Why It’s Different This Time
I love taking a hire car to Pattaya with my new squeeze. Pattaya is such a fit, the town that pussy built, a concrete realization of lust. The bus is just so sensible and the minibus just too scary. The driver of the hire car always has a “love songs” CD to play and as I gaze in to the eyes of my new love the sweet sounds of '80s romance soothe the impact of Bangkok’s ripped backside. Then on to the Bang Na expressway and a glimpse of Thai modernity. The scale of industrialization is staggering and the pace at which that change has taken place even more impressive. It is at this point I become uneasy and contradicted in my thoughts.
Thailand is just so sweet, the girl I am with is just so sweet, the climate the rice paddies, the temples, the customs just so…nothing like the Detroit of South-East Asia I am looking at. There must be millions of people involved and servicing this monster. I know factories, I know shift work, I know piece work, I know what an hourly rate is, I know the emptiness of monotony and the desires that it brings. I feel like I am being played; Mammon is here in paradise hiding behind a cheap 5-star hotel room and a pretty farm girl.
So what’s new? When I first came to Thailand some decades ago I was aware of the superficiality of the bar scene. I don’t think anybody has been asked for money for a sick buffalo in 20 years, yet everybody knows and understands the story – it still has currency today. What is new is the disconnect. Industry brings organization. It turns its back on the rural idle and the superstition of the village. It brings a mindset of change, of a world moving forward, of progress as a requirement for happiness. It brings endless hope to replace inevitability and faith.
All those Thai policemen with shields festooned in English, the soldiers in their oversized western uniforms, most of them seem self conscious or conflicted, you can see the softness in them, the last flicker of old Thailand. I can’t help but think that I am seeing Antebellum Thailand; this is the precipice in to modernity.
But isn’t this what Thailand needs? The first time I came to Thailand there were still lepers on the streets. Child prostitution, people smuggling etc. all these blights and more can be removed by modernity. So the mantra goes.
Most of Thailand’s neighbours appear to be basket cases. Look at Burma, previously a powerful kingdom whose armies once sacked the Thai capital at Ayutthaya, seems incomprehensible now. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam all splattered in shocking unfathomable
violence and now attempting to build a future. What do these countries have in common? They have had the “benefit" of modernity through interaction with advanced western countries through colonisation; poor Thailand never had the
Thais don’t have a strong interest in history “it’s old”, and history may well be bunk as Henry said, but they are suckers for the present and the present maybe about to deliver a history lesson.
Meanwhile, back in Pattaya I am untroubled by all this introspective navel gazing. I’m wining and dining and living like a prince. I have brought my “superior" culture with me in the form of money and my princess cares more about topping up her phone than she does about the Burmese sacking Ayutthaya. I have put parts of my ideas to some fellow drinkers at a beer bar and one of them asked me what I was on. (Back to the Premier League.)
One night in Bangkok (about a year ago) I met a woman and we arranged to go out the following night for food when she finished her shift. We got a cab and crossed town to an area I didn’t know and there were street stalls and places to eat. We got a cab to head back to the Sukhumvit area and on the way the cab driver drove up a side soi and killed the lights. My girl and the cab driver then had a lengthy conversation. I couldn’t understand any of it. After a few minutes he put the lights back on and drove on. When we got out of the cab and had a drink at a curbside bar I asked my girl what had gone on. Apparently the cab driver wanted to rob me and offered the girl a stake. She had refused, and the reason for her refusal? And the reason (according to her) that the cab driver drove on? That I was a worker, not a businessman. I was one of them. She knew I had 5000 baht on me and credit cards. If her story was true (or even if it wasn’t), it was the first time I had struck the concept of blue collar solidarity in the land of smiles.
Somchai’s father and his father before him were involved on one side or the other in previous coups and uprisings, but they went home in the end. They went home because Thainess transcended the material. Somchai isn’t going home this time. Industry has shown him a new way.