Amazing Thailand!

Trip Start Sep 05, 2009
Trip End Feb 17, 2010

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Flag of Thailand  , Kalasin,
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Our time in Isan is just about done so I have decided to write this post about some of the most interesting topics that I have come across since I have come to Thailand.

The food

Ok, this is a very big deal in Thailand and is usually the first question asked by anyone who meets you. "Hello, where you come from? Oh, do you like Thai food?" I would have to say my answer is definitely yes! However, I would be lieing if I said there were no exceptions. In my opinion it can be categorized by the good, the bad, and the bizarre. Naturally some of the bad is also some of the bizarre. 

The good

-         steamed rice, basil and chicken (kao ga pao guy)

         fried noodles with chicken or shrimp (Pad Thai)

         spicy papaya salad (Som Taum)

         steamed rice with pork soup (cow taum moo)

         noodles with chicken (mama guy)

         sticky rice dipped in egg (?)

         chicken fried rice  (kao pad guy).

The bad

         Anything with fish sauce “a horrid salty msg in a bottle situation”

         Lao papaya salad (Lao Som Taum)

         Congealed blood with chicken(?)

         fried small fish (basically minnows thrown in a fryer)

The bizarre

         curried rat

         congealed pig blood

         noodles fried in pigs blood

         4 different types of worm

         fried minnows

         fried grasshopper

         ant eggs (which are very expensive by the way)

         fermented fish

Lessons from Thailand

-          Communal culture- Thais are incredibly social. Virtually everything is done in groups.       

-          Fun before work- Thais can be hard workers, but they are not trying to break any records. Most things from transportation infrastructure to the school system work but are not exactly models of overachievement.

-          The show- Thai's are all about the show. They love being entertained. Every party is karaoke. They give out certificates and speeches like they are going out of style.

-          Gender redefined- Thailand makes you rethink the whole topic of sexuality and gender. Homosexuality is completely engrained into the culture. The idea of (Katoy) the term that encompasses ladyboys, gays, and lesbians is talked about more freely than the most liberal cities in the United States. There are so many Katoy’s that in my highschool roughly 1 out of every 40 kids were considered Katoy. It is more than that though, the race seems to be feminine in most aspects or at least more gender neutral.

-          Safety Last- This may result from the fun before work combined with the it’s all about the show mentality, but it is no secret that safety is not the number 1 priority in Thailand. There are loose standards, but overall they worry about accidents surprisingly little.

The king

Wow! A king you can believe in, how refreshing. Since, I have come to Thailand I have been interested in the lure and utter respect the Thai people have for their king. I realized this before I even left the United States while dining at various Thai Restaurants. Everyone had a picture up near the entry way depicting the king in royal garbs or dressed in the classic Buddhist yellow robe. I had no idea how deep the king’s influence actually ran though. In Thailand, King Rama IX better known as King Bhumibol is borderline divine and his picture is literally everywhere from the smallest shanty home to the mega malls of Bangkok. He is classified as one of the “great kings” which is up there with only two others Rama I and Rama IV who are responsible for things like the declaration of democracy, the building of Bangkok, and the installation of infrastructure for the industrialized world.  I initially thought, “ok maybe this is just a nationalistic thing, where the culture fears the king due to laws such as les majeste- which bands any negative talk about the royal family, or it is just a good business practice to pay respects to the leader.” Turns out that he earned his respect and he may be the only king in history that I am aware of that consecutively became more sincerely respected throughout his entire life.

He was born in Cambridge Massachusetts and moved to Switzerland at a very young age where he finished all his primary and secondary school. He went on to study science at a Swiss University, but before he finished he was selected to be king after his older brother died. He accepted his responsibility and came to Thailand, but left soon after because he felt he was not educated enough to fulfill his task. The king went back to Switzerland and changed his major to political science. After graduating he returned to Bangkok and went on a marathon sight-seeing tour of Thailand, but specifically targeted the most impoverished areas of the Northeast. His mission was simple, ask the people what they needed help with and do what he could to help them out. The rest of the story is basically him trying to fulfill those obligations.

Projects ranging from sustainable rice, fruit, and fish harvesting to massive public education reforms involving keeping young women from entering the massive sex tourism industry. The common sense way that he approached all of his countries hardships is what really impressed me though. It was not “ ok we have a problem so I will assign a group to access the situation and they will allocate funding to the procedure, and then we will pay a group to review the process, and hire a legal team to ensure that there are no legal responses, and a P.R.firm will evaluate how this will effect his image over the next year, and basically just all the crap that some how has managed to evade the common sense of 21st century leaders today. It was as simple as talking to the people and then directly responding with a real answer. “Ok, The rice farmers in Issan cannot harvest enough food to keep their families alive and now there is an exodus to Bangkok for work. However, there is not enough low level jobs in Bangkok to support such an influx of uneducated workers. Also, the family culture that has thrived in Isaan is now fractured because no parents are left to teach and nurture their children so the gap is filled by grandparent who do not always have the physical capacity to handle such a case. The result is a positive feedback loop to a negative direction. What can be done to solve this. Solution: The government will assist in loans for modern equipment so the families can harvest their plot more efficiently, also they will learn the correct practices through training programs initiated by educated specialist from Bangkok to ensure that their land will have healthy top soil for their children to harvest on. Many kids in the Northeast will not ever complete their senior year of secondary school and will leave to help tend to crops with their families. Let’s analyze which job’s are on the rise in our country and then help support the education that can facilitate job’s for these students. Our highest growth sector is tourism and as a result the ability to speak English can be a vital asset macro economically for the country at large and more specifically for the individual student who is now a hotel manager in Chiang Mai. These are just some examples of the scenarios that have played out in Thailand.

Thailand’s Economy

I have found Thailand’s economy to be a great learning lesson for understanding Asian countries in their final stages of transition to fully developed states. It is fascinating how such a breadth of products and services are offered at such reasonable prices. In America (developed world) you can literally find almost anything you want, but you will pay a considerable sum for the product. In Costa Rica (3rd world) you may be able to buy products for extremely cheap, but the quantity of products available are relatively few. It seems that companies understand that you do not get rich on high profit margins in Asia; however, it is a sector that is ripe with growth. While they make the bulk of their income still in the developed world they can get modest consistent returns in Asia, while setting a foothold that may have huge pay off later as the society further develops and can spare more disposable income. Examples of this increasing disposable income is rampant in Bangkok where gigantic malls are springing up like the Siam Paragon and MBK Plaza which are exact copies of the standard luxury big box malls have been on the rise since the middle of the 20 th century. It is also interesting understanding what the economic path Thailand has taken has effected their culture at large. The current position held by

Thailand seems to be at the head of the pack and I think this is attributed to strongly to their relationship with the United States. I feel as if Thailand is a shy honest friend who is grateful and proud of the relationship. I think in many ways they might be overly gracious and give Americans the benefit of the doubt despite the circumstances.
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