Me and Generation Jones …

Recent events and readings have stirred memories and found me reaching back in time to the beginnings of my Thailand journey.  I missed the iconic Hippy Trail and the contentious Vietnam War, which marked my brothers generation, by being too young to have participated in either.  Born at the beginning of Generation Jones, I was touched by the idealism of early Boomers, yet the cynicism of the Generation Xers’ has also been well represented in my thinking and motivation.

The Jonesing quality, which some assign to my generation, had me jonesing not for more stuff but for more freedom and self-determination.  As I set off in the opposite direction, others were returning home to pursue the American dream of competition, greed and consumption.

My brother’s experimentation with loud music, the vices of the day and a rather bizarre variety of counter culture groups, allowed me to brush up against things that were really before my time.  Fortunately I seem to have possessed immunity to self delusion, drink and drugs even at an early age and that served me well in Thailand. 

I may have been influenced by the fact that, unlike many of my brother’s generation, he did not set out on that classic Hippy Trail of exploration, but rather retreated into books and ultimately lead him to become entangled in a “group”, which by all outward appearance and report, is a cult.  He of course denies this adamantly, as do others who remain within the group.  His choice to make, I guess.  I on the other hand, never wanted to follow anyone or anything, preferring simply to find my own way.

So I first arrived in Thailand, in the late spring of 1975, not yet twenty one years of age.  The remaining US soldiers were on their way home, with the Thai government having recently taken a less welcoming stance toward their presence and what they had been up to while residing in Thailand.  Several trips while I was still attending university and one extended trip, with the intent of getting Thailand out of my system, assured me that there was no getting it out of my system after all.

I moved into a sprawling mass of humanity with none of the comforts I had grown up with and with no plan.  Yet I was drawn to this place and it felt like home.  It was not the exotic reputation or its strangeness that attracted me but how it made me feel more like me and allowed the freedom to be me.  For many years I had no possessions nor transportation of my own and my only communication with home was traditional mail which took two to three weeks for a turnaround.  Not sure I was able to convey in those letters what my life was like, but perhaps that was a good thing, as my parents would no doubt have worried needlessly.

I read what little was available back then, compared to what we have these days.  I learned what I could about the history, culture, religion and language.  I effortlessly gained access to nearly every level of Thai society, over time.  I spent time in both shanties and mansions, carefully compartmentalizing different aspects of my life and separating what went on at night from what transpired in the light of day.  In spite of my thirst for knowledge and access, I was focussed entirely on Thais and Thailand.  Staying here seemed problematic enough without getting involved with foreign nationals from neighboring countries, those of questionable legal status or those stateless peoples who lived in the mountainous north of Thailand.

There were still communist insurgents in many places where one can freely travel today and I was not interested in anything that would hamper my integration into Thai society and freedom to stay here longterm.  These days it is almost as though visitors, in their modern quest for the Nobel Savage, don’t find modern Thais “primitive” and exotic enough.  Some forsake their own origins and seek to live the life of a village peasant.  For others, even that is not enough, and they seek what they are looking for living among people who have traditionally roamed the forested highlands of the region, without a state of their own.

These mountain people are particularly vulnerable to being used and abused for the financial or personal gain of unscrupulous individuals, entrepreneurs or religious based organizations.  Almost everything that is done for them or to them, seems to further remove them from the process of integration into Thai society and a hopeful future.  Thus securing a continued supply of vulnerable individuals to prey upon.  I acknowledge that life is not fair and the plight of these people is depressing but it is was never a fight I wanted to take on.  I will leave that to others who feel qualified to judge who gets what in life.

These days visitors come armed with detailed itineraries garnered from ubiquitous guidebooks and the limitless internet.  With GPS and smartphones one is never lost or out of touch.  I have no more idea what it is like to arrive in Thailand today, than new arrivals have of what it was like for me when I first arrived. 

It can be interesting to read the assumptions people make about me and my life here in Thailand based on their own experience.  Most of it is unrecognizable to me but that is not the point.  The point is people are still searching and still finding their way to Thailand.  There are still those who make a mess of it but I feel that has more to do with them than it does with Thailand.  Thailand may indeed be your undoing or your salvation.  It is not the safe choice and perhaps some would be better served by going elsewhere.

I think it is worth the risk but that is just me talking from the perspective of someone who flourished here.  Someone else may very well tell you a different story and you should listen to both.  Life, love, happiness...its all a risk.  A risk some are willing to take and others are not.