So a few quick clarification points from my previous blog before I dive into things: 1) I was reflecting upon my own foolishness as a young twenty something in a light-hearted manner. 2) I realize there's gravity to certain things I mentioned (ie. Wearing helmets, police corruption, skin colour etc.), which I will get into momentarily
Before I begin, a point I probably should have made in my previous article has to do with adaptation. When you get tossed into a new environment you observe and try to fit in. I was tossed into a district 1 hour outside of Udon Thani on the way to Sawang Daeng Din, which was a metropolis by comparison. Essentially, a completely different world from Bangkok, let alone Toronto, Canada, for a 22 year old boy. So there's the context.
When I showed up nobody wore helmets in my district. OK that's false, but the vast majority didn't and people didn't care. And this included the local police. Thirteen year olds were riding around popping wheelies without helmets. I saw a drunken man crash into a parked car and mangle himself during Songkran. People laughed it off and kept partying. I was driven drunk on the back of motorcycles when I was much more sober than the driver. However, I was ‘nong' and they were ‘P' and it was rural Thailand and end of discussion.
Now, is not wearing a helmet bad and wrong? Absolutely, I would never dispute that. All I'm saying is that it happens and I went with the flow. Foolishly. After a little while I corrected myself and started doing the right thing. It was so commonplace I didn't really think, just adapted. And that was the scariest part in retrospect, how easy and normal it all became to me. That's how immersed I was. And my initiation was much faster than most due to my homestay family, which made it 24/7 with the language and culture.
Maybe a more pertinent question for it all is why? Well, that P vs. Nong situation I mentioned above is all culture. I've been in scenarios where the eldest has simply vetoed everyone and it wasn't necessarily the best decision .And P vs. Nong permeates basically every decision making process in Thailand (ie. school budget allocation *cough*). That's part of the beauty and at times the maddening frustration of the country. Especially when it comes to potential life and death scenarios such as who is driving home.
Is there police corruption in Thailand? Yes. Are all Thai cops corrupt? No. Is it the majority? I don't know. Is it a select few? I don't know. Is it worse in cities or towns? I don't know. Those are the best answers I can give.
I was frisked and searched at random by officers doing their job after I got off a bus coming back from the south. I've been pulled over and let off the hook without paying anything. I've been pulled over and had to pay something. And I've heard countless stories from other Westerners covering all points on that spectrum, some more extreme than others. That's the reality I experienced.
Police corruption in Thailand to me is grey. On one hand, I don't mind it. On the other hand, I understand it's wrong. Maybe Omar Little from the Wire can help me out a bit here: "All in the game homie."
Cop salaries haven't gone up in decades and this is a big reason for that "why" question. You gotta survive. I had to pay a little extra once to a cop. He could've booked me for not having an international license. I paid for a nice meal for the guy with his family at MBK. So be it. He didn't ask for my rent. It was within reason. He took what I would have paid to get my license at the office. This is why some foreigners probably never bother going to get it done. Have you ever sat around for a day waiting on a work permit? I'd rather have a two second hand off and be on my way. So do others maybe. It's not right. OK. But it works. Kinda sorta. Kinda sorta like Thailand as a whole. Would raising salaries change it? Maybe. Maybe not.
And honestly, better the struggling cop gets it than his boss. High-ranking people in Thailand spend their time bleeding poor people dry for the most part. But that's a whole other can of worms for another time.
If you're white in Thailand you're at an advantage. Period. Matter of fact, you're at an advantage in the world, especially if you're a man. You can disagree, but that's the way I see it. Also, so does Louis CK on YouTube:
Being a young white male in Canada has its perks. In Thailand?!?! Awesome. And you can't tell me any different because I was there in person from age 22-28 and personally reaped the benefits. I have friends of colour who asked me about Thailand and I shuddered when I thought about them coming out to a place like Nakon Somewheres to visit me.
Bangkok, the south or Chiang Mai? No sweat, they love tourists (for their money mainly). Outside of that track? Not so fun at times. A primary school next door to me ran a black South African girl out a town for her skin colour. Do you know what "buk dum" means? Have you seen a commercial for a skin product? White people win in Thailand. And if you're young? Double bonus. And if you're old? Not so lucky, but still not so bad. This is the general reality. Not all Thais view things like this, but a heck of a lot still do.
What's the point of all this? Not wearing a helmet or shaking off the cops is easier if you're white and know the culture (Read: What you can get away with!!). No ifs ands or buts about it. Not saying it's right, just the reality.
"All in the game" is a great statement for Thailand. Omar, Avon, Stringer and the rest of the gang nailed it. Thailand is controlled by a few at the expense of the majority. The majority respond by doing what they can. It applies to all facets of daily life. For foreigners living in Thailand we're somewhere on the border of it all. Sometimes we get the good side, other times the ugly side. All in the game. Is it right or wrong? Should it be changed? Who really benefits? Does it work? I don't know. But I accepted it and adapted to my surroundings. Time to fade to grey.
Next time I'll really try to talk about teaching and education and what not, pinky swear promise.
I love Thailand. Nowhere is perfect.