Embracing ‘Thainess’ in the 21st century

An increasingly common cultural and tourism PR buzzword echoing across the kingdom these days is ‘Thainess’ (in Thai, “kwam bpen Thai” ความเป็นไทย) – an abstract concept referring to the various unique characteristics that define the Thai people and their rich culture, customs and mannerisms.

The beauty and blur of Thainess. Photo: Steven Layne

The beauty and blur of Thainess. Photo: Steven Layne

Considering all the prevailing negative stereotypes, and not to mention, cultural and geographical ignorance about the Kingdom of Thailand and its people, it is understandable why the Thai government would want to emphasize, educate and promote a greater understanding about Thainess – to its own people, and the rest of the world.

And so is painted an image of a free, friendly and culturally-rich nation, inhabited by a hospitable people always ready to welcome all into their country, villages and homes, inviting us to embrace and share all the tangible and intangible riches of the orient.

The latest push to embrace such Thainess is nothing new, though.

Image: Exotic Siamese women, adjourned in dazzling, colorful traditional Thai costume, a golden Khon headdress on top; one stares at you, her hands pressed together in a traditional Thai wai of respect; also luring you into the photograph is another just as exquisitely-embellished beauty whose hands and fingers are elegantly curled in traditional Rum Thai form. Showcasing unmatched beauty, exotic and out of this world, the scene is reminiscent of a glorious, golden era once upon a time in a prosperous land centuries past…

Thai dancer by Frank Kovalchek

Thai dancer by Frank Kovalchek

A royally-decorated elephant with mahout trek abut a peaceful rice field, picturesque tropical jungle hills or palm plantation … a coconut tree-lined canal, floating market, crowded with wooden boats skippered by villagers wearing straw hats, smiling as they exchange exotic fruits between their boats … the glimmering, golden temple’s sparkling spires that reach to the heavens…

Such Utopian Orient images of Thailand had been resurrected and disseminated through mass tourism PR campaigns since the 1970s and 1980s, widely portrayed in “Visit Thailand” promotion posters pinned up at tour offices and Thai restaurants around the world.

Those initial impressions we drew from such imagery may still have a place in our hearts; at first sight, we were immediately drawn in, awed and intrigued by such cultural color…

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