds a disk and a conch shell. His mount is Garuda, the mythical bird that is half-human and half-eagle and the natural enemy of the Nagas. In other words, Garuda can be seen as the vehicle of Vishnu. What is more, Vishnu’s avatar is Rama, the hero of the Ramakien tale. In addition, this god is also associated with Thai royalty since the kings of the Chakkri dynasty have ‘Rama’ as part of their names. Similar to Brahma, Vishnu often functions as a (door) Wat guardian.

หน้าบันรูปพระนารายณ์ Vishnu tympanum (photo credit: กสิณธร ราชโอรส, wikimedia.org)

Vishnu tympanum (photo credit: wikimedia.org)

Shiva is the destroyer and regenerator aspect of the Hindu trinity. He usually has a third eye that is centred vertically on his forehead. Further characteristics are a brahmanical cord across his torso and sometimes a crescent moon which is caught in his tangled hair. Parvati is his consort and his mount is the bull Nandi.

Shiva on the bull Nandi, Prasat Muang Tam (photo credit: Ddalbiez, wikimedia.org)

Shiva on the bull Nandi, Prasat Muang Tam (photo credit: Ddalbiez, wikimedia.org)

The image of Ganesha (in Thai: Phra Pikanet) is also very prominent in Thai culture. For example, there is the Ganesha park in Nakhon Nayok which is considered a tribute to this elephant-headed god who is Shiva’s son. In Thailand, he is commonly seated at temple portals. What is more, he is also the patron of the arts and a protector of business.

Ganesha (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Ganesha at the same-named park in Nakhon Nayok (photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay)

Finally, we have the god Indra who is the god of Tavatimsa heaven. Hence, he is also the god of weather and war wielding a lightening bolt and riding Erawan, the multi-headed elephant. Indra is a temple guardian of portals and pediments. He is also prominent in the Vessantara story which is the last life of the Buddha-to-be. In addition, Indra occurs on mural paintings where he can be identified by his green colour. Along with Brahma, he is kneeling when attending Buddha during particular life events. Thus, it is indicated that the Hindu gods are subservient to Buddhism.

Bangkok Wat Arun Phra Prang, God Indra and the three-headed Erawan (photo credit Tsui, wikimedia.org)

Bangkok Wat Arun Phra Prang, God Indra and the three-headed Erawan (photo credit Tsui, wikimedia.org)

Summing up, we may claim that Hindu gods play a significant role in Thai culture. As a matter of fact, they not only show that Buddhism and Hinduism are intertwined but also represent a subservience of Hinduism to Buddhism. In this context, you might also want to check out my Thai Art Motifs Glossary for more general information 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

(Reference, Carol Stratton, What’s What In A Wat, Silkworm Books, 2010)




The Thai Human Imagery Museum

The Thai Human Imagery Museum (พิพิธภัณฑ์หุ่นขี้ผึ้งไทย) is the first museum of fibreglass models in Thailand. It is located in Nakhon Chaisi, Nakhon Pathom Province, Thailand. In fact, it is not exactly a wax museum since the models are all created from fiberglass. The reason for this is the hot tropical climate of Thailand. All models look amazingly authentic in every part of their bodies, including skin, limbs, eyes and even hair.

Thai Human Imagery Museum

The enlightened monk Luang Poo Mun Bhuridatta.Considered the true and prime leader of all monks dedicated to Kammatthana practice (Buddhist insight meditation) in Thailand

The enlightened monk Luang Poo Mun Bhuridatta. He is considered the prime leader of all monks dedicated to Kammatthana practice (Buddhist insight meditation) in Thailand*

The figures mainly depict scenes from Thai life and culture from past to present. For instance, there are representations of the daily life of farm labourers, slaves, gamblers and even a man reading a Thai newspaper. What is more, there are various Thai history sets. Among them are for example the Chakri Dynasty Kings. Furthermore, there are models of famous enlightened monks, poets, politicians, aristocrats and artists. In addition, some prominent foreigners of history can also be found there, among them for instance Mahatma Gandhi.

Mahatma Gandhi - Father of the Indian Nation*

Mahatma Gandhi – Father of the Indian Nation*

This museum was created by artist Duangkaew Phityakornsilp and a group of Thai artists. They spent more than ten years creating the life-like fibreglass figures. Their aim was to promote and conserve Thai tradition, art and culture (‘Thainess’) for future generations. Thus, I would like to focus on some highlights of the exhibition.

