Chiang Mai Chronicle

Pink tissues; the burning issues that affect expats

By Heather Allens

A recent slightly messy lunch caused me to stop and ponder the ubiquitous little pink tissues that dot every Thai restaurant and some farang ones too. Why so tiny? Why so pink? My sister came to visit and said she think Thai people have paper products issues, from the little pink tissues to the lack of toilet paper. I had to laugh but then, when trying to wipe my messy hands and needing about a dozen or so to do so, I thought perhaps she wasn’t so far off the mark after all.

A really interesting book that professes to cover all these burning issues (and more!) is called Very Thai by Philip Cornwel-Smith. The book has been around for a few years, and, assuming he’s got his research right, is an invaluable resource for those people who find the little things in life in Thailand so interesting. If the questions of why the big hair for weddings, beauty pageants and Khunyings, why the sniff kiss, and why does everybody have a nickname keep you awake at night then you really need to read this book.

There are many aspects of life in Thailand that cause all of us expats pause for thought. Sometimes they are big things (why so much paperwork at Immigration? Why do they need copies of every little thing?) Sometimes spiritual (who are the little dolls inside spirit houses?) and sometimes just completely inane (pink tissues). But we’ve all asked these questions and pondered our own reasons for the things we see and don’t always understand.

I’ve found that the key to living in Thailand with some kind of equanimity is the understanding that things are done differently here. That it’s OK that things are done differently and that just because I don’t understand does not mean that it’s not understandable. I always wondered why kids would take the mufflers off their bikes (I figured they liked the noise), but have been told that it’s a widespread belief that the bike goes faster if it doesn’t have a muffler. It certainly sounds faster so I guess that would make sense that someone would think that.

Thai nicknames often cause confusion. Lek is so popular you have to ask someone, “which Lek do you mean?” when discussing someone. Well I have heard more than a few reasons but one is that the old belief that demons would not be able to find your child if they didn’t know their real name. While the superstition itself may be passing into folklore, the tradition remains. Sometimes the names make sense. Lek can be the youngest or the smallest child, Dum is often a dark skinned chilled and I have a friend named Bet (duck), she told me that when she was a baby her cry sounded like a duck. I know a man named Keo (green) I don’t think I want to know how he got that name.

Life in Thailand is often exasperating, sometimes difficult and challenging, but never boring. And for that, I am grateful.

Oh, and the paper products issue? Well, my sister wasn’t so far off the truth. According to the book, the re-use of napkins is considered dirty, one use and then throw it away seems to be the concept behind the tiny tissue.

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