style over substance

I’ve mentioned earlier that appearance is very important in Thailand. Thailand is definitely a “style over substance” kind of place.

This morning I went to buy my usual breakfast of rice porridge and chinese donuts on my soi. By now the woman knows exactly how I take it (ginger, shallots, no egg, only ground pork), and even how many bags of chinese donuts I take (1), I don’t even need to say anything.

As I’m standing there waiting, out of the blue she says to me in Thai: “how long do you stay in Thailand?” “Wow, you speak thai so cleverly” (expats will recognize this as “poot passa thai geng maak”)

I walked away puzzled, as to why she decided to say this to me today, since she usually kind of scowls at me, and I didn’t even talk to her today, in Thai or otherwise.

Then I realized I had on a great outfit today, with my hair done, whereas normally I go pick up breakfast in my almost-pyjamas or my gym clothes on my way to the gym.

2 Responses to “style over substance”

  1. 1 Gen Kanai December 24, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    I’m not sure it’s as black and white as you see it. Japan, for instance, cares a lot about presentation, or form. Especially with food, but just about everywhere else as well. But function is also critical (who made the best consumer electronics for the past few decades?)

  2. 2 julielavoie December 24, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    hi Gen,

    I completely agree that style doesn’t exclude substance, and one reason I love Japanese design is some of the best in the world (if not *the* best) is that it does manage to marry them together.

    I first became interested in user experience design when I visited Japan: staying in a ryokhan showed me what it truly means to have someone thoughtfully anticipate everything you might want or need, before you even know you want it. I was astounded to notice details like

    1) the cord for the light over my bed was *exactly* the lenght I could reach with my arm while lying on my futon. I didn’t have to stretch up or get out of bed when I was ready to sleep.

    2) my bed cover was folded in this weird accordion way so that I could unfold it in one smooth motion. The cover was big and bulky, had it been folded any other way, I would have struggled to unfold it.

    3) When I arrived there was hot tea waiting in my room, and snacks — like someone realized that a tired traveller wants to eat RIGHT NOW, not wait until you have the chance to freshen up, get dressed, etc, before eating after a long trip.

    Really, I felt like all rough edges of my life in Canada, all the little annoying details that are just not quite right, were just not there — someone had thought about all of them.

    So I have a great admiration for Japanese design. Now that I am learning to be a designer, not just a programmer, I want to bring those qualities into my work as much as possible, that kind of thoughtfullness.

    But I do honestly think Thailand is different. I think Thais, as a people, have an innate sense of beauty, but they do not pay attentio to what is inside. I feel like Thailand is full of stuff like:

    * prestigious apartment buildings that look amazing, but have 2 elevators for 600 apartments, so whenever you want to go to your prestigious apartment, you wait 10 minutes to take the elevator, because no one gave thought to how many elevators you should have for 20 floors and 600 apartments.

    * cool looking restaurants at Siam Paragon, when it looks good to be seen with your friends, but I’ve never had food there that wasn’t total crap.

    * shopping mall maps where instead of putting store names, they’ve put references like ap-567 — probably the internal administrative names for the locations, as if that will help me find anything.

    On the other hand, I find that the average Thai has an amazing sense of presentation. The tiniest little coffee shop or store will be decorated as if a professional interior designer did it. I have the chance to learn from a Thai graphic designer at work, and his sense of color is just fantastic, he knows just the little touches that take something from ok to amazing, and he’s consistently good — not dependent on “inspiration”

    I think this difference has to do with the different idea that Thais and Japanese have about beauty, which I wrote about in this post:

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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