Pondering In The Pond Of Wonder
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When I first came to Thailand in 2001 it was much to my dislike because I was one of the infamous backpackers roaming the country looking for excitement in the shape of deserted beaches, undiscovered islands and intact culture. Of course, there were no
such things given that I was about 40 years too late in my endeavors.
Nonetheless, four years later and I’m still sitting in this country and I’m thinking about what has actually happened and what is this game all about? Not a too unusual phase for us westerners to go through when looking at other reader submissions. But still, it is easy enough to start analyzing when you have such a huge variety of people continuously coming here.
This is why I must express myself on the issue of “knowing Thailand” that seems to be a big one among western people. We all want to be the one that knows it all, the one that interacts with Thai people just as easy as ordering at McD. If it is about bargirl salvation, knowing the language fluently or making big bucks, I do not care. It is just that most of the time what I hear from people I meet is that they all seem to have a picture that is somewhat constructed on threats. We want to take a taxi, we get ripped off, we want to date a girl, is she a prostitute? We want to start a bar, we have to bribe people, we want to eat at a normal hole in the wall restaurant and we get stared at. I have managed to escape all these situations if not for the last one. I’m 6f4”, weigh about 190 p. and I can’t really pretend anything else.
So, what do we do, we find ways to deal with these things to avoid them. We get our girlfriend to talk to the taxi driver, we assume that all girls are bargirls so it doesn’t matter who we actually meet, we don’t start a bar but we frequent
one long enough to get a discount and we only eat at Sizzlers. Or something like that.
The point is that the guys that really think they know this country often go through the backdoor and never really see what is going on inside. During my first time in Thailand I met a French guy who said something that still follows me: “You are always going to be white and they are always going to be yellow”. A typical arrogant Frenchie but nevertheless very accurate to the point he was talking. It doesn’t matter if you have been a big shot at a multinational company for the past 10 years or if you just started teaching English. We are all in the same boat in the same pond. A big shot can walk through the backdoor a bit more often than the beginner perhaps, but still can’t seem to find the front door.
Of course there are ways of dealing with this picture and I have to say that learning the language is one of the biggest advantages you can have here. Learning the culture takes a long time, a full-time job I would say. So does the habits of Thai people but what is important is not to look down on natives.
I see too many people that have been here a long time going off on Thais for the slightest error or mix-up because they get frustrated. Well of course, maybe being western in the western world is easy, being Asian in Asia is easy, mixing it is difficult. Don’t think anything else. But please, to these people I say, give it a chance or at least put some effort into learning about the essentials of being Thai. I do not intend to transform their identity because we can’t but we can at least try to understand.
If jumping straight into a relationship with an uneducated bargirl who doesn’t speak English and then getting burned will leave you all surprised. Then, I don’t really think you know what you are doing. Would you be doing the same in your country?
Ninety percent of the discussions on Thailand are about girls anyways and why no try to get some info on the issue so that you might actually know what girls from other parts than Isaan are like.
Getting annoyed that the restaurant staff doesn’t get your British or American accent, the wrong dish arrives? Well, it can happen anywhere can’t it? Speak slower.
I met a Scottish guy once who said that there is no point of getting to know Thai culture because we can’t. Well, we met at a bar of course and he was a long timer but still his effort of getting closer to Thai culture was ordering a Singha instead of Heineken.
We have to take into account that in Europe, we have loads and loads of countries neighboring each other without actually having anything in common more than that. That is so say we perceive and act accordingly, we do not think the same.
I guess, I’m Swedish myself so bare with me, that America has the same dilemma, divided into 50 states, many bigger than European countries, they can’t all be thinking the same way. What we all do have in common is that when we arrive in
Thailand we bring the way we think and the way we interact with people. Therefore, we are creating a nice little melting pot of cultures, religions, experience and also problems. For some people it is already a fact that the backdoor way is the
only way. For others, including uptight Scandinavians, the front door way is the correct solution. But how do we get in? We are not used to doing dodgy dealings or thinking anything else than good of our fellow man because the social system in
Sweden is a governing system that acts a lot like a big brother. We never do anything wrong…until we stay here long enough to realize that it is easier to go around and sneak in through the backdoor.
To finalize my perhaps somewhat confusing point, it is for me apparent that we all are stuck in the same pond with different advantages and ways of thinking. We can help each other but we also have to realize that we should consider our differences. Just as we should consider how Thais are different from us. That is the first step of learning, accepting and especially avoiding problems in a country like Thailand.
This is just some of my thoughts and maybe advice to people that frequent or has decided live in Thailand. My own situation is not at all ultimate but I do speak very good Thai and I have been working as an English teacher. I have a girlfriend that’s not from Isaan and I do get to know a lot more secrets about Thai people and culture than the Scottish guy in the bar will ever get.
What's this all about the back door? What does your girlfriend think about that?!