By Ora

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Thailand is located in Southeast Asia. The first unified Thai kingdom, established in the mid-14th century, was known as Siam until 1939 when the name was changed to Thailand – which means the “Land of the Free.”  The name is very appropriate: Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has never been ruled by a European power.

For more than 700 years after its founding, the country was ruled under an absolute monarchy system.  In 1932, a peaceful revolution transformed the country into a constitutional monarchy.

King Bhumipol Adulyadej, the current King of Thailand, is the ninth King of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty.  He came to the throne in 1946, making him the world’s longest reigning monarch.  The King is loved and revered by the Thai people.

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The Thai flag has 3 colors with 5 horizontal stripes.  Red stands for the Thai Nation; white stands for religion; and blue stands for the Monarchy.

The National religion is Buddhism but other religions are free to practice as well.  Many elements of Thai culture, traditions, and beliefs are derived directly from Buddhist principles.

Many Thai customs and traditions start within families.  For example: children are taught to pay respect to parents, elders, teachers, and Buddhist monks.  Each Buddhist temple or “Wat” is the center of its community, holding Buddhist rites, ceremonies, and festivals all year round.

The Thai language is tonal, and the tones can change the meaning of each syllable.  It was created over 700 years ago based on the ancient Indian Sanskrit and Pali languages.  There are 44 consonants, 32 vowels, and five tonal markers.  Many Thai words used today have been derived from Sanskrit, Pali, Khmer, Malay, Chinese, and even English.  Thai writing does not include spaces between words – only between phrases, which makes learning Thai a bit complicated for foreigners.

The Thai people greet each other with a “wai” – by putting both hands together at chest level or nose level with the head inclined slightly forward.  “Sawatdi” is the word often spoken with the “wai” as a greeting or farewell.  The “wai” gesture is also a common way of expressing gratitude or apology.

Thais generally address each other by their first names rather than their last names.  “Khun” is used in front of the first name as a title of respect for both men and women.

When visiting a Thai home, you are expected to remove your shoes before entering the house.  Bringing a gift is not expected but is appreciated.  The gift is not opened until the guest leaves.  Money is the common gift for weddings and ordination ceremonies.

At meal time, Thai people use forks and spoons with rice and other dishes, pushing their food with the forks into their spoons.  However noodles are often eaten with chopsticks.  In the North and Northeast, dishes with sticky rice are often eaten with fingers.

Thai food is internationally known both for its taste and presentation.  The cuisine is a combination of Chinese and Indian influences.  In addition to its delicious foods, Thailand has some of the most delightful and exotic fruits in the world including mangos, rambutans, custard apples, and durians.

The traditional Thai New Year falls on April 13 of every year and is celebrated all over the country.  The holiday is called “Songkran” or “Water Festival.”  Holy water is poured on Buddha statues as a ritual, representing purification and washing away all sins and bad luck.  Family members usually go to the homes of their parents and other family members to pay respect to their elders by pouring water over their palms as a blessing and receiving blessings from them in return.  As the day becomes more playful, friends and even strangers join the celebration by splashing water on each other since Songkran is celebrated during Thailand’s hottest season.

On April 21, 2016, from 1:00- 2:30 PM, all members of our International Neighbors group are cordially invited to attend this special celebration of the Thai New Year.  There will be an exhibition of Thai posters, Thai Traditional Dance, and a taste of delicious Thai food.

Acknowledgements:

  1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thailand
  1. www.thailandtoday.in.th/culture-and-society/overview
  1. www.thaiwaysmagazine.com/thailand
  1. The Tourism Authority of Thailand for the donation of posters and booklets.