Stickman Readers' Submissions March 29th, 2013

Ironic, Isn’t It?

Irony: “incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.”

It’s true that Thais seem to be rooted more in practicality. They seem to have their priorities in order as opposed to Westerners, who concentrate on moralistic things peripheral to the requirements of daily living. Thailand’s leadership makes decisions that are consistently in the best interests of the country, and that speaks well for Thais in general.”

He Clinic Bangkok

Caveman, SEA Incountry 11.24

Reading this submission of Caveman’s I am reminded of Ronald Reagan’s famous quote which he used during his 1980 debate with then President Jimmy Carter, “There you go again!”

Well folks I really have to hand it to old Cavey. He sure does know how to get Old Sawadee’s attention. Just with those two simple statements he has me here yet again at the keyboard to take issue with some of his sweeping pronouncements.

CBD bangkok

In doing so, I will endeavor to not violate Stick’s sensible admonition to keep submissions free form political commentary. Aside from the brief mentioning of two past U.S. Presidents, I will refrain from even mentioning America. When referring to the western world outside of the Kingdom of Thailand, I will simply use the expression coined by Stick many years ago: Farangland.

There are many words that I might use to describe the Thai attitude towards life and their way of approaching the world, but “rooted in practicality” does not readily come to mind.

Planning for the future is certainly not in evidence in how most Thais go about living their lives. Even thinking a single month year in advance, let alone a year or more is a stretch. This is true not only as individuals but as a society, which is why so many problems which could easily be prevented are repeated perennially. Patching things up with a bit of glue and a prayer, or sweeping a problem under the rug, or better yet pretending that a problem simply does not exist is after all a whole lot easier than fixing things. This is of course why, among other reasons, no real solutions to the massive flooding that afflicts Bangkok have ever been implemented.

Saving money for a “rainy day does not seem to be inherently part of the Thai national character. Too many Thais spend money without regard for tomorrow. I would imagine that many folks out there who are involved with a Thai woman have noticed that their significant other simply cannot grasp the idea that just because they have a 1000 baht in their pocket does not require them to spent every last one of those baht. That money will probably be better spent on rent, food, utility bills, motorcycle payments etc. In all fairness I readily admit that many Farangs, both men and women, are clueless when it comes to managing money, but from what I have observed and what many friends and acquaintances have shared with me, Thais really do seem to have an especially strong tendency to spend now and let the future somehow take care of itself.

wonderland clinic

I have to admit that I was quite taken aback by Caveman’s pronouncement about, “Westerners, who concentrate on moralistic things peripheral to the requirements of daily living.” Really? Really and truly? Gee I had no idea that we Farangs were busily concentrating on “moralistic things”, or that morals were somehow “peripheral to daily living”. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most people, whether back in Farangland or here in Thailand, taught quite the opposite…that morals are central to daily living?

Morals are of course standards of behavior which every society uses to delineate between what is right, good and proper and that which is unacceptable, wrong or evil. Morals do change over the centuries, and are not always universally agreed upon from society to society. Still, I think I can go out on a limb and generalize that at least in the 21st century it is commonly held by most people that it is “wrong” to murder, steal, lie, and cheat. I would certainly venture to say that most people firmly believe that it is “wrong” to abuse children. Sadly, codes of moral behavior can be perverted by religious institutions who have often hijacked moral behavior to suit their own agenda. Today many Christians using Biblical scripture to “prove” their suppositions teach that being born gay is somehow “immoral”.

If we are lucky our parents teach us moral behavior when we are young children. Most of us know from an early age that it is not right to take things which don’t belong to us. We learn that it is wrong to tell lies. We learn to treat others the way we would wish to be treated. If children fail to adopt a fundamental moral code as a child, they may grow as amoral individuals who feel free to do whatever they please, as long as it benefits them. We don’t have to look any farther than the boardrooms of Wall Street and international banks like to see that kind of selfish behavior illustrated. Here lying and cheating has been raised to astonishing heights.

But getting back to Caveman’s presumptuous assumption, are Westerners “obsessed” with “moralistic things” while Thais remain free from such concerns? Personally I don’t think there is much of a difference between the two cultures when it comes to moral behavior, although this may be expressed in different proportions, in different aspects of daily life. Sometimes for sure, we are going to shake our heads in amazement at some of the things many Thais feel is perfectly acceptable morally.

