We have safely docked in Cambodia so, of course, it’s time for more thoughts about Thailand.
First, Thailand is a country that was never conquered by foreign powers. Sometimes, this was by might, such as holding off the Burmese, and sometimes by negotiation, such as giving the Japanese access to Singapore and Malaysia during WWII. The result is a country that has a much higher level of stability than its SE Asian neighbors. Having said this, I will point out that Thailand is basically ruled by the military. They hold elections, but the Generals have often thrown politicians out of office or thrown out election results, citing that these civilian officials or results were corrupt. This is the current situation, but the people don’t seem up in arms about it
Perks for the people: Free and mandatory education for the first twelve years…Government provided medical care…Retirement benefits after a certain number of employment years. Once again, there are some catches. Education might be free but school uniforms, transportation to school, and supplies are not. If parents have two or more children, this can become expensive. Our guide in Chiang Mai also reported that most of the private schools are now teaching in English. They are bringing in many Philipino teachers who are more affordable than English or Aussie teachers. Our guide sees the limitation in the Thai education system as a lack of skilled teachers.
The economy in Thailand is much higher than Cambodia or Laos (not sure about Vietnam). We didn’t see any homeless in Bangkok, and there was an absence of beggars. I had one old man who, while sitting on the sidewalk, motioned to me that he wanted my Coke Zero. It had a few fluid ounces left and initially I thought he wanted a drink…It was near 100 Fahrenheit. But then I realized he wanted the aluminum can to get paid for recycling. Of course, I gave him the can.
I really liked the people…So many times, people asked us if they could help with directions, and many times, this came from people you never would think would speak English. There are never demonstrated expressions of anger…It is common that people greet you with palms together and a smile. I loved the greetings… Our guide repeated over-and-over, that walking the streets was completely safe… “No Pickpockets.” We never felt uncomfortable walking the streets of Thailand.
Thailand has both strengths and weaknesses economically. On the positives, it is an industrialized country. As we neared the docks, there were lots full of Volvo bulldozers, and other heavy equipment. On the negative, most of its citizens can not afford the new condos that seem to be springing up everywhere.
I love the reverence given to the monks, and the part of life they play in the education of young boys. We were told that a monk can own eight personal belongings. Three involve their robe clothing. Fourth is a zazor to shave their head monthly. Five was a cloth satchel. And…I can’t remember the other three. I felt privileged to have offered early morning food…We were also told that the monks would hand out their daily meal to peasants in need. Quite a society where everything is handed down to take care of your own…So unselfish. I think America does this in times of emergency…Here, it is a way of life.
One more fun story to end…Our guide in Koh Samoi told a story about his grandmother, who grew up in Laos, marrying a Chinese immigrant to Thailand. After the marriage, she was no longer considered a member of her immediate family. So she and her new husband walked from Laos to southern Thailand. No papers were needed for borders and it didn’t really matter how long it took…two months, three months??? They followed the rivers, and thus had water to drink and bathe, and fish to eat from the river. Three generations ago in Thailand, everybody walked!!! And just look at them now!!!