Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

It’s more than a decade old, but 2005-published Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith remains a fun, offbeat examination of ordinary Thai lifestyles and culture.

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Cornwel-Smith peels back the layers of meaning draped over apparently mundane, everyday Thai practices from around the kingdom, such as, say, adorning the fronts of their houses with incredible elaborate grilles. Where on earth does that come from?

“Despite Thailand’s class system, upward mobility is not just possible, it can take mere dressing to achieve. Look like a winner and you must surely be a winner… Golden gates indicate good karma. Gates, of course, are a building’s face. And face must be built up, burnished and bowed to.”

But Cornwel-Smith delves deeper than the mere surface of Thai society, calling on his years of living in the country to unearth plenty of facts out of reach to the usual traveller, who may not, for instance, notice the peculiarly Thai habit of offering the hom kaem or sniff kiss. This special half air kiss, half sniff, “confirms both unconditional love to one’s child and understated passion between lovers… it’s the Thai way to reach first base.”

The eagle-eyed traveller may however notice the various ornaments merchants use to try to sell more stuff to more people — medallions, carp fish, spiders, bottle gourds. Shopkeepers, Cornwel-Smith explains, “display not just animist and Theravada Buddhist totems, but many charms of Chinese origin, indicating the ethnic lineage of many Thai merchants”.

The tuk-tuk in all its regional variances is given the once-over, as is the Thai affection for fairy lights, Greco-Roman style, phallic charms, gambling, beauty queens, soap operas, shamans, massage, uniforms, blue pipes and inhalers. Very Thai is chockful of colourful photos of life across the kingdom, and makes for a great read ahead of a trip here, or a fab souvenir.

As modernity ploughs on, some aspects of traditional Thai life are fading away, but this book captures a snapshot of where things were at in the early 2000s. Highly recommended.

Buy online: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble |



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