Let’s go through a typical day in Thailand and see how that plays out. Somchai and Somporn are up and out of bed before sunrise to get their children ready for school and head off to work. The children are scrubbed and dressed, but there is no time for the family to sit down and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. They will pick up some food from some vendors on the side of the road and eat as they drive into town in their pick-up truck. They all enjoy some skewers of barbecued pork, along with some sticky rice and some beverages: soy milk for the children and coffee for mom and dad. Having finished their morning repast, there is no question of what to do with the refuse. Somchai simply pulls over, Somporn rolls down the window and tosses the whole lot by the side of the road. If litter were animated and could feel emotions, this bag full would certainly not feel lonely, since it has many other bagfuls to keep it company.

When pulling out back into traffic, Somchai almost collides with a motorcycle, since the very idea of using his mirrors to check if the way is safe never occurs to him. What does occur to him is to lay on the horn to let the rider of the motorcycle know that he is not pleased with the whole situation. It is a good thing that no accident occurred, because the two children are not in car seats, or wearing seatbelts…in fact the youngest is standing on the front seat. The idea that their children might be seriously injured or even killed has never entered the minds of either parent. It will come as no surprise that when riding with their children on a motorcycle, Somchai and Somporn do not have their children wear helmets. Traffic is heavy this morning, and Somchai is in no mood to waste time, so he ignores a red light at a busy intersection and speeds through, oblivious of the fact that he is needlessly endangering everyone else on the road.

Soon the children are dropped off at school, and not long after, Somporn gets out at the market where she runs a small food stall, selling takeaway food. There is still a half a pot of curry left over from yesterday. She uncovers it and takes a sniff. Not too bad she thinks, especially for having been left out all night unrefrigerated. Some “wasteful” people might have tossed it out yesterday, but Somporn is anything but wasteful! After it has been heated and a few fresh chilies and a little cilantro tossed in as a flavor enhancer, it should be “good enough”. No one has ever actually died from eating her leftovers, although a few people have reportedly spent an inordinate amount of time dashing for the toilet! But what the heck, business is business, right?

Meanwhile, Somchai has just arrived at the building site of a home he is constructing for a foreigner. Luckily he has gotten there in time to supervise the delivery of a load of concrete, which will be poured into support columns. He is looking forward to making a lot of money from this project. Somchai can be a most charming character when he wants to be, and he has pulled out all the stops to earn this foreigner’s trust. “No problem” he is constantly telling the foreigner. Everything is going to be “perfect”! So what if there are a few minor cost overruns? The foreigner has deep pockets, and will cheerfully pay up whatever he is asked to.

Somchai is a master of finding new ways to increase his profits. Take this load of concrete for example. Sand is certainly less expensive than cement, so why not increase the amount of sand in the concrete mixture and reduce the amount of cement? Hey, it’s not as though the house is going fall down in the middle of the night, right? What the heck, business is business!

Somchai’s son is having a typical day at school. He is in Mathayom 6, the equivalent of 12th grade. For years Somchai Jr. has been coasting along, not the least bit concerned with learning anything. Luckily for him, Thai schools are not allowed to fail anyone, so Junior hasn’t a care in the world. Being a handsome devil, he never has had a problem finding a girl to let him copy a homework assignment. Junior has not the slightest qualm in cheating on his exams. Honesty and diligence are for suckers. Why let “moralistic things” get in the way of success?

At the end of a hard day’s work, the family is once again in the pick-up truck and headed home. Somchai briefly stops off to pick up a few Changs to enjoy on the way home. He’s not actually drunk while driving home. He is just having a well deserved buzz. I mean what kind of Nazi would ever have the nerve to suggest that he shouldn’t enjoy a drink or two while behind the wheel?

The sun has set, night has fallen, the children are asleep and Somchai and Somporn are relaxing in front of the TV, while their stereo blasts away at a decibel level high enough to make certain that none of their neighbors will be getting much sleep tonight. Someone once politely asked Somchai to lower the volume. What nerve! Isn’t what Somchai wants more important than what the rest of the world wants?

Okay, maybe this isn’t the typical Thai family, but the sad truth is that every one of my examples is based on personal observation. For many Thais, there seems to be no mediating filter between the impulse to do something, and going ahead and actually doing it.

