Tuesday, 16 October 2007

'Sleep. Gentle Sleep'

When it’s not having its keyboard tickled, my computer quickly goes into sleep mode and shuts its eyes, just like the Thais.

Across the cultures there are some small but telling differences in the way people behave. In a long distance bus crossing China, Indonesia or Thailand, if they’re not puking up, half the travelers will immediately fall asleep. On the bus from Exeter to London they’ll be looking at the view or reading a book.

Is it a characteristic of rural people that whenever a Thai is not on their treadmill, eating or watching the television, they’ll just nod off and fall asleep? It wouldn’t be fair to call this lazy though, especially in a hot climate such as this, as perhaps, like my computer, they’re just economizing on power.

From an early age kids here are taught to sleep swinging in a cradle or hammock. To help a baby get to sleep it has to be rocked, so during its daytime naps, there’s always someone there dozing alongside with one hand doing the rocking. Time has little value and granny or an aunt are always around to do this.

As a typical farang,I find all this a bit surprising. I like to make the most of my leisure, to be active or at least read a book. Unless exhausted, I simply don’t have the capacity to cat nap during the daytime. Most of all I detest what the Thais seem to most love and that’s having absolutely nothing to do. Enforced idleness, to lie in a hammock all day may be somebody’s idea of heaven but it’s categorically my hell. I hate wasting time or being trapped into inactivity and for this my Thai family think me very odd indeed.

The hyperactive Chinese with their Confucian work ethic sleep on the bus to conserve energy for the next gargantuan effort, the Thais seem do it because that’s what they enjoy, while I make my eyes squiffy trying to read. Which of the cultures has got its philosophy of life right, I now ask myself.

I recently read a survey of the attitude of Thai children to reading and when asked what they most liked doing, the answer was ‘norn len’. Horizontally lazing around! That’s just kids though and at that age I might have said the same. Though perhaps I might have said, ‘lazing around and reading’.

As Thailand becomes more urban, things will slowly change but it’ll be some time before the baby’s left alone in its room and not rocked slowly to sleep by grandmama.

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