No idea how burning Thai food could be
My job took me to Thailand in 2007, I had no idea for how long (a year or two?), didn’t know how burning Thai food could be, had far too fixed Swiss ideas about punctuality and keeping time lines, thought the Buddha shrines in offices and homes were just for decoration, was speaking my thoughts far too directly and made loose face too many kind people, had to learn the permanent smile and of course – thought meditation and yoga were for some secret and enlightened societies only.
I was an elephant in a porcelain shop, as they say in French.
Love and Chiang Mai
In 2009 my first trip to Chiang Mai, for the most romantic festivities of Loy Krathong with candled lanterns flying high away in the sky. It is celebrated every November, if you have the opportunity, go to this festival of Love.
Many years and several trips later, I’m happy to return to Chiang Mai with my Retreat Yoga & Relax, 12 to 18 January 2020 and packed out some souvenirs for you and me, some ‘Does and Don’ts’, not to walk around like a pachyderm when we are in Thailand.
1 Always keep smiling
…whatever happens or is said or you try to achieve. It’s the only way to be respected and listened to and to get what you want (or even more).
2 Never talk…
…about a subject I won’t name here, let’s say politics. But you’re free to talk about topics which would be taboo elsewhere (at least in Switzerland) like money or sexuality.
3 Learn your basics
Sawadeekaa (if you’re a woman), Sawadeekapp (if you’re a man) for ‘hello’; when you leave no need to say anything, you can just go.
Kopkhunkaa (if you’re a woman), Kopkhunkapp (if you’re a man) for ‘Thank you’.
And the most important ‘Mai pen rai’ (whatever you are) for ‘It doesn’t matter’, ‘No problem’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘I’m not hungry’, well, you will hear it all day long and it will be useful to place it from time to time when you feel embarrassed.
Also use as often as you wish ‘Sabai sabai’ to express your wellbeing.
4 Never put…
…a cup of coffee (or anything else) on a small or big shrine in any room or in the street, it really is a religious place to be respected.
5 Never touch the head
…of a Thai person, particularly difficult after a few whiskies, on a party with friends – the rule is still valid.
6 Some ice in your beer?
Talking about whisky, if you are lucky to join a dinner with locals, food is shared between all. You don’t need to order any dish, there will be more than enough on the table. Don’t turn up your nose when you’re served a glass full of ice, with whisky and soda (or coke), the mixture is usually light, with little alcohol taste and effect, usually less than in a glass of wine. Acceptable alternatives are beer (with ice in it, again don’t refuse, it makes the drink and event last longer) or red wine (if there is around) or water or coke.
7 Take off your shoes…
…when you enter a house, but keep your feet possibly discreet, never turn them towards the shrine when you’re in a temple or towards a monk or an elderly person, wherever you are.
8 Respect and be respected
And here we are, if you’re like me, around 50 or clearly over, then be aware that you’re considered as a person to be respected. Most people you’ll encounter being younger, they’ll never contradict you, you’ll always be received with a smile and helped in any situation you might get into by accident or ignorance. Savour the moment, you’re really respected. But be rewarding, be kind and loving yourself when the meal you get is not what you ordered, when your plate arrives after your partner finished hers/his one, when the staff speaks English but doesn’t understand you, when instead of an answer you get a smile, well, when things turn different as they would back home.
Humbleness for growing
I had no idea about yoga and positive thinking during my first years in Thailand. I had to figure out through painful experiences that being humble would increase the impact of my words. I had to understand that history and education gives a different set of thoughts and believes to each culture, and that there is no right or wrong.
The practice of yoga helped me first to know and accept my body, to find self-confidence, and later to calm down my mind and ego and love the people around me for what they intend to give me, not what they say or do.
Walk with a positive attitude through Thailand and Chiang Mai, always keep a smile on your face (it can be trained, believe me!), open your senses and mind, and you will have a wonderful time.
I’m happy to answer your questions on how to walk around happily in Thailand. Ask in the comments down here or let’s meet at Yoga & Relax in Chiang Mai in January 2020, where I will talk out of my Thailand experience, which turned out to last 10 years in a row.