CONTEXT: TL is a fourth year student at USC. He is originally from Connecticut and first participated in this tradition with his family. He continued in this tradition marking the Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year until he moved to USC for college. TL’s parents are both from Thailand, and he does not feel very connected to this tradition, but participated for many years for his dad.
TL: So every year, before college, on Chinese New Year, even though my family isn’t Chinese, my dad always made us have fish because I think that there’s something about fish being good luck in Chinese culture. So we always had fish…. He’s always really impressed by the China in the 21st century and he tried to convince my family to move to China when I was younger. Well, my dad’s grandparents immigrated from China, but he grew up in Thailand. I honestly don’t think it’s because of his family lineage, I think it’s just because he just really likes China and wants us to embrace Chinese culture, even though I don’t consider my family to be Chinese. So we ate fish for dinner and that was the main dish. I don’t think there was a specific kind of fish, it differed every year. It was the whole fish. In Chinese culture and in Asian culture you eat the entire fish as a family. But there’s no chance I will continue to do this.
I think this family tradition, started by TL’s dad, is one way of mirroring a culture he has a lot of respect for. Based on TL’s description and interpretation, it is possible that TL’s dad tries to incorporate other aspects of his understanding or interpretation of Chinese culture, whether from his grandparents or from his own time spent in China, into his own life, and that this tradition is one way to involve his family. It is also a tradition to mark a specific time of year, which is significant because it brings family together at least once per year, with predictability. TL’s family does not otherwise celebrate Lunar New Year in any way, or celebrate any other Chinese holidays. After some research into the Lunar New Year, I found that it is not only celebrated in China, and though it is not a public holiday in Thailand, it is still celebrated as about 15% of the population in Thailand is of Chinese descent (as of 2023). Being that TL’s dad is from Thailand, it may also be that he was around the celebration in childhood and wants his children to share in that experience. TL does not plan to continue this tradition as he does not wish to celebrate the Lunar New Year because he says he does not feel a strong connection to it.
Informant: Here’s there’s this thing called a Sin Sod. It’s a price that the groom must pay the bride’s family before they can get married. It’s not as bad as it seems. It’s actually kind of sweet! The bride’s family will usually gift it back at the wedding. It’s more of a formality than anything else. Money is a big part of Thai culture, so marrying up a wealth bracket is really uncommon, especially for guys. The Sin Sod is just like…confirmation that the groom is worthy of supporting the bride.
Background: The informant is second generation Thai. His parent’s came to America long before he was born. He is very familiar which Thai culture as he typically travels there at least once every year. The informant does not have any first-hand experience with this tradition. He learned of it through his classmates when spending a semester abroad in Bangkok. This conversation was recorded in person while in Thailand during a USC trip the two of us were on together.
Context: Having seen it first hand, Thai culture is incredibly fixated on the public perception of money and status. The wealth gap is incredibly drastic in Thailand, especially in Bangkok, which is where we were. In addition, it is legally forbidden to speak ill of the royal family in Thailand. Status is trans-generational in the truest sense of the word in Thailand.
Analysis: When I went to Thailand, I had very little knowledge surrounding values of the culture. In experiencing it with no prior knowledge, I came to see Bangkok as one part extravagance and one part destitute. I remember seeing a lavish, 80 story apartment building and then looking at the surround neighborhood and seeing 10 people living where there should be 2. Off of this observation, I was not surprised to learn of this Thai marriage custom. While the idea of paying the bride’s family might seem archaic to our post modern ideas of gender, the informant relayed to me that this custom was less about the bride and more about the groom. The informant stated that this wasn’t a direct transaction but more so the bride’s family symbolically making the sure the groom is financially stable and able to take care of their daughter.
