*This blog is written by Rolf von Bueren
When I die and be reborn, I would like to be a child and grow up in Thailand, because the love of the Thais for children is legendary.
I come from Germany, where children are loved but considered a nuisance. It is difficult to describe the position of children in German society, but suffice to say there is little open love shown to them. They are properly cared for, and there is certainly a deep love for them, but it is rarely shown. When I was growing up, children were not supposed to talk when the grown-ups were talking, and there were many rules that suppressed the full freedom of children. We actually experienced that ourselves when we went on holiday to Germany when our children were still small. In some instances, we saw open hostility towards our free-spirited kids.
It’s probably the climate and the effort needed to bring up children in Germany - dressing and undressing them in cold climates, shoes off and on for rainy days which entailed complicated tying of shoelaces, plus the additional necessary work on shoes like cleaning and polishing. When combined with the endless chores of a German wife and mother, it was probably necessary to have strict rules to reduce the work load.
The eminent American anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, wrote in her anthropological work on Thailand titled “Thai Culture and Behavior” that children in Thailand are easy to care for. They hardly need clothes; a bucket of water washes away any mess they may create, and they grow up in their own world with comparatively little interference from the parents. It is a pleasure to see the faces of grown-ups soften whenever a mother with a small child appears in front of them and their main attention is focused on the kids. No doubt, this freedom of growing up contributes to a gentle and non-aggressive nature later in life.
I have to admit that most of my observations are from over 10 years back or even prior to that, and I’m sure a lot has changed during the urbanization and globalization of Thailand. It may also have changed in Germany where the birth rate is very low. With very few children being born each year, society may be much more child-friendly than it was before.
I was told by a visiting anthropologist many years ago, that the difference between European and Asian wives is that European wives decide to remain wives after the birth of their children, while Asian - and certainly Thai wives - decide on motherhood. The result is that Thai mothers move with their children to the towns or cities where the children are being educated to remain close to them, ready to help and support them. In contrast, the independence of the children is an important goal of western education. As a result, children leave their parents’ home quickly and the relationship is altered and is a different one. The Asians, therefore, remain more family-orientated.
Thailand is a paradise for children and remains so; parents bend over backwards to give their children a good education. Confucius and Buddhist culture puts an extremely high value on education; compared to everywhere else in the world, parents do as much, but Asia is famous for its ranking in the world tests of mathematics and other sciences.
Thais, when challenged, often perform brilliantly. However, the environment and social norm in the country encourages conformity rather than competition. There are quite a few Thais who studied in the west and were top of their class, but as soon as they came back to Thailand, they quickly got back to their normal Thai non-competitive social behaviour, and were never heard of again.
Another reason Thai children learn certain things easily is open-minded attitude towards play that they enjoy. Despite the fact that schools usually stick to the old way of memorizing and rote learning, I believe this has an advantage in the way it serves to preserve the cultural strengths of Thai society. Children are respectful and disciplined as a result of the classroom culture. Decades of talk on education reform has not really achieved any substantial success. Thai children, however, are free to enjoy playtime outside the school without much interference from adults, and this allows them to learn through play.
Our own experience with our grandchildren was that they were rather unsociable till the age of 18. They were blasé about life; everything was boring and not good enough for them. But at around that age, they suddenly changed, both of them at the same time, without any apparent rhyme or reason, and became good humans, polite, thoughtful and most caring. A load was lifted from our shoulders! The system and society worked, and we have been gifted with two pleasant and dependable young friends. It is wonderful to see that life goes on.