Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Mysteries of Krabi

25 February 2014

I've asked around, as well as looked online, but finally walked up to the Thai Tourism Center here in Krabi to find the answers.  What do all the intersection statues mean?  Why are they here, instead of the usual monuments to illustrious citizens of the town, or heroes of legends, the way most of the towns in this country put up?  And they're all on Maharat Road (sometimes spelled Maharaj Road), the main road leading in to Krabi Town - to ensure every visitor sees them.  Why are they so important?

So, the explanations:

This area, Krabi province, is one of the areas where the white elephant comes from.  The white elephant is kind of elephant given to each king, so this is really important.  Plus an early king set up an elephant farm or enclosure here in the area, and the people living there eventually established Krabi Town.  So the elephant is not only considered an important animal in this area, a connection to royalty, but also is the reason the town exists.  (And all kinds of elephant statues are in the area of the elephant intersection.)

Heading south on Maharat, we come to the Sea Eagle intersection, with two sea eagles flanking the intersection.  The sea eagle obviously refers to Krabi being on the Krabi River, which feeds into the Andaman Sea - but the sea eagle also represents vision and perspective - the eagle has excellent vision from great heights, and we need to keep that sense of vision and perspective in our minds and in our abilities.

South a few more blocks we find the Saber-Tooth Tiger intersection - one giant pillar with a huge tiger on top, and four smaller tigers crouching above the four signal lights.  Saber-tooth tiger fossils have been found in this area, so this animal is represented as part of Krabi's prehistoric past.  (And yes, my dad's hat decided to be in the photo.  We're a cat family.)

Then, the piece de resistance:  Cro-Magnon Man.  Actually, more like four Cro-Magnon Men.  There are four of these statues, each on his own pillar, and each holding two traffic lights as if these are his luggage.  Okay, this is really really funny, bordering on hilarious.  Seriously funny.  One of those "what the ???" moments.  The nice tourism lady explained that one of the oldest settlements found in Thailand was in this area, that evidence of Cro-Magnon people have been found here in Krabi.  (There are cave paintings in some of the karst caves.)   So these statues also represent Krabi's prehistoric past.

And I had to ask if these were meant to be as funny as they seem to many of us.  She agreed that yes, they are funny.  Sort of a joke.  

Which, of course, started me thinking about what is considered funny or humourous in one culture may or may not be funny in another culture.  Is there a funny absolute?  Pure humour?  That crosses cultural boundaries and mores and taboos?
This is something I've been thinking about lately, although in other terms - we were at a café, and a young woman was sitting at a table, chair pushed all the way back so she could sit in that chair cross-legged.  And the chair all the way back was making it difficult for guests and wait staff to pass back and forth.  Did she care?  Did she notice?  Well, she didn't move her chair, no matter how many times someone passed by.  I have no idea if she noticed, or cared.  But she didn't move.  It was an incident that I would think showed someone being rude and selfish - but is it, in Thai culture?  Or any other culture?  Is rude or abrupt or impolite behaviour the same from culture to culture? 

For example, on the small Fijian island of Nacula, we were told to sit with our feet tucked under when we met with the village chief; it's very rude to show the chief the bottom of your feet.  Not that I'd show the US President the bottom of my feet, but we don't exactly have that taboo.  

Or, in the USA we use one side of a fork to scoop up food.  In British countries (including Australia and New Zealand) the fork is turned over, and food is piled on top.  In Indonesia and Thailand, a fork is used to push food onto a spoon, rather than using a knife to push food onto a fork the way we do in the USA.  And in Australia I saw several people just eating from their knife, which would have appalled my mother - but that's the way we were brought up.  Those were part of our etiquette, our cultural norms.

So, how much are cultural norms and behaviours, and how much are human behaviours?  When does a behaviour go from being a cultural norm to being rude or impolite or selfish?  

There are expected human behaviours that are codified into law (and religion) - do not steal, do not kill, to not injure or maim.  But these are major behaviours; what about minor behaviours, like blocking a small café aisle with your chair, just so you're comfortable, but inconveniencing others?  Is that okay?  Is that an expected human behaviour, to not do this, to be considerate of others?

So, I have no answers.  But these are the questions I think about as we travel, as we notice how people in various cultures behave, how they act, what seems to be important or unimportant.

And of course there are all the lovely and interesting market foods, pictured here - I'm not sure if the pink eggs are natural, or coloured - but they are a lovely rose pink.

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