I entered the Tesco Lotus today. I wanted to freshen things up, minty-freshen things up that is. I was there for toothpaste, and by Zeus' eyes there are a lot of options.
Even in the humble local Lotus Express nearest my home in Chiang Rai. After years of using that brown herbal concoction so widely available, I wanted something wedding-dress white this time, if not for the good of my teeth, then for the benefit of my bristles. Choices, choices.
And there it was, winking shamelessly at me from its place beside a wall of ubiquitous Colgate, Darlie.
Now Darlie is an interesting brand. The more wizened among us will recall its former branding as the less politically-correct, ‘Darkie.' Back then the packaging was emblazoned with the logo of a midnight minstrel blessed with a shiny set of pristine gnashers.
And although the name has been changed (Darlie's Chinese name still manages to translate as ‘black person!'), and the man on the box is of indeterminable racial origin, there is still something a little off about the branding. Especially in these ethnic origin-gender identity-sexual orientation sensitive times.
Colgate, who has acquired the company that makes Darlie, recognises this themselves. It only sells the product in some Asian countries and has no plans to sell it elsewhere, a tacit acknowledgement of this ‘offness'.
But isn't that part of the beauty of Thailand? Its...ermmm...penchant for the ‘inappropriate.'
Who can forget the palaver over the high school students dressed in Nazi regalia? Or prevent an involuntary cringe at the parading of dwarves on weekend TV?
It's even infectious. Nana stalwarts will recall that the Irish owner of the now defunct Finnegan's Bar even employed a dwarf in leprechaun attire to beckon customers in. A kind of Nana-fied, living, breathing maneki-neko.
I have only been here ten and half years, so my knowledge of the Thai mind is superficial, at best. My cultural conditioning still causes me to take offence, albeit a well-hidden offence, when I am occasionally poked in the belly and told how fat I have become.
It does, however, help give me that little push needed to get my lazy, middle-aged arse back to gym, so it's not all bad. Vanity can be a great motivator. So is this disregard for the sensitivities of others a good thing? Healthy even?
Honesty can be as refreshing as a good oral hygiene routine, and at most it happens two or three times a day too. It has value in that it allows us to perceive others in an unfiltered way. We get to see the world as it is. To face the reality of the moment, undiluted and unadulterated, and this is necessary for us to improve upon that reality.
The problems can arise when the mirror is held up, when that honesty is reciprocated. The most blunt among us can often be the most sensitive. Reality is a two way street and we don't all drive on the same side of the road.
Much of what is often dismissed as over-sensitive, politically correct, namby-pampy pandering comes from a good place. Words are weapons. Look at the how language is used to dehumanise the enemy around the world: from Black Americans being dismissed as ‘apes,' justifying their enslavement, to the Hutu hate radio labeling the Tutsis as ‘cockroaches' before the Rwandan genocide.
Sure, these are extreme examples, and there is a spectrum of course. But the point is clear, language can be used to demean, to deprive, or to destroy, and the movement that forces us to give consideration to the power of our words has been instrumental in creating a more welcoming world for the marginalised.
So, while I endeavour not to ‘think too much' about all this, I don't want to be thought of as a buffalo either. So what are your thoughts, Ajarn aficionados? Thailand: PC Free Haven or Politically-Incorrect Harbour?
Shane Mac Donnchaidh
Author profile: When not engaged in torturing the blank page as a freelance writer, Shane Mac Donnchaidh also teaches at a Thai university. He has published a wide array of fiction and non-fiction. In his spare time, Shane enjoys BJJ, beer and books.