Here’s looking at you kid
How do those wonderful Thai folk really see us?
Have you ever wondered what the Thais in your life think about you? I mean really think about you? Your girlfriend? Your Thai boss,? Your maid? The guy who washes your car? The motorcycle guy at the end of your soi? It may not be what you think!
I have often wondered what Thai people really think about us farangs? After all, Thais are really quite gentle souls who rarely say what they mean for fear of causing offence, and there is such an obvious chasm in terms of European and North American cultures when compared to Thai culture which, as we all know, has been a source of misunderstandings for many a decade. When you look at these differences closely, you soon realize that, in terms of the many races of people that visit Thailand's shores, with their own customs and social mores, non-Thais are like proverbial chalk and cheese, ying and yang, like night and day.
So, when you think about this fact, it may not come as too much of a surprise to find out that many Thais probably think of farangs as completely irreligious drunken fools with the shallowest of lives who rarely take care of their parents when they are old, who are impatient (jai rorn), and who often show their anger at the drop of a hat. But can we really blame them for making such assumptions about us? And are such assumptions really true?
Not a drop to drink
I chose this topic as my blog this time around primarily because of something I read on NottheNation.com this week. A Thai academic from Thammasat University was bemoaning the fact that farangs would be unable to cope during the alcohol dry spell because they seemingly cannot function without alcohol on a daily basis, and the upcoming election would mean that many, if not all, sources of alcohol would be closed for the days leading to the election. Personally I found her comments a bit insulting, as if the small few drunken farangs who go overboard is representative of ALL farangs in the kingdom or that without alcohol, they would turn into potential trouble makers. Here's what she said in an article called "Police Prepare for Election Day Expat Sobriety Riots Bangkok's - alcoholic farang population "unpredictable" as (quoted from NottheNation.com).
"For many of these men, 36 hours without a drink and the company of a rented Asian female represents something unacceptable, terrifying even," said Noppawan Rangkulan, sociology professor at Thammasat University. "Sobering up means becoming momentarily aware of their graying bodies and emotionally hollow lives. What we think of as an alcohol-free night represents an existential crisis for them."
Wow! That's a bit extreme init? Being unable to have a beer while on holiday represents "an existential crisis"? What was she on when she wrote that? I want some! I feel like telling her that an existential crisis is far more serious: what the likes of Sartre, Camus, and Beckett wrote about: Sisyphus pushing that dam heavy rock up that hill only to see it repeatedly roll down again, or Vladimir and Estragon waiting for a supposedly benevolent God to come and redeem them, but who never shows like an expectant guest-of-honour at a hi-so wedding; or young Meursault whose mother has died and he is so unperturbed by it, that he can't even remember when it happened or why it is important. No my dear, those are real existential crises!
Out of touch or right on the money?
But, aside from the obviously rebarbative comment from this academic, isn't there a lurching irony here? On the one hand, you have a country with an amazing (yes I chose that adjective deliberately!) tourist record - an average of about 14 million foreign visitors per year for several years now, who are feted and spoilt rotten with lovely women, cheap booze, sumptuous beaches and an array of pretty awesome food. Isn't it any wonder then that now and then these tourists go a bit overboard while they are on holiday? And anyway, isn't that what holidays are for: to overdo it and really let your hair down?
Yet, the more I think about these comments, I can't help wondering whether this Thai academic is right on the money, or completely out of touch with what farangs want or think, in the same way that, as I said above, there is a deep and abiding chasm between the general level of understanding between Thais and non Thais in general? Academics generally, in whatever country you care to mention, are perceived as other-worldly, "out to lunch", and as people who live in their heads or, as Sir Ken Robinson, the creativity expert said, "...are people who think their bodies are just vehicles for getting their heads to meetings"!
Moreover, the recent data at a news conference publicising the coming National Alcohol Free Day showed that heavy drinking has contributed to more than 100,000 divorces and separations in Thailand, while also causing 13,000 deaths and leaving more than a million injured. Smells of the kettle calling the pot black, doesn't it! I had to laugh too at the slogan dreamt up by the Thai Election Commission and, again, I didn't know whether to be offended or accept that this is the way Thais think of non Thai visitors to their country - "Stay home, stay wasted". "Due to the importance of this election, we are taking no chances with expatriate sobriety-related violence," said a stern National Police Chief Police General Wichean Potphosri. He justified the deployment of over 20,000 additional security officers nationwide as a necessary precaution against "deranged, sober foreigners." It seems now that farangs are more dangerous when they are sober which contradicts at least 50 years of social science data!
Anyway, given that the people who have the loudest voices and influence in Thailand see farangs in this way, the bigger question is whether your perception of your Thai friends and colleagues is the same as you think? Does Panit the motorcycle guy who drops you at the BTS every morning think you are a debauched alcoholic only three whiskeys away from a visit to AA? Does Nattavut, the guard at your condo building see you as a lech only after the cutest Thai females? Does Panida, your middle aged Thai boss see you arrive at work on a Monday morning and give you a look that says, "I know what you were up to last night you crazy farang!" And what about Koy, your Thai girlfriend? Ok...er...let's not go there! Here's looking at you kid!
Tom Tuohy is a teacher and writer. He has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and websites including: The Guardian Weekly, the EL Gazette, jobs.ac.uk, The Bangkok Post, and UniversityWorldNews.com You can access Tom's blog here.