There is an amazing phenomenon in Thailand that took me a while to fully appreciate. It’s something (among many things) that’s different from the USA. It’s something that you become keenly aware of if you are a new parent, new grandparent, new aunt, or new uncle back at home. Here’s the thing I’m referring to: You hardly EVER hear a baby cry in Thailand. It’s uncanny!
Of course there are babies here, and I’m sure they cry every once in a while. But, to hear a baby cry in public is very rare. It’s so rare, that when it does happen, people take notice. It’s not a bad thing to have a baby cry or hear a baby cry, it just doesn’t happen that often.
About two weeks ago I was doing some extra English teaching in the province next to where I live. The students were 10 and 11 years old and I did a variety of activities / lessons with them. One learning game we played had us all outside running around – the students loved it! Well, one boy took a tumble and hit his forehead on something and got a small cut. He didn’t cry, he didn’t whine, in fact, he made no sound at all. His face twisted up a little, because he was hurt, but he stayed quiet. During the same day, when all the students had a bit of free time after lunch, many of the boys played football. Again, one boy got hurt (this time it was a bee sting to his hand and his ear) and he didn’t make a sound. I would have screaming my head off!
Shortly after I arrived in Suphanburi, a teacher told me about an M-6 (12th grade) student that she was tutoring. During the tutoring session, the student took an important call on his cell phone. He listened intently for a few minutes, said thank you and goodbye and hung up. His face looked a bit odd after the call, so the teacher asked him what was going on. He said the phone call was from the university he applied to start at for the fall semester. The university had just told him he wasn’t accepted. He then said he was ready to continue with the tutoring session. He didn’t cry, he didn’t yell and scream, he didn’t fall into a major state of depression, he just said let’s continue. I would have bawled!!
I finally had to ask my fellow Thai teachers what the deal was…. Babies don’t cry, kids to whine or scream when they are in pain, teenagers don’t start spewing swear words when their world gets crushed – what gives?? What’s going on?? The answer: Be Brave, Be Strong.
It all boils down to those four words: Be Brave, Be strong.
Every Thai child has heard those same four words many times over. It’s an idea that’s taught from an early age. It’s ingrained in Thai society. Children, teens, adults, everyone is taught to Be Brave and Be Strong. At least, that’s what is shown on the outside, that’s what is shown to the public. I’ve seen kids at school wipe out or fall down or get smacked by a fellow student (while horsing around) and they never cry. Of course, this doesn’t quite explain why babies don’t cry because babies are too young to understand the words their parents say. I guess being Brave and Strong is an inherited trait. It’s amazing!
Here are some more “So You Know You’re in Thailand” moments:
*Someone says Pork Floss and you know exactly what they are referring to. (It’s cooked pork that has been shredded so much that it has the consistency of dental floss!)
*Strangers fall asleep on your shoulder while you’re riding in a van, car, train, or bus and you think nothing of it.
*The local 7-11 becomes your grocery store. (When I say “local” I mean the 7-11 that’s located on your block since there are 7-11’s on EVERY block!)
*You are riding in a vehicle, you look out of the windshield, you see a vehicle barreling towards you in your lane because that vehicle is in the processing of passing a car and you do not freak out. You don’t panic. You just somehow inherently know that the vehicle will get back in his lane or the vehicle you’re in will pull over to the left – and a major crash will be avoided.
* You know you’re a Thailander when you always expect chili spice to be mixed in your sugar!