Readers' Submissions

Glass Half Empty? Glass Half Full? Up to You!



Okay I admit it! I do from time to time vent my frustration about a variety of annoying things I’ve encountered since moving to Thailand. Still, I hardly feel that I’m a kvetch. For those of you for whom Yiddish is as foreign as Sanskrit, a kvetch is some one who is a chronic, whining complainer. To be honest, I’ve never felt that way about myself. Apparently Steve Rosse feels that way. He recently commented on my submission, Smile and the World Smiles with You…Some of the Time, comparing me to a long winded ranting blowhard he might be forced to sit next to on a long plane ride.

It would be pointless and mean spirited to respond personally to his comment. This website is not a forum (thank goodness!) where folks slug it out in cyberspace. I only mention his comment, because he lived here for some years, and is in fact a “Published Author” (Oh it is such a thrill to say that phrase!), who has written several books about Thailand. I on the other hand, although having lived and worked in Thailand for six years, have no such writing credentials. I have no pretensions of being a “Serious Writer”. The submissions I pen are nothing more than a casual lark. I do it for two reasons: First of all it’s fun. Secondly I enjoy corresponding with many of you who have taken the time to write to me. Although my good friend Korski (who IS one hell of a fine writer!) has urged me to publish, deep in my heart I cannot bring myself to believe than anyone would actually plunk down their hard earned money and buy something I’ve written.

Let me make one final observation about the good Mr. Rosse, (who I’m sure is a very fine fellow), and then move on to the subject I want to write about today. Apparently the Thailand Mr. Rosse once lived in, and the one I, and I do believe many of you inhabit, are two entirely different worlds. My experiences have never matched his. I wonder why. In his world, teaching was a breeze, with Thai students who were never discipline problems, eagerly absorbing everything, and were thirsty for more. He once said that the Thai students he knew were familiar with Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton. Any of you out there who are professional educators must be wondering which alternate universe that Thailand is located. If you find out, please let me know, because I sure would like to beam myself there.

I teach at what is regarded to be the top school in Lampang province. If I could magically transport you there, I would invite you spend the day talking to the Mathiyom 6 students, especially the ones who are university bound. I would also you invite you to ask them if they had ever heard of any of the world famous personages mentioned above. I have a thousand baht that says you will not a single find a single student who knows, and can tell you, not in English, but in Thai (I will provide a translator), anything about any of them. I also bet that you will not find more than a very few who after studying English for so many years, can answer the simple question, “How do you come to school?”

Why is any of this important? Well, Mr. Rosse’s comment made me start wondering about the differences between reality and fantasy, and between being an optimist and being a pessimist. When I start thinking about something, I often want to write it all down and share it with my friends for their opinion. So without further ado, here is my first submission for 2011.

Let’s start off my defining our terms. What is optimism? What is pessimism? I found these definitions at the Oxford dictionary’s website.

optimism:(op¦ti|mism)

  • 1. hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something. :The talks had been amicable and there were grounds for optimism.
  • 2. Philosophy: The doctrine, especially as set forth by Leibniz, that this world is the best of all possible worlds.
  • 3. The belief that good must ultimately prevail over evil in the universe.

As for optimism, I’m afraid I personally will have reject definitions two and three as wishful thinking. The last time I looked, the world I live in bears no resemblance to the “best of all possible” anything. In fact, I can’t remember a time when the outlook for humanity’s survival looked bleaker. Oh yes, it’s true that I’m not expecting an imminent nuclear holocaust, at least not one precipitated by an exchange of missiles between the West and Russia. Still if in 2012 America elects a certified idiot like Sarah Palin, it might not be a bad idea to start digging a bunker in the back yard.

Good prevailing over evil? I am sad to say that I see no indication of this happening. Evil seems to getting on quite well, thank you. Life ain’t a movie with a happy ending, although ironically given the will to do what needs to be done; we do currently have the technological ability to turn things around. Unfortunately people such as the climate change deniers, at least in America seem to be holding sway. Whether this is due to ignorance, the cynical desire to earn short term profits or simply the mentality which causes people to stick their heads in the sand like ostriches is irrelevant. The fact is that this critical issue, and many others that face the entire planet, are being ignored. The result? We sure do seem to be bound and determined to go to hell in a hand basket. Does this then make me then a pessimist?

pessimism(pes¦sim|ism)

  • 1 A tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen: The dispute cast an air of deep pessimism over the future of the peace talks
  • 2 Philosophy: A belief that this world is as bad as it could be or that evil will ultimately prevail over good.

