Follow Your Roots: The Thai way of life
I was born in Bangkok and raised there until the age of 10, when I was sent to boarding school in Sydney. And although I’ve spent the majority of my years in Australia, my life really is a blend of the East and West. My mother is Catholic, my father is Buddhist. I eat Thai and Western food in equal measure, and I speak mostly Thai at home but English elsewhere. My Thai friends think I’m an Aussie, and my Aussie friends consider me Thai – and rather than be confused by all of this, I really enjoy the fluid access to both cultures.
Having spent my adult life in Australia, I’ve come to really admire the people of Thailand and their appreciation of life, irrespective of the circumstances. Thailand is a developing economy and there are some big wealth gaps there, but whether I’m chatting with a lady running her papaya salad stand, an experienced taxi driver or a young cafe owner catering to the new rich, they’re all my brothers and sisters, or aunties and uncles; the conversations flow effortlessly and sometimes endlessly! Above all, I think Thais are born addicted to two things: eating and talking!
I grew up in a ‘moo baan,’ which is like a little gated village. We were so close with our neighbours and it was a very social childhood. I think I owe a lot to this part of my life – I get along with just about anyone and I love nothing more than sharing food, chatting and laughing, which is all I can remember doing as a child. I was always surrounded by family and friends and we always took very special care of our elders, who told us stories, taught us how to cook and showed us how to pay our respects to the spirits.
The older I get the more I appreciate my roots. Both my parents were born in the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, around an hour and a half drive north of Bangkok. I’m fortunate to be able to return every year. One of my brothers, who also moved to Australia when I did, moved back to live with his wife in Krabi, and my childhood nanny lives in a more rural part of Thailand named Si Sa Ket so I get to see many different walks of life in Thailand when I return. It even felt natural to get married there, in one of my favourite cities of all, Chiang Mai.
My cultural tips for anyone travelling to Thailand is definitely to eat the street food (don’t be scared, eating hot food off a grill can be a lot safer than eating at restaurants), spend time in the temples (‘wat’) and don’t be afraid to look to the monks or other Thais for advice on what to do when paying respects as they love seeing tourists sharing in our customs. It’s a very spiritual country full of faith, philosophy and superstition, so the street life in and around the temples will generally provide you with some interesting insights.
If you’re planning on visiting, I hope you enjoy life on the bustling streets and markets while taking some time to close your eyes and meditate when you can – this way you’ll get the calm and the calamity that is the yin and yang of my home country.
Will Hamish Blake track down his great-grandmother’s birthplace? Find out, and see more of our Follow Your Roots stories here.