Monday, 11 February 2008

The Cool Heart of Thailand

There are two phrases commonly used in Thailand which pretty much sum up the mentality of the people. They are “mai pen rai” and “chai yen yen”.

“mai pen rai” means “no problem”, “it’s okay”, “no worries”

“chai yen yen” literally means “cool heart” and is used to say “stay calm”, “don’t stress” “calm down” etc etc....

The expressions seem to stem from or contribute to the incredible apparent ability of the Thai people to let things go and accept what’s coming, or what already is. It occurred to me that this attitude of going with the flow of things, and accepting that some things can’t be controlled, is the complete opposite of our western psyche.

Looking around my surroundings here on Koh Lanta I can see the manifestation of this “acceptance” in just about every area of life. To a Thai person, to lose your temper in public is a display of weakness, and by losing your temper you actually lose face to those around you, and lose out to yourself too. They seem to have an innate understanding that there is no point in losing your temper, as you cannot control the situation which has made you angry. You can however control yourself and the way you react to the situation. So when something goes wrong, they have an immediate tendency to say “mai pen rai” – “no worries”, what is, is, so there’s no point crying over spilt milk.

I’m not sure where this mentality stems from. I’ve read that it could be due to the fact that Thailand has always been an agricultural nation, and has been subject to the swings of nature, over which they have no control. I pondered on the possibility of it being a direct philosophy of life which is derived from Buddhist teachings and history, and I reflected on the heat and temperature, and wondered whether it was simply too hot for people to have the energy to worry about things. Possibly it’s a combination of all of these things, but wherever it stems from, as I look around, I start to gain an understanding that one of the things that makes this place and these people so different to life back home, is the way they seem to have relinquished control, and developed an acceptance of life.

When I think of life in England, I think of people, governments, and institutions who are trying to control scenarios, people and situations. The direct result of this control freak system is that the people tend to feel suppressed, controlled or rebellious, and the controllers tend to get frustrated and stressed when things don’t work out quite as intended.

The direct result of the “cool heart of Thailand”, on first impressions, seems to be that perhaps it takes longer to get things done, and perhaps things are not done in the most efficient way. Perhaps there are no HUGE achievements on the global stage – but from what I can gather so far – stress, depression and mental illness are not present on the grand scale that they are back home.

I know that I have only scratched the surface as far as the Thai mentality is concerned. I also know that the control system I talk about is deeply engrained in my own personal psyche. This post is not therefore intended to offend any English or Westerners, but is simply an observation of the differences as I see them at the moment!


maila said...

i just finished a buddhist meditation retreat in chiang mai - nowhere is the "no worries" attitude of the thai culture more apparent than when you're listening to the monks talk of their daily philosophy. everything was about "being happy", "finding peace", and wishing positive thoughts to all living beings. i love thailand!

Anonymous said...

You are not offending westerners at all, as westerners we should definately learn from the Thai mentality. I believe a lot of it is down to their Buddhist culture. The idea being to follow the "Middle way" as I understand it. i.e if you struggle to become happy, then you will always find an equal opposite state of unhappiness. I guess if you strive for anything, be prepared for dissapointment. The middle way is more of an acceptance and an understanding of that, hence Thai's not getting worried about spilt milk. The trouble with us Westerners is we are brought to up to strive and desire all the time, whether for love, better job, better home, even being a better person. Surely it's easier to be a better person and to be inspired to love if you can just let go...