Readers' Submissions

14 Years

  • Written by Been There
  • September 8th, 2004
  • 29 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I lived in Thailand for 14 years and I can seriously relate to what the Cynic is trying to say. I use the phrase "trying to say" because it is difficult to explain the overall perspective in words as none of us are great literary artists.

Every year that passed while I lived in Thailand I lost more and more respect for Thai people, in general, and Thai society in general and the overblown Thai culture and the elusive understanding of Thai ways.

I have to point out that I never, ever really tried to analyze the Thais or their culture or their ways…what for?? I mean really….what for??? Other than an interesting discussion amongst friends or on a forum such as your site. It is their culture and they are stuck with it in that respect.

I did however read numerous books about Thai history (and the South East Asia region in general) and came to the conclusion that their history, unique to that part of the word of course, was just as small minded, just as brutal, just as bloody and just as humanly degrading as was so many other parts of the world throughout history. Those history books also revealed to me the reasons why people, in any part of the word, think the way they do and or act the way they do.

The point being, whichever country you come from the people are a product of the environment they grew up in and the way they are brought up by their parents and everyone around them, plus the "system" (so to speak) of each country which affects them and commonly dictates their thinking and character. Knowing this and understanding this you realize the Thais are acting in ways that are just fine by them. As far as the majority of them are concerned there is not much of anything to seriously criticize. Not that they do not recognize or realize when something is amiss rather they collectively live with…. "the way it is…is the way it is" type of attitude and are too lethargic to do anything about it

But we on the other hand are outside observers from countries where there ARE better ways than the "Thai way" and there are better societies than "Thai society" and there are better cultures than "Thai culture" and that is long proven and that is the basis of our "constructive criticisms." Because we do practice a better way of living and we want to share our knowledge and experience, relative to observing the many problems and questionable acts practiced in Thailand, we feel that something should be said about them. We know "our way" is not perfect and we all admit it but Westerners live an enviable life and the rest of the world wants it. We are willing to share it and it is on offer for those that recognize its benefits. If the Thais are willing to listen and they get over this "Thai way" thing and their pride to the point of stubbornness then we should see, one day, many of the problems in Thai society being addressed.

I would be the first to point out all the problems that western society has. There is a long list, and many of them are the same or similar but we do not live in the past and I observed that westerners are simply more attuned to the fact that the old ways of thinking can not dictate our lives. It is actually interesting to observe how humans want change but then they cling to the past at the same time arguing that their customs and ways are being eroded. Meantime they and so many who advocate the old ways seem to put aside the fact that most of the countries that vehemently defend the old ways are poverty stricken and they are the ones in need of western ways and it seems… western thinking!!!

I knew a guy who used to travel to Western Burma and I saw his photos of the numerous ethnic hill tribes that live in the border regions of Burma and Bangladesh. This was and still is a very remote area, certainly as far as westerners and anything western are concerned. While talking to him and looking at the photos he said something that really perplexed me and he seemed to be adamant about his thinking. He said that the Western ways and Westerners are slowly "destroying" their culture and the "ways" of these remote ethnic hill tribe people. I thought that was a poor choice of words. "destroying"…. rather than the words "changing" or "influencing" them and their lives. But he was adamant to the point of being argumentative. While as I was looking at the many photos I realized I was looking at people whose lives were being lived in destitution and poverty for centuries. I pointed out the people would be much better off if they did live a western live style seeing as the fact of the matter was they continually lived under very harsh and somewhat perilous conditions.

They have numerous diseases that kill them randomly, they have a diet that slowly kills them, they live on the side of a hill (historically in part to defend themselves from enemies as part of a more strategic defense location) no medicines of any significance, a life expectancy of around 50 to 55 years, a child birth death rate of 2 to 3 out of 10, mosquitoes and flies galore, subject to the whims of the weather, life threatening monsoons and near unbearable heat in the hot season, rotten teeth and no proper means to address the problem, they commonly work 16 hours a day and more or you do not survive, cook over wood fires and have to go fetch wood and water everyday, basically live in squalid conditions their entire lives and suffer many other near unbearable conditions too numerous to list here. If anyone needs some western ways and all the wonderful "comforts of life" that western culture and society has to offer then these hill tribe groups would be the perfect candidates.

Do not tell me they would not want and enjoy an air-conditioned room in the sweltering summer heat or have a dentist fix their rotting teeth or have electricity to power lights and a T.V. …..God forbid a TV, the worst evil of the western empire…. medicines to solve their many, many ailments and life threatening diseases and a regular supply of a wide variety of processed foods….that would be asking too much…. and or proper and worldly education for their children.

