First impressions can be hard. It isn’t that Tulaya Pornpiriyakulchai gives a bad one, quite the contrary. She’s beautiful, obviously very intelligent and self-possessed. One might find all that intimidating in a young woman but Tulaya is also interested in people and her surroundings. She gives you her full attention in conversation but manages not to offend the others in her company. The first impression is difficult in this case because one can’t immediately draw any conclusions about her. Meeting Tulaya feels a bit like dropping a pebble into a pond of placid water and watching as it takes longer than expected to reach the bottom.
She is a woman of many talents and abilities, the most engaging of which is the ability to express herself. Her conversation is insightful but she doesn’t dispense wisdom with any high-handedness. One would think the author of a book on Thai proverbs might be ready to teach a lesson or two but Tulaya’s interest in folklore is just as much a personal quest as it is an effort to preserve Thai culture.
Thai Folk Wisdom, Contemporary Takes on Traditional Thai Proverbs is a labour of love created jointly by Tulaya and Jane Vejjajiva who wrote short stories to give context to each proverb. It is a book not only of Thai sayings but also of contemporary art. The book is illustrated by some of Thailand’s most prominent artists. ‘My idea is not just to do a book but to do a movement to revive our cultural heritage,’ she tells us. ‘Ideally I want to make it a road show around Southeast Asia (to highlight traditional Thai culture).
‘I just recently relocated to Singapore for work,’ Tulaya reveals. ‘I felt like ten years working in Thailand was a good amount of experience. I love Thailand, it’s so hard leaving (but) I wanted to diversify. I felt like ten years was the longest (I’d spent) in one country. It’s been very meaningful, challenging and turned out to be very fulfilling in the end.’
Although she’ll be working as a Brand Consultant for a variety of companies in Singapore, Tulaya will continue with her work with traditional Thai culture and contemporary art. ‘I see the art scene is getting a lot of endorsement there (in Singapore),’ she says and finds that exciting. ‘I really would like to help them because I’m passionate about art.’
The idea for a book combining cotemporary art with proverbs came after working a few years in advertising and brand management. After a peripatetic childhood spent overseas in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and America, Tulaya experienced a bit of culture shock upon returning home. ‘I came up with this idea when I came back because there are proverbs that you don’t hear every day unless they are used in conversation in the workplace. I was interested in learning more and began looking for books on proverbs. The only ones I found were boring, old exercise books. Young people don’t relate to it.’ The quest was to create something that young people would find interesting and to which they could, indeed, relate.
Much of the conventional wisdom is highly relevant to today’s society. Tulaya’s favourite proverb is phu dee teen daeng, takhaeng teen doen which, when literally translated, means ‘fancy folks with red soles walk on the sides of their feet.’ Explained in her book, the meaning is:
In the old days it was the norm for villagers to walk barefoot. Naturally the soles of their feet were dirty and hard, unlike those of richer people who never went without shoes and accordingly had clean, soft soles. Those trying to make people believe they were important would rub red dye on their soles and walk awkwardly on the sides of their feet so people could see they had red soles rather than course, black ones.
A truly well-bred person is polite and knows how to behave with others, treating them as he or she would wish to be treated. That is the essence of the concept. It has nothing to do with how one walks or how much money one has.
For Tulaya, this is especially the relevant to today’s Thailand where the push for modernisation and development has created a bias towards materialistic values. ‘Our society is progressing in such a way that material success defines you as a phu dee (a good person or aristocrat) but in fact when you think about the term, it’s actually nothing connoting wealth. It’s actually a person with good values. A good person. We’re losing the values.’
So it is the sense of cultural values that gives us insight into who Tulaya is. And it is no surprise one can’t get to know her immediately. Such ideas and understanding only come with good conversation.
Editor's Note: Starting next week, we will be presenting one proverb a month from Thai Folk Wisdom, Contemporary Takes on Traditional Thai Proverbs, courtesy of Tulaya Pornpiriyakulchai and Jane Vejjajiva.
Thursday, December 16, 2010 - 13:00