Defined by Contrast: A Growing Understanding of Thai and Laos Culture

Although a contradiction to my years in anthropology, it is difficult to escape the saying that a thing can only be defined by another. You cannot for example, have the concept of wealth, of being rich, without understanding the concept of poverty, and of being poor.

This morning, as I sat waiting for my bus to leave, I thought of what little I knew about Thai culture. This afternoon, after having gone through the appropriate border formalities and arriving 4 hours ahead of my night bus’ scheduled departure to Luang Prabang, I found myself sitting in a café with five daisy dukes and sleeveless wearing females, flaunting their skin in comfort (whilst playing a game of cards). A few other older women sat at a nearby café, drinking beer and speaking much louder than their male counterparts. Their voices fill the otherwise quiet bus station stalls with lively, teasing, laughter.

Only after seeing this contrast am I able to understand people’s remarks of Thai culture and Thai people as being more conservative – conservative in their manner, with their voices, and often in their dress. As my face lights up with this realisation, I am beckoned over by one of the ladies. Their cards had been removed and plates of food now covered the table. “Come eat, come share”, she says with a big welcoming smile.

I think I like Laos.

Ushered On: How I Said Hello to Laos, My 50th Country

The sing-song voices of female attendants yelling out the destinations of their respective buses echoes around the bus terminal of Chiang Rai. Their whimsical voices adds to the rhythm of stomping feet, honking tuk tuks, and humming engines, placing me in a trance as I await the departure of my bus.

This is my fifth time coming back and forth to this station to take the odd bus to that odd destination. The women’s faces are familiar to me now. Their determination in filling their buses and the looked of content on their faces at having flagged down customers, has become more evident.

As I look around, I realise that there are a lot of women here. I begin to wonder if other bus stations in Thailand are as dominated by female attendants as this. “Did I neglect to notice this throughout my travels?”, I wondered to myself.

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