Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Status in Thailand

I love Thailand but there are aspects of the “Status Driven” culture that I’m not comfortable with. The system in Thailand is not as blatant as the Caste System in India, but it is pervasive and unavoidable.

It’s deeply ingrained in the culture and religion of the area. The first thing that I noticed when I got here was that lots of people were very concerned about how old I was and what I did. Not like old monks, they knew they had more status than me; not like noodle sellers, they knew they had less. But anyone who’s status might be close, they had to know: who was older? who had more education? who had more money? This is all very important, because one must always know who to wai first and how deeply.

All of this is very un-American. In our tradition we have the dignity of labor, St. Joseph, working man dad of Jesus, and all that. President of the United States is a job. We have no bowing and scraping, we look everyone in the eye and shake hands. It was a shock to me that anyone with no education, no money, and a menial job who met me here treated me like a god. Averted eyes, lowered head, deep wai. The worst part is that lots of those so situated respond with only nervous smiles if I am decent to them, you know, smile and say hello, how are you? They’ve become quite accustomed to being treated like shit.

I know some very intelligent, hard working, solid-citizen types who have very low status, and the treatment that they receive kind of galls me sometimes. Like our maintenance woman at the office. I have published her picture previously.

I do not care to speculate regarding her possible former lives, nor do I care to imagine her conduct in those hypothetical lives. I assume that she grew up poor and has virtually no education, nothing worth the term anyway. Now she presents herself as a lovely, friendly woman with a family, one husband, they love each other, they have children, she is a woman with a job, just as I am a man with a job, in other words, she is a fellow citizen and not just some thing that washes my dishes simply because she has not had my benefits of education and birth.

I keep these thoughts to myself. They could only be heard as complaining about or criticizing Thailand, and that is never my intention. It’s not right or wrong, it just goes against my grain as a Blue Collar, Yellow Dog Democrat, Anti-Aristocratic, and yes, liberal American.

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