The German Thai Link

Urban Values


Buddhism is at the center of the Thai view of life and forms the foundation of most attitudes, in the city as well as in the village. But just as even the toughest material will change its shape under pressure, Buddhism has undergone certain alterations caused by the stress of Bangkok}s fast-paced urban life style.

In the village, the wat is the heart of social as well as religious life.

Bangkok's monasteries to day inevitably play less of a social role and are normally visited only for religious observances or for one of the festivals scattered throughout the Buddhist year. Accessibility is the main problem: in rural areas the wat is generally just a short walk away, while in the city a visit often entails a long, hot drive in heavy traffic.

Therefore, many Bangkok homes have a room set aside for family Buddha images and a small altar. This little private sanctuary serves as a place for prayer and meditation in the morning and evening-daily rituals that in a village setting would be more often performed at the wat. Urban surroundings also rob many monasteries of the tranquil atmosphere which characterizes their upcountry counterparts.

Nevertheless, monks continue to practice their meditation in them, apparently undisturbed, by the bustling life outside, just as they go out each morning to collect food offerings from city dwellers as anxious to make merit as villagers.

Many Bangkok residents also go there to study meditation during their off-duty hours from work. Formerly everyday life was highly structured and circumscribed by Brahmanic ritualistic taboos, and some of these still linger in modern society. Wednesday, for example, was deemed an inappropriate day on which to cut hair and accordingly, some Bangkok barber shops close each Wednesday.

Astrology also retains its ancient influence and is used by many people to determine auspicious dates for major undertakings. Today it enjoys a kind of reassurance-consultancy role, as certain types of psychological counselling do in the West. Buddhist monks, Brahmans, and professional astrologers cast horoscopes according to which the and hour to embark on a trip are decided. Purchasing land, starting a new business, or opening a shop are also often subject to an astrologer's calculations, and few couples would agree to be married without first determining the suitability of their union and the most auspicious day and minute for the ceremony.

Traditional Thai life-styles, which survive virtually intact in upcountry villages, have undergone extensive reshaping under the pressures of urban demands. Family ties in the city, for example, are not as pervasive as in the village, and young married couples often set up housekeeping on their own.

Modernization has greatly extended the grange of employment opportunities open to people migrating to the city. A decade or so ago, virtually the only acceptable course available to a newly-arrived girl was to take a position as a domestic. Nowadays, she may prefer a job in one of the light industries-sorting transistors, assembling pocket calculators, or working in one of Bangkok's huge textile plants.

An incidental effect of this development has been the introduction of an increasing number of labor saving electrical appliances into middle-and upper-class homes. Considered a wasteful extravagance only a few years ago, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and microwave ovens are now popular household items available at all department stores.

Despite all the apparent changes, however, traditional Thai values are still strong beneath the surface of urban life, a reflection, no doubt, of the fact that the over-whelming majority of city dwellers have come from village backgrounds and also of the potent strength of Thai cultural heritage, which over the centuries has so often demonstrated its ability to bend without breaking.


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06.03.2004 13:41

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