Monday, April 29, 2013

They just have different rules - Thailand (with some photos) rules! Actually they only seem to have guide books
One arrives to Thailand and soon starts to spot the differences. How hot…in December! It was snowing back home. Everything is so cheap, you can eat with a dollar…with that money I can't even get a coffee where I come from. And finally the most surprising of them all: everything that is forbidden where we come from is allowed here, or at least tolerated. In the worst case scenario you can buy it with a bribe.
You can purchase pirated DVDs and software in broad daylight. Fake driving licenses, university degrees and membership cards of various type. Imitation jeans, shirts and bags. You can display the sign of an illegal business and nobody says anything about it. You can spot four people without helmets and a dog riding a motorbike, and the police is fine with that. Twenty kids in the back of a pick up truck, instead of hiding, are all laughing and singing. After 2am bars cannot sell alcoholic drinks but if your beer is poured in a paper cup or a coffee mug then it's alright. Nightclubs are competing for who pays the biggest bribe to the police, so that they can stay open until late and the competitors are forced to close early. And then sex, orgies, viagra, cialis, kamagra, women…young, old, fantastic, horrible, shameless or chaste women. Yeah, here you can even find chaste hookers. And then homosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals. Even asexual ones.
Hey, I can do anything I want here - the newcomer inspired by promises of freedom and impunity will be thinking - this is great! Hooray! And his holiday soon turns into a sequence of troubles.
It's obviously not true that there are no rules here. There just are different rules. To us they might seem outdated, useless and quite hypocritical formalisms, and most of the times they are related to the idea of appropriateness. We might think some rules are just a bunch of nonsense, but they are important here, and if you screw up you can end up in trouble, even serious one.
The most sensitive points: Buddhism and Monarchy. These two institutions are like high voltage electricity cables: you just don't touch them. Lese majeste is a very serious offense here. And you don't just have to act respectfully in official situations, you have to do it with every Thai citizen. Even the tamest and mentally open Thai can become an angry viper when it comes to these subject. Liberty of expression and criticism is not always considered a sign of progress here. Anything sensitive you might have to say on the matter…just think it.
Personal and national pride: if you're having a conversation - and you might also think it's a harmless one - with someone and you make him lose face (i.e. you humiliate him in public), he can react in unexpected ways, even with violence. Sarcasm, biting irony, humiliating remarks or sensitive personal references should definitely be avoided. It can end up in a nasty argument, or even in a bloodbath.
Drugs: leave them at home. They are strictly forbidden and often disapproved of by the majority of the population. They can turn out to be a great extortion tool for greedy and corrupt police agents. Lots of tourists have been scammed by some guy who first pocketed the transaction money and then handed them to their cop friend.
Even though scams can be a common practice here, as in many other places, straight theft is often considered unacceptable. Especially if it is perpetrated against elder people, someone with a high social position or a good reputation. I happened to watch the following scene a couple of times: a young guy caught by an adult while he was stealing, slapped and scolded in public, under the spiteful looks of the passersby, joining his palms while, swaying under the blows of the other, he keeps bowing and begging, not really to explain or to protest, but just to keep the rite short, calm down the opponent and maybe convince him not to strike too hard. Running away is not an option: he would be caught by the crowd that is all against him. Going to the police to report the barbarous reaction would be sheer masochism, he wouldn't find anybody's pity or understanding. Probably not even his own family's. He was caught stealing, he can only face the consequences of his act, hoping that they are not too harsh. And if they are, too bad.
Then there are all the breaches of the manner code, which, of course, is not the same that we use back home. Beware of where you put your feet, of talking loud in the wrong place, of wearing inappropriate clothing or kissing in public, of taking pictures of people without asking permission, and of many other things that often are quite obscure to the westerner, who, no matter where he comes from, is always called "French" here.
For many reasons, not all noble to say the truth, in case of disrespectful acts being a foreigner is considered an aggravating element. Don't expect any clemency then, but spiteful looks the reasons of which nobody will explain to you. You will think it's unfair, because it actually is. But it can also become a little life lesson. Understanding how a person can feel in a foreign country, even our own country, can help us to change our perspective, can teach us to look at some situations from different angles. Even though unfortunately, in some cases, it only helps to embitter people's minds.
Other than that Thailand, as well as the rest of S.E.Asia, where similar dynamics also apply, is a very nice place, where you can really enjoy a higher degree of freedom than you're granted at home. You just need to know how to do it and how far you can go.
A guy selling fake certificates right in front of a policeman, who doesn't seem worry much
A fake certificate stall. Taking pictures is forbidden, apparently more than counterfeiting
Phone unlock service, with a big sign in front of the shop
Pirated software on sale
Food stalls right in the middle of the street. Where is the problem?

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