Readers' Submissions

Nature vs. Nurture


Recently Marc Holt submitted a humorous piece in which he talked about the “Cleanup Gene”. That got me thinking about the unending debate about Nature vs. Nurture. Why are we the way we are? What is the prime determining factor? Is it the 23 pairs of chromosomes we receive from our parents, or the environment in which we are raised? Of course the reality is that both are critical in our development. We are neither totally pre-destined by our genes, nor by the circumstances we are raised. Nonetheless, studies done on identical twins separated at birth have revealed that an astonishing number of the components that make up our personalities, do seem to have been tucked along in our “genetic suitcases” that were handed to us when we set out on this extraordinary journey called life.

Okay, I can tell that your eyes are glazing over, so enough science…at least for now! Let’s just say that both geneticists and behaviorists would have a field day studying the curious habits of the inhabitants of a far away place called the Land of Smiles.

If there is indeed a “Cleanup Gene”, my tee-rak is sadly in need some serious gene therapy! She displays no driving need to order her world (or mine I might add!) into a tidy and sanitary place. Her family likewise is able to tolerate conditions which would have most farangs running for the door. I am not talking about a little untidiness. No, I’m talking about what would easily qualify as a Toxic Disaster Zone by the Environmental Protection Agency. Level 4 biohazard suits required!

This genetic deficiency seems to be the norm down in Buriram. The average yard resembles something between a compost heap gone horribly wrong and a salvage yard that has yet to be sorted out. The chicken bones from yesterday’s gai yang, at least those the dogs haven’t eaten, mingle with rotting rice, vegetables, and other presumably organic matter. Broken glass, rusty nails, and discarded snack packages mingle with broken toys, discarded articles of clothing and odd bits of brick and cement. Add to that mélange, a liberal amount of dog shit, laundry water, used cooking oil and unidentifiable slime. No wonder it's standard practice in Thailand to take your shoes off before coming indoors! Not that the interior of the house is anything you would care to actually come into contact with your skin. While the markets may overflow with soap, none is to be found in the bathroom. And as for the toilet….well the less said the better. If you are absolutely forced to use it, better to just hold your breathe and close your eyes than examine it too closely!

Having been raised in this “pristine” setting, it’s not hard to imagine that my wife required some remedial training when we lived in America. But not being a dummy, she quickly learned basic sanitation 101, if for no other reason, than not to feel humiliated when our friends and neighbors came to call. After a while she actually enjoyed the feeling of every surface being clean enough to touch without sticking to it. Dirty laundry went into a hamper…..not on to the floor. The floors, especially the kitchen floor needed to be cleaned with soap and water more than once a year! Toilets had to always be clean enough to use without gagging. Eventually our home was as sweet and shiny as you could possibly want. My wife could have served as the poster girl for Better Homes and Gardens……then we moved back to Thailand.

Maybe it is something in the air? Maybe it’s something like radon, oozing up from the bedrock itself. But whatever the cause, my recently trained sanitary specialist reverted back to form quicker than you can say Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. That is of course the full name for that City of Angels, Bangkok. Once again I was back as the sole guardian against grunge. I don’t mind cleaning. Perhaps it’s because all of my family possessed the Cleanup Gene. Folks, the floor of my brother’s garage is so clean that you could, and this is no hyperbole, eat of it. This guy makes Felix Unger from the Odd Couple look like a slob. I am not so fanatical. I’ll settle for non-toxic.

What has made keeping things clean so difficult are the three other members of our household, my two year old son, my mother-in-law and my niece. Well, what can I say about a two year old? Small children have no concept of order. They could care less that toys are strewn around as if a cyclone just hit. Eventually I know that I will train him to my standards….that is if he has the “Cleanup Gene” Oh dear God, let it be so! As for the other two….well, they have turned my days into something resembling one of the labors of Hercules…..the one where he had to muck out the mother of all stables. No, a better analogy would be me being Sisyphus endlessly trying to push that boulder up the hill, only to have it come crashing down again. I’m simply outnumbered! Everyone in the house is defiling it faster than I can keep it clean! The interior of our refrigerator has new life forms growing in it. The only way to clean out the microwave would be to sandblast it. And the toilet in the guest bathroom, the one that my mother-in-law and my niece use is off limits to any of my guests who need one. I send them instead to my bathroom, which I’m able to keep clean since I only have to battle against my wife.

I alternate between cajoling everyone else to cooperate and ranting. Neither has much effect. Those 23 pairs of chromosomes that my Thai family members possesses are simply too powerful for me to contend with. Stronger measures are needed. Do you think down at Bumrungrad they offer group rates for a little gene therapy?

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Stickman's thoughts:

I'll go out on a limb on this one. It is my experience in the West that the wealthier the people, *generally* the cleaner their house and the better their property is kept. I think Thailand is no different…