Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Grow up!

In Thailand, there is an obsession with much of what Westerners deem as childish, to name a few: "Hello Kitty" apparel, big pink hair ribbons, and an obnoxious amount of awkwardly staged photos. I have now learned that these "weird Asian trends," usually don't stand alone. To a foreigner, Thai children, teenagers and even young adults seem to act about half the age they truly are. It is difficult to explain how, but if you compare Thai children with Western children of the same age they may have nothing in common. I now understand that the immaturity and naivety of all Thai children is the product of their sheltered childhood.

Students are expected to behave in a very stringent manner, all sporting the same uniforms and bad-tasted haircuts. After school, they go straight home, unless of course they have a part-time job. They do not have freedom. Maybe they can occasionally meet their friends at the local market or shopping mall over the weekend, but many are forbidden. The concept of "sleepovers" and "sneaking out" simply do not exist. Teacher PiTuk told me how she got beaten as a child if she came home later than expected. While this generation may be a bit more lax, it is still far from the Western society I grew up in.

Students are forbidden from having intimate relationships, even outside of school. A month ago, a seemingly serious a parent-student-teacher meeting took place behind my desk. PiTuk later explained that the school had received an anonymous tip from another student "telling on" two students in Mattayom 5 (11th grade) for engaging in sexual acts. This incident happened outside of school grounds and time, yet the school did not hesitate to take the matter into their hands.

Children do not move out of their parents' house until they marry. Typically, they live at home during university and commute. Often, there will be multi-generational households. A Thai teacher from my TEFL course was married and shared a roof with his parents and grandparents. Can you imagine that? To me that sounds like World War III (love ya Mom + Dad).

It is because of this sheltered life that the children are not forced to grow up until much later in life. This matter of immaturity is not secret - it has been brought to my attention by Thai teachers. An 18 year old student of mine recently asked me to go to the cinema with her. If I do, this will surely be like going with a small child rather than someone 4 years younger than me.

Towards the beginning of my time here, I blamed the language barrier for the eccentric young characters I met. When I started my job at Surasak, I think the Thai teachers were initially shocked to learn my age. Now that they have gotten to know me as a person and teacher, I am a peer to them. In fact, PiTuk regularly asks me for love advice, when I am half of her age. (Why she thinks I am suitable to give love advice, I do not know.) Even though I am much closer in age to my high school aged students, I find the older teachers more relatable. I have been told that I am "wise beyond my years," but, maybe that is just in Thailand.

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