Your feet are considered the lowest, so don’t put them up on the chair and don’t use them to point at anyone or anything. It is considered disrespectful. Your head is the highest so no one beneath you should touch it. It is considered disrespectful. Slightly bend down when you walk by someone who has a higher status than you. This is considered to be respectful. You must wai someone above you first or the relationship will start badly. This is also considered respectful. And always, always remember to say kha or khrap at the end of your sentences. It is polite and softens your words.
I find myself constantly trying to remember all of the important rules about Thailand. I realized that my greatest fear while being here is that I will offend someone who’s Thai and I will find myself at the center of many hateful eyes. Some of my Thai friends tell me that I don’t have to worry because I am a furlong, meaning foreigner, but I worry every second because I want to try my best to live here as if I’m not.
When I first got to Thailand I learned the significance of the wai. To wai someone just means to place your hands together in a prayer like position near your chest and then bow your head down until your nose touches the tip of your fingers. Most people don’t follow this exact form and they may do it fast in passing, but the more someone is respected, the bigger and more formal the wai will be. While in Thailand I want to make sure that I am always respectful, so when I first got here I waied everyone. Every vender I pasted on the street, every little kid, and anyone who looked my way. If I didn’t wai I would just bow my head and smile. Later on I found out that I was completely wrong for doing this.
Thailand is a hierarchical society, meaning that everyone has a particular place on the totem pole. Therefore venders have to wai me because I am the customer and children would be the ones to wai first because I am older. I have to initiate the wai with my professors, but my professors have to initiate the wai with his or her boss. The highest people in the land are the monks. Everyone has to initiate the wai with the monks, even the king who is the second highest. Whenever you wai you accompany it with sa wat dii kha or khrap. This means hello in Thai. Girls say kha and guys say khrap. This is just a polite ending word and sometimes you can use it in agreement as well.
Although I discovered that I was wrong for walking through the streets and initiating a wai with everyone I made eye contact with, I still sometimes wai. I often find myself wrapped in so much joy as I walk around Thailand and see the grave amount of differences compared to America. I look at women in the traditional dress of their people, I see men smiling while they zoom by on motorcycles, and I see children running around with no cares, full of freedom and it makes me want to wai them. I forget that everything has its place because in the moments when my eyes meet with a Thai person I am just so enthralled to be in their country and so thankful to the people of Thailand for letting me look into their lives.
One day as I was walking down the street I saw a man sitting on the sidewalk. He had no shoes on and his feet were a bit dingy. He sat amongst a pile of peppers and as I walked by he tried to get me to eat one. My program leader, Kai, said they were way too spicy so I didn’t take it, but the man still smiled at me with every muscle in his face. I could tell that he didn’t have much, yet he seemed so vibrant and at peace. When I smiled back at him and looked into his eyes I felt like I connected with him because at that moment peace and happiness were the only two components that made up my spirit.