Closing the Window

December 23, 2002

And so the window begins to close. I’d like to thank many of my readers for sending in best wishes and several excellent questions. You are certain to find this week’s column more opinionated than those in the past. Please remember there are plenty of differing views out there. Off we go…

Do you think that the increasing number of western expatriates residing in Thailand is a threat to Thai culture and customs? Yes, but to a small degree. Western society influences Thailand much more through music, advertising, TV programmes and tourism. Tourists have more influence on Thai culture than expatriates as our presence in Thailand is quite minimal and we tend to think of ourselves as being more important than we actually are.

During your travels throughout Thailand, what do you see as Thai society’s greatest need today? A) More jobs. B) Less corruption. C) Better system of education. D) Better preservation of the environment and natural resources for future generations. A better system of education. Once people learn to think critically and independently, they are more likely to understand and act upon the other issues listed above.

What advice would you give to someone planning to move to Thailand? Keep an open mind, forget everything you learned back home and get ready for one of the biggest adventures of your life.

Do you have any insights one way or the other on life in Thailand for ‘African-American ‘farang’? Unfortunately, having dark skin is seen by most as being a ‘bad’ thing here. African-American ‘farang’ can expect to sometimes be treated with suspicion and discriminated against in Thailand. Dark-skinned Thai farm labourers would be treated with equal disdain.

Have you made any good Thai friends? Yes, definitely. But the definition of friendship is a bit different in Thailand whether you are a ‘farang’ or a Thai. Family comes first and friends are people that you have a laugh or eat lunch with. Friendship does not often evolve to deep or intimate levels.

If there were one thing you would change about Thailand, what would it be? I would like to see fewer people living in poverty. Being desperate for money drives people to do things they would not have to do otherwise, be it having their children work instead of attend school or being forced into prostitution.

And the one thing you wouldn’t change? I’d have to say the Thai sense of fun. Thais don’t wait for the ‘right’ time or place to enjoy themselves. A guitar and some snacks, next thing you know everyone is dancing in the park at noon.

Are Thais generally friendly or is it just a superficial thing? I consider them to be generally friendly and good-natured. Keeping a cool heart is a cornerstone of Thai values. The friendliness can be superficial at times, as it can be anywhere. When it is, it takes a bit more effort to figure it out because all of the actions appear the same on the surface.

Any thoughts on Thai-farang relationships? In many ways Thai society is operating on principles held in Western countries fifty years ago. A man is expected to provide for his wife and family and her family too. These relationships can work out, but due to cultural differences probably require a bit more understanding and effort.

What aspects of Buddhism appeal to you? I like the fact that the Lord Buddha asked his followers to try for themselves before believing any of his teachings. And also the fact that practicing Buddhism very much involves living in the here and now.

What are some of your more memorable experiences in Thailand? Travelling in the countryside is the best thing of all. You get away from the noise, pollution and hustle of the cities. Thailand has some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen. The countryside offers visitors a step back in time, and the people represent the heart of the nation: warm-hearted, hospitable and mellow. But not let’s forget eating bugs, hitchhiking on tractors, getting completely lost in downtown Bangkok, karaoke bars and my garbage men. Yesterday I was eating lunch when the coke delivery guys came, dropped off their crates and proceeded to ask the owner for glasses of wine as their tip. A memorable experience is around every corner.

At the end of almost four years of living in Thailand, do you view your time spent here positively? Absolutely. Kat’s Window on Thailand only represents a fraction of what I have learned while here. It’s been a rewarding and sometimes frustrating challenge figuring out how to function in Thailand. One thing for sure, there has never been a dull moment and I still have not tired of looking out windows.

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