Culture Shock; Getting to know the country’s religion

In Thailand most of the people are Buddhists – about 95% of the population – and because of that, they believe in reincarnation. Buddhism is not a religion per se, but a way of life. For this reason it plays a high impact in the general nature of the people. Buddhism in Thailand is largely of the Theravada school, mixed with old Thai beliefs and many Chinese religions – due to the large Thai Chinese population in the country. Throughout the country you can find temples with tall golden domes on top, it’s very similar to that in the surrounding Southeast Asian countries like Cambodia and Laos.

01_Thailand_TemplesShrines

The Buddhist culture is not totally new to me. When we lived in Vietnam we got to know the religion as well. Many of the Vietnamese are Buddhist, so I was exposed with this culture at work and around the streets. Every time we would open an office in our building you would smell the incense around the building. And once we re-opened our Health Club – a renovation which took about 3 months – a ceremony was held by the staff to make sure that we would be blessed with many new members and the return of old members.

02_Vietnam

I was always impressed in how this worked, as it’s such a different way then what I am used to. In Holland you go to church, synagogue or mosque and pray, but I never experienced that you would ask the gods to bless your business with shrines, by offering food and drinks to the gods. Or when you get a new car to bless the car with flowers and incense. I love these kind of acts of faith.

Here in Thailand its all slightly different again, even though – like in Vietnam – you can see the influence of the Chinese which is reflected in the way of worshipping and the temples. But in other ways it’s totally different again than the Vietnamese Buddhism. One big difference is the Buddhist holidays, for instance with Songkran – Thai / Theravadin Buddhist New Year – which is celebrated with loads of water, or Loy Kratong when Thais float small containers with a candle, incense sticks and a coin to thank the river goddess and to ask for forgiveness of past sins. Its a totally new world of holidays within the same religion.

03_ThaiBuddhistHolidays

One thing I have noticed in both countries, is that people like to make loads of noise in front and around their temples. This is so what I’ve learned for worshipping… Back home I would always pay respect to a religion by being quiet – like when you go into a church in Rome and everyone whispers trying not to make too much noise. Here it’s the opposite…

Since we have a car I have been driving up and down to Phuket town on a regular basis. Once going from Patong to Phuket Town, you need to pass a high mountain, on the top of the mountain there is a sharp curve before you go down. Every time I passed by the temple, people would be honking at me {or so I thought}. So every time I was afraid that one of my lights was broken or something the likes. After passing by the same place several times, and noticing that there was nothing wrong with my car I thought it might be because of the sharp curve. Which is in Europe a common practice when driving through the mountains – you honk before you take a needle pin turn, so that cars from the other side know you’re coming. But this did not make sense either, as the curve was not that sharp.
After a couple of months I realised it had something to do with the temple that was located on the top of the mountain, only a few meters next to the sharp curve. After asking around I found out that road users honk their cars as a sign of respect. So since then I honk three times when passing by this temple – you can honk for luck, good health, for your family, for a safe journey; you can honk for right about everything! So that’s what I do now – turning into a real Thai citizen! 😉

Other religions do exist in Thailand, the King protects everyone’s right to the religion of their choices. As can be seen in Phuket where there are a lot of Muslims living. People live together in harmony here. But that has been in all the countries we have lived so far – Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand – they all live next to each other without any issues.

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