FAMILIES, MEN, CHILDREN, TEENAGERS AND THE ELDERLY IN THAILAND

FAMILIES IN THAILAND

In Thailand, a family is usually defined as a group that eats together. It usually consists of a nuclear family with a couple of additional members, that can include grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and children of spouses. On key concepts and values in Thai Culture the Communicaid Group relates: “1) Family – As the cornerstone of Thai society, family is given great value and importance. Thai families are close and several generations may live in the same house, with the oldest male being the head of the household. The power structure of the family is mirrored in the organisational environment. Advice from elders is expected to be followed without question although this is becoming less true with time and modernisation.

A typical rural family of five is made up of a mother, father, two children and father's brother. The mother and father work an average of 24 hours a week (more during harvest time). In the 1990s about 77 percent of the family's income was spent on food and the father spent an average of three hours a day watching TV while the mother watched about five hours a day.

Infants and children ten be raised by both the mother and father and other siblings. Inheritance is usually divided equally among surviving children with the child (often a younger daughter) who takes care of the parents receiving the house.

Often several generations live under one roof. The oldest man of a Thai family serves as the patriarch, with the other family members acting in accordance with his decisions. However, Thailand is one of the few places in the world where there is a near absence of division of labor. Women do much of the same work as men, even plowing the fields. Men help out with cooking, cleaning the house, washing clothes and taking care of babies.

In many urban households, both parents work and children are left unattended. In many rural households, parents have to travel to find work and again children are left unattended. In may families, the child-rearing duties are left primarily to grandparents.

According to a University of Hawaii guide on “Family Beliefs & Customs” in Thailand: 1) There is no ideal number of children. The larger the family the better to help tend the farming way of daily life. Men and women work side by side in this endeavor. 2) Family is the cornerstone of Thai society which gives this culture the high value it places on childbirth and child rearing. 3) In the face of westernization, many families continue to choose traditions that have long been a way of life for people in Thailand. It is this practice that sustains the traditions and beliefs of this culture. [Source: University of Hawaii Nursing hawaii.hawaii.edu/nursing]

See Society, Population

Family Dynamics in Thailand

According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand : “ A married couple may reside for a time with the wife's family, but their ideal residence is an independent nuclear household. In extended families, the strong matrilineal ties generally entail men's moving into the woman's family. Well-known exceptions to this custom exist, especially among the ethnic Chinese in Thailand as exemplified in the work with Yunnanese families by Hill (1988). [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“With the couple establishing an independent household in the wife's family compound, both usually continue to work the land owned by the wife's parents, with the son-in-law's labor construed as a form of brideprice. Despite such a matrilocal pattern of postnuptial residence, authority is passed down through the men in the family, and the son-in-law eventually becomes the head of the household . Women maintain strong connections with their mothers, even when migration and poverty make contacts difficult. Women working in cities often send money to their families upcountry, visit them annually, and most return to the villages when their target income is achieved or when their employment or marriage ends. [Ibid]

“A women changes her surname to her husband's upon marriage and her title changes from naangsao (“Miss”) to naang (“Missus”). In addition to the informal gender-neutral fan, a variety of terms for husband and wife exist for use in different contexts, ranging from the playful and frank (phua for husband, and mia for wife) to the formal and polite (saamii for husband, and phan-ya for wife). There is a slight discomfort with the frank terms for husband and wife, and most Thai people see the formal, legal, slightly detached terms as more civilized and polite. The importance of the couple's image as parents can be seen in the endearing terms for husband and wife, pho baan and mae baan (father and mother of the home). In fact, the birth of the first child is a critical event for a traditional Thai couple, as it denotes the union and symbolizes a stable relationship. Although a preference for having sons has been documented elsewhere and it is particularly strong in the Chinese-Thai families, both sons and daughters are valued for different reasons. While the son's potential ordination in the Sangha can accumulate merit for the parents, a daughter is viewed as being reliable and dependable, especially for the care of parents in old age. Data from the Demographic and Health Survey indicate that half of all married women (ages 15 to 49) intend to have two children, and 80 percent want two or three. [Ibid]

“The nurturing responsibilities of contemporary Thai women are undeniable in the statistics of women who work outside of their homes, as well as the proportions of women among migrants and the work force. Employers consider female workers to be hard-working, enthusiastic, loyal, patient, and attentive to detail. Interestingly, centuries ago, the same qualities in Thai women did not escape the eyes of foreign observers. In the seventeenth century, Simon La Loubère noted on his visit to Siam: “how lazy the ordinary life of the Siamese [commoner] is... he does almost nothing but continue sitting or lying, playing, smoking, and sleeping.” In contrast, he observed that the Siamese women “plow the land, they sell and buy in the cities”; and “The women... are always busy... trafficking in the bazaars, doing the light work in the fields and marketing.” Similarly, a Chinese visitor to Siam during the Ming dynasty observed that “when there are affairs to be settled [in Siam] they are settled by women. In determination and judgment the women really surpass the men” .

“In Thai households today, men are typically the main source of income in a married couple. Major decisions of allocating resources thus remain in the hands of the men, whereas the women often manage the finances on a day-to-day basis. In general, women are often more organized and economical than their husbands. Many women spend much energy trying to keep their husbands' vices in check with varying degrees of success. Thai women also engage in small homegrown businesses, such as vegetable gardening, market-vendor trading, and fabric weaving, if the family earning from the men is not adequate. Nevertheless, these earning women seem to spend most of their own incomes on the necessities of the family and often give sums of money to their mothers (Thorbek 1988). Similarly, a majority of women in commercial sex businesses send their income to parents, siblings, and other relatives in their native villages. Thai women take their “nurturer” role seriously and few things can deter them from their mission. [Ibid]

Typical Middle Class Thai Family

Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “My dad's name is Kanit Daoruang, he is a goverment official. My mom's name is Narasinee Daoruang, she is an employee at National company. And my brother's name is Kittikun Daoruang, he is a student at Sriwittayapaknam School (my old school). [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

“When I was young my grandmum looked after me and my brother, because my dad and my mum went to work. She is very kind to us. We usually call her "mum" in Thai same as our real mum. My grandmum has three daughters. My mum is the second oldest. My grandfather died about three years ago. That was when I became a novice monk for one month. My aunt is the oldest out of my grandmum's daughters. Her name is Warapun Daoruang. She is kind. Now she and her husband are staying with my grandmum to take care of her because she is old.

