Readers' Submissions

Cynics or Realists?

  • Written by RW
  • January 24th, 2011
  • 17 min read

I must say I greatly enjoyed reading Steve’s submission the other day entitled Cynicism and the main reason I enjoyed
it so much is an odd one. Seldom have I ever read anything that I so completely disagreed with but was amazed at the honest sincere manner in which the views were expressed. I felt that Steve honestly believes what he wrote and the length he went
to offer up certain examples in the submission shows he was trying to the best of his abilities to show why and how he arrived where he did opinion-wise. The only truly disappointing thing to me was that he did not provide a contact email as I
would have loved to shoot the breeze with him to get a better feel for where he was coming from on some of his assumptions.

I wish I could go point by point on his submission but quite frankly on a number of them I can offer no insight. I have no idea what a bar fine costs or what the price of girl is now compared to six years ago when I first moved here. But
more I want to show Steve why I feel he proved a point for me that I have long believed that the vast majority of Western expats come to Thailand with their rose colored glasses on and over the top optimism about this wonderland they have found.
Over time as the reality of things sets in they become what Steve calls "cynics". I disagree. I think they become realists, those who stay do so knowing that there are so many things broken in Thai society but accepting that they can’t
fix it they suck it up and stay for their own personal reasons usually because whatever they would return to in their homeland is no better and often much worse.

You note I said things that are broken in Thai society. Anyone that has lived her for any length of time and not only visited as a tourist will understand completely what I mean when I make that statement and nod their heads in agreement.
This does not mean that I think the West or anywhere else is perfect, but it’s like when you are looking for a spouse, you do not look for someone that is perfect but rather perfect for you. Simply put, you find someone that has flaws and
bad habits that just don’t bother you in the larger picture and they feel the same about you. It does not mean you pretend those issues do not exist much like I believe many expats do in regards to Thailand.

In my previous submission about the reasons my wife and I are moving back to Canada I touched on the home / food / entertainment stuff and I think Steve missed the mark a little as you really have to compare apples to apples. If I wanted
to live in a small town far outside of Toronto or Vancouver my cost of living would be dramatically cheaper than if I lived in the downtown core of either of the abovementioned cities. So when comparing the items mentioned you have to do a direct
comparison. My family can live in Vancouver proper with a much higher quality of life than we can in Bangkok and cost wise we are miles ahead. Remember it’s NOT just about cost but quality as well, which includes things like air quality,
safety, schools, medical care. As mentioned in my previous submission I can’t really relate to someone that would move half way around the world due to the local prostitution scene but as Steve said, everyone is entertained in their own
way.

As to the comment about Bangkok being quite cheap for entertainment, doesn’t it really depend on what you consider entertainment? In Vancouver I can see MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, etc virtually all major sports within a couple of hours at
most from my home. Same goes with first run plays and ALL Hollywood blockbusters. And Bangkok? Hmmm, well the girls are still cheaper I hear. I will give you movie prices here are very reasonable and even the cheapest theatres are nicer than mid
range ones back in Canada and much cheaper. Another example, in 2010 the Top Ten grossing concert acts of the year where in order Bon Jovi, AC-DC, U2, Lady Gaga, Metallica, Michael Buble, Walking with Dinosaurs, Paul McCartney, The Eagles and
Roger Waters. Now I am not making personal taste comments on any or all of these acts, but how many of them made it to Bangkok or for that matter, how many of the top 50 acts of last year made it? I think the point I am trying to make is that
“entertainment” in Bangkok is a rather limited in its scope, beyond the very basics.

I have to admit I was a little confused by the section on amenities. I thought the point was comparing the cost of coming here vs. home? If I lived in a high end home in the West and I could have the SAME high end home for much less money
then that makes perfect sense. But if I have to pay over the moon for the same creature comforts in my life, well then that by default makes Thailand more expensive. If I want to downsize my life then yes I can probably live cheaper in Thailand
but by the same token if I am downsizing already I can stay where I came from and save money. As for hot water, not sure what that was about. All three washrooms in my home, as well as the kitchen and both the dishwasher and washing machine have
hot water. I would dare say I don’t know a single person in our entire village that does NOT have hot water available from the taps in their home.

Oh corruption, don’t get me started. I believe I come from a very unique place on this subject and with all due respect to Steve I think he has no idea about this subject and I found his example regarding speeding to be rather telling
of him. Steve’s speeding example does indeed shine some light on his personal opinions.

