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Guest Post: When East Meets West

cultural-confusion

Editors note: It is my pleasure to feature Havana Lion’s first guest post by renowned expat living blogger Trippy Traveler from the Trippy Traveler Blog, be sure to check out his amazing posts about living abroad.

Those tourists planning to visit Koh Phangan and indeed Thailand for the first time and having seen the news about the death of Stephen Ashton from England on December 31st 2012 might be asking themselves whether Thailand and Koh Phangan in particular is a safe place to visit.

Sadly, a British tourist was shot during the Haad Rin New Year Party in December, 2012. When the news first broke commentators on forums often assumed that the Brit had provoked a fight with a local who had pulled a gun to save face. These early assumptions were far off the mark. It turns out that two gangs ended up having an argument and to save face one of them pulled out a ‘homemade gun’. In the ensuing shootout the young man from Britain caught a bullet in the stomach. He was an innocent bystander, not in any way involved in the altercation. It was a tragedy.

The young Thai man responsible was soon apprehended. The picture of his homemade gun looked surprisingly like a professionally made gun. The story soon fizzled out in the Thai media and the British media. Nobody at the time asked about what happened to the other gang members involved in the gun battle on Haad Rin beach. They apparently hadn’t broken any laws.

None of this sounds very safe.

Thai Visa has a forum with news. They send me an email every morning. 4 days out of 7 there is normally a headline about a foreigner getting shot, kidnapped, drugged, swindled, beaten up, arrested or drowned. This creates a very slanted perception of Thailand. It should be remembered that Thailand has traditionally had a low crime rate; the main ideology from their traditional culture and from Buddhism is non-violence and ethical living. In short Thai people in general are some of the most gentle and kind people you will ever encounter if you travel the world. Nothing has changed.

Unfortunately, Thailand used to be a country that was seen by many who became ex-pats as a country that had cheap beer, cheap women, great weather and lots of weed to smoke. Ex-pats who find themselves in the bar business can get mixed up with gangster elements. They can also develop a booze habit that propels them unwittingly into dangerous situations. And then there are all the scams and intrigue that sometimes comes with ‘Thai brides’. All this is a recipe for lurid headlines.

For tourists the most common stories are being caught with drugs by the police; being duped in love; picking a fight with a local; and being drowned. Max Tenenbaum from the UK drowned off Chaweng beach in Koh Samui on January 8th, 2013. The undertow is strong off certain beaches at certain times of the year. Sadly, lots of foreigners have marine disasters. Having the sea next to a full moon party is a scenario made for potential grief.

evacuation-notice-Koh-Phayyam

Things, however, are changing in Thailand. It is a country growing quickly in prosperity like Brazil, Korea and India. Key to this success are the Japanese automobile companies, computer part construction (again foreign-led investment), agriculture and tourism. Despite having an unstable political system, the standard of life for Thais has improved. Indeed for many hotel workers working ‘officially’ their wage, state entitlements and perks (such as free board and lodging) equates to a salary of about €500 to €600. This is comparable with a living wage in Spain.

Thailand is re-inventing itself for tourism. The visa laws have quickly gone from being very relaxed to strict and legalistic. All those tourists used to riding over the border in Changmai or catching a train to Cambodia every three months to live in Thailand have been targeted.

Instead Thailand is keen to attract short-stay tourists who stay in hotels. This has gone hand-in-hand with the development of several popular tourist areas. Out with the $3 bungalows and in with the air-con rooms with communal pools.

Traditional beach bungalows in Thailand

Traditional beach bungalows in Thailand

This change in demographic has impacted on the gangster and criminal elements in Thailand. There is less demand for drugs, prostitution and all night parties. Hotels bring in outside staff, standards are set and there is less likelihood of theft and other crime. It seems like the ‘wild’ is slowly but surely being taken out of Thailand’s famously dubbed ‘wild west’ reputation.

This is good news for those concerned for their safety in Thailand. The experience of a typical tourist in Thailand nowadays is much less fraught with pitfalls. That is not to say that the mafia is in decline in Thailand; rather that the old sources of income are slowly drying up. How long will the Full Moon Party remain in its present format? It was changed and some say ‘ruined’ by the police in the early 1990s. It seems destined to become more sanitized and commercialized in the not-so-distant future. Already the option to fly to Koh Phangan to do one night of partying is but a few months away with the on-going construction of Koh Phangan Airport.

The best way of looking at Thailand is a country that is so relaxed and with such easy going people that it is very easy to get a bit carried away and do something foolish. The great feeling you get from being in Thailand can mislead you into thinking that every situation is peaceful. You need your wits about you; the same as you do when traveling in most places in the world. Be genuine but also be alert. Why take anything on face value?

One of the commonest conversations in Thailand is about ‘those crazy farangs’ who do such stupid things. Mixed in with the xenophobia is a valid cultural point. Westerners with mentalities driven by aspiration, materialism, the belief in progress, and a one-life Christian doctrine act in way that it is hard for those schooled in passivity, submission to karma and Buddhism to comprehend. A classic case of when East meets West.

Thanks again for this great guest post about the differences between Western and Eastern cultures and how they can often clash. Again be sure to check out his website at trippytraveler.com

About Trippy Traveler

Trippy Traveler has written 2 posts in this blog.

From 1992 to 2012 I travelled extensively in Asia, Africa, South America and Europe. I have travelled so much that now my home town feels surprisingly exotic. Here I hang my boots for a while and ponder my experiences. Find out more about what I have got up to at: www.trippytraveler.com or at his Google+ Page http://plus.google.com/104981243405209915428/posts

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