A Response To DH
It was interesting to read the response of DH to comments made by Stick in his Sunday column, and about my submission entitled Thai Culture. I received quite a number of emails in response to what I wrote, all of them in agreement with me, but DH has a different point of view. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I thought I needed to respond because the writer made a number of assumptions which make much of what he wrote completely irrelevant.
Stick himself partly led DH down that path, suggesting that both he and I would eventually leave Thailand for somewhere more stable and developed. However, nowhere in my submission did I offer the slightest indication that I might be considering such a move, although the options and reasons for doing that are something he and I have occasionally discussed in emails over the past year or so. I cannot speak for Stick, but a move away from Thailand is not up to me, not entirely. I have a Thai wife, we have been married for getting on for 20 years, and I’m not so chauvinistic that I think I can demand we leave and she must follow and leave her family behind.
If, if in the future we decide to leave it will be a joint decision. At the moment, the future is far too murky to know what will happen. The country collapsing into anarchy, which is a possibility, could even work as a positive for living here. Why did so many expats decide to settle in Cambodia when it was such a basket case? Because comparatively well-off foreigners can live well and cheaply. If the country descends into chaos, the currency would likely collapse in such a way that the crash of ‘97 (begun, of course, by Thailand’s greed and corruption) would look like a picnic by comparison. The ‘97 crash came close to doubling the value of my income from overseas, and I could look forward to more of that. I’m not an economist, far from it, but I see a nation with a collapsed economy as possibly being a good place to be as long as there is access to foreign funds. Maybe many of the corrupt politicians who have stashed their gains abroad are thinking the same thing. Maybe even encouraging a collapse of society for their own benefit. The cloud is how violent the locals might become against outsiders. That is an unknown. Sure we could be targets, so we just have to be aware of how bad things are and then make a decision. If things are really rough then perhaps my wife would also want to flee. She isn’t stupid. Actually, on a side note in relation to that, I am in what might be a unique, and certainly what must be a very unusual situation, in that my wife has been studying for a degree that will enable her to teach English, and she has an infinitely better understanding of the technical side of the language than me. Often when she explains what she is doing I haven’t the faintest idea what she is talking about. And I earn my living as a writer! Interesting.
Also, despite the many, many frustrations of living here, there are still plenty of positives. Which is where I come to one of DH’s assumptions. He informs us of some of the imperfections of living in the west, with the drunken Brits spewing in the gutters, gang warfare in the US, the number of single parents and rate of divorce, knife crime and so on. I know about those things too. But this site is about Asia in general and Thailand in particular, and what happens in other countries has little relevance. I was writing about Thailand because that is why people read the site – to learn about Thailand. I did not suggest that Thailand’s problems are unique or that other countries are perfect. I didn’t say that, and wouldn’t. After all, I have chosen to live in Thailand, not my native UK, and I would not go back there. Over the years I have met many, many Brits who have left the UK, not just those who chose to live in Thailand but other places too, and only one decided to return. And even he left again within three months. There are many good reasons to live here, such as good food that is reasonably cheap, the ability to buy an entire outfit for next to nothing in the department store sales and in the markets, the beauty of the women. Having said that, other places also have beautiful women. I’ve just returned from Japan where without question the girls there match the beauty of the Thais, with the added bonus that many have more prominent bumps in the right places. Prices are creeping up for food and drink, and the quality on offer is often quite low unless you pay western prices, but generally we have it quite good here. Which is why Stick and I are still here, even after he took a trip back home earlier this year to maybe test the waters.
As for “sneering” at Thai culture, I wasn’t sneering. I was simply pointing out facts that a sanctimonious nation prefers to deny while acting as if Thailand is the greatest country on earth that has no faults. As I said in the submission, they are brainwashed to think that and, as the Thais involved in the making of the Big Trouble in Thailand documentary series have discovered, there are actually laws in this country that make it a criminal offence to depict Thailand in a negative light overseas. How about that. Tell me the problems, the shortcomings I pointed out that don’t exist, and I’ll tell you the moon is made of cheese. To say that I have learned nothing of Thai culture after living here for over 15 years is arrogant and completely without foundation. Several of my submissions have been picked up by various blogs and websites, with a Nation editorial even saying that one particular submission should be read by every influential Thai. So don’t tell me I have learned nothing in my time here, please. But please do point out where I have been smug about my own culture. I’ve missed that.
As for Thailand being a developing country, yes it is. And it always will be, unlike places such as Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea, which began from the same base and have gone way beyond the developing stage and have prospered. Watch Vietnam and Cambodia overtake Thailand eventually <It is *very* hard to see Cambodia overtaking Thailand – Stick>. In some ways Thailand is actually undeveloping, with the political problems that are pitching Thai against Thai and scaring away investment and millions upon millions of visitors who, unlike the locals, know there is more to the world than Thailand. Another way that Thailand is slipping is in IT, with the country falling further and further behind in internet competitiveness. One index has seen the country slide from 40th to 47th this year alone, while most of the emphasis from the corridors of so-called government has been on blocking 17,000 websites rather than developing the infrastructure the country needs to compete with the outside world. Did you know that only 1.6 percent of the country has a broadband connection? Even in 2002 Korea had a 60 percent penetration, and now it is close to 100 percent, with a 100mps connection. Only five percent of Thais even have a fixed line phone.
Now we get to where DH confuses me. After he accuses me of running the place down he then says it is time to leave as the place is going downhill. The crest of the wave we came in on has crashed. DH wants to move on, as he has done before, from Toronto to London, London to Bangkok, and now to where? After criticising me for documenting the negative side of Thailand, he is leaving while I am happy to stay. Hypocritical is a word that comes to mind, but I’m sure he has his reasons. Some people can settle down, some can’t. I have, and I have the fortitude to put up with the hassles here.
He talks about the scammed and betrayed experiencing the wild side of life in Thailand and talking about it over a beer, as if that is a good thing. Maybe to some it is. I prefer predictable and stable, but then I’m an old fart. He writes that ‘newcomers want Thailand to be what they have heard it to be. They don’t want to be told to keep their guard up at all times and not to trust any Thai’. Really? He writes that expats who have made the move here ‘don’t want to hear about messy politics and scams that devalue their property or make their decision to move here look poorly thought out’. That sounds like the head-in-the-sand mentality of the Thais speaking. Pretend everything is fine, look the other way. Seems that DH has been here too long already. As I wrote in another submission, when did you last read something positive about Thailand in the overseas media? The downsides need to be publicised, because people read sites such as this to get a real idea of what the country is like, an alternative to the travel books often written by people who can by necessity only scratch the surface of a country. Call it a public service if you like, and Stick and I and others give it for free. Sorry to tell you, DH, but more is to come.
I really like the point you make when you say that despite pointing out the frustrations of living here that it is you who is staying and DH who is moving on.