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On Gratitude

by Suphawut (Bryan) Wathabunditkul

ข้าวแดงแกงร้อน is a figure of speech that means บุญคุณ (source: Royal Institute dictionary). To be more specific, ข้าวแดงแกงร้อน is one's thankfulness, appreciation, gratefulness, indebtedness, obligation or recognition of/toward other's favor, kindness, good turn, service, benevolence, courtesy, patronage or support.

Gratitude is one of the most intrinsic values of the Thai society. In the past, the Siamese feudal system was based on the mutual exchange of interests between the masters and their subjects. The masters would provide their subjects (or slaves) with protection by letting no one harm, intimidate, oppress or bully their subjects. The subjects had the right to petition or lodge their complaints and request that their superiors bring their complaints to a court of law for a judge to decide. The subjects would in return provide their masters with service, obedience, respect and loyalty. Thai people have adopted this value till these days. Even though it is just a tiny little favor, Thais will remember and try to repay that favor when appropriate.

ข้าวแดง means red rice or rice that has honey-red bran layer on the outside due to the fact that it is minimally processed (originally rubbed by hand as modern milling technology was not available back then) to the point that 25% or more of the bran layer is left intact around the rice grain. แกงร้อน means hot soups, curries, stews or simply the food that goes or is given with red rice (hot = temperature-wise). Usually, the commoners ate red rice. Only the nobles, masters, superiors and high-ranking people could eat white rice. The masters with large household size would feed red rice to their subordinates. The idiom ข้าวแดงแกงร้อน happened from this patronage process. To sum it up, when you eat someone’s red rice (and food to go with it), you are indebted to them. You are supposed to keep reminding yourself of what they (the owners/givers of the red rice) did for you.

(Source: "ข้าวในค่านิยมไทย" by Thailand's Office of the National Culture Commission, Ministry of Culture)
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