Thai White Elephant

Many Asian cultures regarded fatness as a sign of wealth, however with the advent of 7/11 consumerism in the Orient obesity is fast becoming a health issue for the region. The Thais like to joke about fat people, whom they call ‘chang-nois’ or little elephants.

“Why are farangs so fat?” An old rice farmer asked me in Ban Nok.

“Pepsi. KFC. Lotus.” Few Thais have yet to make the miraculous connection between mega-supermarkets, 7/11, fast food and obesity.

“Pepsi no good?” Den never drank soda. His favorite beverage was lao-khao or rice whiskey. “7/11 paeng.”

“7/11 is expensive.” I only bought beer there.

“Why farang poom-phoey?”

“Farangs are fat, because they kin aharn mai-dee.” Most westerners live in Thailand without any change in their typically European diet.

“Fat good.”

“No, fat is not good.”

“Puying Thai like khang noi si khao.”

“White elephants?”

“Chai.” Den nodded with rapidity. “Fat farangs same as chang noi si khao.”

“Same?” Only the king can own a white elephant.

“Yes, Thai lady have fat farang and she has good luck. Same king.” The Buddhist adoration of white elephants date back to the birth of Siddhartha whose mother dreams about a white elephant giving her a lotus flower, which symbolized purity.

“So white elephant good luck.” I was overweight and not obese.

“Chang si khao good luck and bad luck.” Den has an uncommon perception for traditions which his wife blamed on his excessive drinking. “Not have many white elephant. But white elephant can not work. Only can eat. Same as farang.”

“Farangs work.” I’ve been working since I was 12.

“Never see farang work rice paddy.” Den considered farming the only honorable work left to a man. “And white elephant not white. More pink.”

“Where you see one?”

“Friend have one. He have to give king. No money. Bad luck more.” Den has no need for money. He lived in the rice paddies protecting his crop from rustlers. A package of tobacco, a little rice whiskey, and he was a happy man. “But good luck for king. He have many white elephants and Thai ladies have many chang-nois. Everyone happy.”

“Even chang-noi?”

“Even chang noi.”

As I said before, Den is a happy man so he knows happy.

It’s the simple things in life.

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