Should Thailand be like US?

The thing about anthropology, like economics, or any discipline for that matter, is it can be applied to anything. When I was searching for a college major, a family friend suggested I take an anthropology class, so I did. This coincided with a World Religion class I was also taking by an archaeologist turned community college professor.
The idea of studying cultures like lab animals and digging up forgotten gravesites sounded mighty appealing. There was something controversial and a little unethical about the whole discipline. I took a psychology class in high school but it didn’t hold the same kind of interest like history did. And when I took a sociology class I sat there smug knowing I had made the right choice. My professor was such a do-goody liberal that I assumed all sociologists were liberals.
When I took a Philosophy of Religion class I was mesmerized. My professor even wanted me to change majors. In his office he tried to convinince me but this was in my senior year in college and the idea of starting over when I wanted to just graduate felt like another year + in academic hell. I was flattered, of course but it took me years to appreciate the interest and potiential he saw in me.
In Cultural Anthropology we had to write a paper on what anthropology is. Our professor enjoyed our papers so much that she wanted to published them all. My friend Rachel wrote her paper under the influence of pakalolo (which I always thought was a Hawaiian word but I recently learned it is Thai). Her paper started like this: Anthropology! Anthropology. Anthropology. Anthropology. What is Anthropology?
My paper didn’t start off so swimmingly. I’ve kept it though but it is in a brown envelope somewhere in a barn in Northern Alabama along with my other college papers. A rarity since I am neither sentimental nor a pack animal. But I remember writing about my experiences in Thailand.
When I was 16 my family and I visited. And rather than get into my adventure in teenage angst and clash, clang and clank of cultures, I’d like to share what my college paper was about: time. In particular, the time I was sitting on a plane next to some bloke who had also been to the Land of Smiles. He said he felt like Thailand was behind the United States, politically, mentally, socially, etc.
We’ve heard this before. I mean I hear this a lot and maybe you do too? Thailand is what the West was like 10 years ago, I feel like I have gone back in time, kind of thing. I told the man sitting beside me that he should try not to look at it that way, you know, Thailand is just different, not behind. Later when he asked what my college major was and I said Anthropology/Archaeology he said, “Oh! That’s why you said what you did about Thailand. I thought that was a rather strange thing to say.”
He seemed pleased with himself and I sat there confused.
I still sit here confused that many expats and visitors believe that Thailand is behind. I see how the West is Winning and I’m not sure any country should want to follow. Sure there are some convieniences that I have taken for granted but – behind? Has government made our lives that much better? Do we want Thailand to follow? What the hell are we doing here then?
If we apply this same principle to aboriginies or native peoples this denotes that modernity in its shiny form is the pinnicle of beautiful success. You should be here, not over there. This is how a society progresses. We are more evolved than you. Yeah and that doesn’t digest well with me. It’s not like I’m trying to be politically correct or something, it’s just…really? Sounds like ethnic cleasing without the truth bomb.
I think the next time someone says Thailand is behind, I’ll ask behind who? And if they say some Western country like Australia I’ll ask, Do you really think they should follow? Or maybe I’ll be a pussy cat and say nothing at all but wonder why we still live in a world where people think they know what other people should do.

13 thoughts on “Should Thailand be like US?

  1. Lani, I have often said that Thailand is like the U.S. a century ago…but I don't mean it in a disparaging way.Thailand certainly is an up and coming nation but it still has the qualities that are much sought after and have disappeared from the West.At the turn of the 20th century in America you could do the majority of your shopping on the street if you wanted without ever stepping foot in the door of a business…and the prices were more than reasonable…same same Thailand now.Now you can maybe get a hot dog or a pretzel on the street in America and that's after the health department has thoroughly inspected and approved the hot dog vendor.A long time ago in the U.S. community was everything and people looked out for their neighbors…hell, people looked out for strangers, not anymore.In Thailand there is a strong sense of community and I have had Thai's that have never met me look out for my best interests.Thailand is behind in many of the qualities that I look for and have missed in the States. Unfortunately Thailand is catching up which will see these things disappear eventually.Now there are burger kings and starbucks and dairy queens…but I like dairy queen :)Thailand is also like the 1970's America. I swear Pattaya is stuck in the 1970's and the hit song every year is Hotel California. The beer bar next to my condo plays the best damn music and it's all from the seventies. Last night I heard heart of gold by neil young, and then whiter shade of pale followed up by build me up buttercup.Thailand is behind…That's one of the reasons I love it so much.


