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The Thailand you’ve always known – Part 2

May 23, 2010 2 comments

Regarding my AUA Thai Program Blog, The Thailand you’ve always known, a friend commented, “The following article takes a VERY different perspective. I hope your perspective is the right one.

Time will tell. (No pun intended.)” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1990640,00.html

Interestingly, I don’t find what I am saying to be at odds with the Times article above.  Typical of most non-Thai views it regards the issues the surround the conflicts as things that must be corrected. Issues like freedom of speech, institutions, military, etc. The problem here is that these institutions exist because they are still needed. To abolish them for the sake of Western styled democracy would be suicidal for Thailand. The present government appears to know this.

Thailand’s majority have historically viewed government as ‘masters’ – ‘elder’ government if you will. In most democracies, the government exists to represent, indeed serve the people. If this becomes the case in Thailand, it will require a major value shift, and one that Thai people are not likely to make soon. (see Elders below) If the comparison can be made, and I think it’s a fair comparison, the majority of Thailand politically is comparable to children growing up. They have needed and still do need their parents.

Have the parents become institutionalized? Of course.

Is that holding back some things? Of course.

Is that adding stability to the country? Yes, and No.

In order for the Thai majority to take the reigns of government they must win the confidence of the parents. This will not happen by the sort of demonstrations that have just occurred. It must happen in a united way. Nearly every Thai/family owned business as well as many Thai run, non-family businesses I know of are like a microcosm of the country in this regard. And there seem to no end of cases where the parents did in fact, turn over the control to the 30 and 40 year old children, only to have the business destroyed in a very few years.

The institutions and government that many are so quick to criticize are the very thing maintaining stability here. While the damage done last week is undoubtedly the most costly in terms of dollars, in terms of lives, it was extremely low. This points to the true values of the Thai and is something that most developed countries could learn a great deal from. Businesses will be rebuilt, money will be made again, and when it comes down to it, the real hardships from it all will rest on the poor who like teenagers in rebellion, are gaining a foothold in the political process. They’re just not there yet. I for one, want to see that growth continue – but I don’t think it would be wise for it to happen overnight. What won’t be recovered are the lives which have been lost. Most of these deaths seem to be caused neither by the government nor the redshirts who are seeking a voice, but by a few who are apparently using all sides as fronts to gain power. This too, is a product of transition from the old ways to democratic government, which can only move forward through education, and increased maturity of the majority – a growth process which takes time.

Elders

One of the great underlying values of the Thai is that of honoring the elder. This lies as as deeply as any value the Thai hold, and is one of the obstacles to a Western style democracy. Rightly so.

Historically, it has always been the family elders who have had the final say. The social fabric was held together by this. As larger governments have emerged, this is still the case. The fact is, the majority of the people still look to age as deserving the final say and this cuts across every faction in the demonstrations. One can only begin to imagine the internal conflict in the hearts and minds of many Thai at the moment.  (In addition to age, wealth has also had it’s place in offering respect. Perhaps the greatest thing that Thaksin did for Thailand was help the Thai see that riches is not a good reason to necessarily respect a person or give them more credit that others with less means. I’d guess that never again will Thais readily be influenced heavily by a candidate’s wealth.) The upshot of this is that as elders involved in politics, it’s important to listen and go along with what they say. This underlies the institutions that are in question and is one of the redshirts major issues.

As I said previously, I think that this is a balance for Thais to determine. Ssecondly, it’s a balance that can only be found over time. For those of us who live here and have been taken with the charms of this people, let’s give them the space and time to find that balance. Let’s also understand together that this place is everything it is because of the values of the Thai people.

Read Part 1 at : http://auathai.wordpress.com/2010/05/22/the-thailand-you-have-always-known/

Why do you like Thailand?