I can only speak for me, Steve, but I hope to hell that if somebody is pulled over ten times for speeding they DO have their license taken away and hopefully they are put in jail or banned from owning a car. Do you recall seeing the news
of late of a young girl, an underage driver, being involved in an accident where 9 people were killed? How many times was she pulled over prior to that accident for speeding and promptly let go due to her family name or slipping a couple of reds
to the BIB? You realize that nine lives might have been saved if the police had done their jobs and were not corrupt. I would bet that the boys in brown are in fact one of the largest criminal organizations in Thailand, as sad as that makes me
to admit.

Another example for you. I have owned a couple of businesses in Bangkok over the last half dozen years and I can with absolute honesty say I have NEVER, not even one time, had to deal with any level of any government office where I was NOT
shaken down. Either for inflated fees due to my skin color, we all know all farangs are rich, right? Or some made up on the spot fee to speed up the delivery of my paperwork, to outright demands that if I did not pay XX baht to the inspector in
the case in question I would be failed, without him even looking at the items. Simply an outright bribe demand!

Now compare this to the 15 years I owned a business in the West. In all that time I paid my taxes, employee health taxes, PST, GST, licenses, and on and on and on and NEVER one single time was I shaken down. Does it happen in the west? Well
of course it does but in Thailand it’s a way of life and corruption is the root of the whole society. It is what is leading them down a very dangerous path to civil war, which a few years ago I would have thought impossible but I now I
think the odds are very firmly in favor of one happening, more than likely after a certain future event. Many Thais share this opinion with me.

I believe corruption is everywhere in the world – it is present in the West as well. I believe it’s in government and back office deals etc, but it is not in your face on a daily basis, negatively impacting every single little task
you have to do like it is Thailand.

I did find the Farang bias section interesting as well. I actually am one of the few that do not mind “some” double pricing. Sorry, Stick, I know that is one of your pet peeves. For me if I have to pay a token to tour a Thai
temple I can accept it as my way of helping maintain that faith based structure and as on a whole Thailand is a poor country and it seems the poorer one is here the MORE they depend on that faith and those temples. I have no issue with them NOT
having to pay.

But the double pricing is out of hand. Tell me the last time you saw a family of farmers from Issan in Siam Paragon enjoying the aquarium there or perhaps visiting Lumpini Stadium and taking in a night of kick boxing, both of which have dual
pricing? How is this one for you, a couple of nights ago leaving Rama 9 Park with my wife and two sons we spotted a man on the corner selling helium balloons in cartoon shapes. My eldest expressed his rather urgent need to have a Tweety bird balloon.
My youngest didn’t care at all. I pulled over maybe ten meters from the corner and my wife jumped out, went back and bought a balloon for the princely sum of 50 baht. Of course the second the balloon was in the car now it was a life and
death issue to my youngest that simply could not bear the thought of life going on without having a balloon like his brother. Damn, ok my turn. I went back grabbed a balloon and handed the guy a 50 baht note and started to walk away. He stopped
me to tell me the price was 70 baht. Hh, I explained my THAI wife just bought one less than two minutes ago and it was 50 baht. Yes was the reply, she Thai you farang price for you 70 baht. Hmmm ok how about this; my sons are both half Thai is
the price for them 60 baht? He was neither amused nor moved. The price was, is, and was always going to be 70 baht as long as big nose was standing in front of him.

I hope you understand that I don’t care about the 20 baht. I paid it and my wife and I both laughed about it. I care about the fact that this man has grown up in a society that sees nothing wrong with what he did and will pass that
moral code (or lack thereof) to his kids and to their kids and the cycle will never be broken. So why do I care about it never changing? Because I want cheap cartoon shaped balloons for the whole world? No of course not! Simply put, I like the
Thai people as a whole and I feel sad for them always being stuck in this downward spiral that will never end until someone can make them understand they are a poor country because of THEIR elite and government, NOT farangs and ripping us off
20 baht at a time, or 200 baht at a time will NEVER change their or their kid’s lot in life in the big picture.

This actually dovetails nicely into the language issue. I can speak Thai just fine. I don’t care one way or the other what Thai people want to talk about – it’s their life to do as they see fit. BUT it is amazing to me how many
Thai people spend so much of their day gossiping about other people and talking in a negative fashion about ANY non-Thai. Which most of the time ends up with them complaining about what a hard life they have and how the whole world is out to get
them and there is nothing they can do about it. I mean NOT putting their kids to work in the fields or selling flowers on the street at age ten and let them get what passes for an education here would be a good start but you will never get them
to understand how. Thai people are without a doubt, in my personal experience, the masters of the planet when it comes to completely and totally living in the here and now. I mean HERE and NOW! This is why insurance sales in Thailand are so low.
A Thai would never give you even 20 baht a month for money that he would never see the hell with it providing for his family. Looking forward even to the next day is not a strong suit.

