Finding the Real Thailand ...

You will often hear foreigners discussing the ‘Real Thailand’ and how they have somehow discovered something that other foreigners are not privy to.  Kind of a one-upmanship between two or more relative newcomers, usually.  Of course the whole notion of a real Thailand, as opposed to an unreal one, is really quite silly.  The only context in which I would consider the discussion of reality, would be in reference to our funny online names (like Village Farang) and our virtual lives and identities.  Life itself on the other hand, whether good or bad, is very real.

So what is VF on about now, you ask?  As usual, a simple enough question led me to imagine where that question was coming from, in terms of experience and understanding.  One thing led to another, and it got me thinking how foreigners live and interact with Thais and Thailand and where some of the frustrations and more critical judgements might come from.

Please excuse my generalizing, but I can’t fairly list and include every subgroup of foreigner in the space allowed.  So generally, lets say most foreigners begin their Thai experience, dealing with a very small segment of Thai society.  You know, the Thais who make their living by feeding, housing, transporting, entertaining and catering to the various quirks and idiosyncratic needs of visitors to this fair land.  As a side-note, I might mention that despite what some of us might think, we are not the be-all and end-all of the Thai economy.  The vast majority of Thais do business with other Thais and have relatively little interest in our strange goings-on.

So for example, lets say you meet a girl in a bar and go to her village with the idea of meeting ‘real’ Thais.  You are still dealing with people who’s primary interest in foreigners is financial, whether you stay in the family home or a guesthouse.  That is because social mobility is extremely difficult in Thai society and if one is from a particular region, with a particular skin tone and facial structure, and speaks a particular dialect, then there is little chance of marrying into a more affluent Thai family in Bangkok, for example.  A foreigner can, however, provide a shortcut to obtaining the better things in life, for those who Thailand itself would deny.

Not speaking Thai is also an extreme handicap as you are limited in your dealings, to those we have already mentioned, who’s livelihood is derived from us.  Even if you get married your source of knowledge, experience and information is being filtered before you receive it, if you can’t speak Thai.  That often leaves you living and seeking entertainment and services, from those very same entry level Thais.

If working, regardless of your position, you will be surrounded by those who treat you accordingly.  All interactions will be bracketed by your position, relative to others.  If retired, perhaps teaching can start exposure to a different element of Thai society.  Still those who study English, lets say, are usually motivated by a desire to get a higher paying job.  Getting language ‘credentials’ is often the goal, not really learning the language. 

Getting to know Thai teachers, might start you on a path of knowing people with similar interests, as you are both teachers.  Therein lies the key, I think.  If you can join a Thai group, club or organization of people with similar interests, like photography, motorbikes, sports, etc., then you will have stepped away from those who are only being nice to you because it is their job to or in their best interest financially.

Not that one segment of Thai society is anymore real than any other, but getting stuck in that entry level environment has its drawbacks.  I liken it to entering the foyer of a nice house and remaining there indefinitely.  As nice as that room might be, you are missing out on what the rest of the house may have to offer.  Even longtime visitors who have been here many times, or are even married to a Thai but living overseas, are often not as well prepared for their life in Thailand as they may think they are.

I know people who tell me that they are quite happy not speaking Thai and living in touristy areas.  Perhaps it frees them from self analysis and any need to adapt or change.  It does beg the question of how long one can live in an environment that evolved around the needs of short term visitors, however.  When the novelty wears off, where does that leave you?  I don’t know of course and would suspect it varies greatly from individual to individual.  It is a question, which I wonder how many people ask themselves.

On a completely different subject, I was motivated by several individuals who recently went through my entire archives.  Not having done so myself for quite sometime, I started rereading my early work.  Starting with the book form, I have made it through the first 8 or 9 chapters.  I found myself reeling from the vast number of mistakes I uncovered.  I have corrected what I found so far but have yet to move on to the actual blog format where I will have to make the same corrections and no doubt many more.

Other than mistakes, I felt that much of what I had intended to impart to my readers had not made it to the page.  The cerebral nature of writing leaves much of what you intend to say, floating in some lost space between thought and deed.  While I endeavor to do better, I’m sure my shortcomings will continue to surface and I appreciate the fact that so many of you continue to return and so graciously overlook my often clumsy attempts to express what dwells in the deep dark reaches of my mind.