|  October 28, 2010

Britain may rule the waves, but in Thailand we waive the rules.

For so many of us, this is exactly why we love this country. We are not living in a nanny state where our lives are rigidly regulated and cottonwool is wrapped around us from cradle to grave, protecting us from others and more often than not from our very selves. Instead, we allow pragmatism, not law, to rule. No traffic on the streets? Why not take that illegal u-turn? Neighbour’s cousin knows a municipal employee? Why not ask them to fix the road? Can’t afford a car? Just pile the family of five onto your Honda Dream. Didn’t do the homework? Simply copy your friend’s. This lackadaisical attitude towards law and order is in so many ways marvellous. We are willing to abandon pesky little principles for the pursuit of the ultimate principle – survival. And in so many ways this simple common sense does work. It adds to the charm of living here. One feels less constrained; more independent, an individual.

My husband’s office in London was visited by a health and safety official a while back and he was told that he’d failed because the water cooler was half a foot too close to the exit. Having lived in Thailand for over a decade, my husband simply walked up to the water cooler and moved it half a foot. The official, spluttering, told him that he couldn’t do that as the box had already been ticked and he had to report the failure and another official had to be sent in a few weeks for a follow-up inspection to make sure that said water cooler was moved, to which my husband, pragmatically, said, ‘I just did’.
It makes sense!

Yet, with malicious malaise riddling our society – endemic graft, pandemic corruption – it would be irresponsible of us to be so apathetic as to discount the insidious harm such attitude is to our country. So, the hard question is ‘where do we draw the line?’ Is it wrong to offer someone a small gift for helping us with a favour? What if it is money? That sounds harmless enough. But what if by helping us, someone else more worthy doesn’t receive help? How far are we willing to go? And it is all very well and cute that we disregard law and order in some cases, but when people’s livelihoods, futures or very existence are at stake, then it’s just not kosher anymore. The illegal u-turn that held up traffic, delaying an ambulance from reaching the hospital in time, the municipal employee who won’t do his job unless he receives an incentive, the overloaded motorbike that crashes and kills, the kid that cheated his way through school, university…and life.

The last thing we want is to live in some mollycoddled state where our every step is scrutinised, analysed, recorded and either deemed acceptable, or not. Yet, change has to happen. How much should our society be ruled – or protected – by law and restrictions?

As we say good bye to the Thailand of yore, we hardly recognise the Thailand of today, let alone are we able to visualise the Thailand of tomorrow.

Keep warm, winter is coming!

Citylife this month:

See what Chiang Mai people are obsessed and passionate about in this Obsession Issue…from Robin Mai Petre’s story on Don Willcox and his dedication to the handicapped and ‘unseen’ to a medley of photographs featuring some eccentric collectors’ collections. James Austin Farrell’s cover story is a fascinating look at Farmville and online games’ incredible addictive powers.

PS. This editorial is in homage to the late Dr. Frank Kelly who first wrote ‘When Pragmatism Rules’ for Citylife in 1999.