Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Replying To A Comment 1

A thoughtful comment containing some valid points was left by reader John on yesterday's post about farang and their rented admirers that I felt deserved a proper answer, so rather than bury it there I decided to copy and repost it here. John said:

"I am going to offer a bit of criticism, not of the specific topic but more generally. It is one I make of a lot of what I read about Thailand and about many people who are frequent visitors to the country. I do not really believe it is intentional, but it does seem to occur regularly when people write about Thailand.

There is a sense one gets, especially if they have never visited the country or have traveled to it only minimally, that Thailand is depicted as an idyllic country of gentle, smiling people who are often intruded upon by boorish outsiders. I am speaking as someone with a deep seated love of the country and with many of its people. However, there are few social ills, be it violence, bigotry, theft, fraud, xenophobia, or jingoism, that Thailand has had any particular success overcoming compared to the rest of the society of nations.

So, I suppose the questions I would ask are: do you believe the ills of Thai society are as visible to you as the strengths? If so, is it a simply a matter of not being interested in the subject and not wishing to write about it?"

The depiction of Thailand as the idyllic country of gentle people is without a doubt perpetuated in part by (1) the rose-colored glasses worn by new visitors, insulated from the realities of true local life by virtue of their organized tours, led by guides who don't show the seamy side of things, and (2) the experiences shared by people who - for whatever reason - either choose not to see the realities or choose not to speak or write about them. I'm one of those who would prefer not to dwell on the darker side, and I freely admit it.

Before I make myself come off as a completely naive cockeyed optimist (oh thanks - now I'll have that song from "South Pacific" stuck in my head all morning) let me clarify my point a little bit. As it reads above the comment submission box "I'm not an expert on Thailand in any way, shape or form; I do this for the satisfaction I get from sharing with others".

Although I've made 13 extended trips there over the last seven years and have 15 or so trusted Thai friends who have given me far more insight into the culture than one would ever get on a package tour, I still have more to learn about the country, the people and the workings of day-to-day life, and I look forward to doing so.

There's no contesting the fact that there are many examples of greed, deception, corruption, violence, depravity and disgusting behavior in the Land of Smiles by the Thai themselves - I've seen more than a few examples of all of the above and have been on the receiving end of it myself. Where I fell short was that I didn't point that out in my original post while wearing my "rose-colored glasses".

As I did write: "They're human beings, people" - and that gives them room to be rude, pushy and boorish, too. I've been shoved out of the way in line (or queue for some of you), felt a hand reaching for my wallet that wasn't mine, had a shouting match with a manager with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth next to his own "no smoking" sign (to my shame afterwards). I've seen more than one child missing an appendage who confessed to my Thai friend that it had been removed so that they'd be more likely to collect money while begging and have learned from sources I trust of other behavior I'd never have thought could happen in Thailand that has and does indeed continue to happen.

John made a good point, and I heard it. Although this was intended to be a blog of a lighter vein, I'd be doing both my readers and my schooling a disservice if we glossed over some of the less savory aspects of this country he and I have come to love. I appreciated the input. I could have made it clear that while it was the boorish attitudes of Westerners I was disgusted with that it may have been behavior exaggerated by the freedom to do so while on vacation/holiday. I does disturb me to see farang acting like pigs and mistreating the locals - for whatever reason. That was my main point.

To answer your question, John: yes, I have (and do) see the ills along with the strengths, but had preferred to write about the "good stuff" while unrealistically ignoring the bad, for the most part. In fairness to all I'll make an effort to be a little more balanced in the future.


krobbie said...

My personal view of the question that John asked and is noted in today's blog:

I don't think it is a matter of not seeing the shortcomings of Thailand with its assorted array of negative factors, (double pricing (Farang v Thai), obvious corruption, bigotry, theft, violence (including the drug problems) and jingoism), but not wishing to highlight these aspects.

It would be churlish to say that none of the so called "society of nations" worldwide do not have their respective disappointing aspects also. The subject here though is Thailand.

For me it is a knowledge of all these shortcomings and a matter of being aware of them and limiting my vulnerability to such, with that knowledge.

It is more a case of seeing passed these minuses and not allowing them to spoil my Thai travels. By being aware of myself and my surroundings and thereby staying out of harms way and limiting the adverse possibilities without closing my eyes and my mind to the wonderment that surrounds me.


khunbaobao said...

Another good point, Krobbie. Being realistic about one's surroundings and aware of the balance of good and bad ANYWHERE is a wise way to travel.

While I tend to romanticize Thailand I also make the effort to be honest about it as best I can on any given day. Comments and questions give the opportunity to clarify (or back pedal) and all are welcome to join in.

Ray said...

I first visited Bangkok in Sept 2007 and like many farang of the gay persuasion was drawn to places like Babylon, soi 4, etc. I was extremely lucky to meet with a man in his 30's and we spent the next week in each others company. I returned a few months later and he took me to many places both on and off the tourist trail. Even his home village outside of Lampang. I counted myself as extremely privileged to be able to witness in such a short time the Thai lifestyles that I imaging many farang would never see even if they stayed much longer than myself.

Many farang people equate Thai with concepts such as money-grabbers or prostitutes. They seem to forget that the same could be said of their own countrymen.

Sure I enjoy the glamorous and sexy (some may say seedy) side of Thailand but to see the way real Thais live and struggle on a daily basis has given me a much greater respect for the people who seem to find happiness despite the daily adversity.

I am happy to report that I fell in love with that man who is still my boyfriend after 3 years and I am welcomed into his village by his family, friends, and the other local villagers. I'm not rich so it sure isn't the money he values cos he rarely gets any from me. But I do try to support the family every now and then; most recently by paying to plough his small (3 rai) farm and plant some corn and lime trees.

It breaks my heart that every time he seems to get a little bit ahead something comes along to undo all his hard work. Most recently the farm was flooded and the crops died. Still he battles on and remains optimistic.

Sure there is good and bad in people but like you Bao Bao, I always look for and celebrate the good.

khunbaobao said...

Thoughtful comments - and thanks to both of you for taking the time to reply. You've both also seen a side of Thailand many wouldn't, and it's nice to run into kindred spirits, so to speak.

beachlover said...

Thais are some of the most charming people in the world... but yes, it would be naive to look at them with rose tinted glasses. They have their flaws and human weaknesses just as everyone else does. They well capable of horrendous acts as their history shows... Enjoy their charm and character but don't be blind to the fact that they are very human, just like you and me.