Songkran is a celebration marking the Thai New Year that takes place every year on April 13th. The festival celebrates the arrival of the wet season, also known as the monsoon season in the region. In antiquity, Thai’s would pay respect to their ancestors, parents, and Buddha, by pouring small amounts of water on their elders shoulders, after going to the temple and doing the same to buddhist monks and statues. This emphasis on water spiraled into what is now a glorified day long nation-wide water fight. I was born and raised in Thailand, so I have participated in this holiday for as long as I can remember. On this day every year, no matter how old or young, rich or poor, the entire country participates. Shops are closed, jobs are put on hold, and people flood into the streets to spray each other with water. When I was younger, my parents would put us all in the back of my fathers pick up truck, and drive us through the streets while we had water fights with all of the locals. Elders would put prickly powder on our faces, and this is seen as good luck for the younger generation. Government officials, policemen, and respected elders who would not normally engage with society on this level throw social norms to the way-side and celebrate amongst the people on this special day. In the north of Thailand, the fight lasts three days due to the attraction of tourism and has become a large part of the tourism economy of the north. Songkran is my favorite holiday just because of the feeling of pride and nationalism that is tied into having pure amounts of fun. There are no codes to abide by, except for the fact that you should try and wet everyone, and there is nothing more exciting than attacking an unsuspecting stranger on this day.
Having participated in a Songkran celebration myself, I really enjoyed hearing what the informant had to say about it. She very accurately described the thrill of the whole festival and how childish it seems, but actually really important to so many people.
Nang Nak (Nang meaning Mrs. in Thai) was married to her husband when he was sent off and had to go away to war. she was pregnant and she died they say when the woman died with baby inside the spirit is very strong and she loved her husband very much. She died and no one told her husband that she had died and when her husband came home she was there to welcome him, but it was actually her spirit. The Asian houses are very tall, and one day she was making curry and pounding the chicken and she dropped the tool all the way down. The husband offered to get the pounder but instead she extended her arm unnaturally and got it. The husband ran away and she cried and cried but at the end he ran away. Everytime you say it in Thailand people will know what you’re talking about. People make it into a movie and people like to go see the movies.
Background: This is a fairly well-know story in Thailand, according to my great-aunt. There have been several movies made about it. She said she used to get really scared as a child because people would circulate this story. She knows it just from hearing it from many different people as a young child. I conducted this interview live at my uncle’s house, so I heard these stories in person, but it was still sometimes fairly hard to understand because my aunt has a very thick Thai accent which is sometimes hard for me to hear, so I have to ask her to repeat certain things. I think this story is a great piece of folklore, especially as it is well known in Thailand and there are a few different versions of the story – regarding what she is cooking specifically and what she drops and picks up with her extended arm, and what happens after the husband runs away. I really enjoyed this piece even though it was kind of freaky.
Uncle Albert was insensitive. I had just gotten a real Tag Heuer. We had just gotten there and I lost my watch. And I asked him if he had seen my watch and he did not know. This was in Phuket resort island. And so I was rooming with my brother, and your mom and dad were rooming together. This was our vacation, our return to Thailand, seventeen years since we left Thailand to move to Los Angeles. We vacationed in Phuket. And I was enjoying this day very much… my brother Albert was my roommate, and at this time Albert was 15 years old. He was very insensitive about the fact that I had misplaced my watch. As I prepared myself for a morning jog, I was searching for my watch, my expensive Tag Heuer watch which I purchased recently. I couldn’t find it, I kind of just nudged Albert who was asleep at the time and asked if he had seen the watch and if he could help me look for it. And I went outside running anyways for my morning exercise ritual. As I was enjoying my jog along the beach I was still a little bit upset about my missing watch. And how insensitive my brother was. Let’s see. As I ran past the spirit house in the hotel I just had a thought that maybe my brother should be taught a lesson of humility, empathy, and sensitivity. And then I continued on with my jog, returned to my hotel room and found my brother Albert startled because he had just had a horrible experience. He had pressing of his chest and he could not move. He claims it was sleep paralysis but I believed the spirit was teaching him a lesson just as I had thought earlier as I passed the hotel’s spirit house.
Background: I conducted this interview in person, live at my uncle’s house. This story is something my aunt experienced herself when she went back to Thailand for the first time after moving to the United States 17 years earlier. She was angry about her brother’s lack of sensitivity and wished that he would be punished for such, and she really believed that she inflicted some sort of lesson upon him from the spirits. I think this piece is actually very humorous, as it sounds like something I would wish upon my brother or sister if they were being insensitive – I would do the same thing probably out of anger and not expect anything to come of it, just like my aunt. I thought this piece was really interesting and also creepy, which makes for a great story.