“My grandfather and grandmum have three children, my father is the oldest. The second oldest is my aunt Krittika and the youngest is my uncle Kratae. In the middle of this picture is my aunt's daughter. Her name is "Mimp". Then there is my auntie Krittika and her family. Her husband comes from Taiwan and his name is Chen Hong Cheung. My aunt has two daughters Numwan and Mimp. Numwan is older than Mimp about two years.

My Three Mothers

On the people who were central to rasing him, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “Most people only have one mother but I don't, I have three mothers. This doesn't mean that my father has lots of wives because they are all in my mum's family. One is the mother of my mother and another one is my mother's younger sister. All three mothers are really important to me. I love them very very much. I am positive that I love them enough to die for them.

“In the past when I was younger, we (my parents and me) all stayed at my grandmum's house. When my mum went back to work, my grandmum had to look after me that's why I called her "mae yai" (which is Thai for big mother). In the late afternoon, when my mum hadn't come back and mae yai had gone to cook dinner for us, my aunt (mum's younger sister) looked after me. That's why I call her "mae lek" (which is Thai for little mother).

“Mae yai is very strict but she is also very kind. She told me that when I was younger I was really naughty and she used to hit me a lot. She hit me with a stick. I was really scared of that. Everytime I saw her holding that stick I behaved properly! Mae yai loves me a lot but she doesn't really understand me because she comes from the older generation. Now when she knows that I have gone to have a date with a girl, she will complain that I am not allowed to do that because we aren't old enough even though we are 16!!! I understand why she complains but I still don't like it....She is the one I always listen to, the one I never refuse and the one I will never make cry. But once, we had an arguement about drugs. I made her cry, I didn't know how to punish myself so I just cut my skin with a cutter. The next morning, I went to apologize to her and grarb her to her feet. She said don't worry, it's ok. I cried then she hugged me. That made me cry even more. Now I still have a scar from that time.

“Mae lek is very kind and the one that understands me the most. She never complains or hits me. She also helps me when mae yai hits me. She is a new generation girl! Since I was young up to now, every time I met her at mae yai's house she always gave me some money. She will give me at least 500 baht every time. But now I don't see her much because she's very busy with her work!

“Finally, my real mum. She is more like a friend to me. I can talk to her about everything without feeling embarrassed. She even knows all about how many girls I have. She is a superb mum. She works every day. Even at the weekend she works over time. She has been working very hard since I was young but she never complains. She sometimes does all of the housework for me and tells dad that I did it. Even though she didn't look after me that much when I was younger, she still understands everything about me. She wasn't wrong not to look after me because she knew that mae yai and mae lek could do that job. She works hard and give some money to mae yai. She is rarely angry with me even though she knows that I was addicted to drugs.

Men in Thai Society

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand: “There are two ideal male images available for Thai men. Corresponding to the Buddha's biography, Thai men face the recluse/householder or monastic/secular dichotomy (P. Van Esterik 1982). The monastic-recluse image, personified by the Buddha's life, is the Sangha. Through monastic discipline and practice of the dharma, monks not only eschew worldly attachments, but also their sexuality and male gender characteristics. On the other hand, the secular male image is represented by the notion of chaai chaatrii, which is an embodiment of the typical masculine features also found in other cultures: authority, courage, self-assurance, physical and emotional strengths, and sexual prowess. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“Various expressions for manhood and manliness reflect an image of a vigorous and muscular warrior: chaai chaat tha-haan (referring to the soldier), chaai ok saam sok (the muscular chest), chaai chaat acha-nai (the stallion's stamina and perhaps muscularity), and chaai cha-kan (strength and vigor). In older men, these youth-typical physical features are de-emphasized as other characteristics become more salient, such as bravery, wisdom, and power (in either political, social, or metaphysical spheres). Nurturance is another ideal dimension in men, as exemplified in the image of a prestigious older man, pho liang, who earns respect from his community from his resourcefulness and generous contributions. Traditionally, powerful men and politicians in Thai society have always been expected to exhibit this nurturing trait, perhaps modeled after the paternalism of the Siamese kings since the beginning of the kingdom. [Ibid]

“The masculine attributes in the chaai chaatrii image have found behavioral expression in the image of a nug layng. Translated to a midway between “playboy” and “gangster” in English, the term portrays a powerful man of action who works hard and plays equally hard, is supportive of his friends, fierce to his foes, and also a great womanizer. Although popularized and personified by the Prime Minister, Sarit Thanarat, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the image was hardly a new social construction of the male image. Like Sarit's political ideology, which “exaggerated traditional values and institutions, buttressing social and political hierarchy at the expense of egalitarianism and even human rights”, his nug layng image was simply a paragon of the traditional Thai male role. Sarit excelled in this role in both politics and private life. While known for his emphasis on cleanliness and orderliness and his harsh measures against crimes, Sarit was also notorious for the number of mistresses he kept, which was somewhere between fifty and two hundred. Certainly Sarit was not alone in this interpretation of manliness. Over the years, the secular image of Thai men had drifted even further away into the realm of worldly activities and became the antithesis of the Sangha. Manliness has become associated with almost every behavior considered by the Thai culture as vices: smoking, drinking, gambling, womanizing, commercial sex, minor wives, public brawls, petty crimes, and corruption, and the list goes on. [Ibid]

