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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Culture Shock Thailand

Another Marshall Cavendish edition entitled Culture Shock Thailand (ISBN 978-0-7614-5498-4, printed in China, 2008) and written by Robert Cooper. The book is one of many in the Culture Shock series which covers more than 60 countries, but not all are from the same writer.
The Culture Shock Thailand author is actually a British anthropologist, who has lived the expat life for many years (but not all in Thailand). The book dates back to 1982, but has been regularly updated and in this latest impression, Cooper states the revision has been substantive, and indeed it is as up to date as it needs to be, to cover the changing mores of the Thai society and its effect on Thai culture.
There are 10 major headings making up the chapters, with subsections in each chapter. The main headings cover First impressions; Land, history and religion; People, Fitting in, the Practicalities, Eating, Having fun, Learning Thai, Thai business and Fast facts at your fingertips. Most of these have around a dozen subsections, so the book does have a wide coverage of many aspects of the Thai culture.
In the section on ‘People’ Robert Cooper explains the diversity in the background of the Thai people, and the integration of the Chinese. Many in the corridors of power are definitely of Chinese origin.
Cooper takes a very even-handed overview of Thailand, and whilst acknowledging that there is child prostitution and slave labor, correctly states that, “Most Thai children are not sold into semi-slavery. On the contrary they are pampered and fussed over for the first few years of life.” He adds, however, “This produces a pleasant gentle personality, but also tends to kill initiative and retard development of an inquiring mind.”
Many of the sections deal with what the foreigner might consider to be inconsequential, but it behooves the visitor to remember that he or she is in Thailand, which has its own priorities, which may not be evident to the newcomer initially, but nevertheless is important in the Thai culture.
Cooper has a wry sense of humor which permeates the book, like in his section on reading street signs. “The really important ones like BEWARE OF THE PEDESTRIANS and BETTER LATE THAN NEVER are translated into English. The unimportant ones like STOP and DANGER are written only in Thai.”
Occasionally you can find sections that have missed the “substantive” review, such as references to Bernard Trink’s Nite Owl page, which has not been in the print media for some years, a victim of the ‘new morality’?
The book also donates a dozen pages to Learning Thai, but I felt this was not the correct medium for this subject, which is covered ad nauseam in many other ‘Speak Thai’ books.
At B. 695 on the Bookazine shelves it is not a cheap read; however, at around 350 pages plus several full color plates and with the amount of information made available to the reader, it is still very good value. For newbies to Thailand this is an invaluable publication, and even the older hands can benefit from being reminded about certain aspects of Thai culture.