Chiang Mai: Small figure of M sitting at the breakfast table on a chair too low for her. The plate with her toast too high and elbows sticking out, takes a large scoop of grape jelly from the jar, carefully carries it, at eye-level, on the flat of her knife, wobbling-wobbling over to her toast, decends and lands on toast without spilling a drop. I’m kinda transfixed by this manoeuvre. We were playing a game where you have to say as many words as you can, beginning with a given initial letter. So it’s my turn; I watch her spreading the jelly over the toast and ask her to give me a word beginning with ‘S’ and immediately she says, ‘SpongeBob’, then continues spreading jelly on the toast. SpongeBob? I ask… and she says, yes (like, is there something wrong with that?) Pretty good, considering she’s only 8 and English is a second language.
Also that M is Thai and coming from a cognitive place that’s different from the rigid Western, logical, clearly-stated position, that-which-is-known. You could say the Thai way is remote from this. But M is a child, like any child, learning as she goes along. There’s the impact of SpongeBob to be included, same as it is with Western children but she’s got the advantage of having an inherited understanding that’s more intuitive, Eastern (inductive); feeling the way through and let’s not bother with objectives, goals and all that stuff, okay?
Westerners find it difficult coping without a given structure. It’s not LOGICAL. In the Western (deductive) behaviour, we almost always express things having a plan in mind; the idea of what we’re saying is right there at the beginning, clearly seen, and all the backup related to that follows after. Then there’s a conclusion at the end.
The Thais are sometimes shocked by the bluntness of this kind of thinking. Their way of expressing things is like the inverse of that, no real indication where it begins, plenty of general examples and there’s a conclusion in there somewhere but it’s difficult for us Westerners to find it because we didn’t understand how it started … it seems vague.
Hotel staff, tour guides, any situation where you’re asking for information at random: Excuse me, do you happen to know where I can …? This kind of question is an invitation for the Thai to lay out a tapestry of possibilities, together with additional info you might like to know.
Western visitors are baffled. The idea is that the solution to the problem is already there, an understanding of this is induced; the conclusion is inferred, arrived at: Yes! I see what you mean… the aha moment. There’s a skill in asking the question, of course, mindfulness, and that’s on-going for me, no expectations (that helps) and there’s a skill in the ability to be patient, appear interested while looking around for someone else who might know.
The West, separates God and the world. We are not Him, we are created by Him; a subject/object duality. The Eastern inductive reasoning understands the function of things through recurring patterns, a ‘puzzle made of its parts’. If there’s a God it must be ‘inside’ this, cannot be separate, it’s integrated. Not easy for me, letting go of the seeking for logical patterns of cause and effect that aren’t there. And I’m suddenly interrupted by M, who asks me if she can use the computer; she opens google, and finds a YouTube video of the Chipmunks singing Gangnam Style in cute squeaky voices: Op op op op, oppan Gangnam Style, Gangnam Style. Op op op op, oppan Gangnam Style…