Despite such undesirable associations, the code of masculinity has maintained its prestige in Thai society for a long time. Its prestige has only recently has been challenged after one of the male vices - commercial sex - was implicated for the spread of HIV. In part, the Theravada view that ordination is always an option for men could probably account for the longstanding tolerance toward male vices. Further, the ultimate financial control in the households has usually been in the men's hands, therefore, allowing them to foot the expenses from these vices. Another mechanism also helps prevent any violation of the male role prescriptions: secular men who do not participate in these male vices are often labeled by other men with a number of emasculating terms, such as “not a genuine man,” a kathoey, or naa tua mia (“the female face”). The male image's drift away from the religious ideal is best illustrated in the use of the term tid. Abbreviated from the Pali term pandit and once granted to a layman who had passed through the monkhood and held knowledge of the Buddhist teachings, tid has become a term of derision for “a clumsy [man] who is a tyro in the ways of worldly life.” [Ibid]

Children in Thailand

Children are taught from an early age to be independent, self-reliant and show respect for others. The Thai almost never use physical punishment to discipline their children. Young children are pampered and spoiled. Adults will even give up their seats on a bus to them. Once kids enter school though things change. Middle class kids often attend a lot of after school classes and they are under a lot of pressure to do well on tests and get into university. Rural kids work in the fields, do chores and watch over animals.

Obesity among children is becoming a problem. The parent of such a child told the New York Times: “We spoil him. Whatever he want we give it to him. We don’t care if it is good or bad, we just feed him whatever he wants...Plus his lifestyle. He spends most of his time in front of the TV, playing video games and watching cartoons.”

The Child and Youth Protection Act protecting young people from abuse and exploitation and providing guidelines for disciplining juvenile delinquents went into affect in March 2003. The law includes rule that require parents and guardians to take full responsibility for the behavior and welfare of their children. Parents can be punished for: 1) abusing their children; 2) failing to protect their children from abuse by others; or failing to curb their children drug and alcohol abuse and participation in crime. The legislation was passed partly in response to the rising juvenile crime and drug abuse rates but like many laws with good intentions in Thailand enforcement has been spotty.

see Education, School, Crime

Thai Traditions and Beliefs about Pregnancy and Childbirth

According to a University of Hawaii guide on “Pre-Natal Beliefs” in Thailand: 1) Pregnant women might make a ginger tea and coco butter salve to rub on their skin to prevent stretch marks. 2) In small rural villages, there is often no pre-natal care; children are born in the home. In certain areas, families go to the temple to pray for the protection & health of the baby. 3) A mother begins "feeling different" and experiencing amenorrhea (lack of monthly bleeding) to know that she is pregnant. 4) Pregnancy is not viewed as an illness. For this reason, home birth is common since it's a normal life occurrence/event. 5) Women play a large role in taking care of other pregnant family members. They ensure the pregnant woman gets proper rest, eats adequately and that she receives help if needed around the house. 6) A woman typically notifies her significant other first of her pregnancy followed by both her mother and the father's mother.[Source: University of Hawaii Nursing hawaii.hawaii.edu/nursing]

7) Pregnancy is considered a "hot" condition. For this reason, women eat warm foods, drink warm liquids, keep their body temperature warm (covering their bodies with long pants and shirts) and shower in warm water. 8) Important nutritional items during pregnancy include ginger tea (to soothe symptoms & to increase milk production), coconut milk (for its nutrients), young coconut meat ( for healthy skin on the fetus), fish (for protein), salty foods and tamarind. In general, for good health women eat a lot of ginger, garlic & onion. During pregnancy, they also eat spicy foods since pregnancy considered a "hot" condition. 9) There is the belief that a baby's gender can be determined in utero based on the baby's activity level. A very active baby indicates that it will be born a male while less activity indicates a female. In addition, if the fundus (top of the uterus) appears to be high in abdomen this would also indicate a male child.

Childbirth Beliefs include: 1) During home birth, an experienced female family member assists with labor & delivery, providing support and upholding traditions. 2) The fathers are allowed to be present in the room during the birth if desired. 3) Thai women don't feel the need to endure the pain of childbirth silently. Pain medication is available in most modern settings. 4) During labor, women walk and squat to hasten the birthing process and assist with expulsion (this relaxes pelvic muscles, stretches pelvic ligaments, etc.) 5) If there are complications during the birthing process, support people gather leaves & herbs, heat them and wrap them around the woman's abdomen. 6) Most births are vaginal births although the incidence of birth by cesarean birth is increasing with modernization. 7) The placenta is cut up and buried by the father away from where animals may dig it up. . 8) The umbilical cord, in the home-birth setting, is wrapped with wire & cauterized at the end after it's cut.

Postpartum Customs: 1) Immediately after birth, a woman may go into a specially prepared tent with aromatic steam of lemon grass & other herbs meant to assist with uterine involution (return to the normal size). The woman dresses in warm clothing. 2) The post partum recovery period is variable. It can last for up to 1-2 months. Often, getting back to work is a priority so this time may be shorter. 3) Food and gifts are brought to home following birth as a way to honor the new baby and the family. 4) A woman's mother or mother-in-law may stay with the family for 3 months to assist with care of the baby & home so the new mother can rest and recover. 5) The names are given to the children by the mother, father or families combined and always have significant meaning. 6) Mothers eat only vegetables & rice for 3-5 months after birth. It is believed that certain smells & ingested foods can cause harm to the mother so meats are avoided. Absolutely no beef or pork is consumed. Fish is an important source of protein. 7) For 3 days after birth, offerings might be made at a temple by family members to ensure the health of the baby. Babies are believed to be very vulnerable for the first 3 days of life. 8) A gold bracelet is placed on the ankle of a baby girl for protection (if not real gold, then it has to be gold color). 9) After the 3rd day of a child's life, the family will visit a monk. Here a woven cotton bracelet is placed on the baby's wrist and a blessing is given by the monk. 10) Baby's should not be exposed to rain. It is believed that they will become ill. If it's raining, an infant stays indoors or is covered well so that they don't get wet.

