Tag Archives: sanuk

Reasons to Retire in Thailand: Sanuk (Fun)

Everyone, even the Germans, (who are among my favorite people) likes to have fun. But the Thais make a national past time of it. What football is to Brazil, fun is to Thailand. If there’s one thing that retirees are looking for after a lifetime of family-raising and work, it’s fun. So let me explain just how devoted to fun the Thais are.Imagine that your entire country took two official days off (actually, it’s really four: a day for planning while drinking beer, and a day for recuperation while drinking beer) in the hottest, driest season so that everyone-from school children to Supreme Court judges-could arm themselves with gigantic water cannons and water pistols, hoses and buckets. Then, at the appointed hour, all of them began a full-on water fight, dousing each other and everyone in sight for two days.That’s only one of Thailand’s countless festivals. But it gives you a flavor of the place. I encounter lesser-known festivals almost every week. When I say I ‘encounter’ them, I mean it literally. Often when am trying to get into town I find that the main bridge is blocked for the morning (sometimes all day) and that only a 20-mile detour will get me to my destination. When I complained to a Thai friend about all of the bridges being blocked for one particular celebration he looked at me with bewilderment: “But why didn’t you just join in? Would that not have been more sanuk?”Sanuk means fun. And there’s a great deal of Thai wisdom in his question. Life is short, and opportunities for fun must be seized whenever and wherever we find them-or they find us. Better to give up a day in the city and sing and dance in the street. Besides, that’s a bette way to work up a thirst for the always-important cold beer afterwards. So, gradually, and still grumbling, I have begun to embrace the principle of sanuk. And gradually, I’m feeling lighter and happier.One of the first things you notice when you come to Thailand-and you must come-is the Thais’ inherent playfulness and light-heartedness. Sanuk isn’t just a synonym for ‘fun’. It’s a principle of existence, something that needs to be created and sustained. So in Thailand anything worth doing, even work, should have some element of sanuk. This doesn’t mean Thai people don’t want to work. As you’ll see, they’re extremely hard-working when they do work. It is just that they live more in the present, and do their best to enjoy every moment.The famous Thai smile stems partly from this desire to create sanuk, and not to disturb your personal state and enjoyment of sanuk. Smiling is a way of being considerate of others.You’ll notice that Thais have a strong sense of humor, but sarcasm is not considered funny, whether it is intended humorously or not. In Australia forexample, if a friend is wearing an unusually colorful jacket, we might say something like ‘did someone spill paint on you?” And everyone will laugh and no one will be offended. But Thais can be deeply hurt by even such light sarcasm, and will smile more out of embarrassment than pleasure.Thais’ sense of humor tends more towards slapstick than subtlety. A man slipping on a banana skin in the street will have Thais in stitches. Thais tend to be remarkably innocent, gentle people. The men often seem quite feminine, which is accepted and even encouraged. They feel under no obligation (other than fashion) to look like the Marlboro Man-nor to affect the kind of humorlessness that is often part of the macho ‘act’.Teens might wear punk styles, but then destroy the whole effect by walking around with a teddy bear under their arm, or a furry baby hat on their heads. When they laugh it’s a gentle giggle rather than the manly macho laugh. What they laugh at is even more innocent. Watch a TV comedy with a group of Thais. (Most Thai comedy is slapstick, so you don’t need to understand Thai to get the jokes).A sure-fire joke is when the self-important straight man’s sarong (pathung in southern Thailand) is pulled off to reveal his Long Johns. Entire rooms full of Thais will simply fall off their chairs laughing at this. The best way to appreciate such jokes, I’ve found, is to crack up laughing too, and fall off my chair. It’s much more enjoyable that way. It even makes the movie funny!The moral of this story? It’s better to be happy-sanuk-than concerned. Underneath that simple statement lies a profound truth that the Thais understand: happiness is a choice: one we can all help each other to make.