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Here we go:
Many from the West are fleeing the discontents of failed personal relationships and neo-liberal dreams to pursue happiness and new freedoms, but what awaits such life style “refugees” when they abode in Thailand? A place pictured in the global imaginary as an exotic comfort zone offering consumable delights of: ancient civilization, cuisine, abundant beautiful pliant bodies, planet saving Buddhist wisdom, love peace and harmony.
Review by Tim Rackett, a Sociologist in
Image by Kassel via Flickr
Thailand Beyond the Fringe (hereinafter “TBF”) explores everyday scenarios and predicaments of cross-cultural encounters in
With great verve, and wicked wit Cooper raises the question of whether relationships and friendships with Thais can, or should, live up to ex-pat expectations and fantasies in their economic, erotic and ethical quests for a better life? Cooper challenges all too common cynical, sexist and racist ex-pat views of male and female Thais as: “ultimate sexotic pleasure machines devoid of common sense and
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logic and are the nicest people you can buy” and shows that Thai people are far from being amoral, inscrutable or irrational, if the effort is made to learn their styles of reasoning. In other words, ex-pats have to re-calibrate their emotional, moral and intellectual frames of reference to survive and thrive when they negotiate different Thai notions of love, intimacy, emotional communication, other cultural values priorities and loyalties.
Cooper addresses incurable cultural romantics terminally intoxicated with all things Thai and those infuriated by the gaps between saying and doing, officially sanctioned appearances and reality. Pictures of Thais, on the one hand, calm, shy, polite, smiling and proud and, on the other, oscillating between being: spiritual and materialist, mindful and mindless, care free and careless, compassionate and callous, selfless and selfish, caring and indifferent; equally accepting and capable of contemplation and coups, meditation and massacres. No wonder global voyagers might be dazed and confused living on planet
A paradox in which there seems to be both too much control and too little regulation in Thai relations. Thai
Image by otherthings via Flickrpower tend to seduce others into the undeniable enchanting beauty of its myths, illusions and Thais incurable incredulity at wondrous signs they are made to believe: only affirming the positive and believing that everything is for the karmic best in the best of all possible worlds. In the Thai culture of disavowal farang and Thai cannot say that the Emperor has no clothes! Undoubtedly, face, fakes and fun are the aesthetic currency of the “realm.”
Thais tend to be guided by magic, superstition and supernatural forces. Such a “community of fatalism” mitigates accepting personal and moral responsibility - you are only guilty, and wrong when, and if, caught! Aesthetics take precedence over ethics, manners over morals: politeness and the illusion of harmony rule and are imposed by might if necessary. Thus, if you think that anything goes in Image via Wikipedia
Thais tend to be guided by magic, superstition and supernatural forces. Such a “community of fatalism” mitigates accepting personal and moral responsibility - you are only guilty, and wrong when, and if, caught! Aesthetics take precedence over ethics, manners over morals: politeness and the illusion of harmony rule and are imposed by might if necessary.
Thus, if you think that anything goes in
Image via Wikipediajoyful abandon.
Given the multiple ambiguities of Thai ways Cooper suggests that as a coping strategy to ex-pats in for the long haul in
If, it means embracing cultural and ethical relativism it is highly problematic: integrate qua assimilate into or adjust to what? It does not allow questioning of Thai cultures and traditions and which aspects are ethical assets or, liabilities. When in
Cooper’s relativism, albeit argued for on pragmatic grounds, “when in
However, as we know, from Anthropology 101 all gifts, including warm Thai hospitality to visitors, are demands - for reciprocity. But what exactly do Thais want from long term “guests”? Their: recognition, love and/or money, to do it the Thai way, or, the highway? Ex-pats often are given the stark choice, but not surprising for a “soft authoritarian” society, love our ways, or leave!
Obey, submit and conform. Politics, power and history are the stuff cultures are made from as effects a Image via Wikipedia
Obey, submit and conform. Politics, power and history are the stuff cultures are made from as effects a
Image via Wikipediand are not really very funny, especially the selective, and occasional, application of the rule of law, inequalities, corruption as a way of life and multiple human wrongs in multi-racist Thailand. It is the latter, having lived and worked over a decade in
As the great French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, astutely observed: radicals in their own society are often conservatives in other cultures. “TBF” presents an official ruling conservative version of Thai Culture and Tradition invented by
However this begs the question of exactly how open are Thais and ex-pats to each others strange ways? Is there a kind of mutual fantasy of the comfort of strangers operating between Thais and Westerners? For far too long Westerners have succumbed to a form of relativist blackmail - it’s their country; I have no right to judge, criticize, or change, their ways- to embrace and collude with the oppression and prejudice of Thai ways and traditions without demanding equal dignity and respect, empathy.
Would we join in with Nazi’s Female Genital Mutilation infanticide!! Farangs who support right wing politics in
Thailand Beyond the Fringe by Robert Cooper, Publisher Marshall Cavendish. The second edition is about to be published.
Reviewer Tim Rackett is a inter-cultural-zone explorer. He has been living and working in