Yes…. this guy argued, on their behalf, that our western ways were destroying this culture along with his fascinating and adventurous part of the world. It made me realize that thinking like this is apparently common in so many parts of the world and all too often, all too many Thais think in terms like this. Old values, old ways of thinking, resisting changes, afraid of change!!! Here in the west we basically embrace the changes and capitalize on them and realize the ways of the past are all too often not very practical in modern times and we can not live the past ….so move on.

It is not just ranting and complaining and venting frustrations or being picky or just not understanding Thai ways or their customs or Thai people. It is an awareness and a way of thinking that we westerners have and rightfully so, of a "better way" in many respects!! Better ways than many countries and more importantly its citizens have achieved…… some of them in a short period of time, relative to time and history. Sure…. retain you customs, as many people do, but do not take them so seriously and / or let them dictate illogical behavior. <I LOVE this last sentence – Stick>

From reading the history books I learned a lot about so many events that affected and shaped Thailand as a nation. The geographical location of Thailand and the history of ongoing nation building played a big part in why the Thais are the way that they are. They staked out their land claims and fought for their territory and they built a Thai identity. That has to be factored into the equation. Near every country has had to struggle to build a nation and an identity. That is world wide history…..but on the other hand I used to ask WHY???……after 1,000 plus years of "oh so glorious Thai culture" and glorious nation building….. WHY is the country still a third world, poverty stricken, corruptly run, small minded, backward country…as compared to a notable number of other countries. Other countries whom the Thais will never, ever equal as long as the Thai people and the nation, as a whole, thinks the way that the Thais think!!!! They have had so much more time and so many more opportunities.

Yes I know that in centuries past they had some great developments and numerous remarkable achievements and in some respects outdid the west but here we are in the modern age and all the tools are available… yet they wallow around missing the mark. I say, it is because of the WAY they think!!!!

The way that the citizens of a nation think, collectively, is the basis of great nation building. As long as the Thais insist on thinking like a Thai (Just because they are Thai does not mean they have to think like a Thai or think like all the other Thais) and readily jump up to defend their way of thinking then as far as I have observed ..not by opinion so much as by observations….then Thailand will always be a second rate country with all kinds of mindless events occurring on a daily basis.

They have the capability to use their brains better, more logically, and certainly more openly but not if they continually reinforce the image that "Thai ways" are to be protected to the point of stubbornness and xenophobia.

I am well aware that generally speaking most of what they think is the same or similar to westerners in many respects…but the Thai way of thinking in numerous ways or certain ways is so much different than western thinking it becomes painfully apparent to me it is a major obstacle in their use of logic!!!

Now…. I can jump the fence here and at length start to try to explain the many, many reasons WHY and / or I can defend the Thais and all that is Thai and also point out how much better off they are, as compared to so many other countries and the way those countries operate and think collectively as a nation. Burma for example…the Thais are way ahead of them, or a place like the Sudan and so many other countries in Africa. Those places are basket cases in so many respects and the Thais and Thai thinking and everything Thai is far and beyond so many of those countries. The Thais have done a notable amount in the last 50 years but they are still far behind and nothing that they do or have done is or was or ever will be impressive to me. Near everything they have or have done can be stated as: Been there …done that a long time ago!!!! So what about Thailand???? What is it they have done that is so remarkable????

I say this because so many westerners living in Thailand jump to the defense of the Thai way of thinking and make like they have discovered the meaning of life like as if most others westerners are too dumb to figure it out.

What is it worth knowing about the Thai way of thinking that is of any significant importance????

I certainly am glad I was not born in Thailand and I certainly would not want to be a Thai or think like a Thai. I do not mean that in any racist or derogatory way but the fact that I am from the west and know about both ways….. I choose to think like a westerner thank you because I know it is a better way of thinking. Had the Thais been the ones to have first discovered North America and developed it the Thai way…..well you can only imagine. Yes some things would be good but I just can not see them building what has been built by the western mind.

Overall, the point is…. constructive criticism is an important tool and part of the way to turn something wrong into something right and Thailand does a lot of things right but it must be pointed out that so many of the things we observe the Thais doing right or better comes from the West.

It is not that Western cultures (so to speak) or western values are the best way all the time but look at what we "Westerners" have achieved in so short a period of history!!! I know there are negative points about the West to be argued and I commonly will point them out and criticize them also but the positives are too over whelming and we can only go forward….really what choice do we have. However if we are hung up on the past and the "near" refusal, commonly, to set aside the ways of the past then we would have all the more countries that are like Thailand and the Thai way of thinking. That is what I observed about the Thais… their ongoing practice of the "Thai ways" that hold them back as a nation more so than free them to move forward. Those that live in Thailand know that there are a growing percent of Thai people who do think progressively, who do question and argue for a better way, a more sensible way regardless if it is Western influenced, a certainly more mature way. Often enough those people fight against the established Thai way of thinking and the prevailing mentality, knowing that the Thai way of thinking is commonly a major obstacle to Thailand's underlying potential. But there are not many of them.

