Thais Just Want to Have Fun

December 25, 2000

During one of my first grocery shopping trips in Bangkok, I was stunned as I watched the clerks in charge of reshelving merchandise playing a multi-participant game of catch with the goods. Pillows were flying and paper towels were somersaulting through the air before eventually making their way to the appropriate shelf.

I sat there wondering what would happen if the boss came, how many safety codes they were violating, and how they could be enjoying themselves so much. I was missing the point. The point of most things in Thailand is to have ‘sanuk,’ otherwise known as ‘fun’.

The Thai ability to have fun is on the verge of supernatural and comes, well, very naturally. In contrast to the western workplace, where laughing, telling jokes, and chatting are seen by most as a sign of non-productivity, in Thailand it is seen as a necessity.

If the employees are not having fun, they are destined to quit. Giggling workers are part of the office landscape and are also251200k1.jpg productive. I asked a friend why he recently quit his job. He stated, “My boss was too serious. It was not fun. He was not fun. My heart was not happy and that is bad.” How ironic, as I just watched a show on consultants getting paid big bucks to teach ‘Learn How to Laugh’ workshops in the workplace back in the United States.

There are an abundance of tedious, backbreaking jobs in Thailand. I look at traffic policeman, road workers, garbage men, farmers, or factory workers toiling in the tropical heat for close to no money. When I observe the situation closely, I no longer remark the drudgery but rather the fact that everyone seems to be getting on with it. They sing, joke, flirt, and chat their way through the long hours whereas I am certain I would spend most of the time mumbling and groaning.

During a trip up north outside of Sukothai I missed the last bus back into town. I ended up hitching a ride on a tractor with a group of farmers. Piles of cigarettes, food, and251200k2.jpg a bottle of whisky were already out. The driver got another shot for the road and we putted back to town at a snail’s pace. It was one of the most festive and cheerful atmospheres I have ever experienced.

I know that I am guilty of thinking that fun is designated to take place at a special place, at a special time, or on a special day. I used to marvel at the parties in the neighbourhood park that were not happening on the weekends. Fun knows no date calendar in Thailand. It is omni-present.

Thais want to laugh. This can make for some strange situations because they will laugh at things not considered to be funny by western standards. For example, falling down a flight of stairs can be greeted with laughter. During a recent hospital stay due to food poisoning I had an IV in to rehydrate me. On a wobbly journey into the bathroom I somehow managed to disconnect the tubes. Blood spurted everywhere. I stood there totally terrified and said something to the affect of,251200k3.jpg “AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” The nurses giggled.

The Thai sense of fun expresses itself in many ways. Thailand is the capital of silly plastic things that, at least on the outside, serve no practical purpose. Looking into passing cars, one can see plastic helicopters attached to air vents to make the propellers spin, plastic figures set on springs to make them ‘boing’ around, stuffed animals, and a vast array of brightly coloured pillows, tissue dispensers, and stickers. This all makes the ride more enjoyable.

Hello Kitty, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Snoopy bags, binders, cellular phones, shoes, purses, screen savers, pens, and clothing are used by virtually all age groups in Thailand. Cellular phones are frequently equipped with flashing neon lights and antennae accessories. Well, why not?

I keep getting strange tissue dispensers as gifts. Usually made out of wood, you set a roll of toilet paper inside the designated area thus allowing the tissue to be dispensed through the chimney of the house, the roof of the car, the nose of the pig, or the mouth of the fish. At first I was baffled. Now I understand that these are all designed to make using tissues more fun.

Upon returning from dinner, a shopping excursion, or a stroll down the street, the question you are mostly likely to be asked is, “Was it fun?” If it was not fun, then it certainly wasn’t worth doing in the first place. Christmas is popular among Thais not as a religious event for the majority, but rather because it is fun.

Thailand is called ‘The Land of Smiles’ for a reason. I believe that the pervading sense of humour and ability to have a good chuckle is partly responsible for this. They say a laugh a day keeps the doctor away. If this were truly the case, there would be no illness here.

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