Nerves and Worries Before Having a Baby in Thailand

On his experience before his daughter was born, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “For a couple of days now, I couldn’t really sit down and concentrate on working. It was all because I was thinking too much about my pregnant girlfriend who was at home alone. I tried to concentrate on my work, but I couldn’t... At lunchtime I called Tai’s PCT but she didn’t pick up. I was scared that something had happened. I tried to calm myself down. But it wasn’t easy to do that. Then, a short while later Tai called! I quickly answered the phone and asked, “Where are you? Are you OK? Why didn’t you answer the phone?” She said, “I turned the sound off as soon as you left home. I am just arriving at Paknam market.” I told her to meet me at the hospital. I felt so much better and all of the bad feelings were gone. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

“Luckily the hospital is just across the road. I ran outside and I was there as she arrived in the taxi. We went inside and almost straight away we went in to see the doctor. The nurse took Tai to the other side of the curtain and asked her to lie down. A few minutes later, Tai came out and told me that the nurse was just checking her uterus. It was a little wider than last week and nearly wide enough. We then went to sit down and talk to the doctor. He asked Tai about how she felt.

“She replied, “I am feeling good and really happy that I am going to be a mother very soon. I want to see the baby’s face!” Then she added, “I don’t know why but the baby didn’t really move much these last few days”. After the doctor heard that he said, “That is serious. I think we need to check the health of the baby inside the womb. It will take a few hours for that, would you like to do it?” Tai didn’t say anything. I quickly said yes to the doctor. Tai’s face had no smile and she looked very sad.

“I waited for more than one hour for Tai to come out from the lab. When she finally came out, I quickly went to ask her the results. She said everything was fine; nothing had gone wrong with the baby. After I heard that, I felt so much better than I ever felt before. We went down to meet the doctor again and received a prescription for some medicine. It surprised me a little because it cost more than a thousand baht! It is certainly costing us a lot of money now.

“We then took a samlor to the market to eat. While we were eating, Tai started to feel strange. It wasn’t anything to do with the baby, it was different this time. She started to be sick and puked out what she had just eaten. Then she felt faint and couldn’t walk because her stomach was hurting. I quickly paid for the food and took her back to the hospital... After the doctor checked everything, he said there was nothing wrong with her. He said it was maybe a warning that it was nearly time and that there was nothing to worry about. I believed what the doctor said but I still felt uncomfortable with it.

“Tai was talking to the doctor about giving birth as soon as she could. The doctor was telling her that he could give her a Caesarean Section to get the baby out. After she heard that, Tai told the doctor that she wanted to do that. I agreed with her about having an operation because I could see that she was too weak to have the baby the normal way. Plus we both wanted to see the baby as soon as we could! Someone then came with a wheelchair to take Tai and myself up to a room. I decided myself that I would like her to be in a special room, a room that she would be alone and not with other patients. Tai got changed and then the nurse came in and told her that she could only eat until midnight. And after that she couldn’t eat or drink anymore until after she had the operation tomorrow.

After she heard that, she started to get scared about the operation. I told her that we both had already made a decision so we couldn’t change our minds now. Then I called everyone and told them about what had happened. I felt depressed that even though they listened no one said they would come and visit us. We would sleep here alone tonight. In the morning I was very tired as I hadn’t slept much. Tai hadn’t eaten anything since last night. We thought she would go for the operation in the morning but we found out that as we are both only 18 we needed a parent’s signature for the operation. I was still angry with my parents for not coming to visit so we rang Tai’s mother. She agreed to come later in the morning.

Having a Baby in Thailand

“On his experience the day his daughter was born, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “A few hours later everything was ready. The nurse came and took Tai to the operating room. I was holding her hand very tightly and kept saying that she would be fine. I kissed her on her forehead before she went in. I wanted to go with her but they wouldn’t let me. I couldn’t stand still or think about anything else right then. Tai’s mum came to me and told me that she was going to go back to work and asked me to call her later. I said OK and kept on walking up and down in front of the doors. I was starting to get worried that something might go wrong during the operation and I wouldn’t see Tai again. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

“I had been walking back and forth in front of the operating theatre so many times. I was so nervous and so worried, but also excited about the baby. I really didn't know what to do if something went wrong. Really I was worried more about Tai than the baby because she was very weak and so there was a higher chance for her to die. But it was possible that they both might have bad luck and couldn't make it. I have to admit that I was really scared about it; it was the last thing I wanted to happen right then.

“After I had been thinking and worrying for quite a long time, I finally heard a baby crying. I jumped up and down with excitement. I was pretty sure that the owner of that sound was my baby. I didn't know for sure but at least it made me feel so much better. All of the worried feelings I had were gone. What was left was only excitement. A few minutes later, I heard footsteps and then the door opened. There was a nurse coming through the door. She was holding a baby wrapped in green cloth. I walked up to her without knowing for sure that the baby was mine. The nurse saw me and she said "This is the daughter of Miss Sarita, are you the father?" I didn't listen to the whole sentence. As soon as I heard "Miss Sarita", I jumped with joy! I felt so relieved and was really happy. I wanted to shout aloud but I couldn't so I said to myself, "This is my baby, I have got a daughter!" Then I said to the nurse, "Yes, yes, I am the father of this baby. She is my daughter!!!!" She gave me a smile and said, "Follow me to the nursery."