“I don’t want to stop for that red light, therefore I won’t stop.” What doesn’t enter into the decision making process is the consideration of it would be wise to do this, or whether this will endanger anyone else. “All that matters is that I do what I want to do, when I want to do it.” End of story… except of course that many times this isn’t the end of the story. Actions have consequences, sometimes trivial, sometimes life altering. Without moral constraints the world would be in complete anarchy. This is as true in Thailand as it is in Farangland.

Let’s move on for an analysis of Caveman’s next statement.

Thailand’s leadership makes decisions that are consistently in the best interests of the country, and that speaks well for Thais in general.”

I would have to agree to some extent with Cavey on this one, but disagree on a number of specific issues. Let’s start with what I believe are decisions that do benefit the interest of the Thai people, but will ironically induce paroxysms of indignation in old Cavey. The Thai government does a lot of things that if his own government were to do, would have Cavey “locking and loading”.

The obvious place to begin is fittingly with the laws concerning gun ownership in Thailand. I am not even going to enter the debate about the dangers versus the benefits of gun ownership. That is simply not relevant in this submission. I am going to restrict my comments to what is contained in the Firearms, Ammunition, Explosive Articles and Fireworks and Imitation of Firearms Act 1947 or what is often referred to as simply “The Act”. Here’s what I was able to factually determine through some research.

Thais can possess firearms, but there a whole lot of restrictions that apply.

1. Applicants for a gun owner’s license in Thailand are required to prove genuine reason to possess a firearm, for example, hunting, sports shooting, collection, and self-defense.

2. In Thailand, civilians are not allowed to possess automatic and semi-automatic rifles.

3. An applicant for a firearm license in Thailand must pass background checks which consider personal conduct, living condition, income and criminal records.

4. According to the Thailand gun laws, there are certain people that cannot get a gun license. These people are: those who have not a permanent residence, the people have no job and no income, individuals who were convicted for criminal acts, any person who has an infirmity or disability that makes him or her unable to use the gun properly (these persons may have guns but not use them), individuals who were found quasi-incompetent or incompetent by a court, people with mental infirmities. Where a past history, or apprehended likelihood of family violence exists, the law in Thailand stipulates that a gun license should be denied or revoked.

5. In Thailand, the law requires that a record of the acquisition, possession and transfer of each privately held firearm be retained in an official register.

6. In Thailand, civilians are not allowed to possess automatic and semi-automatic rifles.

7. In Thailand, only licensed gun owners may lawfully acquire, possess or transfer a firearm or ammunition.

8. In Thailand, a unique identifying mark on each firearm is required by law.

9. If you are in possession of more than one gun, one license is required for each unit.

10. Bringing a gun in public, including protests or political rally, you also can be punished with a fine and a year in jail.

11. After you have been granted a license, if you move to a new residence within the same district or region as the original address listed in the license, make sure you notify the local registrar your new address within 15 days of the move. If you are moving to a different district or region, you must notify the local registrar in the new location within 15 days of arrival.

11. Should you become incompetent, quasi-incompetent, mentally insane or deranged after having already received a license, your license will be revoked.

12. Punishment for Violations of the Act

In Thailand, the maximum penalty for illicit possession of firearms is 1 to 10 years prison

If you use firearms and / or ammunition of types other than those specified as permissible in the Act, this will be considered a criminal offense. You may be subject to life imprisonment or death.

I especially like the reference to people who have been determined to be, “incompetent, quasi-incompetent, mentally insane or deranged”.

I personally cannot fault a single one of these restrictions, but I suspect Caveman might…especially if they were being proposed by his government! Think of it: You cannot own even one assault weapon, let alone an unlimited number of them. Forget stockpiling a million rounds of ammunition. The Thai government would most certainly “frown” on civilians possessing personal arsenals. They certainly would demand to know the name of every single person who owns guns, what they own and where they live. I suspect Caveman would go ballistic if his government demanded anything of the kind…but this is Thailand, and “Thailand’s leadership makes decisions that are consistently in the best interests of the country, and that speaks well for Thais in general.” Who am I to disagree, right?

Another thing that the Thai government demands is that every Thai citizen be issued a national identity card, and must produce this card whenever it is asked for. Believe it or not, Thais now receive their first identity card at age seven…really! The Thai government is really serious about who is who, where they live and what they are doing. In addition to the basic information written of the front of the card, a whole lot of information can be encoded in the card itself. What’s in there? I have no idea, but I suspect more than you might believe.

