A discussion surrounding the concept of katanyu, which is often translated to being grateful or showing gratitude towards one's parents or those who've been kind to you, entered Thai society's zeitgeist last week unintentionally, as a by-product of another online drama.
Famous online vendor Pimrypie, who's known for her sassy attitude and tear-jerking viral videos of her helping out the less fortunate, put someone on blast while going Facebook Live after they said she had passed her peak as not many people watch her. Pimrypie put them down, asking how much money they made in comparison to her and boasted about the big empire she runs with many employees under her leadership. A doctor/influencer came to Pimrypie's defence saying Pimrypie's giving her father B5 million as a katanyu act and asked whether those who criticised her could do the same. Influencer Flukkaron jumped into the conversation and said giving a lot of money to parents as katanyu shows the government's failure (in providing welfare for the elderly) and not all children can afford to give their parents a lot of money as it's difficult enough to feed themselves.
There are two camps on the opposite ends of this katanyu continuum. The most traditional way (and the way I've been taught growing up) is that you, as a child, are indebted to your parents who give you life, food, shelter, love, education and other necessities during your formative years to become a functional member of society. Therefore, when your parents are frail and can't work anymore, you should repay them with money, things and visits. Pretty straightforward.
The other extreme holds the view that parents choose to have children, who didn't ask to be born. To have a child with the expectation that they must take care of you when you're old sounds like a business decision. It's not about love. It's an investment that holds an unwilling party to moral and financial obligations that they didn't ask for or consent to. Unfair if you really think about it. You can even argue that Thai society puts so much emphasis on katanyu as a smokescreen to cover up the structural failure of the government to take care of their people in their twilight years. The responsibility of taking care of the elderly in society has been pushed to working adults and young adults instead.
I'm not sure if katanyu, which is definitely a virtue to possess, is being misused when there are countless debates on Pantip regarding how much a child should give their parents each month or trepidation of children visiting their upcountry homes without many gifts for parents. Many have commented how katanyu is such a unique Thai virtue that farangs don't have. Some have argued that farang parents don't have to rely on their children because they have built up enough financial stability or have social welfare to provide for themselves and their children keep in touch through phone calls and holiday visits.
Speaking from a place of privilege, my parents, who are well into their retirement, are way richer than me and they've built up solid portfolios, which generate a sizeable income. We're Bangkokian-Chinese and we've never gone on a holiday, even to Pattaya, as a family. True story. They've never asked me for a monthly allowance (my mum slips me a couple B1,000 notes and buys food for me every week as if I'm still at school) and I help them out with doctor appointments, vaccinations at Bang Sue, paperwork, tax filing, smartphone apps, among other small tasks.
I'm well aware that I could never repay them for what they have done for me and I certainly can't give them B5 million. Am I not katanyu?
Ideally, children should love and appreciate their parents enough that they feel the need to repay their parents on their own accord, in their own way and within their means while building a life for themselves. Ideally again, parents should have invested and saved enough money to provide for themselves during their retirement years without being dependent on their children. The government, too, could have done a better job at taking care of elder members of society to repay them for contributions and taxes they have made through decades.
Do children need the pressure of being super katanyu to make their lives harder than it has to be? I think not. They are their own people and not subjects of their parents.