Last month, in the course of an exchange of emails with one of the principals of a popular shortstory website, (this one) he mentioned, in rather unkind terminology, that my contribution had been somewhat limited for a while. As in none.
I rushed to explain that I had been wasting my time… his words, not mine, contributing to several Thai expat forums and had found them rather addictive.
So what’s the attraction of these forums? You get to put your opinions online and the more intelligent members agree with them. But as in any activity, slavish adulation won’t hold the attention of anyone for too long, no, the attraction of these forums is the idiots who disagree with what you say. This gives you the opportunity to explain yourself to them in concise, logical terms well interspersed with razor sharp wit. Sometimes you include death threats and receive them in return; it’s all generally jolly good fun between articulate intelligent members of the great online community.
One of the topics that always brings out the keyboard warrior in me is the popularly held opinion that all Thais are stupid, lazy and generally useless. I say popularly held, it may only be a vocal minority but they certainly take up a lot of forum space. So I decided to address this matter, in which I hope will be in suitably academic terms, and work out why so many people feel as they do and if they have any justification for it.
This isn’t a purely Thailand phenomenon, I’ve seen it throughout the South East Asian region, where the local expats all too willing to tell you that the Philippinos, Lao, Cambodians, et al, are the most worthless race on earth. Almost without exception the detractors are from what I will call the Germanic races…. Northern Europeans and their descendants.
The work ethic in this ethnic group is extremely high, basically because they originated in climatic conditions that removed the lazy from the gene pool very quickly. The further north you lived, the less time you had to produce enough food to get you through the time of the year when none was available. Decent housing had to be built and heavy clothing produced to keep you warm. Work meant everything, even the sports they played were designed to keep the blood coursing in the veins.
Mean while, a long way to the south east, people lived in balmy tropical conditions where food was to be had for the picking all year round. Several crops a year could be grown, and they had time to learn things like domesticating animals to do the heavy work for them. Due to the surplus of food large communities grew up where the higher things were discussed. Reading and writing were practiced and religions with benevolent Gods dreamed up.
Back in the North, things had gone from bad to worse, the communities had to remain small, so kidnapping and rape became necessary to stop the gene pool crashing and burning. Younger sons and their mates were shown the door and told to find somewhere else to live, preferably a long way from home. Thus were the gentle arts or raiding and piracy established. The further south we went the more we found to steal and, much to our amazement, these people didn’t really know how to fight.
Sure they had wars, rulers like Indian princes raised huge armies and regularly invaded their neighbours. But no one really got hurt, slave taking was one of the principle reasons behind war and you didn’t want to kill too many valuable slaves did you? Often the worst casualties occurred when a war elephant came into must at the wrong time and flattened several dozen of his own army.
We northerners fought to kill, you were there to steal the goods and land and the current occupants, other than women and children, were surplus to requirements. Adult male slaves were not wanted, unless you had a ready market to sell them on. The very culture of raiding meant that your women and children were alone for a large part of the year and you didn’t want ungrateful male slaves cooking up mischief on the home front.
Some of the more active races in warmer climates built up empires that were brushed aside with contemptuous ease by those whom were now universally called barbarians. Their work ethic was still high; punctuality was important, the weather waited for no man and armies couldn’t be kept standing around for too long. They got into mischief and then started dying off mysteriously. Even two centuries ago we never knew why diseases like cholera and typhoid decimated armies, we thought it was God’s hand.
We had pretty warlike religions as well, our Gods barely acknowledged our existence anyway and certainly never took sides in conflicts. Victory went to the strong, not the most religious. Then we were introduced to a God who loved us, a strange concept. Also he required us to love each other, an even stranger one. So we took this religion and molded it to our requirements. God required us to spread his word, to reclaim his holy places, to reach out to the ignorant savages in the East and show them how they had wasted their lives.
We had become traders by this time, a less risky way of stealing off the natives, and this is where the barbarians found the true cultural differences. These people wanted to stand around for several days talking about the weather while profits waited to be made and shareholders waited for dividends? Appointments solemnly made were ignored and promised goods were days late or never arrived at all. Thus were the great empires of the modern era established… we’ll make these lazy buggers work.
And then there were the women. They lowered their eyes docilely in a man’s presence and they “knew things”. Sex to the barbarians had been a brief nightly coupling by an exhausted farmer and his wife or the rape of a screaming woman, who had just seen you kill her men folk, while the battle lust was still coursing in your veins. Our women were strong and independent, for centuries they had kept the home secure while the men were away and raised the children. Wandering vagrants had to be fought off and a barbarian woman was a formidable creature.
Here even poor men had the time and energy for several wives. Rich men and rulers had harems... dozens of women, sometimes hundreds. The wives had to compete for their man’s attention; his favorites were always well versed in the arts and skills of the boudoir. A whole new concept to the barbarian invaders many of whom rushed to take advantage of it. The thin edge of the wedge was inserted.
For these people had experienced barbarian invaders before... Huns, Mongols, Manchus all of whom had stuck around for a century or two then were effortlessly absorbed by the conquered races.
So next time you get told by a Thai businessman’s secretary that he’s playing golf and you have to make another appointment (the fourth or fifth), the next time the only supplier of your favorite cigarettes closes his doors and goes to Phuket for two weeks at Songkran without telling you, the next time you come back from a trip to find your wife’s nieces and nephews have drank up all your beer, pinched all your tools and done something really strange to your desktop PC…..just send out for more beer, sit back and let that cultural absorption wash over you.
© Julian. All rights reserved by the author.