Is Bullying An Essential Element for Maintaining Face Saving Cultures?


Hi, I’m Stuart Jay Raj – And I’m Wimintra Raj and this is South by Southeast (SXSE) Bullying in Thailand and Asia Is it a big thing here? I guess when you’re young and when you’re in school – primary school, junior high school it’s kind of a thing, everywhere. You get picked on by your friends. Or you pick on someone who you feel like you can pick on. Yes, I have had those kinds of experiences. I would say that I was bullied. But it was never anything physical or violent – because we’re girls. We kind of said ‘I’m not going to talk to you’ – or ‘I won’t have you in my cheer squad’. As a 10 year old, it was a huge thing. That you would go to school and nobody would talk to you. You didn’t feel involved in anything. You felt kind of left out. But at some point afterwards when I was about 11 or 12, I became that person that picked on other people. I don’t think it’s about the victim themselves, rather it’s about the bully. It might be aggression, or low self esteem or self acceptance. So when you were young, what you’ve just described, I don’t think it’s just Thai culture. This happens the world over in every culture. – It’s just kids being a dick. So do you think if you weren’t bullied, that you wouldn’t have become a bully yourself? I guess I can’t blame it on anyone else but myself. I’ve learned about power. At a very young age. So when I was bullied – I was 10 years old coming from a Catholic boarding school, I moved back to Bangkok and I was left out. I was an outcast – nobody knew me. These people had been in the school forever. Some of them were friends since before because their parents were already friends. So I was just nobody there. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know how I was going to react. Would I turn around and be an A Grade student? – Which I wasn’t until later. So it was them expressing their own insecurities on me, and that’s what I learned. When you are insecure you’re like that, so now I know who is insecure in my class. Who had that low self esteem in my class. And I played on that later – So you could zone in on it? Yeah. And that’s why we talked about it before. You picked on someone that you would know couldn’t fight back. That kind of sux. It’s a bad thing, and that was the pattern. If you look at it, it scales out – you pick on someone that you’re going to lose the least with. Which actually, politically this is what happens. Say the stuff that happens in Saudi Arabia or Brunei The US doesn’t go in and attack because … or even China, if they don’t like something, they are very careful with what tactics they use. But if there is another little country that they know that they could totally crush, then they might go in and do crazy stuff. I think we play politics since we were very young. And that’s why I was very good at my political science degree. So what you’ve just described too, is that one of the reasons that they bully you is because they didn’t know who you were. It’s the fact that you were different. It was like an orientation for me for the whole year of the 4th grade. You aren’t going to talk to us and we aren’t going to talk to you. You won’t be on the cheer squad. But I worked my way around it because that’s how I am. I find my place You just used that word ‘orientation’. In Thai culture, the whole orientation period going into university – we call it ‘rap nong รับน้อง’. Into trade schools, into the military and even into other civil service positions. You go through this period of ‘rap nong’ orientation. In my opinion, I would call it Bullying. Every year you see a week of orientation where we would call it in English ‘hazing’, and some people even die. They beat them, they drag them across gravel. Some of the military ones, we’ve seen them make people strip of and have sex acts with others. To basically humiliate them and bring them down. And then bring them into the group. Yeah, but it was never that bad in my university. It’s already bad as far as having to just attend it. For the whole week of going and singing stupid songs. And dancing and all that which I never attended – and I don’t regret it. I just didn’t go – it was a waste of my time. I could have spent my time somewhere else. Did you receive any negative push back given the fact that you didn’t attend? No – the only pushback that I had was that I didn’t have enough connections with my other alumni and things like that. I didn’t have any connection with them at all because I never attended any of those things – activities like singing and dancing. And all that other stupid stuff. So the sacrifice was in not going through that whole process of what I would call ‘bullying’, Being hazed and brought in – being humiliated and then being brought back into them – Yeah – the connections that you have. You were separate. Yeah, but I had another group of friends that I hung out with in my class. And a lot of universities – I’m not sure about Chulalongkorn or Thammasat Universities, and my university Kasetsat University, we have this system called ‘Nong Phi Rahat น้อง พี่รหัส’ Which was if my student ID was ‘007’, Then my sophomore counterpart is also 007. So she would be like my ‘blood line’. So her senior is going to the be same number and the same to her. It’s like a family tree going on until the seniors. So that’s fascinating – you have a number and the person above you has your same number. And it’s a genealogy. That’s almost like the Sakdi Na system. That used to be here where you had numbers. Yeah – I would think it’s like a family tree. And then how does that operate? Do they have to take care of you or do you have to serve them? No, I never had to serve them. It’s almost like they have to take care of the freshmen. Because I would be asking her ‘Do you have this book?’ – ‘do I need to buy it?’ And she’d say – no, you don’t have to – I already bought it from my ‘phi rahat’ (mentor) So the one above her – and then they got theirs from the one above them. It’s like a family tree. So the word ‘rahat’ รัหส means ‘code’. So ‘phi rahat’ means older brother or sister who has the same code as me. She was very nice and at one point, I think that she felt a little intimidated. My friend asked me ‘why are you scaring her?’ So then I was nice to her. So a question with this whole ‘phi rahat’ mentor thing – not in your experience, but in other experiences – Is it the ‘mentor’ with the same code that is dealing out the punishments during orientation week? No, it’s never that. It’s a different group. They have an ‘entertainment committee’ Entertainment / Torture. That never happened to us, so we don’t know. It was more dancing and stuff. They would ask you to do some stupid dance … (like kai yang ไก่ย่าง) So it’s already annoying just in that. But it was never something horrible in my university. Or in my faculty. In being a facilitator and a trainer, especially here in Thailand, when you’re doing a team building workshop you see when people have to ‘be punished’ after an activity when they lose, they’ll come and do these same things. Yeah, but why dancing? It’s just stupid. And they really get into it – it’s actually fun. – Really? They have fun when they’re doing it. And so I’m traditionally not into that kind of thing, But when I run team building or these types of training, I understand that a lot of these activities have come from the ‘rap nong’ orientation ceremonies that Thai kids are indoctrinated with from that young age. Question – Family, and this whole system of ‘Katanyu กตัญญู’ (moral debt to parents and elders) Could you get bullying here from parents? I don’t think that that is the same I don’t think that parents .. So we did a clip a while back on ‘Katanyu’ It’s the respect that is EXPECTED from children toward parents. That’s a very cultural thing. I don’t think that parents would bully you on purpose. It’s not like they’re going to pick on you because you’re small or you’re a child and you’re only 40kg. Or you have low self esteem. I don’t think parents would do that to their kids, and I don’t think parents should either. But the expectation that the parents raised you, and so you’re obligated to them … That whole ‘expectation’ thing, and gratefulness I think is more a cultural thing, and I don’t think that it has anything to do with bullying. Some parents do do that. It’s too bad, but I don’t think that generally parents bully their kids. What about bullies in the workplace? Yeah, I guess it comes in different forms. If you’re short and chubby, people would call you ‘jam mum จ้ำม้ำ (chubby) or อ้วน Uwn ‘fatso’ as your nickname. Even though you didn’t want it. Which is really common in Thailand – if you’re fat, they’ll call you ‘fatso’ or if you’re dark-skinned, they’ll call you ‘darky’. Yeah – they’d say ‘blacky – come here’ That’s bullying. But the person who is being bullied they just accept it. It’s that same mindset – you accept it because what else are you going to do? In that orientation week hazing, you’re not going to fight back. There are 100 people and you’d be the only one against them. So calling someone ‘hey fatso’ or ‘hey blacky’ is getting them used to that hierarchy. I used to wear glasses when I was at school and people would call me ‘Four eyes’. At the beginning they would do that, but it was never my nickname. As a person who wore glasses. If you asked any of my friends in junior school or primary school, they didn’t think of me as a nerd. It’s like calling someone ‘four eyes’ – yeah. But you look kind of hot like a ‘librarian glasses look’ Not when I was ten though Right! And I WOULD NOT say that when you were 10. I would wait until you’re 18 to say that. You do have a good librarian look. – Yeah, I could pull that off. Let us know your experiences of bullying in Thailand and across the region. In the workplace, have you seen things flow through? If you’re an expat manager, are you even aware of some of the bullying that might be going on? This is one thing that blows me away, going into companies … But actually, when you’re an expat coming into a Thai company, you’re the one who will be on the receiving end of all of this ‘rap nong’ orientation punishment things. You will be pushed into the pool and you’ll have to do these crazy dances because Thais love seeing expats do that. That’s when they’re in those companies, but I would say on the flip side, many Thais make a trade off moving out of a Thai company, and working for an international company … They are able to break out of this whole hierarchy thing. Where they will not be bullied in that same way – they won’t be knocked into place. Let us know about your experiences with bullying. I was just bullied in this very channel in some of the comments! Cyber bullying is actually as bad – yes, keyboard warriors and cyber bullies. There’s a fine line between discussion and bullying. And the scary thing about this whole cyber thing is that you don’t even need to face your victim when you interact with them. You just hide behind your keyboard – but in Thailand it gets very nasty we have the Cyber Crimes Law. Some of my friends have been dragged into that. The only way to settle it is in court. If you’re an expat living in Thailand doing cyber bullying, I would think twice. Yeah – even if you’re saying something true. Even it it was a true fact. You can’t do that – this case that my friend was involved with, If someone says something about her, I asked her ‘was it true?’ – but she said it doesn’t matter. They lawyer said the court says whether or not it’s true, if that person caused you to lose face, that’s it – and you can go to jail for it. Yeah – but they settled it with a lot of money in court. So bullying is a big thing. Whether it’s bullying, or cultural integration into the traditional hierarchy – Let us know what you think I’m Stuart Jay Raj – and I’m Wimintra Raj and this is South by Southeast (SXSE) – watch for the next episode. Bye!