Every Thai needs to present his or her identity card constantly, and not just to the police and other government functionaries. If a Thai is applying for a job, opening a bank account, buying a car or motorcycle… not to mention filling out any of a million government forms, he or she will need to present their identity card, which will undoubtedly be photocopied. In short, the Thai government at the local and national levels knows more than you can imagine about the daily lives of its citizens. Is this a good thing?

Personally I wouldn’t like my government being able to track just about everything I do in the course of my life, and I suspect that Caveman’s feeling on the matter are a whole lot more intense than mine.

Can you just imagine what would happen if upon going through Customs and Immigration back in his corner of Farangland, old Cavey was informed that from that moment forward he would be required to carry a national identity card? I can readily imagine all hell breaking loose as Caveman tells the unfortunate officer on duty where he can shove that plastic card! But once again we need to remember that this is Thailand, and “Thailand’s leadership makes decisions that are consistently in the best interests of the country, and that speaks well for Thais in general.”

Now we come to something the Thai government does for its people that frankly makes me ashamed to come from one of the most prosperous countries on the planet. Despite having far less monetary resources than any country in Farangland, Thailand provides basic medical care for all of its citizens…and even for some of its non-citizens. One of those dear readers is yours truly, Old Sawadee.

Last month I went for a checkup at Lampang Hospital. I have a checkup every two months. Early in the morning I went to the hospital’s laboratory and had blood drawn. The lab performed no fewer than half a dozen tests, with a bewildering alphabet soup of names, which frankly right at the moment I can’t remember. Before my doctor’s appointment in the afternoon I had a chest x-ray and an EKG. Following my doctor’s appointment I stopped by the hospital’s pharmacy and took home a small shopping bag which contained a two month supply of eight different medications. (I wish that I didn’t need to taken a single one of these, but I’m happy to have all of them available.) If I had been back in Farangland, my bill would have been frighteningly large. Here in The Land of Smiles, my bill was precisely…zero!

Anyone reading this submission has to be asking themselves why the Thai government would be providing all this to a foreigner. The reason is simple. Besides the fact that I am over 60 years old, I am a taxpayer here in Thailand. That has gotten me the hospital card I carry in my wallet which in turn has opened the doors for me to a world of subsidized medical care. I should hasten to mention that Thais, whether they pay taxes or not, get subsidized medical care as well. While I think that this is precisely what a government should be doing, there are those out there, Caveman among them, who would start foaming at the mouth at the mere concept of government provided healthcare.

Ironically as I write this, a host of people who share Caveman’s distain for “coddling moochers” back in our mutual corner of Farangland are doing precisely that! In their view, if you can’t afford healthcare, it is because you are lazy or incompetent. If asked to cough up some of his tax dollars to help those less fortunate than him, you would be getting an indignant lecture about the philosophy of Ayn Rand, (“makers” versus “takers”) laced with more than a few expletives about Socialists, Communists, Fascists and yes Nazis.

Fortunately the Thai government doesn’t feel the way he does, and as we all know by now, “Thailand’s leadership makes decisions that are consistently in the best interests of the country, and that speaks well for Thais in general.” I wholeheartedly agree when it comes to healthcare.

Let’s move on to another benefit the Thai government wisely offers…free milk for children. Five mornings a week at every school in Thailand, you can see children lining up to receive their morning milk. Right after the morning flag raising ceremony, I accompany my students to the cafeteria to help hand out milk. Sometimes it is plain. Sometimes it is chocolate. All of it is the UHT variety, which has a long shelf life. Personally I don’t much care for the taste of it, and neither does my son, Sam, so I buy him some Ovaltine instead. Most of the other children love their milk and greedily slurp it up.

Providing some much needed nutrition, especially to many children whose families are poor seems like a wise thing to me. Once again let us repeat this mantra, “Thailand’s leadership makes decisions that are consistently in the best interests of the country, and that speaks well for Thais in general.”

The million baht question is of course what would Caveman have to say if asked that some of his hard earned money go to providing free milk to school children back where he is from? I can almost hear his angry assertion that it is not HIS government’s job to spend HIS money to help provide basic nutrition to children from families who are too lazy or incompetent to do so. Oh the irony that he feels that what Thailand does to wisely help take care of its people is peachy, but don’t even suggest that HIS government ”waste” HIS money doing the same things. Oh the irony!