The Royal Images of Chakri Dysnasty King Rama I – VIII.*

The Royal Images of Chakri Dynasty King Rama I – VIII.*

These are the Royal Images of Chakri Dynasty King Rama I – VIII. The first King, Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, who was the first Chakri Dynasty King, established Bangkok as the capital city of Thailand in 1782.

King Chulalongkorn*

King Chulalongkorn*

In 1868, Chulalongkorn was coronated at the age of 15. He was determined to abolish slavery. Hence, King Chulalongkorn bought a number of slaves with his own money and set them free as gesture of goodwill so that his subjects might follow his example. Thus in 1905, he declared the end of slavery in Thailand. It took 37 years to achieve this noble aim.     

Abolition of slavery was King Chulalongkorn's aim*

Abolition of slavery was King Chulalongkorn’s aim*

The museum also introduces traditional Thai games. Thailand is known for many games such as the famous Manohra Play, Kite Flying, Post Seizing Monkeys (Ling Ching Lak) and Fish Entering Net (Plaa Long Uan) which date back to the Sukhothai period. Among the young, these games are still popular even today. Additionally, the museum presents four sets of Thai traditional children’s games which are called a’ree-ree khao sarn’, ‘maeng mum’, ‘cham chee’ and ‘khee chang chon kan’.

Khee Chang Chon Kan, a traditonal children's game*

Khee Chang Chon Kan, a traditonal children’s game*

There are also traditional Thai games for adults such as ‘Bald Head Smashing’ (“Hua Larn Chon Kan”). This game is very old and recorded in the “Sumudkhot Kham Chand”, a noted Thai literary piece from the age of King Narai.

'Bald Head Smashing', "Hua Larn Chon Kan”*

‘Bald Head Smashing’, “Hua Larn Chon Kan”, depiction at the Thai Human Imagery Museum *

However, the museum is also concerned with arts. For instance, you find there a figure of the famous musician Khru Ee-ah Sunthornsanan. He was the first leader of the Musical Group of the Publicity Department. His songs became very popular by the name of “Suntharaporn”.

Khru Ee-ah Sunthornsanan, the first leader of the Musical Group of the Publicity Department*

Khru Ee-ah Sunthornsanan, the first leader of the Musical Group of the Publicity Department*

Summing up, we may claim that the Thai Human Imagery Museum can be compared to Madame Tussauds. However, it is less concerned with popular than with traditional culture and with preserving and presenting Thainess 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram@knack66

(Reference: rosenini.com)




Thai & Lao Culture in ‘Sabaidee Luang Prabang’

Sabaidee Luang Prabang (Good morning, Luang Prabang, 2008, directed by Sakchai Deenan) is a romantic drama movie starring Thai movie star Ananda Everingham who is of Lao-Australian descent. The special feature of this film is that it deals with the relationship between Thailand and Laos. What is more, it is also the first Thai-Laotian commercial film since 1975. In my view this is a special and beautiful movie because it shows the amazing landscape in Laos.

Sabaidee Luang Prabang

Sabaidee Luang Prabang, Sorn (Everingham) & Noi (Pallawong) (photo credit: nationmultimedia.com)

Sabaidee Luang Prabang, Sorn (Everingham) & Noi (Pallawong) (photo credit: nationmultimedia.com)

The plot of the movie is relatively simple: Sorn (played by A. Everingham) is a Thai photographer visiting Laos. There he falls in love with his lovely Laotian tour guide, Noi (Khamlek Pallawong). The film features and focusses on several tourist sites in Laos and points out the differences between Thailand and Laos. This contrast is already depicted in the trailer to the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOLgjH_xqhg

In fact, the film is shot primarily outdoors, thus using a kind of road movie approach. The settings in Laos contrast sharply with Bangkok because the latter is presented as a hectic metropolitan city whereas life in Laos appears to be more calm and harmonic. In addition, the Laotian scenery is green, pristine and unspoiled by modernity.

Ananda in Luang Prabang*

Ananda in Luang Prabang*

The first part of the movie presents the protagonist Sorn as a small creature surrounded by the city skyline in Bangkok. However, in Laos, Sorn experiences an easy atmosphere of small towns where people have a simple lifestyle and are still connected with their local traditions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvkrQ4MssRw

Luang Prabang, which is also a world heritage site, is the central motif of the movie. Hence, it appears in the film title and it is the place where the protagonists move around at the end of the movie, showing the natural and historical sites of the town.