April 17, 2010 1 comment

In over twenty years, by far the most often asked question has been “Why do you like Thailand?” The answers (for me and many of my friends) are varied and can take as little or as much time as a person wants to listen. Often while out with friends, we’ll catch on another’s eye and say something like, “It’s great to live in Thailand!” Of course if you’re new here, or frustrated by one of the many inconveniences that are part of life here, it’s understandable that you would disagree. This is OK – this is Thailand.

photo by Eternal Vagabond (flickr)

Outside, the traffic is picking up as Songkran festivities (Thai New Year celebrations) are winding down, at least in Bangkok. I went to Soi Cowboy two days in a row. Soi Cowboy, if you’re not familiar with Thailand, is a night spot – a small street packed with go-go bars. It’s charm is that it’s got open, outdoor places to sit and socialize. Normally, it sleeps in the daytime. My father always said “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” I have noticed that with the exception of bar owners, everyone who often spends their nights out has problems with work and cash flow. But none-the-less, Soi Cowboy was absolutely the place to be for Songkran this year.  While there, I also reflected on yet another reason to love Thailand.

The Songkran Festival is most well known for the water wars – before ever coming to Thailand, I heard all about these wars – people travelling around throwing water on one another.  So we arrived, about 8 or 9 of us, to this place to find it literally packed with hundreds of people, all throwing water on each other.  There was very little room to walk – and forget any hope of even a small square centimeter of yourself staying dry. Impossible!  The ice water was the best.  People coming up from behind, with small buckets of ice water, and drenching you.  Wow!

photo by Sama Sama Massa (flickr)

One of the really amazing things was watching this elderly lady, walking down through the masses, with a platter full of food from one of the restaurants.  It was as if she was immune to the water because she miraculously stayed dry, and her order was delivered without mishap.  Unbelievable.

As I was engaged in play, a Westerner nearby asked about the water gun I had – “Does that shoot well? ” and so I shot him.  He shot me back – and the comparison was like answering my b.b. gun with a cannon!  Wow!  He then explained that he’d spent the night before ‘modifying’ the gun, so it would work better.  I thought, how typically Western.  I also thought that it was pretty cool and something I might not have thought of doing with my time.

That got me to thinking a bit too deeply for that particular setting, and I began watching the Thais at play.  They had a few guns, but mostly it was about throwing water on each other and dancing.  Songkran is the one time out of the year, when it’s appropriate to have physical contact in public with members of the opposite sex.  So young guys like to go around with perfumed powder mixed with water and rub it on the faces of girls.  Some girls like this too it seems, but in fact, drunkenness and all, it’s quite happy fun.  Seldom does anyone get angry and if they want they can rub powder back or splash water back.

photo by LightOnDude (flickr)

Then I began to reflect about one of the major differences between the Westerners play and the Thai play.  For the Westerners, it was mainly all about war – strategies to ‘get’ the other person, and avoid getting ‘gotten’!  For the Thais, it was all about touching – putting a little powder on someone else, and splashing water around.  Dancing, and just having fun together.  Several times in two days, my friends commented that if this number of people were together on one place in our own country, it would break out in a fight in about 5 minutes or less!  I believe that’s right.

I remembered a question my language teacher Kru Nikom, once asked me about missionaries who come to Thailand.  “Why do you missionaries worry about their children seeing the human body naked, and teach their children that this is bad.  At the same time, think it’s OK to watch movies of wars and fighting?”  I thought then, and still do, that this is one of the best questions that I’ve ever heard.

So I gave my gun to a Thai, and traded them for a bucket of ice water! (of course the gun was already empty!)

I love living in Thailand!

The distance between us

February 10, 2010 2 comments

Out of 10 children, I live the farthest from everyone. The rest of the family are in N. America. A few months ago I was able to visit them. The occasion was my father’s 80th birthday. This sort of ‘get together’ seems to happen about once every ten years, mostly due to the fact that we’re a very large family.

So one evening after dinner, we’re sitting around at Mom and Dad’s and the conversation goes to politics, and religion… What else, right?

