I took a photo recently of a trellis that had been constructed at the family farm to support a climber, the flowers of which are sold (cow slips). It is an image I liked, and in analysing why that was, I decided that the natural form and materials were what attracted me. The way the trellis itself curves to fit with how that side of the field is shaped. The uneven nature of the bamboo crosspieces and uprights and the individually tied pieces of red twine creating a colourful topping to the structure.
In my thinking about why this piece of farming sculpture pleased me, I compared it to what would most likely happen in my home country of Australia, and other western nations. That process led me to widen the context of this image, and expand it as an analogy of the difference between Thailand and our home countries, and what we might learn from that.
If I had to replicate the purpose of this trellis, based on my western thinking, it would have straight lines and sharp corners. The trellis itself would be constructed with materials to create the structure using straight lines. No crooked bamboo in my previous life. I would end up with a perfectly rectangular outcome, matching my natural western expectations of how these things should be.
You see, we come from a culture of rigid straight lines, not just in how things look, but more importantly our attitudes to how life should work. Our societies are based on order and governed by rules and regulations to direct how things should be and how we behave. We are insulated from independent analysis and decision-making by layers of regulations, which decide for us how we behave. Independent thought often comes second to our instinctive referral to what rule should apply to a given situation and basing our reaction on that.
In comparison, Thailand is far more like my farming trellis illustration. It is haphazard, make-do, curvy and uneven. Straight lines are not necessarily the first opinion in a situation. There is a far more casual application of whatever works for that specific event, rather than opening the rule book and getting out the straight edge to ensure there are no curves applied in the solution. It is this quality of disorder and lateral thinking, by our standards, that can be either why people love Thailand or why they hate it.
To illustrate this let’s talk driving. I have expats who are infuriated by cars and motorbikes that may come towards them on the wrong side of the road, hard left in the bike lane, wanting to turn left at some point. This usually happens where there is a dual highway, when to make that left turn would entail travelling some distance the wrong way, making a U Turn, passing the exit they require on the wrong side of the road, making another U Turn and then finally making the left turn. Far easier just to go against the traffic and turn right. You see, this is a curvy trellis in action. A solution is available that gets the required result, and that becomes the answer.
Why do expats hate this? They claim it is dangerous, which it only is IF they are stuck on their straight line, rule book way of thinking, and not driving defensively to the conditions. They may need to move over slightly, pass and head on their way with not another thought required. It’s illustrative (only so DON'T post comments complaining about this and other driving hang-ups) of an acceptance of a more flexible way of living over old-country thinking.
Another example is that superstition can play a strong part in the lives of some expats’ Thai partners. Do you fight against the bed-head not facing west, (the head should not face the setting sun) or relax into the curvy nature of your partner’s thinking and move the bed? Does the lack of frangipani shrubs in your garden, which are considered bad luck by some, cause you upset every time you think about it?
It is my belief that the expats who make the most comfortable transition to Thailand, are those that do relax into curvy, uneven trellis thinking and leave a lot of the expectations that things will or should be exactly like the country they have left to come here. We have all met them at some stage. The expats who list all the things that Thais do differently and worse, in comparison to their own country. The funny thing is that some will be exploiting the curvy trellis by using an agent to secure their visa, because they don’t meet the required criteria 555.
I am not making an argument that all rules and regulations should be ignored. My point is that often in Thailand, these are far more flexibly applied than our own countries, and that freedom to act like an adult, and make decisions based on the circumstances, is for me one of the joys of Thailand. I would happily drive against the traffic to turn left. Would you?
My final recommendation is that you add a little curvy trellis to your life, and reduce the straight lines. Enjoy the opportunity to be freer in your attitudes and the way you approach and react to life while you can.
Thank you for reading.