Life in Thailand generally discourages PDA as I think of it in the West and this has been a difficult adjustment for me– for reference, one of my friends recently described me as the “most physical person” they know. I love cuddles and heads-on-shoulders and hand holding. All of it. Upon meeting a new person, I am known to ask their permission to hug them right away. My definition of PDA extends to platonic soulmates and acquaintances alike– physical confirmation that we are close and in sync and vulnerable. My constant desire to be near people in this way has thus been challenged while living here, forcing me to reframe how I think about intimacy and affection.
Yet Thailand is a place ripe with affection, as I have come to find through quotdian observations. Here are some examples of PDA (familial, platonic and otherwise) that I have witnessed in the past several months:
-A little boy and his father are eating noodles (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว) at a stand on the road. The little boy is clumsy with his chopsticks and keeps dropping noodles back in the bowl, sighing with frustration as his dad looks at him quietly with an amused expression. Finally, the dad uses his spoon to cut up the boy’s noodles in gentle, deft movements. The boy eats his fill then loudly proclaims, “I’m full!” before putting his head down on his dad’s lap and yawning. Shaking his head and chuckling, the dad takes the bowl of noodles (still nearly full) and eats the remainder, one hand stroking the boy’s hair while he falls asleep.
-Young students sit in a single file line, combing each other’s hair for lice. They are gentler than one might expect, cooing and preening over one another with delicate, small fingers. One kid says to another, “If you were my baby, I would love you and wash you and do your laundry!” before dolling out a tremendous amount of lice soap and massaging it into her friend’s scalp.
-It’s a crowded street in Bangkok and it’s hotter than it has been. A woman and her friend are walking on the sidewalk ahead of me and I notice them because they are giggling like school children and talking low to one another. Both continue murmuring, chuckling despite the heat when one of them suddenly remembers she has a fan in her purse– she whips it out lightening fast and begins fanning both of them as they walk, her head playfully resting on her friend’s shoulder so the fan cools both of them. The friend without the fan loudly brags that her friend is so smart and beautiful and great while enjoying the brief respite from the heat.
-A young couple at the train station are waiting at the nearly-empty platform. She steals a kiss on her girlfriend’s shoulder, moving her hair to one side and moving it back so quickly, I found myself blushing– it was clearly a moment not meant for my eyes.
-Students ask if we can play that one game where we group hug at the end. When pressed, she explains that she really likes her friends. Feeling obligated to encourage this, we now end every class with a big embrace.