Inspire Pattaya
The week that was in Thailand news: The power of the wai – if only you could bottle it!
09th October 2017 Posted by vadim No comments
Filed in: BangkokLifestyle

As head of Thai Studies one question I was always asked by new teachers arriving from the West to my international school was how to wai. They anticipated that while it may not be something they would do every day it nevertheless might prove useful in their work and daily lives.

I agreed wholeheartedly and gave impromptu demonstrations in corridors and lunch queues of how to perform the common Thai gesture in four basic situations of greeting and respect – to monks, elders, people of the same age and in reply to children who would wai them first.

Unless I was pressed, I would not at this early stage tell them about the use of the wai in apologizing.

Frankly, I hoped that they would not get in enough trouble to have to use it.

This week in the Thai news – as ever – we saw the universal healing power of the wai that is used by everyone from corrupt officials to murderers, road ragers to assaulting teachers to lessen the severity of punishment or even get them off the hook completely.

The gesture – along with its more serious cousin the “graap” where the head is placed to the floor – is used in so many situations. It makes me inwardly shake my head when I hear some foreigners say with pride that they never wai.

In my view, perhaps even more than Thai language itself, it is one of the things vital to successful living in the kingdom.

While there is no doubt that some Thais believe, like westerners, that it is overused when fines or punishment would be more appropriate, one is often left with good feelings of conciliation and compromise that it inspires.

In fact if only you could bottle it! Perhaps it could be the latest money making scheme for tourism minister Khun Kobkarn to pursue after her durian Kit Kat initiative went belly up.

Examples of wai-ing in supposed apology this week were the student yob in Sri Racha who jumped like a Khao Yai monkey over a woman’s Yaris and the three schoolchildren who set fire to their mate in a cupboard.

The former – according to police – was not getting away with just a wai; the righteous rozzers came down hard and fined him 500 baht. That must have hurt someone who could only afford to drive a humble Fiesta.

The latter was the wai at the feet of the mother of Earth, her 14 year old son.  His friends – a term one must use advisedly – covered him with mozzie spray and ignited him for a bit of a jolly.

Kids! I mean who didn’t do that in their school days!

The case is being taken up by advocate of children’s rights Paweena Hongsakul whose only real option is to make sure that the families of the boys who committed such a horrendous act pay hospital costs for Earth’s ongoing treatment.

But when it is resolved we will see more of the other necessary commodity of healing – yes, more wais.

Not seen wai-ing at his reenactment was the Thai chap who knocked on his wife’s lover’s door and shot him with a crossbow, not just once but reloading to make sure.

Perhaps even a graap might have appeared a bit hollow on this occasion. Posters on the forum burble on about the fragile Thai male ego but the case was the culmination of many warnings and the deceased could have taken the hint and at least bonked the wife in another province.

For while Thais can tolerate infidelity they can’t stand “in yer face” especially in front of the neighbors.

Not finding it necessary to wai was His Generalness who made do with the limpest of handshakes from the Wally in the White House and was sent packing with demands to buy more US products.

Big Too told Drumpf that elections would be held in 2018 but this was hurriedly put back to 2019 as the excuse of the promulgation of “organic laws” was offered.

Organic Laws? Sounds like the general is growing his own healthy veg at government house.

He had received short shrift from the leader of the world after the appalling events in Las Vegas stole any thunder he might have enjoyed in Washington.

Arriving back in Thailand he was faced once again with who did what with whom in the continuing saga of the Shinawatra family and Yingluck’s escape.

We were told she is seeking ‘asylum’ in the UK – yes, you’d need to be mad to want to live in that nuthouse where a PM’s sore throat and a few letters falling off a backdrop resulted in the beleaguered pound handing back most of its recent baht gains.

Finally on Saturday came the most telling story of all regarding Thailand’s former CEO. The new Attorney General announced that Thaksin would now face lese majeste charges concerning comments allegedly made about who was behind the 2006 coup.

To paraphrase legendary Bangkok columnist Bernard Trink – “any comment would be superfluous – and illegal”.

