Readers' Submissions

No, Thailand Will Not Be There Again



Very sad.  In a recent submission “Sebastian” wrote:

… to a man yearning for adventure … escape of the mundane civility of western culture, the intoxication of madness and spontaneity that is found in exploring the country, and the bold sense of self that is found in being a foreigner, an immigrant, a farang in the kingdom … A new, and entrancing world to explore.”

Good that he visited Thailand when he did, when it was still fun and exciting.  I hope his good memories will last a life time.

I’ve been living in Thailand for 10+ years; retired from the USA.   Thailand still has great value for an old, retired man so I’m not leaving.  But for tourists like “Sebastian”, will Thailand still be there when he is allowed to travel again?

Sadly, no.  Thailand as he knew it has already been destroyed.  Not just the economy — business on a surface level — but the quiet stability of family and daily pleasures of life for Thai people are gone.  “Exotic” Thailand is now a mess.

One of the disadvantages of speaking the language at conversational level is that the local people “unload” their problems onto me.   They can’t speak freely with other Thais — the entire culture is riddled with gossip — but each person is overwhelmed with burdens: family and debts mostly, but also where to get some kind of a job or find the money simply to buy the necessities of life.  The desperation is strong now, and getting worse constantly.   So if they find a foreigner who can understand some of what they say, they open up and unburden themselves of a huge load of problems and worries.

Six months ago, a waitress, say, or a taxi driver, was concerned with would their earnings for the month be enough to buy school books for their children.  Now, there are no tips, no salary, no job, and no other jobs anywhere in sight, not now, and, soon they will realize, not in the future.  Restaurants everywhere have closed.   A few are trying to survive by cooking meals for delivery by motorcycle.  They don’t need waitresses.  And the tourists who used to use taxis to go to those restaurants are no more.  And the malls those tourists used to go to are mostly empty.  So there’s not much need for taxis.  How much longer can empty malls afford to keep the lights on and the air conditioners running?   The same situation for hotel maids, massage ladies, hotel bellboys, and on and on throughout the vast working classes of Thailand.

And for the families up-country who depend on them.

The effects are already rippling through the economy at a deeper level.  Factories can’t sell products for export, because the economies in other countries are shutting down, too.  Office workers for, say, insurance companies, are being let go, because if people can barely find enough money to buy food, they certainly are not going to buy insurance.   The man who cleans air conditioners is out of a job, because nobody cares about clean air conditioners in an empty office.  Even the bus driver is suffering, because most city buses and commuter vans are privately owned.  With many fewer people going to work now, the fares collected are way down.

Everywhere in Thailand the “bright lights” are getting turned off.  Not just the bright lights on city streets and in shopping malls, but the bright enthusiasm for life that used to be the essential characteristic of Thai people.

Even if “Sebastian” does return to Thailand, say next year or the year after, he is likely to be very disappointed.  Not just that this or that bar has closed, or some favorite restaurants are no longer in business, but the whole attitude toward tourists and foreigners in general has changed.   Use to be that white men visiting here were welcomed with smiles and open arms.  I experienced that and loved it.  But that was then.   Now, no.  Now outsiders, non-Thais of all kinds, if welcomed at all, are looked at only for the money they bring in and spend.  It’s “cash and carry” now.  The forced smiles may still be displayed, but the spontaneous “fun” has gone out of it.

The economy will take at least one generation to recover, maybe more.   In the meantime people here will start to lose all hope, and when people lose hope, they lose it!  There will be suicides and crime on levels never before imagined here.   Those fancy hotels will either be abandoned, empty structures, or will have been made into walled fortresses to protect paying guests from the gruesome reality of life outside the walls.

Right now, September, 2020, there is still bread and cheese on the shelves of Villa Market and Central Food Hall.  And a good assortment of wine and beer and all the other things that make life enjoyable and comfortable.   There is still some supply in the “pipeline”.  But if you look down the supply chain a bit farther you’ll see things starting to fall apart.   The comforts of life in Thailand will, as in all other countries, steadily dwindle.  What you’ll have is, “We’re all out of that.”   “Can’t get that any more.”   “Haven’t had any of those in stock for months.”

Comforts are not just comforts, they are indicators of the fundamental quality of life.  If life is good, then people are feeling positive.  They can offers visitors a genuinely warm welcome.  But without comforts, without a positive attitude, the most beautiful beach is not attractive and the prettiest women just aren’t pretty at all.

Now expand that situation with wine and cheese to antibiotics and air conditioner repair parts and even electric light bulbs.  Life without the “comforts” may eventually become life lacking many of the basics we take for granted.

So, if you have good memories, enjoy them.  Look on Stickman’s site for beautiful photos to remind you.  But what you’ll find here next visit will be a mere echo of what you experienced in the past.

The writer of this submission welcomes comments:  [email protected]