Despite the small number of Thais in New Zealand, their rich culture and distinctive customs have become more recognised. New Zealanders may see Thais greet each together with a traditional wai – holding the hands together in front of the chest in a praying gesture, and bowing from the waist. Aspects of Thai culture can be experienced at events such as the Loy Krathong Festival (Loy means ‘to float’, and a krathong is a lotus-shaped vessel made from banana leaves). In November 2003 it was celebrated in Newtown, Wellington. Participants could buy krathongs and float them in a pool – this symbolises carrying away bad luck, and allows the person an opportunity to make wishes for the new year. The festival also featured traditional dancing, a fashion show and Thai cuisine. Similar events were held in Auckland and Christchurch.
Faster in English
Sireena Worboys arrived on a scholarship in 1976. She taught her New Zealand-born children the Thai language and although they picked it up, she noted some big differences:
‘When I ask them to do something in Thai, their movement is so slow. But when I ask them in English, they just move so quick’. 1
Thai cuisine is very popular and there are many restaurants around the country. In Asian food stores traditional ingredients such as lemongrass and shrimp paste are readily available, and Thai spices are increasingly used in Kiwi cuisine. Thai immigrant Supunnee Walton helped introduce Wairarapa people to Asian foods by opening a shop in 1992. She closed its doors in 2001 – partly because of the proliferation of similar outlets.
New Zealanders have also picked up the national sport of Muay Thai, more commonly known as Thai boxing or kick boxing. Developed more than 2,000 years ago, the sport has grown in New Zealand, which has numerous Thai boxing gyms and trainers.