Thursday, August 11, 2005

Unwise wais

The "wai" is the guesture involving putting the hands together in a prayer position and bobbing the head, used in many Asian countries. Depending on who you listen to, it's a polite greeting, a sign of respect or a demonstration of inferiority and worship of the other. When accompanied by touching the head on the ground, it's a form of subection, used for monks, and it disturbs me when parents try to get their 3 year-old kids to do it to me.

Some of the people I see form day-to-day use it, and some do not. This can be because they are of a particular ethnic group, Christian, think that I will not recognise it or are rude. I have developed the habit, particularly as when meeting a new person (ie a patient) I cannot tell until they speak what language they will use, and although I can now say Hello in Thai, Mon and one type of Karen, I don't want to use the wrong one.

So I wai.

The other use of the wai is to Buddha images. People will wai at the"spirit houses" along the sides of roads as they pass (the houses of local deities, which are called, in a rather let's-play-a-joke-on-this-foreigner way, "nuts" - although probably not spelled like that!), and to the golden spires of temples that poke above the trees.

Today, we brought back an energetic 9 year-old boy to his home in the jungle. It was with some surprise that I saw him wai towards a spot where I've never seen anyone do it before. Looking around, his mother and I discovered the place worthy of such respect, and burst into peals of laughter.

It was the new telecommunications tower.

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