11 Mar

The Thai word for fun


On March 1st, the New York Times had as piece on Bangkok called “My Bangkok: City of Spirits” written by a guy named Lawrence Osborne.  Mr. Osborne is a good writer.  I have read two of his books – one, a novel called “Hunters in the Dark” and another – a memoir, called “Bangkok Days.”

Mr. Osborne talks about his return to Bangkok after living for awhile in Istanbul.  He captures a lot of the weirdness and wonderfulness of Bangkok in his piece and covers a lot of the issues that I have noticed and written about.  For example, he discusses ghosts and spirits, tree nymphs and the strangeness of a military dictatorship that doesn’t seem like a dictatorship to most people.  He talks about the love of zebras, even though there are no zebras in Thailand, except in a couple of zoos.  In one of my favourite parts of the essay, he describes his experience in one Bangkok’s red light zones, just after the death of the King last October.  The government had legislated that all red light areas should be closed for a period of time and that people should generally wear back to pay their respects to the King.  Mr. Osborne wanders into one of the bars in this particular red light district and this is what happens:

“More recently, after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death, the bars on Cowboy were ordered shut during a period of mourning in which everyone was asked to wear black. I walked down there the day after and found that, sure enough, the lights were all turned off. But the bars themselves were all open and filled with the usual suspects. I asked one of the girls — now dancing on darkened stages in somber black bikinis — if they were closed. “Yes,” she said. But were they open too? Again, the dazzling smile: “Yes. Open and closed same time. Everyone happy.””

I think this could only happen in Bangkok.

Mr. Osborne uses the term Sanuk in his essay.  This is a very important word and concept in Thai culture.  The simple definition of the word is ’fun.’  However, the word carries a cultural connotation that is much deeper than that simple one-word definition implies.  The BBC has an interesting article on the true meaning of the word.  You might want to take a look.

If you have a few minutes sometime and want to read a very well written essay on the strange place that is Bangkok, take a look at Mr. Osborne’s piece. It will definitely catch the spirit of Thai Sanuk.

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