Saturday, 14 April 2007

Why? Why? Why?

Why, why, why this picture?? Read on and see below.

People always seem to say to me that Thai culture is different and impenetrable and that you’ll never understand it, however long you live here. I sometimes respond that human life’s the same everywhere and with my long decades in Asia, I don’t find it too difficult to understand the Thais.

But then I keep hitting on more whys and wherefores and I have to admit that sometimes I’m as puzzled as the other farang Thai-gazers.

It often seems to be the little things you don't understand that are the most important and that grate and irritate the most.

I’ll try to think of a few of these and wise you up a bit about them. Here goes!

Why is the fresh orange juice as salty as the Dead Sea?

Why do they eat mango and papaya, hard and bitter, long before it’s ripe?

Why do they damage my eardrums with loud music at four in the morning?

Why do they phone me in the middle of the night?

Why when I ask them when they’re coming, they say six, though they’ve no idea if they’re coming at all?

Why do they always order twice as much food as we need when I’m picking up the bill?

Why do they serve a massive farang style steak with only six chips?

And why do they make me walk in bare feet on their dirty floors and paddle through murky floods in their toilet?

Okay so it's not the end of the world, but there's quite a few less irritating things that simply puzzle me.

Why do they offer me beer at six in the morning?

Why do policemens’ uniforms always shrink in the wash?

Why’s there loo paper on the table when we eat but none in the loo?

Why do they simultaneously stroke and hit their nice little dog?

Why do they tolerate an incompetent official just because he looks good in his uniform?

And why do they allow the traffic police to rip them off so outrageously?

It’s not usually my problem, but they also seem to tolerate acute discomfort without complaint and they often court death with equanimity.

Why on the overnight bus and everyone’s dying of cold in the air conditioning does somebody not ask the driver to adjust the thermostat?

And why when the bus driver is a raving, psychopathic lunatic on speed does everyone politely go to their deaths and say nothing for fear of hurting his feelings?

Why do they put on a padded jacket when it’s thirty five degrees in the shade?

Why do they like to destroy the food and their taste buds with a volcanic excess of chili?

Why are they so casual about killing themselves and their babies on their motorcycles?

And why for that matter do the girls sit side saddle, risking death rather than a marginal loss of modesty?

Finally, there’s a number of niggling little things that do sometimes bug me.

Why do they say they love their country but then trash it with plastic bags and other gratuitous pollution?

Why do they so hate their wonderful honey coloured skin?

Why are they so hung up about the spirits?

And why do they line up for photos as if they’re facing a firing squad?

Why, oh why indeed!

Maybe I can accept, even if not fully understand all of these things, both trivial and not so trivial. But I leave perhaps the greatest mystery to last, which is one I find deeply disturbing as it reflects on the attitude of Thai people to me.

Why do they treat with such grace and charm all the ugly farang I see around me who seem even more obtuse, uncomprehending and obnoxious than I am? Are they nice to all of us, however we are?

It’s when I ask myself this last one that I’m no longer sure if I understand anything at all about the Thais and Thailand.

My last resort is always to ask Cat, my ever-present consultant on Thai affairs.

‘Why? Why? Why?’ she says. ‘Stop asking questions. Why farang talk too much?’

Maybe we farang do talk too much, but so do the Thais. The difference perhaps is that though the Thais talk all the time, they rarely if ever say anything at all. We foreigners are far more offensive as we always want to analyse everything... we're intrusive, confrontational, questioning.

We expect to be able to understand the Thais, and maybe that’s the problem. Yes, why ever should we? Why?


The picture at the top shows Hanuman II racing at the Goodwood Revival in the south of England in summer 2005. This 1936 ERA B-Type R12B was raced successfully by "B. Bira" whose full name was Prince Birabongse Bhanutej Bhanubandh of Thailand. (At least I'm pretty sure this was his car.) So why this picture? Because I like it and that's a bad enough reason, isn't it.

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