Readers' Submissions

Another View Of Thailand



I had this granny who, at the time of the first man setting foot on the moon, believed it was all done in the Nevada desert. She was way ahead of the internet conspiratorists, who followed on some forty years later. But granny was adamant about her belief, not through some detailed scientific knowledge of space travel, but simply because it was beyond the realms of her imagination that such a thing was possible. In granny’s world it couldn’t be done.

Another thing that the old girl would have had difficulty with, the sort of thing that we take for granted these days, is calling up an airline reservation office and making a reservation. Granny never flew, never had the desire to do so and looked on people who had with great suspicion. Why would anyone want to travel halfway round the world when everything you ever needed was right there at home? That would have been her take on air travel.

Between you and me, I wouldn’t have trusted my grandmother to make any travel arrangements for me as she quite simply wouldn’t know where to begin. I can’t blame her. It would have been asking her to perform a task completely outside the scope of her experience. Besides she didn’t have a phone.

For the same reason I wouldn’t ever leave anything as important as travel arrangements to a bargirl hailing from upcountry. I’m surprised any one would ask anything remotely complicated to someone hailing from the more remote regions of a developing country, who has received no education beyond a few bored years of elementary education. Bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages and financing have hardly touched these parts of the country, and just because the lady in question has migrated to a relatively modern city such as Pattaya, it doesn’t mean that she has suddenly become endowed with all the knowledge required to live in an online, technically-savvy, first world environment.

In such a case it would be foolish to expect them to get it right first time without making any mistakes. Let the buyer beware.

However, I have a caveat to make. In a recent submission, the author described how his then girlfriend screwed up big time on their travel arrangements. <The author of the story in question was seeing a Bangkok university-educated Thai woman with a decent job so I think he could have reasonably expected more of her than that of a country bumpkinStick> Well, if they were important enough then surely the best plan would have been to take care of the responsibility oneself. But let’s not nit-pick on this point. The author went on to say that this was how he perceived Thailand to be, a place where people foul up on the most basic of tasks and then because of face, live in denial of the facts.

Maybe in the world of bargirls and waitresses they do. It could even be that the reason why they are bargirls and waitresses is because they have screwed up in the past. And if you, the farang, are sharing the same world space then you might well think that everybody is like this.

I’ve been fortunate to live and work in a different environment and in the light of so many negative views of Thailand being expressed on Stickman, I would like to offer an alternative view.

My world consists of working as a regional manager based in Thailand. We employ a dozen local staff as well as others in Malaysia, Indonesia and China. Our Thai people are some four-six years out of university and in their second jobs of their career paths. Without exception they are all extremely intelligent people. They all speak English fluently and to a high level, some have third languages.

I often read articles about face and individuals giving way to a group identity; but I think it is vastly overstated. Our staff talk freely about issues, offer alternatives, express personal opinions and are not afraid to step up to the plate. Before you get to thinking that our company is the exception then I will add that in visiting major companies within the city I find myself in meetings with articulate people who have no problems expressing their views or making demands on me as a supplier of services. Another thing I find is that many Thai middle-class people, as we have to describe them, have travelled abroad either to study, work or on vacation and are very-well aware of the way that western society operates.

Yesterday, for example, I was chatting with one of my staff over different approaches to child-rearing between the East and the West. She was very knowledgeable about the system that produces more independent western kids and was well able to discuss the merits and disadvantages of both systems. That’s the great thing about living and working with people from similar backgrounds. It is possible to communicate in real language and have a meaningful conversation.

I’m not talking here about Hi-So Thais, but the average middle-class person living out in suburbia and commuting to a desk job somewhere in the city. This is a much larger segment of the population than that which finds employment in gogo bars, yet on Stickman it is a vastly unreported upon majority. Ok, I will grant you that chatting about child-rearing is not a sexy subject for a submission and like most readers I too enjoy the schadenfreude misadventures of the unfortunate few. But in the big picture of Thailand I think that such stories are the exception rather than the rule.

My world in Thailand, which you may think is boring, revolves around school grades, neighbourhood social activities, finding a good builder, paying off the mortgage, taking the kids out at weekends and keeping them occupied during the school holidays. Which is no different to the kind of life that most of us live in if we were resident in Farangland. This I believe, despite five thousand submissions to the contrary, is the true face of Thailand. And it is not a boring world, because one can actually have a decent conversation with people of interesting subjects. One can communicate ideas, feelings, thoughts and opinions. My staff read books. Real books and not just cartoon comics. My idea of boredom would be going out to the naughty nightlife area, night after night and having to put up with a conversation consisting of half-a-dozen reworked phrases from some poorly-educated bargirl. What a hellish life that would be and I do not envy Stick for one second.

Stickman's thoughts:

Based on more than a decade here, I have to say that my experiences make me disagree with you when you say that middle class Thais talk about and are typically capable of conversing in English about issues that could be considered conceptual. That said, I am not criticising anyone because there is no shame in not being able to, or simply not being interested in, discussing such things in a language other than your own. I know zillions of middle class folks and I would suggest that if what you say is true about the middle class folks you know, then they really are the exception and most certainly not typical as you suggest.

As far as hanging out in the bars night after night, sorry, but that is not me. Two nights a week is generally it and yeah, that is way more than enough. As someone who is comfortable conversing in Thai, I don't have to endure bargirl English.