There are rules that can’t be bent, there are rules that can be broken. I think Morpheus said that just before kicking Keanu Reeves’ arse in The Matrix. Let me tell you something for free, he was not talking about the rules of Asian etiquette. The rules are implacable and it doesn’t matter if you know Kung Fu or not. Here are some things I’ve learnt about Asian etiquette that might come in handy for your next trip.
TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES
We all remember the scene from Donnie Brasco when Johnny Depp doesn’t remove his boots in the restaurant. Tough scene to watch but I love how when Sonny stands up, the gang instinctively takes up positions, cornering the manager then frog marching him to the gents to give him a kick-in.
Anyway, this is kind of Asian etiquette is more Japanese tradition, I didn’t see any of this in any of the Thai restaurants we visited. But any Temple or sitting with a Buddhist monk will enforce the no-shoe rule.
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KNEEL BEFORE BUDDHA
At least get below eye-height. You are a mere mortal and Buddha is higher up the spiritual food chain than you pal. We visited the Buddha head in the trees at the Historical Park in Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya.
The head was once part of a sandstone Buddha image which fell off the main body onto the ground. It was gradually trapped into the tree roots of a constantly growing Bodhi tree. The head reflects the art of Middle Ayutthaya Period, circa mid 1600’s.
You can take pictures of the head but out of respect, in the kneeling position or else a man with cane will emerge from his post and tap you (lightly but with intent) on the shoulder to aid you. I saw this happen, it’s a thing.
If you’re travelling to Thailand and wishing to see the sights of Ayutthaya which is a 2 hour car ride north of Bangkok, I recommend using Your Thai Guide. Ask for Elena who was very sweet and gave us a very informed two-day tour.
NO CHEWING GUM
In Singapore it’s not illegal for tourists to use or bring chewing gum into the country, but it is illegal to sell it. Chewing gum is not sold anywhere in Singapore as the authorities were tired of cleaning up all the crappy disused gum on the doors and seats of their new subways. Remember some human beings are just animals, so they soon put a stop to that altogether. You’ll notice the streets and subways in Singapore are spotless.
ACCEPT AND GIVE ANYTHING WITH BOTH HANDS
It’s very much a respect thing when dealing with people in the service industry to hand and receive things with both hands. It’s a tradition that indicates societal rank and although you may think you’re Rod Stewart wearing your sunglasses in the hotel lobby, you’re in their backyard now boy.
Did I leave anything out? Probably right, but I think I covered the main ones. If there is anything you wish to add about the rules on Asian etiquette, I’d be keen to know. Drop the comments in the box below. Keep check on my Travel Page for more tales from my trip to Asia and James Bond Island.