Ananda plays the photographer Sorn*

Ananda frequently plays the role of photographers*

Thus, the audience gets the impression of Laos being a place unspoiled by modernity compared to Bangkok city. What is more, the untouched towns stand for a kind of utopian space where everyone lives in contentment. Even though the settings in Thailand and Laos are opposed to each other, the movie also stresses similarities between Thai and Lao culture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_k9ZUfO4jc

For instance, the title of the film points out a similarity but also a difference between Thai and Lao language. In Lao, Sabaidee Luang Prabang means Hello Luang Prabang whereas in Thai it will rather say I’m fine Luang Prabang or in interrogative sentence ‘How are you?‘. However, although the literal translation of the title is not identical in Thai and Lao, the word ‘Sabaidee’ is understood as a greeting in both cultures.

Amazing sky in Luang Prabang, an unspoiled place*

Amazing sky in Luang Prabang, an unspoiled place*

What is more, there are many tourism elements in the movie that seem to encourage the audience wanting to go to Laos. For example, every time Sorn and Noi move from one town to another the caption will be shown ensuring that the audience knows where the place is. Sometimes it is also explained in the movie how to get to the respective places.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amNcdlKoQU0&list=PL07B3A24CFB128613&index=12

In addition, since Noi is a tour guide she often explains about natural and historical places to Sorn who is a photographer and thus captures the beautiful scenery on his photos. Thus, the film title and the intact scenery shown in the movie make it to a kind of ‘tourism film’.

Hello Luang Prabang (photo credit: viki.com)

Sorn & Noi (photo credit: viki.com)

In a nutshell, we may say that even though the plot is simple, Sabaidee Luang Prabang is a great film, admirable for its beautiful presentations of local Lao landmarks. Indeed, it can be called a ‘tourism movie’ because the viewer feels inspired to explore the natural scenery of Luang Prabang, Laos. In addition, the role of photographer Sorn seems to be tailor-made for Ananda Everingham 🙂

Yours, Sirinya

*photo credit: Ananda Everingham, FB page




Media Review: Thai Ways by Denis Segaller

Today’s media review is about Thai Ways by Denis Segaller (ISBN: 9789749575734 ). This book was published in 2005 by Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, Thailand. The book is in English language, comprises 254 pages and is available as print version and e-formats (iBooks, Kindle, Google Books and Kobo). It costs 395 Bath, on Amazon the print version is about 15 EUR. You may take a look inside the book here.

Denis Segaller: Thai Ways

Thai Ways written by Denis Segaller (b. 1915) can be regarded as a delightful collection of stories and tales covering nearly all aspects of Thai culture, customs and beliefs. Segaller came to live in Thailand at an older age in 1965, married a Thai lady, became a Buddhist and worked as a writer for the Bangkok Post among others.

‘Thai Ways’ comprises many of Segaller’s magazine articles that were mainly published, updated and completed during the 1970s in the popular weekly column ‘Thai Ways’ in the ‘Bangkok World’ which was the former afternoon tabloid companion to the Bangkok Post. The weekly ‘Thai Ways’ column ran continuously from 1975 to 1985. In short articles and anecdotes, the author describes Thai culture very comprehensively and accurately. Even though the selections are about four decades old, they nevertheless remain as informative today as when Segaller first wrote them down.

The book starts off with a preface and a note about the spelling of Thai words. ‘Thai Ways’ has ten chapters which are each divided into several sections. The chapters are about ‘Royalty and Nobility’, ‘Festivals’, ‘Ceremonies’, ‘Customs’, ‘Beliefs and Superstitions’, ‘Legends’, ‘Families’, ‘Thai Fortune-Telling’, ‘Names, Words and Language’ and ‘Miscellaneous’.