I have one particular Thai employee that used to send all the money he made back home every month. This went on for months until one of our other employees told us about it. The employee in question was moving from friend’s house to
friend’s house as he had been kicked out of his room, was leeching off co-workers for food every day and walking a long distance to work every day. When we talked to him about it and explained that he should budget enough to pay for a room,
food and transportation costs, then deduct that from his pay (or we would do it for him) then send the rest home, he actually said his mother and father would be disappointed if he sent less! We asked how they would feel if he sent NOTHING as
the path he was on would have him friendless, jobless and in the hospital and unable to work very soon… Even then he did not fully get it, but agreed to try our way.

It goes without saying that not all Thais think that way but far too many do. Until you’ve owned a business here or worked with every day Thai folk it’s hard to really understand what it’s like. Believe me, Steve, I don’t
wish them to be like my employees in the West. I know they are not wired that way but you would think the stuff we are talking about is basic common sense which is far too often in short supply here.

My personal favorite part of the submission in question was the blurb about education. Let me ask a simple question of the readership at large: When was the last time you talked to anybody anywhere in the world in a social setting and when
people discussed their past, goals accomplishments, etc, you heard anyone say they graduated from a Thai university? I have never heard it said. As a matter of fact, if you are going to be completely honest with yourself, if you are in any social
setting and the word Thailand is said it is “usually” in a negative way, either in regards to child abuse or prostitution or something along those lines. You never hear Thailand, right they invented “whatever” there.

Just so we are clear on this issue, the Thai education system as a whole is terrible, and there is little chance of it getting better in our lifetime if the current nonsense being spewed by the Minister of Education becomes a reality. In
all the various rankings done each year from many news organizations, I have never seen a Thai university ranked in the top 250 in the world. There are schools from every Asian country except, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. Lovely company,
huh? Until the education and corruption issues are fixed, Thailand will remain broken from a world point of view and whoring out their sons and daughters will be accepted, even if in silence.

For the record I do have the means to send my children to the best private schools here but I would never do that to them and attach that stigma to their lives.

When was the last time you saw a multi-millionaire say he was moving to Thailand for the low cost of living? The last CEO you saw say he was retiring to Thailand? I guess it must happen, I means the law of averages and all that, but truth
be told for the most part (yes it’s a generalization but one I feel safe making) the guys that become expats were not exactly the cream of the crop in their homelands. I don’t mean they are all criminals or drug addicts or kiddy
diddlers, etc, just that they tend to be the common working guy, the 9 to 5 guys, and the middle management guy, the ones that are tiny little fish in great big ponds and believe that it will be reversed once here. The ones that DO care about
cost of living and in their minds Thailand is the saving grace for them. But what they don’t realize is that if they can’t afford the life they are living in the West, they will NOT be able to afford that same standard of living
in the LOS for much less money. If they are willing to compromise, different story of course, but they don’t want that for the most part. They want everything they had in the West and the nice weather and cheap girls. I think at some point
they all become realists when they finally understand what is on offer here and it’s a lot different when you live here vs. being a two week millionaire.

Steve did mention he finds “many things here appealing”. I do wish he would email me or post again and list those things for me. I would be very interested in hearing them. I still love Thailand. My wife was born here, and my
kids were born here and will of course always have a tie to this culture. We do plan to come back no less than every other year, but we do so with wide open eyes and a realistic point of view as to what really goes on in Thai society and the objective
is for most Thais. We consider ourselves the objective ones. I think Steve is much like the previous poster he referenced. I think he has lost his objectivity in his wide-eyed optimism. I only hope when the realism hits him it does not hit too
hard and he does not become one of the complaining farangs he talks about as we ALL know some of them.

If you made it this far good for you and damn it you need to get out more, sorry but there was so much to cover. I’ll shut up now!



Stickman's
thoughts:

A lot of very, very good points made. So many of the issues we struggle to comprehend in Thailand relate back to education and corruption.

What you say about never managing to avoid corruption and bribes when dealing with officialdom is the sort of damnation that those in power ought to take notice of. The sad thing is that corruption in Thailand, from my perspective, is getting scary. If any authorities take an interest in you and you're aware that they can root you good and proper, well, it's not a nice feeling!

Perhaps the only small point I would disagree with, and this really is nit-picking and looking at a teeny, weeny point, I found that people outside of Thailand talking about the country talk about the red shirts and the airport occupation first and foremost, with Thai food a distant second. Other stuff really never comes up.