I’ve recently come across TAT’s (Tourism Authority of Thailand) activity ‘DiscoverThainess’ which is a contest that invites non-Thai people to engage in five different categories of activities related to ‘Thainess’. These categories are ‘Thai Boxing’, ‘Thai Cooking’, ‘Thai Dancing’, ‘Making Thai Style Garlands’ and ‘Speaking Thai’. In fact, competitors are asked to do things that are considered to be typical Thai, i.e. characteristic of Thai culture.
Hence, I’ve asked myself what the concept of ‘Thainess’ is actually about? First of all, one might think that this is merely a Thai government campaign to become more visible and important in the tourism industry. If we are critical, we might also claim that ‘Thainess’ may be all about stereotypes concerning Thai culture. However, I also think it is a campaign to make foreigners (or using the Thai term ‘farangs’) understand what Thai culture and mentality is actually about.
Nonetheless, if we try a definition of the term ‘Thainess’ we might say that it means a kind of active decency towards each other. It is not merely about activities like Thai dancing or cooking but it is actually an attitude of mind. In fact, ‘Thainess’ expresses Thai culture and shows the way Thai people differentiate themselves from everyone else in the world. Hence, ‘Thainess’ is mainly based on the Buddhist dharma of decency and politeness.
In other words, it is all about what Thai people call ‘Kreng Jai’ (in Thai: เกรงใจ). Translated literally ‘Kreng Jai’ means something like ‘awe of heart’ or ‘consideration’. In short, we might say that ‘Kreng Jai’ means awareness of other people’s feelings and thus showing respect and politeness towards one another. In point of fact, we can also argue that ‘Kreng Jai’ allows the other person to maintain his face.
For this reason, I think that ‘Thainess’ is also the awareness of ‘Kreng Jai’ and it means to do all of one’s actions with consideration. Thus, ‘Discover Thainess’ will say that on the one side, you become familiar with specific characteristics of Thai culture and on the other side that you should engage yourself in acting polite and decent.