Hi So in Thailand
by Jack Miles
To most people the term Hi-So or High-Society in Thailand means rich and maybe also famous, but with a closer look it may be that the term encompasses a larger group of people than simply that.
Upwardly mobile people who may not be rich but aspire to be so, or who feel they are on their way to being wealthy also enter high society status often by being high profile as opposed to simply being super-wealthy. They may attend highly publicised parties and functions, (where many wealthy people are), and their exposure in publications that follow such occasions may make them high society by association.
In the UK in the 1980’s the equivalent of up and coming hi-so professionals were the “yuppies” Typically in well paid jobs and with disposable income, but often in debt and frivolous with their money, these people were well dressed and also attended high profile events. That time has now passed and the term Yuppie has disappeared with history even though there are plenty of similar upwardly mobile individuals around thirty years on.
In present day Thailand, Hi-So means showing off some wealth by ensuring you have the most current and most expensive designer clothes and bags and other accessories such as shoes and jewellery. Yet once again this may be simply a case of being hi-profile rather than hi-society. There appears to be confusion between the two terms and although they are similar many Bangkokians would certainly point out that a gap exists. For the latter it is a natural requirement to be seen to be wealthy in public at high profile events to retain hi-so status, for the former it is necessary to be at those same events to get seen and to start to get labelled Hi-So.
Apart from designer clothes and shoes, there are plenty of other trappings that go towards making a high society individual. A luxury car will go a long way to cementing the high society label to even the newest of newcomers. For Thai culture, Western influence certainly plays its part since Western luxury brands are seen to be more essential to uphold an image of wealth and luxury living.
Thai brands also factor into the mix with branded properties being a good example of how luxury living is sought. Property companies such as San Siri and Raimon Land amongst many others make their luxury offerings to be perfect compliments to a high society life. There are plenty of Thai brands that have built a reputation of uncompromising quality and that fit well with a collection of Western branded goods. All of this sits well with people who have money to spend.
With property in focus, Hi Society individuals often throw parties at their homes and so having a large luxury property, whether a city centre condo or a luxury house is all-important. In the glossy magazines and other press releases both in print and online, the property will often be showcased as much as the people enjoying a party that is held within it, and it will be held up as a true benchmark of the wealth of the owners. Even furnishings in the property will need to be chosen with care so that there is no danger of a single piece harming the hi-so status of the owners. Branded furnishings and imported accessories will be high on the list of must-haves so that the cameras can catch every detail in the best light!
Another viewpoint is that high society may indicate a birth right to a history of wealth. Having a family name that is connected to exceptionally wealthy individuals or well known money-making corporations could certainly qualify someone as being high-society. And as part of that connection to enormous wealth and status there would naturally be the requirement to attend social events that are well covered in the media, thus hi society people with connections to immense wealth are often also high profile too.
The lifestyle of the high society individual may seem to be a life of relaxation and a distinct lack of any requirement to work hard. Yet most high society individuals are business owners or are high on the corporate ladder and work very hard to ensure their financial success continues or grows unabated. Along with hard work there are the social engagements that are expected so there is precious little time to relax. “Making it” is one thing. Keeping it is quite another.
Then there is old money and new money. Old money indicates a long history of wealth and a birth right to follow suit. It could also mean that political aspirations are in the mix, with money and power going hand in hand. New money is more closely related to high profile individuals who may wish to be seen with those powerful people but yet may have no history of wealth or power except for recent financial success.
Being highly educated is also synonymous with being high society. Speaking eloquently either in Thai or English (or both) marks a true high society trait and this is one that takes time to acquire. Being intelligent in other ways such as homing great people skills or management skills also goes a long way to cementing a high society link. People carrying themselves with a certain class and with excellent manners will find that they have to maintain their high standing especially given that they will be in the limelight for a good deal of time. Good education at a well regarded university or school instantly shows a facet of wealth, this being the high school fees and college fees for such a placement that will be the envy of many.
One thing is for sure, maintaining a high society standing requires plenty of hard work since the public eye will be very unforgiving if any mistakes come to light. This is especially so in the age of social media where feedback is everything and where projecting a high society persona to please everyone becomes more and more difficult to achieve as time goes on!