Not so fast. While overall I think things are indeed currently headed for disaster, baring a major change in some of our entrenched belief systems, for me personally, things aren’t too shabby. As I sit and write this, the sun is shining, and the air is as fresh as you could hope to have during the cool season. The clothes are spinning away merrily in the tumble drier, and I have just made a lovely lunch of leftover Indian food that I cooked last night for a New Year’s Eve dinner. I am still gainfully employed; I don’t owe a blessed soul a single baht, and while not rolling in disposable income, all my current bills are paid. While not in the best health of my life, I don’t expect to be making a mad dash for the emergency room anytime soon. I have an excellent relationship with my neighbors, both Farang and Thai. I have a wife and son who make life worth living. I actually enjoy getting up most mornings and going to work. I have many hundreds of children who adore me. Life seems to be just fine and dandy. Hell, I didn’t even get fined when I went up to Chiang Mai Immigration to straighten out my 90 day reporting debacle. In fact, the smiling young officer gave me a genuine Thai Immigration bookmark, and wished me a hearty Sawadee Pee Mai!

As bad as things are, they could in fact be a whole lot worse. Choose your metaphor: Hanging by a thread, balanced on the precipice, or poised to plunge into the abyss, the final verdict isn’t in yet. Will we suddenly wake up and realize that hell, we really are about to drive over the mother of all cliffs and begin facing the host of urgent problems staring us in the face? Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I still keep a spark of desperate hope in my heart.

What do you think? Hey, your guess about how it will all ultimately end is as good as mine, or anyone else’s. No I take that back. Not to paint myself as being all-wise, but there are I’m sad to say, waaaaay too many truly stupid people. I’m sure you know some of them, whose opinion on anything is utterly worthless. Anyone who thinks we don’t have to solve our problems because The Rapture will be arriving any day is clearly living in cloud cuckoo land!

As far as I’m concerned there is no point in worrying constantly about asteroid strikes, super volcano eruptions, global pandemics or black holes created at CERN running amok and devouring the planet. If you focused all your attention on the host of possible doomsday scenarios, you would soon go off the deep end.

This is not to say that we should ignore these possibilities, or not try to find solutions for them. We should by all means scan the skies and catalog earth crossing asteroids. We should be on the look out for potential pandemics, try to prevent them if possible, and efficiently deal with them if they do occur. As for the black hole “danger”, this is the kind of thing that only people who read tabloid newspapers worry about. And if the super volcano under Yellowstone erupts? (And make no mistake about it, it most definitely will someday) There ain’t a thing anyone can do to stop it, or mitigate the disaster it will cause.

All we can do is try to address the problems which can be solved, and in the meantime live the best possible lives that we can.

So, is Old Sawadee an optimist or a pessimist? The answer in neither! I my friends, am a realist. That is to say I do my best to accurately observe what’s going on around me, whether in Thailand, or the world as a whole. Based on what I at least hope are objective observations, and I am the first to admit that objectivity is something which must be worked on continually, I can then intelligently speculate on what the future holds in store.

Now let’s say you are tidying up around the house and in the back of a kitchen cupboard discover a quart bottle that contains a pint of rare whiskey (feel free to substitute the liquor or non alcoholic beverage of your choice).

Note: While having learned to deal with metric measures, such as meters, kilometers, kilograms and liters, I am too damned old…and perhaps too damned stubborn, to bring myself to think in terms of millimeters, milliliters or grams. So, if you can’t deal with pints and quarts, you do the damned conversion!

Anyway, upon discovering said bottle, do you: a) dance a jig because the bottle is half full, or gnash your teeth together angrily because the bottle is half empty.

Generally I tend to choose the former, but not always. If I had stashed away a full bottle away for a special occasion, I might be more than a little concerned about what happened to the other half of the contents. Well, I know that my wife didn’t drink it, because she doesn’t touch a drop of alcohol, I know Sam didn’t drink it because the bottle was on a high shelf…and I think that we would pretty quickly notice an intoxicated four year old boy walking around the house. Do we have tipsy ghosts? (Does anyone out there besides me remember Neil, the Saint Bernard from Topper?) Is our “auntie” down the street hitting the sauce when she comes over to visit? Is there an extraordinarily tiny hairline crack in the bottle, which given the right conditions “weeps”? Inquiring minds want to know!

