Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Thailand has many cultural norms that are unusual to Westerners. Don't pat the top of anyone's head. Don't point the bottoms of your feet at anyone. Take off your shoes before entering a home or a wat. Bow regularly. They're really not all that challenging to learn, but it's good to be aware of them.

Many of the rules relate to Buddhism. Buddha is everywhere here. I'm currently on a boat and the cabinet of lifeboat vests is stored next to a framed portrait of Buddha. Many people stop walking down the street and bow when they pass an image of Buddha. Monks abound. It is, as you might imagine, important to respect Buddha.

On a train ride back from a day trip spent marveling at monkeys climbing on a temple, Avni, one of my travelmates, asked to have a look at my postcards. The train was packed with Thais, mostly schoolchildren and people on their way home from work. They filled the seats and the aisles, and we were trying to pass the time. I retreated to my book, but Melinda and Avni were chatting. It was only a matter of time before they started playing a game. They're good at making up games, but I was too tired to take part.

A few minutes later, I heard slapping, followed by gleeful laughter, I looked up to find Melinda and Avni were playing a new game they made up using postcards: They placed the postcards face up one at a time, until . . . SLAP!

They were playing Slap Buddha. The rules were like Slap Jack, but a bit problematic. Think Slap Jesus. On a train in the Bible Belt.

I exclaimed, “Are you slapping Buddha?” I was a bit too loud. Melinda and Avni grew quiet, realizing what they had done. We all looked around the train to see who had been offended.


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