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A Survival advisor to Customs and Etiquette
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Many monks now possess teaching certiﬁcates and run simple village schools, bringing education to remote areas. is surely healthy that the most respected people in society have taken a vow of poverty, which prevents them eating after noon, and a vow of celibacy, which prevents formation of a priestly caste. During chantings, the monks sit in a row on a platform that raises them physically above laymen. In one or two of the wats frequented by tourists, the visitor may notice a sign in English saying ‘reserved for monks’ or ‘monks only’; in most places, however, there will be no sign.
Rare ‘white’ elephants are always presented to the King; other elephants work for their living but are regarded as very special animals. Umbrellas have the same association with royalty—the greater the number of tiers, the higher a noble’s rank. Ordinary single-tiered umbrellas may, of course, be used to keep off the rain and sun by anybody. But even if there is no rain or sun, an elaborate umbrella will be used to ‘shelter’ a young man on his way to become a monk, or a dead person on the way to cremation—two moments in existence when a commoner attains his highest status.
During the 400 years of what is usually referred to as the Ayudhya Period, 34 reigns maintained an unbroken succession, establishing the monarchy as a vital part of Thai structure and personality. A vital part of the Thai system, and one that continues in more democratic form today, was the establishment of the Sakti Na system, where every single Thai was graded within a complex hierarchy structure that related to wealth and social prestige and which controlled an individual’s behaviour to others.