Here in Thailand, I wear neither rose colored glasses, nor black tinted ones. My perception of the world is undoubtedly subjective, at least to some degree, but I do keep asking myself questions in order to keep things in perspective.

If I allowed myself to only see the negative, it would be time to pack my bags and head on back to Farangland. If anyone seriously doubts there a whole lot of problems here in The Land of Smiles, then I wish he would pass the pipe he is smoking, because I probably could handle a toke right about now. Considering the many problems I see as clear as a bell, I am fed up with so called educated Thais telling me that I “don’t understand Thai culture”. What burns my ass even more are Farangs handing me that same line. What a load of sanctimonious, holier-than-thou crap! In truth while I will probably never understand every aspect of Thai culture, I’ve lived here long enough, and done my best to integrate myself into life here, to have some insight into what is going on here. Systemic corruption, incompetence, apathy, a dismal education system, an absurd obsession with face and economic and social disparity are real. Please do not tell me that I am imposing my “western prejudice”. I utterly reject that canard!

“Gee Sawadee, you sure do seem like a dyed-in-the wool pessimist to me!” My friends, if I really did spend every waking minute grumbling about what’s wrong here in Thailand that would be so. The truth is that most hours of most days here are more pleasant for me than they were back in Farangland.

Last night was New Year’s Eve. I spent some time downtown here in Lampang wandering around and enjoying the holiday decorations. One thing Thais do excel at is decorating. Everywhere I turned, everything was twinkling merrily…and in a departure from the Thai tendency to “guild the lily”, was most tastefully done. Thais young and old alike were in a festive mood laughing, smiling, and delighting in it all. Near a small park some children’s rides were set up, including a merry-go-round with swans and reindeer, a small choo-choo train, and best of all, a Ferris wheel, whose cars were salas (a type of gazebo), done in the northern Lanna style. The kids were having a ball! You would have to have a heart of stone, or be a misanthrope not to smile watching them. Vendors were doing a booming business, selling everything from spicy sausages and cotton candy, to gaily colored helium balloons. A stage was set up, and shortly a concert was scheduled to begin.

This celebration was only one of a number going on all over the city. Closer to my home a massive event was already in progress, but the venue was simply too crowded for my taste. Undoubtedly the music would be amplified to such a decibel level, that I would unfortunately hear every thumping bass note reverberate until the wee hours of the morning. Oh, well, it’s New Year’s Eve, so I will attempt to go with the flow, even if it’s not what I personally would prefer.

“Going with the flow” is not a bad way to approach life, whether in Thailand, or indeed anywhere. That does not mean however being a doormat, or refusing to face unpleasant going on around you. It also doesn’t mean only looking out for yourself while others are suffering all around you. It is one thing to say that you have to take the bad with the good. It’s an entirely different proposition to pretend that the bad simply does not exist.

As I have mentioned a number of times before, barring some catastrophe, I will probably spend the rest of my life in Thailand. Yes, someday Old Sawadee’s ashes will be fertilizing a mango tree. While I am alive and kicking though, I will continue to comment on all aspects of life in Thailand; the good, the bad, and yes even the ugly. Hell, if I had remained in the USA, I would have plenty of ugly things to comment on. (Hmmm, I do think that if I lived in New Zealand I would have nothing to complain about.) <You're a genius, where's the green star button!Stick> Just because I am not Thai does not preclude me “telling it like it is”…or at least the way I perceive it. I certainly would like nothing better than to have nothing but glowing reports to write…really! If I do have the dubious privilege of pointing out the negative, well that’s just the way is. Feel free to disagree with me about anything I write.

So the question remains for you my esteemed readers to answer for yourselves. Please let me know. Is your glass half empty or half full? “Up to you”!


Stickman's thoughts:

You are indeed a realist! I find it tiresome when those who are new to Thailand and all excited by everything new call old-timers cynics, when the old-timers have been here a lot longer, experienced so much more and as such probably understand things a whole lot better. The "hey, isn't this place great!" period is behind them!