When I used to have other foreigners try to defend the "Thai way" or "Thai logic"…. I could never really see their point.

All those years in Thailand I used to ask: "Please, someone explain to me exactly what is it that the Thais have as a people or as human beings that anyone would want to emulate ….over and above what all humans already pose and / or practice in daily life!!!! For me there was nothing special or significant about them that set them apart. But I did notice amongst themselves there was a lot of back slapping and praise for one another and everything Thai. Well that is to be expected by any national of a nation but I would venture to say the Thais hardly comprehend and / or do not really understand the magnitude of what the west has accomplished in a short historic period. All in part because we do not think like the Thais.

Rather than analyze their ways or culture I simply began to form my opinions of them by what they DO… their actions and interactions with other people….. whether it was on a personal level or by way of observing Thai society in general rather than all that hoopla about how Thai people are "oh so wonderful" (what, because they smile a lot?) or how Thai culture is "oh so wonderful?" Yes amongst the Thais their customs and culture and history is wonderful ….but every country has personal and national pride.

All in all if you live in Thailand or travel there frequently then you will soon learn that the Thais, like all humans, can be the most wonderful people…but on the other hand they can all too often be the most nasty of human beings.

It is also a matter of percentages and we already know from experience, in any country, when you hang around places that involve drinking and prostitution, nightclubs, drugs etc. etc. and all the said to be "seedier sides of life" then you are certainly going to be subject to a higher percentage of human beings that can and do confirm how ugly some people can be.

As for the majority of people who do not ever touch upon the seedy side of life and the numerous unsavory characters you may meet, you are still subject to percentages and you will always meet people that you wish you never met and you will recognize them as the shallow characters that they are…you can never get away from the percentages ….the human factor as Bernard Trink likes to point out.

When you live in Thailand as a foreigner, all the sights and sounds and the ambience of the place is like living with an ongoing release of adrenalin into your blood stream. The fact that so many things are seemingly "Mickey Mouse" and done seemingly haphazardly and the people are seemingly so laid back and happy go lucky with all those apparent "Thai ways" is in part the essence of "The Living in Thailand Adventure" …..and "then some." If and when it does change and let’s say it actually does rapidly develop into a modern country and the Thai way is hard to recognize any more then we will all shed a few tears remembering when it was the Thailand we enjoyed so much for so long. "Where did the good old days go"?? …..many of us will ask.

You just can not have it both ways without conflicts of interest and the way Thailand is will always be endearing and memorable. At present it is probably as close as ever to having the best of two worlds. One extreme to the other in some respects.

If it never changed then it would not bother me one bit and that is how you have to live in Thailand as a foreigner……be there and enjoy it for what it is worth to you personally…let the Thais do what they want, their way and if it seriously effects you in some negative way you have to have a more realistic perspective. Understand, everywhere you go in the world or live you will meet some people that aggravate the hell out of you because of the things they do or the way they think. It is always percentages.

As for the experiences of the CYNIC and the events he describes to the readers I would take his side because I lived in Thailand for 14 years and numerous times I also experienced the same or similar situations when some of the Thais I met came with an attitude. An attitude where the foreigner is always good for easy money and they are simply just taking advantage of you. If it happened in your own country you would most likely tell the persons to "F" off when it is clear they are mooching off you or trying to scam you in a obvious way. But no, because you are in Thailand you put up with it basically and I did also, most of the time, but I rationalized the events in a way that had me thinking as follows: "Chalk it up to experience and now that I know what those people are like they will not be seeing any more of me." Move on and learn to recognize who is good and who is bad and who is honest and who is dishonest and occasionally you, like everyone, gets caught off guard. For me it did not happen often anyhow but sometimes when I reviewed the event in terms of time and timing I realized it had been a long time past and many persons since the last time an upsetting little event had occurred. The percentages were minimal. It never jaded my opinion of Thais in general knowing that the majority of Thais, like people everywhere in the world are good at heart.

I seldom ever got upset because it is not worth the anger and frustration and once again ….I wrote it off to experience. A few times I gave money to Thai girls when I could have said no to them but I did anyhow because I already had an ongoing sexual relationship with them and figured it was like I took the girl to several expensive restaurants as part of the romance. Either way it was just money and not big money. There were several girls that wanted to "borrow my money" but I said no and those were good girls that I had no sexual relationship with. After the request for money I did not contact them again and / or avoided them because as far as I was concerned they had already revealed their ulterior motives.