As a family we’re pretty well aligned in our thinking, beliefs, etc. with the possible exception of myself (I’ll let the family make their own judgments about that, though I don’t think I’ve ‘strayed’ as far as they probably think I have) for I have moved on it would seem to me. So we are sitting around talking, and having fun conversation as we love to do and it wasn’t long until people began to argue. Nothing serious mind you, though if you didn’t know us you might think that we were getting angry or something. No, feelings rarely get hurt over these sorts of arguments, but I’ve been thinking about that night.

What is it that allows us (people in general and my family in particular) to argue so well, even with those we agree with. I mean in politics for example, I was probably the only black sheep there. (I thought that Bush was bad for America) But it wasn’t long until everyone is arguing about us politics. The conversation went to religion and that same thing happened only with a bit more passion because we’re a religious family. So, did we argue and solve anything? Never has happened yet. Did we change anyone’s opinions? Nope, everyone just got more entrenched and lonely. And how much distance between the actual ideas was there? Not so much as a centimeter if it could be measured that way. You’d have a difficult time finding a more aligned group.

So now I’m thinking about bigger more serious arguments that take place in our world and I’m thinking, why do we (people) always seem to look to our differences, no matter how small they might be, and act as if this was the only thing real?

So today, I recommit myself to looking at our samenesses. What an amazing world we might live in one day, if we could only just turn around, and look at the other, to find the multitude of ways in which we are aligned.

Of course, we have some wonderful examples of this in the world and in our history. Perhaps you might add their names here as a comment.

Relationships, and other transactions

November 26, 2009 Leave a comment

Over the weekend I attended a friend’s wedding.  Part of the ceremony included a hugely formal display of the dowry: a spreading out of the money and gold, gifts of fruit and other foods, and expensive embroidered cloth which was offered to the bride’s family.  This is very important for the family it shows proper respect to the family.  The first time I ever saw this, I was shocked more than a little.  It seemed to somehow cheapen what the wedding should have been all about – to bring it down to nothing much more than a normal business type transaction.  “Here is the money we agreed to.  Now, I’ll take your daughter.”  Business transaction complete.

I’d always thought marriage was about love.  This is what I learned in my culture anyway.  We Westerners like to think about relationships, (especially those between a man and woman) in terms of  “love” (nevermind that no two of us ever have the same definition), “friendship”, and “family”.  We like words like “trust” and “loyalty”. 

Not here – relationships are all a negotiation, and the longer the relationship is, the longer the negotiation takes, and the more there is at stake.

Living in Asia has made a whole new world of values come to life for me.  Relationships are transactions  and these must be negotiated.  It is always healthy to keep clearly in mind, what the negotiation is about.  What are the stakes?  What is being offered?  What is expected in return?  Nothing is offered for free and in a negotiation, thinking that your values are better than those around you will put you at a disadvantage.

Here are a few things that may be good to consider:

    1.    Family is always involved.  Unless you’re dealing with an orphan, the family is involved and whether you realize it or not, they are a part of the transaction.

    2.    Love is not nearly as important as other aspects you may overlook – such as the ability to guarantee future comfort levels.

    3.    Immediate gain is better than a guarantee for something in the future.  Perhaps this is our common ground?

Long term relationships require continuous negotiations.  🙂

Taking advantage of others

August 23, 2009 Leave a comment

There seems to be a prevailing emphasis these days in our popular culture to take every advantage of others possible. From my viewpoint, this is most evident in sexuality and business. It is perhaps common these days, to see members of the opposite sex as “sexual objects”.

People are not physical, spiritual, and emotional beings in separate, compartmental ways. We are the integration of these – Love honors the whole person in every way.

Let

February 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Such a small, huge word, ‘let’! I am still learning its meaning. The areas of life that this concept applies to seem endless.

Our whole society seems to work on the wrong side of things. We want to prohibit things people want to do and make people do things that they don’t want to!

Think about education. People are born to learn – wanting to know is like wanting to eat! The question I have is this – What are you learning. Normally what we’re learning and what’s being taught us are two different things. Understanding this can place us on the right side of things.