Readers' Submissions

Response To Humble Westerner Part 2

  • Written by Anonymous
  • September 17th, 2004
  • 6 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

By Islander


Stick, thanks for providing the great site. This is in response to "Humble Westerner Part 2," and your comments that followed. Your comments state your agenda, and I would agree that it's shared by a clear majority of readers. This is the view that, "Hey, Thailand is a great place overall because it has various things that I really, really love (whether that be Thai women, food, most aspects of the culture or whatever). But I've lived here for years / been visiting here for years and they need to change a few things that would make it better for everyone, both Thais and outsiders. They need to do a few things like we do in the West." Sounds good but of course it isn't so simple.

First, cultures are complex, inter-connected entities. If one were able to make small changes (even assuming any consensus could be reached on the changes to make and exactly how they would be implemented), it would be impossible to predict all the other, unintended changes that might result. The ripple effect. For example, in Thailand there is the tendency for a deal never to be truly final. As with other Eastern cultures, even after the Westerner believes the deal is final, there may yet be further negotiations on the part of the Thai, AND such further negotiations are often considered wholly legitimate or at least acceptable in Thailand. Those who have done business in this part of the world will know what I am talking about.

Now, if some benign lord were able to wave a wand and change that, so that a deal was final when both parties agreed it was final, so that one's word on a deal was written in stone, then certainly it would be easier for Western business people to do business in Thailand. But what other ramifications? What if in fact in Thailand business deal closing and other, similar things became less relative and instead were closer to the hard and fast, black is black and white is white reality of the West? Isn't it at least likely that Thais would also become less malleable, less soft, less forgiving and less, "it's ok, no problem?" And wouldn't that underlying effect also negatively impact many of the other aspects of Thai life that most of us love?

So it's all fine and good to repeat the mantra that, "we love Thailand, but want to change a few things that would make the place better for everyone." Sure, it's nice to repeat that mantra, but a little simplistic just to assume it could happen without any unintended consequences. Think about what it would actually take to eliminate things like double pricing, Thais re-negotiating rides in route or upon arrival, corruption, etc. First and foremost it would take Thais themselves being less accepting of all things, Thais being less willing to think, "it's ok, no problem." But again, that Thai character trait is critical, I believe, to so many of the charming and wonderful aspects of Thai culture.

Second, even apart from the likely unintended consequences, it does seem arrogant to take on the role of cultural reformer when one goes to Thailand for a few months or even for thirty-five years. Who in fact are we to say how things should be? Yes, we see in Khun Anonymous the optimist, buzzing on fresh love, and perhaps someone who hasn't yet had sufficient negative experiences to appreciate the cynical contributors' points of view. And he does engage in the PC overstatement about how bad things are in the US that is so common among Americans who go to other countries and fall into that out of some apparently desperate desire to be loved by the non-Americans. At a minimum, he appears to be someone who derives self-esteem from Thais in general, and his soon-to-be in-laws in particular, saying he is so nice, so "Thai," and not like those other farangs. Khun Anonymous, please, proceed with extreme caution. There are rockslides around every corner down that road, and many of us have the scarred vehicles to prove it (even if, and not to over-extend the metaphor, we weren't traveling down bargirl road).

On the other hand, I agree with Khun Anonymous that the cynical contributors often go too far. Often they are just whining about why they can't have everything they like in Thailand without having any inconveniences or bad experiences. Hello, it's Thailand, it's just another culture on the planet. It's not Heaven or Nirvana, even if it does resemble it in so many ways. And Stick, I agree that you are too lenient on the whiners. So-and-so can beat the hell out of a Thai for 20 baht (spare me the principle argument), if not justifying, then at least in part excusing his actions with the sob story of all he had to put up with in Thailand and how they need Western ways— and you never note any tendency to generalize. But when Khun Anonymous sets forth the opposing view, he's generalizing.

To be clear, I believe we can all exercise our right to condemn individual people cheating us, regardless of the geographical setting. But let's not generalize about how Thais need to change, generally. First, at that kind of cultural level, none of us have any idea what unintended consequences might result. Second, it's arrogant and ethnocentric for an outsider to take on the role of cultural reformer in Thailand.

My own view is go to Thailand to live or visit, enjoy it to the fullest however you choose, take care of yourself as necessary with respect to any particular incidents of someone ripping you off, but spare us all the cultural-imperialist dogma about how "they" need to change in this or that manner. But if you must engage in that, let it be in good faith and alongside Thais interested in the same changes, as obviously seems to be the case with Stick and numerous contributors. At a minimum, though, please, please spare us the whiny, all-knowing Westerner who thinks because his culture is technologically and materially advanced that he necessarily knows what's right for everyone everywhere in Thailand, and that in between making a good living on easy terms, or in between barfines, he can and should tell Thais what they need to do and how they need to live.

If all this is too split-the-baby for you, maybe you look at things too simplistically. But if I'm wrong and I'm making it all too complicated, and if there can only be the two views on this, then I'll side with the wide-eyed, overly optimistic Thai lover any day over the excessively jaded, Thai-beating, Thai-haters with their even uglier self-serving rationalizations.

Thanks again for the site. Always fascinating. We're all talking about the same place, but each with a different take on the situation, and none of us with all the answers.


Stickman’s thoughts:

The issue of changes for potential improvement in Thailand seem to get Westerners more hot and bothered than just about any other topic. I’m sure this will not be the last we have heard about this!