Thai Ways, customs & beliefs: It's a Thai belief that if you put a coin up and it stands still, then your wishes will come true (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

Thai Ways, customs & beliefs: It’s a Thai belief that if you put a coin up and it stands still, then your wishes will come true (photo credit: Siwaphong Pakdeetawan, Instagram @knack66)

The chapter about ‘Customs’ takes up the largest part of the book. For instance, this chapter is divided into 16 sections. To give you an impression of the structure of this book, this chapter is subdivided into the following topics:

  • Some Social “Do’s and Don’ts” in Thailand
  • Khun: An Everyday, but Deep, Word
  • Some Other Social Norms
  • The Wai
  • More Elaborate Forms of the Wai
  • Music – Classical and Western
  • Worshipping Brahma and Other Deities
  • Lak Mueang – The Log that Helped to Found a City
  • Traditional Thai Medicine
  • Preserving Thailand’s Traditional Arts of Self-Defense
  • Telling the Time
  • Lunar Months
  • The Twelve-Year Cycle
  • When a Child is Born
  • When Traditions Intermingle
  • Some Like It Hot

Segaller covers numerous aspects of Thai culture and customs, thus demystifying constructs like the system of royal ranks and the Thai musical scale, and customs like the Loi Krathong festival and the Wai Khru ceremony, for instance.

In my view, the book is a gem of information that provides insight into the heart, mind and social structure of an Asian country not to be subjected to the culture of colonial rule. It probably provides more information than the typical tourist wants to know. However, for anyone who has personal, economic or diplomatic interest in Thailand it is a source of important insights. The book might seem a little dated, nevertheless it offers a deep understanding of how Thailand has developed and functioned on many levels.

Finally, I can highly recommend Thai Ways by Denis Segaller because it is comprehensive and provides you with a picture of Thailand that the non-Thai readers are not likely to encounter elsewhere. In addition, it should be noted that there have been two subsequent publications titled “More Thai Ways” and “New Thoughts on Thai Ways” which offer additional topics presented in a similar format.

Yours, Sirinya




What does ‘Discover Thainess’ mean?

Discover Thainess

I’ve recently come across TAT’s (Tourism Authority of Thailand) activity ‘DiscoverThainess’ which is a contest that invites non-Thai people to engage in five different categories of activities related to ‘Thainess’. These categories are ‘Thai Boxing’, ‘Thai Cooking’, ‘Thai Dancing’, ‘Making Thai Style Garlands’ and ‘Speaking Thai’. In fact, competitors are asked to do things that are considered to be typical Thai, i.e. characteristic of Thai culture.

discover thainess tatnews.org

DiscoverThainess (photo credit: tatnews.org)

TAT Launches Online One and Only Contest to Promote …

Minister Kobkarn said, “The Royal Thai Government has declared 2015 as the year to “Discover Thainess”, which is in line with our national agenda to promote sustainability and accelerate economic and social development …

Hence, I’ve asked myself what the concept of ‘Thainess’ is actually about? First of all, one might think that this is merely a Thai government campaign to become more visible and important in the tourism industry. If we are critical, we might also claim that ‘Thainess’ may be all about stereotypes concerning Thai culture. However, I also think it is a campaign to make foreigners (or using the Thai term ‘farangs’) understand what Thai culture and mentality is actually about.

Discover Thainess Parade Ramakien (photo credit: tatnews.org)

Parade, Ramakien show (photo credit: tatnews.org)

Nonetheless, if we try a definition of the term ‘Thainess’ we might say that it means a kind of active decency towards each other. It is not merely about activities like Thai dancing or cooking but it is actually an attitude of mind. In fact, ‘Thainess’ expresses Thai culture and shows the way Thai people differentiate themselves from everyone else in the world. Hence, ‘Thainess’ is mainly based on the Buddhist dharma of decency and politeness.

Discover Thainess Parade Royal Barge Supannahong (photo credit: tatnews.org)

Thainess Parade, Royal Barge Supannahong (photo credit: tatnews.org)

In other words, it is all about what Thai people call ‘Kreng Jai’ (in Thai: เกรงใจ). Translated literally ‘Kreng Jai’ means something like ‘awe of heart’ or ‘consideration’. In short, we might say that ‘Kreng Jai’ means awareness of other people’s feelings and thus showing respect and politeness towards one another. In point of fact, we can also argue that ‘Kreng Jai’ allows the other person to maintain his face.

For this reason, I think that ‘Thainess’ is also the awareness of ‘Kreng Jai’ and it means to do all of one’s actions with consideration. Thus, ‘Discover Thainess’ will say that on the one side, you become familiar with specific characteristics of Thai culture and on the other side that you should engage yourself in acting polite and decent. Finally, if you want to participate in TAT’s ‘One and Only Contest’ keep in mind to act ‘Kreng Jai’ while engaging in one of the five ‘Thainess’ activity missions 🙂

Have you come across the term ‘Discover Thainess’? And what does it mean to you?

Yours, Sirinya