“The first time I saw my daughter's face was when the nurse and I were standing by the door outside the nursery. She was telling me not to go inside and not to touch the baby because it wasn't hygienic. I quickly replied to her saying that I understood. But really, I wasn't listening; I just wanted her to unwrap my daughter. I wanted to see and check that everything was fine. I admit that I sometimes smoked near Tai when she was pregnant so I was a bit scared. The nurse slid the door open and went in to get a cot for my daughter. She pushed the cot towards the door and put my daughter down. I was so excited; I put my hands together and prayed inside my mind while the nurse was starting to unwrap the cloth. I stopped praying and bent down to take a closer look. My hands were shaking and my heart was pumping very hard. I think I could call it the most exciting moment in my life. I was really happy.

As soon as the cloth was unwrapped, the baby suddenly cried very loudly. I leaned closer. My eyes were filled full with tears while I said "Shhh don't cry OK? Please don't cry my little daughter". For nearly two minutes I stood there by the cot looking at her. I don't know why but I felt that I was there much longer. Maybe it was because I was memorizing every little part of her body. It was like I was there alone with my daughter and the world around me had stopped moving.

“Then I suddenly remembered that Tai hadn't come out yet. I quickly thanked the nurse and went back outside to wait for Tai. I was back in front of the operating theatre again. I couldn’t keep still and kept walking like before. I was still worried about Tai. I have seen in the movies and read in the newspaper about mothers who died after giving birth. It’s possible that she wouldn’t make it. She is so much weaker than other pregnant women plus she is a bit too young for this kind of thing. About twenty minutes passed...Finally, the double-doors opened and Tai’s doctor came out. I quickly walked up to him and paid him respect. Before I could ask him any questions he smiled and said to me “Everything is fine, she is OK. There is nothing to worry about, the nurses will bring her out soon.” I nodded and gave him a wai. He smiled and said “No problem” and then he excused himself and left.

“Less than ten minutes later, the double-doors opened again. It was Tai! I ran towards her. She was sleeping! I saw a tear in the corner of her eye. She must have been crying because of the pain. Poor Tai, she doesn’t cry very easily like other girls. I felt very upset. I really wanted to be with her but I couldn’t. I touched her on the forehead and stroked her hair a couple of times...I thought about doing something for Tai to make up for not being there with her during the operation, even though it wasn’t my fault. I quickly ran up to the room to get some money and my motorbike keys” and “go out to buy Tai some white roses...I wanted to be back in time to be the first one who visited her and the first one she saw when she woke up. I would be sitting there by her bed with the white roses!

Traditional Thai Post-Natal Care for Mothers

According to Thai heritage, a Thai government website: “Until the 20th century, most women in Thailand, particularly in the rural areas, gave birth at home, so the local midwife played an important role not just during birth, but also during the pregnancy and post-natal period. She would prescribe herbal drugs such as ya hom, fragrant medicine, or a blend of flowers and plants including jasmine, camphor, and ylang-ylang. When inhaled, the scented pellets relieved morning sickness, or nausea. Mixed with water, the tonic alleviated dizziness. At the same time, massage was employed to ease aching limbs. This still goes on today, but should only be performed by a trained masseuse. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

“In the past, but much less so today because of modern lifestyles, once a woman gave birth, she would undergo the yu fai, staying close to fire, therapy for up to three weeks. Basically, this means the woman remains in a room where a charcoal stove is kept burning, creating a sauna. No herbs are employed; the woman is just made to perspire and flush out toxins that built up during the past nine months. During this time, the woman does not bathe, but her body is continually wiped with a clean cloth. Yu Fai Benefits: 1) Faster discharge of amniotic fluid. 2) Easier breast milk flow. 3) Faster abdomen reduction and skin tone restoration. 4) Faster reduction of body fluids and weight. 5) Relief of back, skeletal, and muscle strains, aches, and pains. 6) Rejuvenation of skin. [Ibid]

“During a nine-month pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes tremendous changes. She gains weight. Her body stretches. She experiences swelling and stiffness. Her circulatory system is made to work harder. And her hormonal balance is altered, which is seen in her skin and moods. Therefore, in addition to yu fai, the woman often took a daily herbal sauna or steam treatment for ten to twenty minutes to counteract these conditions and restore musculature, particularly in the womb. Warm poultices could also be applied to the body; for example, a daily turmeric compress would be applied to the abdomen and buttocks to rejuvenate skin tone. [Ibid]

“While the herbs used depended on the region, midwives often developed their own adaptations of yu fai as well. For instance, in one southern province, a midwife developed a belt that the woman could wear around her waist. It would hold small, metal incense boxes next to the woman’s abdomen so she could move around and not be restricted to a bed. It was also believed that women who rejected the yu fai treatment would become more temperamental when they reached the age of 50 to 60. Today, though, many would say this can be attributed to menopause. It was also said that these women, especially if they gave birth when 35 or older, would be more susceptible to aches and pains in later life during cold and damp weather or, today, to quick temperature shifts, like moving in and out of an air-conditioned room. [Ibid]

Choosing the Name for Child in Thailand

According to Thai custom a newborn child is given a nick name as well as their official name. The child is referred to by their nick name in part to confuse ghosts that may prey on the child if their real name is used. It is considered bad luck to say a baby is cute or good looking, Thais will therefore often say the baby is ugly even when they do not think so.

Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog: “We are looking through suggestions for nicknames sent in by visitors to my web site. A lot of care needs to be taken as most people will know our daughter by this name for the rest of her life! The real name has already been chosen by a monk. Her name will be Chanakarn. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

“A monk in our local temple consulted the astrology charts to help choose a name for our baby. At the bottom of the piece of paper you can see that he chose the letters: The first row shows the letters that you can use for the first letter of the name. The second row shows you letters that you are not allowed to use in the name. If we choose a name this way, then she will have more luck in her life. Out of the many names he could have chosen, he then gave us a shortlist of three names. You can see that he has numbered them on the left to which ones he prefers.. On the right he has written the meaning: These are the meanings for each name: (1) Chanakarn = a darling to all people; (2) Yanisa = successful because of their knowledge; (3) Chosita = happiness, lady After we had read what he had written, we decided to choose Chanakarn. The name sounds nice and it has a good meaning.

Fire Hair Shaving and Top Knot Cutting

A newborn child will often have it's hair shaved completely off within the first few weeks of being born. The rationale behind this is that the hair will grow back thicker and stronger. The hair that is shaved off is called the fire hair. According to "Essays on Cultural Thailand" put out by the Thai government: “When a child reaches the age of one month and one day, when it is believed that a child are out danger from illnesses inflicted by spirits, a big fire-hair-shaving and khwan ceremony is arrnaged. Sometimes the child is also formally named at this time and added the register of membership in the family. [Source: "Essays on Cultural Thailand" (Office of the National Culture Commission), February 8 2007]

Before the fire-hair is shaved and an offering to the spirit of the place is made. The hair that is shaved of is placed in a banana-leaf container with a Caladium or lotus leaf laid in the bottom; sometimes flowers are mixed in. If the ritual is performed properly the whole lot is placed on a stand and then floated in shallow water. The person who takes it and floats it must say, "We ask for a life of coolness and happiness like the sacred Ganges," or something else of this sort. In the Grhyasutra text of India it is prescribed that the hair that is cut or shaved is to be hidden is a cowshed or in a pool or in a place near water. Floating the hair on the water is probably derived from this Indian custom and chosen over a cowshed because of the inconvenience that presents in a place like Thailand where cows are not all that common.

After this relatives often perform a ceremony in which khwan cotton threads are tied around the child's wrists and ankles and blessings and gifts are given to the child. For ordinary people the ceremony is as simple this. For the wealthy it can be much more elaborate. For example, an astrologer is hired to chose an auspicious day for the khwan ceremony and a Brahman priest and astrologer are hired to carry out the ceremony. During he ceremony the astrologer (often a monk) chants in a low tone beside an eye-level shrine on which offerings are laid. The person that performs the khwan ceremony is called the child's purchasing mother. She and the child and the shrine are encircled with candles. Monks chant Buddhist sutras during the ceremony. Sometimes the pot containing the afterbirth—which has been saved— is also entered in this ceremony, together with the silver and gold coconuts that are planted when the afterbirth is buried.

Describing the fire-shaving ceremony for his daughter, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog: “When we arrive at my grandmother’s house, they are all there waiting for us. I show my grandmum the lotus leaf I picked and ask her what it is for. She replies, “It will be used as a container for the hair. We keep all of the hair in the leaf for three days and then float it on the river.” Tai is now holding our sleeping daughter in her arms and starts walking to the temple. I pick up the offerings for the monk and quickly follow her. A few minutes later we arrive at the monk’s kuti and pay him respect. This is the same monk that blessed my motorcycle last year. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life, August 13, 2003]

I sit down at the table and offer the food we brought. The monk then starts chanting something in Pali while I am holding the baby. He uses two fingers to hold some of her hair without touching her head. The monk isn’t allowed to touch the female sex even a baby! Then he picks the scissors up to cut some hair and puts it on the lotus leaf. He is chanting non-stop. He does the same thing a few times more before he finishes the ceremony with pouring some lustral water all over us. We get up and pay the monk respect and head back to my grandmum’s house. The baby is still sleeping. Now we are back at the house and she still doesn’t wake up. What a sleepyhead! So cute. I put her down and my grandmum starts shaving the rest of the hair. I come over and watch closely.

My grandmum is shaving the hair very slowly as she is scared that the blade will cut the baby’s head. The hair is very soft so it’s very difficult to shave. Then the baby wakes up making the work even more difficult. The baby is starting to cry. I feed her some milk and then she stops. It takes quite a long time to finish the job. But finally my grandmum does it! I am feeling so pleased that the ceremony is now over. My grandmum tells me that I cried a lot during my fire hair shaving ceremony 18 years ago. I am proud to be Thai and it makes me even more proud that I am passing Thai tradition onto the next generation. I will teach my daughter all about Thai culture so that she will behave properly and set a good example when she is ready to start school.

Sometimes in Thailand you see children with topknots or little tufts of hair growing in a middle of a completely shaven head. When I was younger I had a topknot until I was three years old. Other people have it until they are a little older. These days not many people have topknots, you will find it difficult to see one. In my old primary school, there were only two students out off 1700 with a topknot.[Source: Thailand Life ]

Describing the top-knot cutting Nattawud Daoruang wrote: We are praying to the monks before I have my topknot cut off. They put some grass on my hair, I don't know why but my mum said it's part of the ceremony. The monk will cut a part of my topknot first. We call topknot, "Juk" in Thai. Then my parents and other people cut the rest. After everyone had finished, they put my hair on a lotus leaf and then they floated it away on the river. My father and me are preparing food for the monks and I am giving some money to thank them for coming to my house on my topknot cutting day.

