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This was a letter I wrote to a friend, he is from Mexico
but is also an American. He loves Thailand and has been
here many times. His name is Manny. I thought I would fax
this to you, it is about being here in Thailand.
December 2006
On Thai and being in Thailand:
You know that I have been coming here for 17 years now
starting 2007. I had never spent much time only 2 or 3
weeks at any given trip. I always prided myself that I knew
enough about Thai culture and had never had any problem
with Thai's in general. I knew plenty of Thai in America,
but I was mistaken in many ways, my perceptions hindered by
my grandest illusions of an idyllic utopia. Manny you know
what I am saying, because you understand a dual culture.
Mexico and Thai is not that much different except for the
It's simple really, I'm not so gong ho because I see the
undercurrent of Thai society, I have a clear insight with
how things tick here, how people think and what why my wife
is always protecting me from her own people. Life is not
easy here for a lot of people, we are rich to them. There
is no way to change that perception, you think you are not
rich but to a majority of Thai you will come in contact
with, you are rich.
Part of it is the 3rd world concept which I will say I do
not like the term 3rd world. Thailand is not unique in the
developing world concept; I may feel the same way in Costa
Rica, the Yucatan or many other places. I fundamentally
believe human beings are the same; (well the Muslims may
not be) but the rest of us who love the plastic material
world are. We all have fundamental needs and basic desires
for security, warmth, housing, food, family, fun.
Then there is what I call my bubble of illusion, "Thai are
so happy, fun people that love each other, not competitive
or judgmental" Ha ha, what a fool I have been. We all have
our illusion about things until experience darts a bull's
eye into reality. Living in the culture for over a year and
into my second year has been life changing, exhilarating
and constantly amazing. I love the Thai culture, its people
and much of the food (even if I eat it everyday). I
understand my wife a heck of a lot better and know now why
she prefers to live in America. On the other hand she is
torn like me; we both love it here and at times it feels
like home. Much of what I am talking about is because life
here is hard, and that hardness beats you down.
One gets tired of the imperfection of the street, the
dangers of walking because of the possibility of getting
hit by a motorcycle on the sidewalk, or from a car speeding
around the corner or simply falling in a hole half covered
by the malfunctioning municipality or gashing your eye out
on some hawkers metal pole hanging out. Does anyone care?
You start to think that, does anyone bloody care about
fixing things around here or is everyone just out for
themselves - as my wife keeps pounding into my stubborn
The site of the impoverished can be an overwhelming
experience, if one does not arm himself with emotional
filters. Do you think your few coins are going to help that
person? Perhaps, but for how many will you supply. A short
walk beyond and another sorry sap appears and then another
and then another. What do you do? Do you stop giving
altogether, do you stop caring? Or do you simply give a
little here and a little there. There is no guide written
with how to cope with your feelings when seeing and
interacting with these people. Thoughts run deep, because
your walk to work everyday sees the same penniless people;
soon the lady with gang green and the guy with the burnt
off face become too much on your diurnal walk to work. You
decide to take a taxi or a different route to avoid the
unsightly. We in more developed societies are good at
sweeping it all under the carpet, we don't like looking at
messes; we prefer not to recognize them.
The bottom line fact here is the rich and the poor. To you
and me the average guy on the street with his neatly
pressed shirt and tie, shouting into his overpriced cell
phone with gleaming gold cuff links may not be rich; but to
the noodle salesman or poor on the street he is as rich in
perception as the tourist. They flaunt their status because
in this have and have not world we are status conscious.
That is ever so apparent with the importance of brand name
shirts, and fancy handbags. What boils my blood is the
treatment toward service people (like waiters) I know dogs
that get better treatment. It is a relentless contrast
here, the dramatic vignettes of the above play out a
callous reality, too hard not to notice. Those that beg and
those that sale trinkets on the street for a small daily
stipend, contrasted by people like me and the white collar
worker with seemingly no worries.
Thailand is supposed to be a free democratic society, this
is not so. Do you know Singapore does not filter the
Internet but here in Thailand big brother watches over its
citizens? When you watch the TV, the government blurs out
the guy smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer. It is as
if Thai are a bunch of children that the government is
protecting. When you read the censored newspaper everyday,
one gets his fill of the corruption in politics or reading
about the guy that ripped of the other guy. Now does that
happen in other cultures? Yes of course it does. Does
violence happen in America too? Yes of course it does. Do
we have corruption in our political system? Yes of course
we do. I am only pointing out what is in front of me.
I love Thailand but am not so gung ho with false illusions
like I was. I understand it better; I live it, feel it,
sometimes get tired of it but for the most part enjoy it. I
am one with it, sort of Zen if you will. I will never be a
Thai and don't want to, but I am no longer a tourist that I
can affirm. Being here has a different meaning now; I will
never be that happy go lucky Falong that thinks everything
is cool and sublime. But you know I would not trade the
experience or the insight gained this past year for
anything. Despite the illusionary bubble that burst a long
time ago, my Thailand is maturing and evolving. I look
forward to the coming year.
In closing I want to say that in reading my comments above
they may seem negative or paint a bad picture. Please do
not think that I feel that way. What I describe above is a
slice of a whole pie. It is 1/3 of my feelings. The other
2/3rds are completely different. This is a marvelous place,
a great place for kids and Thai people are fun loving, good
hearted people. I have learned a lot from Thai people,
about how to live. That is for another paper.
Ciao and Feliz Navidad.
Your friend