  2. Maybe Thailand's nostalgic.You know I once heard that you can look at the way a person dresses and know when was the best period of time for them. For example someone who looks very 80s, obviously identifies a lot with that era or time.During the 70s Thailand suddenly opened up to the American “West” so it seems fitting that they play Hotel California ad nausea. Pet theory. . .


  3. Hi Lani, I like Reverse Anthropoly: The behavioural science of people exploring other cultrures.People who say Thailand is behind will probably think the same about any other country than their own in different degrees (Zu-Hause-ist -alles-besser-syndrome).If one measures everything in terms of how things are back home, one is lacking the capability to observe a broader reality, even in one's own country.And let's be honest; if we took all expats and (sex)-tourists from Pattaya and Phuket and dropped them on an uninhabited island, they would probably not be able to make it far past the stone-age, although I bet you one of the first things they would attempt is to brew beer.For the good people there: None of the above is meant to be taken personal.


  4. Your beer comment made me laugh out loud. Although it should be stated that there is nothing wrong with a good home brew. . .But! I enjoyed what you had to say, you brought up great points. Thanks!


  5. I nomad, Kinda hard not to take a comment like that personally. Maybe you should look at all the good things many expats have been doing in Pattaya and Phuket…you might be surprised.


  6. I think the idea that one country is behind another is awfully condescending. It assumes that we are all on the one path only some are slower than others. I don’t believe that we are all on the same path either as individuals or as countries. To compare one country as being behind another just doesn’t make sense to me because it presumes too much. Gross national happiness is probably just a relevant way to measure how well a country is doing, but even this type of tool is flawed. I’ve often had the thought that Thailand is a bit behind in this or that, but this is usually just because things are not going my way and I need something to blame.


  7. Lani, I've had to address this very issue, just of late. Someone asking me lots of questions and making lots of comments…you know! I try to respond with a 'it would be boring if the world were all the same' and 'many countries were doing just the same, 30 years ago' sort of replies. I like or dislike different countries for what they are or are not. I never think of changing them. But, I do wish that all people had adequate health care, protection of human rights, education opportunites, etc.And by the way…stop picking on Australia, it's not that bad you know 😉


  8. @Talen, Sorry, my statement before was meant as Socratic irony or whom the cap fits etc.I wouldn't know any group of people left on an uninhabited island who would make it far past the stone-age. Also producing alcoholic drinks in such situation would apply to almost any group.I only know about active expat community members in the Valhalla of Phuket and I hope for them that at a certain point in time they will be able to transfer it into their Utopia.


  9. Lani, as I was reading I couldn't get one thought out of my mind – the trappings of a decent education. With mentions of anthropology, history, economics, it's all through your post.Raised in the West, you've had the opportunity to study many subjects, anthropology included. Not everyone in the West avails themselves of a higher education, but for a large part of the population its availability is taken for granted.So is Thailand behind US? Sadly, I'd have to say yes.


  10. @catherine:Highlighting one specific topic, like in your case education, one could claim that many countries are ahead of Thailand.Question yourself what's your purpose of staying here? In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king, (or woman is queen)?What according to my opinion Western countries are education-wise lacking of is the very valuable lessons they get from their parents:Some examples I learned:Respect your family.Respect older people.Be open and tolerant towards other people.Share your food (or money) with your neighbours who are less well off.Don't blame others, think back what you did to get into this situation.Life is fun, don't waist it.And also important specially when compared to the US: Be peaceful.


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