Steve and Jemjahn go to Thailand, 2003

Home page

1. I Agreed to What?

2. Flight to Bangkok

3. Bangkok, at Last

4. The King's Birthday

5. Jem's Old Home in the Village

6. New Rice Storage House

7. Rice = Money

8. Mealtime

9. Jem's Family

10. Impressions of the Village

11. The Mall in Korat

12. Gordon and Pu

13. Pink Palace

14. Village Elementary School

15. Two Temples

16. Visiting Cousin Loy

17. Jem and Village Headman

18. Phimai

19. Back to Bangkok

20. Looking for Our Old House

21. Shopping

22. Thai People, My Impressions

23. Photography

24. Language

25. Flight Back Home

 

Kohn's Corner       

 

22. Thai People, My Impressions

Observing Thais in the cities and newspapers, my sense is that they’re:

  • nationalistic, proud of their country and their culture, especially their military and their athletes

  • easy going, slow to rile up, though it may just be a defense mechanism to hold an explosive temper in check

  • resourceful, able to do good work even with inadequate tools

  • patient, inured to long lines, low wages and the short end of the social stick

  • unsophisticated, impressed with glitz and glitter

  • education-conscious, with schools and colleges everywhere, and many going overseas for MBAs

  • overly concerned with status, living beyond their incomes, living on borrowed money 

Looking at the list, I pause. A lot of it looks like us Americans, too.

It also reminds me of something I saw one day in Jem’s village. Just up the street from the house is a little noodle shop. Sometimes Jem would order a quick, delicious, inexpensive lunch for me.

One day, walking up the street, I saw two young men leave the noodle shop and get onto a motorcycle. A few things seemed unusual:

-- the motorcycle was a large bike, not the typical 100cc runabout

-- the young men were wearing identical jackets, a uniform, apparently, with what looked like a patch reading “GSE”... and trousers and leather shoes

-- the young men were well above average height and appeared physically fit (looked tough, actually, like boxers)

I guessed they were from the electric company and had been reading the meter. That was why they had a PDA-type device, to record the reading.

Jem said no, meters can be read at the pole in the street. There were no tables for eating inside. What reason could there be for both of them to go inside the noodle shop?

Jem concluded they were picking up cash payments for a debt collection agency (as she put it, “a rich woman”) in Korat, and the PDA was better than paper to help hide the exorbitant amounts of interest being charged if the police stopped them. (As if the police didn’t know.)

Wherever the truth is, it illustrates the common expectation that everyone is in debt. That seems about right. Almost all farmers are in debt for fertilizer and seed, and every car or truck owner must be making monthly payments.

Everybody in the country seems to be living on the edge of insolvency. Many of the loans, especially those without collateral, have usurious interest rates. Worst is that farmland, unfortunately, is often used as collateral. When the farmer loses his land, he loses everything.

I worry that loans are keeping the country afloat, and what will happen when the economy stops growing?

Sounds like I’m describing America again.

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