One time I did get in an outright fight with a freelance motorcycle taxi guy who stopped because he could see I was looking for a motorcycle taxi ride. I said 10 baht he said 20…. I said 10…. he said 20 and I said 10 again and then he did not say anything more so I got on the bike believing we were in agreement of 10 baht and off we went only a short distance down the road (any Thai person would have paid 10 baht or less for that short ride). When we arrived I dug into my pocket and handed him a 10 baht coin but he said: "No" he wanted 20 baht and I politely said that I had offered him 10 baht and I thought that he had accepted. He said he wanted 20 baht and then I pointed out to him it was only a 2 minute ride and I even got off a block before the landmark location I had used to describe where I was going. But no he would not accept the 10 baht I was handing him to and then he turns off the motorcycle and gets off the bike insisting that I give him 20 baht. By now we are on the sidewalk and I have decided that after all the years …about 10 years at that time…. and all the Thai jerks that had ripped me off for money here and there, I was not going to let this jerk take advantage off me (I know it was only 10 baht but still everyone in life sometimes will defend the "principle" of the argument). Anyhow there I am reiterating exactly what was said and discussed BEFORE I got on the motorcycle but this guy insists 20 baht. Then I thought : Why am I arguing with this guy and I am trying to get to the bank (we stopped right in front of the bank I want to go into anyhow) so I said 10 baht ..take it or leave it and started to hand the money to him as I started to go around him towards the bank entrance. Well… he puts his hand on my shoulder with his arm across my chest and blocks my way. I stood back and I started to reiterate the agreed price and he insisted on 20 baht. Then I thought… O.K. give him 15 baht and meet him half way…that is fair enough… but no he would not accept 15 baht so I told him "Forget it then, I won’t pay you anything and I am going into the bank" and I started to maneuver around him. This was all spoken in Thai language and I knew there was no misunderstanding what I had said before or during everything that led up to this situation. He then put up his right hand onto my chest and stopped me and with his left arm he gave me one of those Thai boxing elbow gestures meaning he was going to beat me up or Thai box my face. I looked down at his hand on my chest and I simply exploded. At that split second, all the years of Thai bullshit frustration burst out of me and I went ballistic. I grabbed the guy by the flaps of his open jacket with both hands and started throwing him around and down to the ground like a rag doll in my hands. He had a full faced motorcycle helmet on and for some reason, as I was throwing him about he took off his helmet in a second or two and by this time I had run him over to the side of the sidewalk and slammed him into the bottom of a big plate glass window that started off about 2 feet up from the ground. I threw him down with such force he slammed up against the concrete base at the bottom of the window and it knocked the wind out of him. The upper part of his body and back had fully contacted the bottom portion of the plate glass window and the sudden impact made the plate glass start to shake and vibrate so much I thought is was coming down on the both of us but it did not break and there was the Thai guy sitting, slumped against the wall and completely dazed. I was still enraged and the level of my hanging arm and right fist, while I now stood in front of him, was perfectly in line with the level of his face so I quickly did a reverse wind up of my arm and fist and hit him smack solid in the mouth with a slight upper cut. I then grabbed him again and jerked him up off the ground with a force that surprised me because of the strength that was coming out of me and started to swing and throw his now up right body around in a furious circle and then slammed him down on the sidewalk again with such force that he sort of bounced and skidded along about 7 or 8 feet before he stopped, face down. At that point I realized that I should not be doing this and looked around to see how many people where watching and fortunately there was hardly any traffic passing by and no-one on the side walk but I noticed the doorman at the bank had been watching the whole thing. The adrenalin was pumping through me big time and I noticed that my hands were shaking now that I was standing still. The Thai guy was on the ground and was now rolling over but totally subdued and completely dazed and I looked at him and I suddenly felt sorry for the guy so I went over to were he was, still outraged by the nonsense of the whole thing but I proceed to help him up off the ground all the while shouting at him and saying to him: "All of this over 10 baht" …"you want your 20 baht" …. "here is your 20 baht you moron" and I proceed to go over to his motorcycle and slammed down two 10 baht coins onto the seat of the motorcycle saying: "There you go"…. "20 baht" …"are you happy now!" !!! The Thai guys was still recovering from the surprise thrashing I had just given him and he was sort of re-gaining his composure and I could see he was not seriously hurt in any way so I just turned and walked away and into the bank.

I remember the adrenalin was still racing through me and I was still shaking and thinking : "What the hell just happened there…I should not have lost my temper like that."

