Sparked Off By Bangkok Barry
Bangkok Barry's reflections on Thailand's flawed culture made interesting reading, and as I have met the guy his words have added weight. When I also read that Stick is laying money that both he and Barry will be retiring elsewhere it gives me pause for thought, because I have just started, now age 62, living out my retirement here.
I'm planning to marry my Thai girl this year, so I don't want to start thinking about packing my bags, though I can sympathise with those who might want to do so. I'm writing this as a bit of therapy to help me justify to myself why I will be OK staying here.
My attitude has changed a lot since I came here two years ago. I have become indifferent, not to say contemptuous of many aspects of Thai culture. I also know that, aside from the odd letter to the papers, there's virtually nothing I can do about it.
When I first arrived, a seasoned Aussie neighbour told me: "Never trust a Thai unless they are family." I thought he was joking but now I know he wasn't. Because I am long in the tooth I have become watchful, and living in London for many years has stood me in good stead. "Mind your own business and don't be greedy" is another useful maxim for living here that I picked up from a forum.
It's the "Mind your own business" bit I want to dwell on for a moment. What that means for me in practice (for now at any rate) is "Don't get involved in Thai society". I can't be arsed with all this face business and I know that I would soon be putting people's backs up if I was forced to participate in society.
It may well be that at a certain level (read working class) these social norms are not so strictly enforced but I don't know enough Thai yet to take the chance. That doesn't mean to say I won't continue to study Thai, I will, but the end result initially will be to equip me with a survival technique to understand better what is going on around me.
In the meantime (and afterwards too) I will need to converse in my native tongue and actively seek out like minded compatriots to help keep my brain alive. Where there's a will there's a way and Bangkok is big enough to be able to find ones whose company will lift you up, as opposed to some of the dregs who will drag you down.
So because I am old enough to be retired I am fortunate on two counts. One, I do not have to earn a living here so I am not forced to participate in a daily Thai environment and two, I have developed enough interests over the years to be able to entertain myself without much help.
One of the ways I have chosen to entertain myself is to study a bit about why Thai society is in the state it is in. What makes that guy beat his wife in the soi near Barry's place? It's a hate crime, it's inexcusable, but is it explainable? Is it a case of someone on the bottom rungs of the pecking order taking a swipe at the only one he dares, someone even lower down?
Thais appear to have very low self esteem. Why is this? Is it because the society is so hierarchical and they are constantly being told to "know their place"? If you have been indoctrinated to think that you are low down the list, if you are patronised and held in contempt by the elite, is it any wonder that you don't take much of a pride in your work? Indeed, could it be argued that not taking any pride is a way of kicking back at "the man"?
I want to finish by referring to a great book called "Protest" by Manit Sriwanichpoom. It's a series of photos taken outside Government House during the course of a year. The photos were taken on Tuesdays when cabinet meets and when therefore various protestors assemble outside to try and get their voices heard.
The image I want to leave you with is the one on the back cover of the book. It shows a man covered in pig manure that he has just poured over himself. Ing K writes in the foreword of the book: "The man has lost his life savings to the Government Savings Bank's mutual fund which dematerialised in the 1997 crash. No one in power gives a shit for his desperation, so he comes to Government House and pours liquid pig shit over himself in front of press photographers to show the world how the government is treating him."
You make many good points and raise many good questions.