New (acting) Bangkok police commissioner Chanthep Sesawech, greeted reporters with a wai then told us of his first major policy change.

No more roadside extortion by plod.

Sure, they will still be doing their upstanding upmost to catch criminals and stop drink driving but the checkpoints, that are as much a way of life in the capital as flooding and roadside dining used to be, will cease forthwith!

Rooster – who has been obliged to finance the Policeman’s Ball on more than one occasion after riding motorcycles in Krung Thep for 30 years – is Skeptical with a capital S.

In fact I shall believe it when I don’t see it.

While never advocating law breaking, I truly hope I am stopped for something spurious at a checkpoint. Even if it means coughing up a red note or two it will be worth it to see the officers’ faces as I express mock astonishment that General Chanthep’s edict is being disregarded – all in perfect Thai tones followed by a wai, of course.

My brother – a fellow biker and long term Bangkokian – has the best story of roadside interaction with the constabulary. Years ago, after handing over 500 baht, he took out a pen and noted down the name of the officer in Thai on a scrap of paper following up with a wry smile before driving off.

Amusingly, after leaving the checkpoint he was virtually chased to the next intersection where the officer involved handed back the money, with yet another wai!

Chanthep’s arrival means the end of tenure for retiring Sanit Mahathavorn who has been a staple of this column with all his PR stunts and photo opportunities. Still Chanthep has got off to a great start and I am sure he won’t let us down in the year ahead.

Two creatures in trouble this week were the ubiquitous public enemy number one – Soi Dogs – and the hitherto humble buffalo.

The dogs ripped up a woman’s car as more posters called for them all to be rounded up and either shot at dawn or eaten for dinner while the buffalo was angry after failing to win a beauty contest at Chonburi’s annual “Wing Khwai” festival.

Riam – my first wife’s name, incidentally, before she changed it due to the bad luck of losing me – gored a number of people at the parade grounds before heading off to do some shopping at Central.

In the Pamplona style “bull run” it was amusing to see that buffalos are not so stupid after all – she was going the wrong way down the highway copying everyone else to get ahead!

In the aftermath of both incidents I think it is high time the nation’s animals are taught to wai – it could seriously lesson the consequences of their wrongdoing and make the humans feel much better about property damage and malicious wounding.

Thaivisa once again came up with some fun stories on the forum and on Facebook. Viral Thai videos on “Face” well worth a look are Shimona Key’s charming “555” song about farangs learning Thai and the coyotes who were hired as a last request to dance provocatively at a Thai man’s funeral.

Move over Hugh Hefner!

While the forum did not disappoint with the brilliant story about Huay Kwang shop owner who brought in two well-endowed pretties serve his curry. One was finding it difficult both to stay upright and put together a coherent sentence but nobody minded.

Over in Chonburi another restaurant feeling the economic pinch is offering a giant plate of “phat kapow” for free if you can finish it in 30 minutes.

Rooster’s hungry missus suggested the plate was a little on the small side.

But I wonder if next week we shall see the story of how “big-boned” western diners have been banned after polishing off the mammoth plate and asking for seconds.

My only Rooster Award this week involved a story that could have had a less than comical ending.

The “Professionalism in Public Service” award goes to  the Pattaya authorities for their handling of the situation at View Talay 5 condominium when a stressed Cambodian man scaled a tree and threatened to jump.

He eventually climbed down of his own accord while the airbag was expertly – if rather fortuitously – placed to catch the foundation worker who stepped on a dodgy branch and fell out himself.

This titter-fest was only topped by the story that suggested Thailand would be capable of staging the football World Cup in 2034.

A country whose current pitches make those at 1960s UK football grounds look like snooker cloth has a way to go in developing the required infrastructure.

A point that was not missed on the tourism and sports minister.

Dear Khun Kobkarn wisely put the brakes on the gung-ho Thai football association saying necessary changes would mean big budgets and adverse consequences could leave the nation penniless.

Maybe she was mindful of her failed plans to stop the sex trade.


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