I could go on for many more pages giving countless illustrations that what’s “good for the goose” ain’t necessarily “sauce for the gander”…at least when talking about Old Cavey’s gander. Since many of you are probably dozing off as it is, and I think I’ve made my point, I’ll refrain from that long litany.

Instead let me move on to another statement from Caveman that deserves a response.

“Here’s a politically incorrect observation if there ever was one. Not wanting to be counted as a madman for actually being a proponent of drunk driving, I am however not one of the anti-drinking/driving Nazis out there. Those people make me puke. If it makes any sense, I believe it should be illegal to cause harm to another or destruction of property because of drunken driving, and not be illegal to actually have a few alcoholic beverages and still navigate…especially on 2 wheels, as the danger is mostly to yourself.”

First let me publically congratulate Caveman on his unequivocal condemnation of drunk driving…but a discussion is called for about the effect of “a few alcoholic beverages” on the average person’s ability to “navigate” a motor vehicle, regardless of how many wheels it has.

Let’s deal in real facts here folks, not on personal opinions. Whether it is safe to drive after “a few alcoholic beverages” depends among other things on ones BAC or Blood Alcohol Level.

This chart reveals the effect that shows how your BAC is affected according to how much alcohol you’ve consumed.

You can see that depending on your body weight, one or two drinks can raise your BAC anywhere from .02 to .08. Let’s split the difference and say the average is .04. In most jurisdictions where Caveman hails from, DUI is having a BAC of .08 or above, so having a BAC of .04 is perfectly legal. The question is, is it safe to be driving?

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that is quickly absorbed from the stomach into the bloodstream. Scientific research shows…if you actually believe that science is based on objective facts and not the whining of some “Nazi” with his “panties in a bunch”, that impairment begins long before a person reaches the blood alcohol concentration level necessary to be guilty of drunken driving.

Even at the .02 blood alcohol concentration level, experiments have demonstrated that people experience a decline in visual functions, affecting their ability to track a moving object, and often have difficulty being able to perform two tasks at the same time. The end result is that in an emergency situation your reaction time and ability to make a quick life or death decision may not be as good as if you had not had been drinking at all. The fact is when someone drinking is approaching the borderline of legal intoxication, your balance, vision, reaction time and ability to detect to detect danger are most definitely impaired. If driving while tired, in poor weather or at night, this impairment can only be greater.

I am reminded of the old joke that goes, “I don’t have a drinking problem. I drink. I fall down. No problem!”

Obviously then by cautioning you about the danger of driving after only “a few alcoholic beverages”, I am guilty of being one of those people who makes Old Cavey puke. Well so be it.

Actually what Caveman or anyone else chooses to do is none of my concern. I am no dictator trying to impose my will on everyone else in the world. I am certainly no “Nazi”. By the way, what is Cavey’s obsession with Nazis, and why is anyone who dares to differ with him one?

I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with another one of Caveman’s absurd statement that when it comes to driving after drinking, “the danger is mostly to yourself”. I’m 100% certain that the families of anyone who has been killed or injured by a driver who has enjoyed “few alcoholic beverages” would take issue with that whopper!

At the risk of sending Caveman dashing for the toilet again, I must take issue with this bizarre statement.

“Speeding in Thailand vs. US represents yet another interesting and politically Incorrect topic. The fact is that almost no one pays attention to speed limit signs even where they do exist.” Heaven forbid that anyone, let alone any panty twisting “safety experts” say that Caveman isn’t a law onto himself, and dare attempt to impose something as craven as “speed limits”! Who needs laws at all when “no one pays attention” to them anyway? Let’s all just revert back to the Law of The Jungle, where the biggest guy with the biggest stick gets to call the shots. Nope, no “moralistic things”, no inconvenient laws…what could possibly go wrong?

Stickman's thoughts:

It's very hard to comment on this because I agree with some of the points Caveman makes and there's a point or two of yours I have some sympathy for too. There's also the issue of perhaps some issues being taken out of context. I'm not going to say much more than this because to comment fairly I would need to go back and re-read Caveman's (lengthy) submission and then read this and comment…and that's just too much like hard work. Instead I am going to dash to the bomb shelter because I reckon there will be incoming real soon….

* On a completely different note, Sawadee2000 will be in Bangkok from April 2nd for a few days and has expressed an interest in meeting others so if you have contributed stories to this site and would like to meet him, drop him an email.

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