By Josh Butterworth , Teacher in Phetchabun, Thailand
One minute before eight.
Monday. The morning sun beats down on your back as the epic sound of ‘Phleng Chat Thai’ (the Thai national anthem, a song you will become very familiar with) echoes around the playground. Sweat builds. Hundreds of masked students stand to attention watching the same thing as you, the same thing as every single person in the playground. The school dogs don’t seem too fussed though, as they weave in and out of the human statues. The red, blue and white flag of Thailand is slowly, awkwardly raised into the air, squeaking as it moves, by two children, their focus intense. The flag does not flutter as there is no wind in the air, a warning of the heat yet to come. Behind the flag the sky is blue, pure blue and elusively blue, there is not a cloud in sight. The flag reaches its destination for the day and the song finishes.
Like that one kid who doesn’t know the dance routine, slightly delayed, you follow everyone to spin to face the school pagoda. The high-pitched voice of a student speaking through a microphone becomes suddenly calming as she begins to chant a Buddhist prayer. Teachers and students alike have their hands together, eyes closed. A moment of peace, a moment to think and be grateful before the day starts. Then, it stops, pause, and the students sit. You turn to walk back to the office but as you do you notice something, something odd.
As you pass each teacher, you wai them, of course, by placing your hands together followed by a nod of your head. You note that they are all dressed in clothes of the same color, that color is yellow. The shirts of the male teachers are all yellow. Female teachers wear yellow skirts and blouses but predominantly they are in dresses not dissimilar to something you might see in a 1950’s movie, but all yellow. You look down at your clothes, dressed in a blue shirt and grey trousers you clearly did not get the memo. Realizing that you are the odd one out, a foreigner in the wrong outfit, anxiety builds and you rush to the office to get out of sight.
School is out. You survived. Your ike was in the shade when you left in this morning but the sun has moved. The seat is hot as you sit down, roasting, you’re grateful for the layers of protection between it and your bum. You drive slowly through the school towards the gate, excited students giggle and shout “hello teacher”. You nod as you pass your new colleagues, all dressed in yellow. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow. As you leave the school gates you accelerate and head to the first clothes shop you can find. Aircon. Wow. You are followed closely by a shop assistant who smiles awkwardly every time you turn to check they are still there. You grab a yellow shirt, smart, best to go for an XXL, which equates to a UK L. On your way home you get some noodles and feel ready for Tuesday.
In your smart, crisp yellow shirt that is not yet tainted by sweat, the wind on the bike has kept it at bay for now, you feel confident driving through the school gates to the sound of “hello teacher”. You look for yellow, you can’t find it. Then you spot the first teacher. Oh no. She’s not in yellow. She’s in pink. Another, pink. Another, pink. Shit. What’s going on. You park your bike in a new spot, currently shaded and hopefully staying that way. Three minutes to eight. You walk to the playground to watch the flag raise. “Hello teacher”. Two minutes to eight. You are in position. Your stomach drops. Pink. Pink. Pink. All the teachers are in pink. Shit.
Hi, I’m Josh! I moved to Phetchabun (around 5h north of Bangkok) with my girlfriend in November 2021. After 4ish months of living and working in Thailand I have now got over some of the cultural differences which can at first be a bit of a shock and occasionally difficult to manage. In this post I would like to share with you something that might help you feel more confident and comfortable during your first week at your new school. It’s not a life changing revelation that will make everything go completely smoothly, but it will help you to feel like you are part of a community, and your Thai colleagues will see that you are respecting their traditions from day one. Now, I am no expert and cannot explain the roots of this tradition, but I can tell you that those roots lay in religion and are something to do with different gods protecting different days of the week. Anyway, it’s more important to know the tradition than to understand it.
Just to be clear, what I am talking about only refers to what you wear at school. The second I get home after work, if I’m out for dinner, drinks or at any point over the weekends, I wear whatever I want, in whatever color I want. Most young people do not follow this tradition and in your free time you do not need to either. I say again, it is only in a work environment (or any other time you are trying to impress older or more traditional Thai people) where I see this tradition as important.
It’s simple. On each day of the week, different colors are deemed good and others bad. For example, on Monday it is good to wear yellow and bad to wear red. Most, if not all the Thai teachers (especially the older and more senior staff) at your school will adhere to dressing themselves in the different colors throughout the week (or at least nod to them somewhere in their outfit), and trust me, you will feel better if you do as well. I must stress that nothing bad will come about if you wear the ‘bad’ color, or even just not the ideal one for that day, but it feels good to fit in with your Thai colleagues whose school you work within, especially during your first week. It shows an intent to fit in and accept their culture, this is something that is important to do. Wearing the right colors and making sure to wai all your colleagues (but not the students, who will wai you, don’t be tempted to do it back) will give the right impression. Pair that with a positive attitude, smiles and hard work to set yourself up for a great experience every time you drive through those school gates and hear “hello teacher”.
Monday – Yellow
Tuesday – Pink
Wednesday – Green
Thursday – Orange
Friday – Light Blue
Saturday – Purple
Sunday – Red
Here are the colors that correspond to each day, and here are some pictures of myself and my girlfriend, Rachael, in our different outfits. If you feel so obliged, then I recommend hitting up some charity shops or wherever you do your shopping and organize your teaching outfits in accordance with these ‘rules’. It makes life a lot simpler, knowing what you’re going to wear each day really does save time and stress every morning. Whether it’s obvious like a colored shirt or dress, or something more subtle like a tie, a jumper or ribbon that you wear in your hair to show people you are aware of their culture, traditions and that you respect them will do a lot for you and your future relationships with your future colleagues.
Also, sometimes schools will have one day each week where they wear school colors (mine for example, is red on Tuesday) so be sure to check if they have this and get prepared.
Thanks for reading and I hope this was interesting and helpful to you all. Good luck with everything and I will see you soon in Thailand.
Sawasdee krab, Josh
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