When I went to Vang Vieng Laos during a Christmas holiday, my friend and I saw something truly original, a row of street vendors selling the exact same thing. Four or five ladies with their carts very close together selling French baguette sandwiches on what appeared to be a darkish empty street devoid of anyone but tourists occasionally walking by.
“Do you see any difference?” He said as he leaned over to me, his eyes still on the vendors.
I scanned the menus carefully, “No. Do you?”
We looked at each other then back at them. Then continued walking.
“Why don’t they spread out or something?”
“Why do they sell the same exact thing?!”
We would experience this repeat performance with more baguette sandwiches and roti stands as we walked around town.
Back in Chiang Mai, I overheard a conversation not too long ago in the work room, where my colleagues were discussing how Thais copy everything like music and fashion from the Koreans or the Japanese. In other words, they lacked originality.
Since I have been only here a year, I’m no expert on Thai originality and whether it exists or not. But I would imagine Korea’s burst into insane popularity didn’t just happen one day, with say, Girls’ Generation or Rain. They probably, dare I say, copied and emulated from their *gasp* Japanese neighbors and the wild wild west before they saw their name in lights.
The Japanese used to make fairly crappy electronic products before they hit their stride and took over the world wide IT department. And they did it by copying from the US first. Now the US can’t be bothered with making quality products and Made in Japan no longer holds the Made in China title.
That said, I do feel Thailand is on the verge of pop culture change and excitement. Thailand is already world renown for it’s Muay Thai and culinary genius so I think we can credit them with some originality. But I do understand what my colleagues were saying especially in light of my Laos experience and from what I’ve heard about Vietnam too.
Southeast Asian cultures seem to posses this group mentality that we Westerners find mind boggling. For Americans we pride ourselves on being original, unique, special and independent. We’re business minded, me-first, I’ve staked my claim here kind of people so when we see a row of the same thing we’re like, “What?!”
We’re used to seeing the same products, rows of them but each product tries to stand out in it’s own way: lower pricing, better quality, generic vs name brand, mom & pop vs factory made, etc. So this idea of everyone is equal like in a communistic way makes us wonder how do you get ahead? Well, you don’t and that’s the point.