So now I am on the upper level of the small bank branch that I have been using the services of for many years trying to forget about what just happened and out of the corner of my eye I see this dickhead Thai guy coming up the stairs and walks over to where I am sitting. He stands beside me with a pissed off look on his face, with clenched fists and then starts to tell the men and women bank employees, working behind the counters and desks, I beat him up and saying: "Look at what the Farang did to me." He is pointing at his lower lip and I can see it is swollen up significantly and there is blood and he is pulling down his lower lip with his mouth open for all to see. Well…I did smack him good and proper!! Everyone stops what they are doing and listens to what he is saying and I told the bank employees to get the guard and get him out of here. I told several bank employees immediately around me that this guy started the fight and I ended the fight…. plain and simple. One of the bank employees told the man to leave but then the Thai guy simply started to talk to the other employees looking for sympathy and all of them simply started to look down and move away, including the one man who was serving me. I said to that man : "You know me, I am a customer for the last 4 or 5 years and I am asking you to tell this guy to leave…get him out of here." But no one did anything and in the meantime the motorcycle guy was hovering around making movements and gestures like he was going to take a cheap shot at me while I was sitting down. He kept on saying : Look what the farang did to me and now I have to go to the hospital to get stitches. I kept on saying: "Get this guy out of here"…. but not one of the Thai bank employees were doing anything at all to help. I asked for the manager and still not one of them was listening or helping at all, other than looking down and making like they were busy. Now the motorcycle guy was hovering around even closer and I could see he was really tempted to hit me while I was seated so I stood up and confronted him and stood face to face with him and said: "You want to have another fight all over again…you want to hit me." You think you can win" He stood back a little and I was preparing myself for a surprise Thai boxing move but he just made a real sour face and said: "Look at my lip" " I have to go get stitches." I told him several times: "I don't care." "Get out of here." "Leave." "You started it and I finished it." He would not leave and then he said: "I will go get the police and bring them here." At that point I realized I was going to get myself into a no win situation if the police became involved and I envisioned myself trying to walk away and the motorcycle guy chasing after me and shouting for the police on the street and making a scene. Or if I had said "Go get the police" I knew it would not be a pleasant experience and just who’s side do you think they would have sided on and or who do you think would pay!!!

That and the fact that I had 176,000 baht on me in my shoulder bag from a customer I had collect money from only 10 minutes before the motorcycle guy stopped and I was not about to jeopardize that money. Common sense then kicked in and I said to the guy: "You want to go to the hospital and get stitches?" He said: "Yeah I have to get stitches" I stood back a little and I got my wallet out and I quickly pulled out a 500 baht note and held it up in front of him saying: "500 baht will more than pay for it…you want to go to the police or you want the 500 baht?" He looked at the note and then at me and made another sour face and made another gesture to hit me and then grabbed the 500 baht.

Then one of the bank employees finally spoke up and asked him to leave but he had to get the last word in, complaining while he was walking away and saying: "Farangs are no good and look what he did to me and I should go get the police." That made me think he may still go get the police so I watched him get on his bike and I was thinking about where the nearest police box was and how quickly he might get an officer or 2 and be back. After I saw him drive off I slipped out of the bank and took a slightly longer route back to my office, not far away from the bank and gave the money in my bag to my business associate.

Anyhow that was the only time I really got upset and I know I should not have lost it and kept my temper and I certainly am not proud of what happened that day but as far as I was concerned the guy had it coming and to be honest…in a strange kind of way ….it felt good!!!

Like all those little aggravating, bullshit injustices I had suffered for years had just been rectified and I did what I did for all the other farangs who would like to but could not or would not.

For the next week I was looking over my shoulder and cautiously looking at near every Thai guy on a motorcycle including all the numbered motorcycle taxi guys.

The door guard at the bank gave me a longer and more significant Thai wai whenever I entered the bank from then on.

My other business associate laughed at the story and said: "500 baht is pretty good money and you can just imagine that guy getting a brilliant idea in his head to start going around starting fights with foreigners and then get 500 baht or more out of them under threat of going to the police."

Anyhow I have no animosity with Thai people and certainly I harbor no ill feelings against Thai people in general but just because you live in Thailand does not mean you have to listen to and / or accept all the bullshit self serving reasons and or the lame excuses used for the all too common defense of the Thai ways.

It was especially irritating to listen to other foreigners defend all the obvious inadequate and upsetting behavior of the Thais and tell me: "You do not understand Thailand and the Thai way" No, I just do not live in a world of illusion.

Well, that is just some of the experience I had while living in Thailand for 14 years


Stickman’s thoughts:

My goodness me. Now that was a good read!