Keeping Your Cool

April 2, 2001

I admit it. I have terrible temper. Those who know me well can verify this. To most it is a secret. As a child I liked to scream like a banshee and take my clothes off in public during a temper tantrum. I outgrew the taking-off-the-clothes bit but the temper still remains. This means that living in Thailand has been like attending an anger management course for me.

I mentioned once a long time ago that the golden rule of Thailand is to keep your cool. ‘Jai yen’ or ‘cool heart’ is the opposite of ‘Jai ron,’ which means ‘hot heart.’ You should not show anger, shout, or let yourself go out of control. This is not always an easy task to pull off, especially if you are like me and more or less were born with a ‘hot heart.’

Losing your cool means losing respect. If you get really miffed in Thailand, the correct protocol is to smile. To digress for a moment, the Thai smile is not always what one may think. When first arriving in Thailand, everyone looks so darn happy one might020401k1.jpg wonder if they are dumping Prozac in the drinking water. As time passes, one begins to realize that a smiling face can mean anything from ‘I am really happy’ to ‘I completely dislike you’ to ‘I am totally miserable.’ Strange but true.

Foreigners are infamous for losing their cool. No matter how much you love Thailand, sometimes you just want to take it by the neck and shake really hard. Why?

Everyone has a picture in his or her head about how things should be. For example, the perfect piece of cheesecake, an excellent club sandwich, a nice vacation, or a good party all conjure certain images to mind. Being a Westerner, my picture of perfection is often extremely different from the Thai definition. This is where all of my (and everyone else’s) problems start.

During my first weeks here I found an Italian restaurant in my neighbourhood. Let’s get eating! I ordered a calzone (of course, having a pre-set picture in my mind of what ‘calzone’ means.) I was horrified020401k2.jpg when a piece of puff pastry with sugar on top arrived. Inside was a tomato sauce as sweet as a Snicker’s bar mixed with corn, cucumbers, and lettuce. Wow!

Totally not edible by my personal definition but this fits the Thai definition perfectly. This restaurant is always busy. If you are ever bored, try ordering a Thai pizza. You’ll learn that they like it sweet and with a never-ending choice of bizarre toppings.

A few months ago there was a party for some friends. I was in charge of decorations. For me this meant balloons, confetti, streamers, and some cool napkins. Big mistake. I spent two days hunting around Bangkok for this stuff. I asked over 20 people for advice on where to find it. I did find the party napkins at the magnificent price of 25 for 7 US dollars.

Instead of changing the picture in my head of what a party could look like, I just plowed ahead, insisting on my definition of how things should be. I toured half of Bangkok. I almost went mad. At020401k3.jpg last I found a balloon store and some confetti poppers (meant to be used for Chinese New Year). I let it go at that. “Change your definition or lose your mind” is now my motto.

Most of British comedy is based on the principal that people keep all of their emotions bottled up inside and they eventually do come out in a big explosion. The same can be said of Thailand. In the United States, if you throw a fit and start screaming, most people will hardly raise an eyebrow. A famous quote from my mom, “Never mind your father. He’s just screaming again.”

If a Thai starts yelling, it is a real show-stopper. It means that something has gone very, very wrong. Every person has his or her breaking point. Don’t think that you can get away with horrible behaviour in Thailand and that everyone will just shake it off. Flip off the motorcycle driver and he might make you eat the road.

A bad day for me might go like this: My taxi driver rips me off by intentionally going the wrong way, I can’t seem to find the light bulb I need anywhere, and I spend lots of time and effort either stuck in traffic, or on an abundance of fruitless missions.

The longer I live in Thailand, the more it takes to make me truly upset but on some days I find that I have really had enough. I arrive home. In the comfort of my own surroundings I clench my fists together and jump up and down yelling words kind of like, “Drat! Darn! Shucks!” for up to fifteen minutes while my dog gives me a very strange look. After that I can smile again.

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