*updated 8 May 2018 (currently I live in Chiang Rai)
Folks have been asking for this one for a long time, but I never felt ready until my latest Thailand visit. Originally, I was going to do a Thailand versus Cambodia post, but then I realized both countries can be quite varied depending on where you are at. So, it made more sense to compare cities rather than countries.
My coworkers were getting fired up about the Mainland Chinese again.
“One of them got caught defecating in the moat.”
“They also got in trouble for shitting in the hallways at a kanatoke (Thai dancing show).”
“I almost ran one over! They just stand there waiting to get hit!”
“I was in an airplane with mostly Chinese tourists. They were so loud! How do they live with themselves?”
“Oh, I know!” I piped up, “I’m half Chinese and I have to live with myself every second of the day!”
Ahhh. The Chinese. Topical.
Every Chiang Mai expat likes to have their say about the Chinese tourists invading the Rose of the North (including me). Everyone has a story of a run-in, a sighting, an experience of the rude and “situationally unaware” Chinese tourist defecating here or there, driving (or weaving) like this and like that, standing in the middle of the roads, causing traffic problems, and paying outrageous red truck prices so the driver unloads all of his previous passengers to accommodate his better paying customers.
And if you are an expat who lives in a guesthouse? Oh, ho, ho! Then you’ve already experienced the door slamming, the non-stop knocking and yelling that the Chinese are famous for doing.
I’ve heard a couple of well-meaning folks warn against racism towards the Chinese, but this latest conquest has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with behavior.
As an American, I think we take for granted (and easily forget) just how much of a “melting pot” the US is. Sure, some places are rather white, but overall, the United States has an ongoing tradition, a background, nay, a backbone built on diversity, and more diversity.
China, on the other hand, is a ridiculously massive country of one culture – one people. It’s a monoculture. Add to that, the Great Firewall of China (China’s Internet Censorship aka the Golden Shield Project), and you’ve got yourself a very, very, insulated country, culture and people. So it is of little wonder, they are making the news with their “acceptable over there, but what the hell are you doing over here” behavior.
I remember asking my students, “What is the biggest problem Thailand faces today?” Politics was the most popular answer, but the Chinese was one, much to my amusement. Apparently their special way of driving was driving this particular student right off the cliffs of insanity.
Yet today, as I was combing Warorot for a mosquito killing racket, I encountered a different reaction. First of all, I was getting discouraged, I had no idea where I could find one of those stupid things, but I knew it could be found here. CM Plastics was out of stock and then this kind woman asked in Thai, Can I help you? I quickly spied the holy grail of mosquito killers and as I made my purchase, she asked if I was Chinese. I said, My father is Chinese. (I am often asked about my nationality and ethnicity.) She pointed to herself, a big smile on her face, as if to say, Me, too.
The thing about all this What Did The Chinese Do Now chatter and chinwagging, is it reminds me that the Chinese live in a protected, insulated and cut off world. This doesn’t make what they do okay or right. I’m not making an excuse here. Instead, I’m suggesting we use the Chinese behavior as a red light warning against our own instances of insulation.
When we believe that all Chinese are this way, when we tout our over-bloated knowledge from our small corner of our expat city, when we believe we are automatically right, and whenever we forget to use our senses for more than seeing, we have become insulated.
The Chinese tourists feel justified in what they do because it’s all they’ve ever known. I just hope to remember to not feel so smug, justified and self-righteous in my everyday life, because chances are someone is watching, sharing it with their friends, and asking, “How does she live with herself?”
Now, I know, you’z wonderin how a Hawaii girl like me, gonna tell you somethin ‘bout th South. But after livin there, datin’ a Southerner for 6 cotton pickin’ years, and a-vistin multiple times, I can assure you I know what I’m talkin about. So, let’s begin, shall we?
What is trendy? What is popular? I seem forever behind in these things. My excuse is I was born and raised in Hawaii, and it was the running joke that if something was in fashion in say, late 1989, it would hit the islands a year later or maybe in 6 months. In other words, what might be going out of fashion on the Mainland would be coming into fashion on the islands.
As a fresh profusion of tourists arrive to Thailand I feel both sorry and sympathetic. When travellers visited Oahu Hawaii, where I grew up, I often heard, “We thought it would be less, you know – developed.” Yeah, everyone expects more island. Here, I would imagine visitors would expect more Thailand.
The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. by Marcel Proust is my favorite quote from my youth. And something I’ve revisited recently since I left the country for two weeks and returned to find Thailand feeling different, new and fresh.