Abandoned Children in Thailand

Each year thousands of children are left at temple grounds, and often end up being raised by monks and nuns. In addition to this many more are raised by grandparents rather their parents who seek work in the cities. In March 2011, The Nation reported: “The number of young children abandoned by parents to the care of grandparents has increased fivefold in the past two decades, especially in poor families in the North and Northeast, according to a Thailand Development Research Institute study released yesterday.There are around 2.3 million households in which children are being raised by grandparents because the parents have migrated to Bangkok and cities for employment. The number is five times larger than the figure 23 years ago, while the average age of grandparents is 65 years, said TRDI researcher Niphon Phuaphongsakorn at a seminar. [Source: the Nation, March 18, 2011]

“Children in such households have less chance of attending higher education, with male children pursuing undergraduate study decreasing by 25 per cent and females pursuing uppersecondary level falling by 0.2 per cent. Other factors included the behaviour and educational background of their parents. Six in ten Thai children are living with parents, a figure that has decreased by around 1.4 per cent each year, and by more in families living upcountry. [Ibid]

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were several reports of children being abandoned and dumped in rubbish bins. In October 2003, one child was found wrapped in plastic bags, barely alive, in a trash can. The child had been deprived of water for days. He lived but had brain damage. Many abandoned children are thought to be the offspring of amphetamine addicts.

Teenagers in Thailand

Some Thai youths like to race around on motorbikes, smoke methamphetamines and indulge in sex at an early age. The acclaimed Thai film director Nonzee Nomibutr told the Daily Yomiuri, “In many cases both parents work and do not have much time to spend with their children. Teenagers often try to fill the ack of parental affection with sex. They also turn to drugs for the same reason.”

In the early 2000s, Taro Greenfeld wrote in Time, “At 2 a.m in a Saturday, Bug and his fellow bikers from Do It Yourself Happy Homes are preparing for a night of bike racing and smoking yaba [methamphetamines]... The bikes are tuned up and the mufflers are loosened so that engines revving at full throttle sound like a chain saw cutting bone...The bikers ride in a pack, cutting through alleys, running lights, skirting lines of stalled traffic...And as they ride massed together, you can almost feel the surge of pride oozing out of them, intimidating other drivers to veer out of their way.” [Source: Karl Taro Greenfeld, Time magazine, March 4, 2001]

“On Na Ranong avenue, next to the Klong Toey slum, they meet with bikers from other slums... The street is effectively closed off to non-motorcyclists and pedestrians. The bikers idle along the side of the road and then take off in twos and threes, popping wheelies, the usual motorcycle stunts... These bikes accelerate at a terrifying rate, and that blast off from the line makes for an unstable and dangerous ride if you’re on the back of one...But if you’re young and Thai and loaded on mad medicine, you feel immortal, and it doesn’t occur to you that this night of racing will ever, really, have to end.” [Ibid]

Life of Thai Teenager: 12 to 15

In one of his early postings, Nattawud Daoruang wrote on his blog Thailand Life: “Hello! My name is Nattawud Daoruang. My nickname is Gor. I am Thai and I am a boy. I am 12 years old. My birthday is 3rd July. I am a student in Sriwittayapaknam School. I am in grade 6. I like the colour blue. My hobbies are collecting stamps and listening to the radio. Sometimes I watch television or read some cartoon books. I like to play sports. I live in Samut Prakan Province. We are about 30 kms. south of Bangkok. My house is near a Navy museum. My house is medium. It has 2 floors, 2 bedrooms and 2 toilets. I usually sleep with my brother. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

“There are 4 members in my family. There are me, my brother, my father and my mother. My brother is a fat boy. He is 6 years old. His birthday is 16th December 1990. His name is Kittikun Daoruang. My father's name is Kanit Daoruang and my mother's name is Narasinee Daoruang. In my bedroom there are many cartoon books like Slam Dunk, Zenki, Ranma, City Hunter, King of Fighter and Flag Fighter.” [Ibid]

Describing his best friends when he was 14, Nattawud wrote: “BOYS: 1) Suthiphong Buayam. He is 14 years old. His birthday is 6th September. His nickname is "Phong". He is about 165 cms tall. He lives in Taiban near the Chinese school but he learns at Satree Samutprakarn with me and other friends. His old school is Sriwittayapaknam School like me. 2) Navapun Navasearttavisoot. He is 14 years old. His birthday is 20th July. His nickname is "Chai". He is 160 cms tall. He lives at Samrong near Imperial World shopping mall and far from Satree Samutprakarn School. 3). Eakasit Wanitcharearnsuk He is 14 years old. His birthday is 9th July. His nickname is "Eak". He is 161 cms tall and he weighs 42 kilos. He lives at Taiban same as Phong. In the future he want to be a business man or a singer. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

“4) Natdanai Rungrattanaubol. He is my new friend. He is 14 years old. His bithday is 8th July. His nickname is "Tum". He is short and thin like Ton. He lives at Taeparuk near Chai's house but his house is farther than Chai's house. 5) Nawapol Paibool. He is 14 years old. His birthday is 21st September. His nickname is "Ton". He is short and thin. He lives near my house but not in the same lane. Now he learn at Satree Samutprakarn School same as me. 6) Sakdipat Krishchanachinda. He is the principal's son at my old school. Now he learns at my old school (Sriwittayapaknam School). He is 14 years old. His birthday is 7th December. His nickname is "Game". He has a house at Sriwittayapaknam School, so he lives at school. He is about 170 cms tall and he is a little plump. [Ibid]

“GIRLS: 1) Suphitcha Changmani. She saw my homepage and wrote a letter to me. Before, she lived in Thailand but now she lives in Virginia, America. She has gone to learn there with her family. She's a really good friend. She's very kind, pretty, funny and silly. Her nickname is "Kratae" but I usually call her "Tae" because it is easier. She is 15 years old 152 cms tall and about 45 kilograms (she's FAT!!!). She said to me that she is in the "Toilet Gang". I don't really understand what is that mean. 2. Wararat Wisetphongphan. Her nickname is "Nui". Her birthday is on 3rd November. She is my old friend from Sriwittayapaknam School. She is slim and very short. She lives on Sailuad Road in Taiban. Her phone number is 701-7413. And her favourite flowers are lilly, carnation and white rose. In the future she want to be a florist. 3. Prae Rothakit. Her birthday is on 24th January. She is short and slim. Her nickname is "Prae". She live in the same lane with Ton. Her best friend is Nui. She comes from Sriwittayapaknam School too. Her phone number is 394-6321. And her favourite flowers are rose, carnation and lilly. In the future she want to be a designer. 4) Rewadee Pakdeebang She like drawing very much. Her birthday is on 1st January. Her nickname is "Chompou." But everyone usually call her "Re" or "Pou". She live in Bangpoo. She is a little plump and a little tall. Her favourite flower is red rose. And her blood group is A. [Ibid]

Life of Thai Teenager: 15 to 19

When he was older, Nattawud wrote: Before “my name was Nattawud. My new name is Panrit. It was chosen by a monk. It means "a thousand powers" so I guess it means I am a bit like Superman!...I am a 18 year old teenager who is living in Thailand. I dropped out of school when I was in Grade 10. I will probably study part time in the future. It is no secret that 2001 was a bad year for me. I did some pretty bad stuff and became addicted to drugs. That is all behind me now and I am clean. Now I work full time on my web sites and my online store. I am also a newspaper columnist! I work for the Bangkok Post on a column called "Gor's World" which comes out every Tuesday. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

Really, I am now not single anymore, I already have a girlfriend and her nickname is "Kra-Tai" (or "Rabbit" in English). I always call her "Tai" for short. She is one grade higher than me at school but really she was born in the same year as me, 1985. Her birthday is on 30th of March which makes her older than me by about 3 months and 3 days.

I knew her through one of my friends during my summer holidays 2001, he gave me her phone number. I started to flirt with her and finally we decided to meet up. I met up with her and really liked her so I kept hanging out with her. Then, I knew that she was coming to learn at my Secondary school so I asked her to be my girlfriend. We have been hanging out together ever since and we are now actually living together in the house that her mum bought for her on Theparak Rd. Also, she gave birth to our baby daughter in July, 2003! In our family, we still have one more member. His name is "New", he is really fat, fatter than he should be. He is a Chisu dog that Tai loves very much. She calls him her brother.

Elderly in Thailand

The population in Thailand is aging quickly due, in part, to a sharply declining birthrate. The percentage of the population aged 65 or older was only 3 percent in 1980, but it reached 6.4 percent in 2002. According to estimates by the United Nations and other organizations, people aged 65 or over will account for about 14 percent of the Thai population in 2025. The birthrate was 3.5 per woman in 1980, but it fell to 1.8 in 2002. This downward trend is likely to continue. The population is also aging rapidly. The average life expectancy in Thailand has skyrocketed, mainly due to advances in medical treatment. Life expectancy was just 50 after the end of World War II, but is predicted to reach 75 by 2020. [Source: Hiroaki Hayashida, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 1, 2006]

Traditionally, the elderly have bseen take care of by their children’s family’s but that is starting change, with nursing homes even becoming an option. Hiroaki Hayashida wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “An elderly Thai woman sat knitting a woolen hat as she chatted with her roommate in the welcome shade cast by the national nursing home in a suburb of Bangkok. "I waited 12 years to be admitted to this nursing home," Prajuab Tintaboot, 84, said. "Nobody bothers me here. It's like heaven." Though she has seven children, Prajuab insisted she did not want to be cared for by her relatives.

A total of 265 men and women--all of whom are single or widowed--live in the home. They pay 500 baht a month board. Several hundred people aged 60 or older are waiting for a vacancy. But Kaesorn Peaungsama, 63, chairwoman of the Bangkae Dancing Club, who visits men and women in the home two or three times a week, and worked at the home until recently, said few of the residents chose to enter the home. "More than half of the residents have ended up here because they failed to consider their futures and ran out of money," she said. "And, sad to say, the rest came here because their children didn't want to take care of them."

Kaesorn said life is easier for her than for those she visits. She receives a monthly pension of 10,000 baht and an allowance from her eldest daughter, who has a successful career after earning a master's degree from the prestigious Thammasat University in Bangkok. The daughter, 31, is unmarried.

Social Security in Thailand

Hiroaki Hayashida wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Thailand has a public pension program called the Social Security Fund. In most companies, both the employer and employee pay premiums equivalent to 3 percent of the employee's monthly salary into the fund. A further 1 percent is paid in by the government. Even self-employed people can join this fund. They pay a premium equivalent to 3 percent of their monthly salary and receive 1 percent from the government. However, not many self-employed people join this system. In the Thai economy, most self-employed people live hand-to-mouth. [Source: Hiroaki Hayashida, Yomiuri Shimbun, January 1, 2006=]

“Public officials have their own pension plan. Their 3 percent contribution is matched baht for baht by the government. However, only those employed after March 1997 can take out the policy. The Thai government is considering the introduction of a new pension system called the National Retirement Fund. The fund would pay employees 50 percent to 60 percent of their monthly salaries upon retirement.” =

"Thailand's pension system has much room for improvement, but the bigger problem is that the public is not very interested in saving money," said an official of Thailand's National Economic and Social Development Board. "It is necessary to build a financial system that encourages the public to make long-term deposits." As for the increasing number of senior citizens with no family, or no children willing to look after them, the official said, "Employment of senior citizens has to be promoted further, but it's more important than anything else to rediscover our respect for the elderly." =

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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