Ten Years ago

 |  May 27, 2009

Citylife (which changed its name from the Chiang Mai Newsletter in 2002) has been in publication for over seventeen years. Let’s look back at what we wrote 10 years ago.

June, 2009.
Excerpts from an interesting article by Dr. Frank Kelly (deceased) titled Where Pragmatism Rules

Cycling down Suthep Road to the traffic lights at the canal. Lined up abreast, waiting for the lights to change: a big truck, a songteaw, six motorcycles – neatly distributed across two-and-a-half clearly marked lanes, the markings unheeded. Room for a bicycle? – certainly: a small adjustment and I’m in line.

Elsewhere, I would have insisted on occupying a full car-size lane – as, indeed, is my lawful entitlement. In most countries, eminent persons in horsehair wigs have established – at enormous public expense – the intrinsic equality of all vehicular traffic. One vehicle, one lane. No exceptions…How did this city retain its common sense, when, all around, others are losing theirs? The answer, I think, lies in the Thai genius for compromise, and abhorrence of ideology.

Let us sing a hymn to Thailand’s saving graces – qualities which have served it well for centuries, and which it now possesses almost uniquely in this world. They are: its realistic rule of law; its abhorrence of ideology; and its utter, thorough pragmatism…Elsewhere, the law can be observed imposing its special brand of logic to disputes easily resolvable by common sense. In Thailand it’s still ‘the law if necessary – but not necessarily the law’. Alternatives abound: patron client intervention, payments – corrupt or otherwise, invoking obligations. It’s a far more flexible system than the West’s – and, I maintain, more sophisticated …How on earth did Thailand manage to escape the law’s straitjacket?

On the whole, I think Thailand’s special gift is its addiction to pragmatism, its avoidance of unnecessary idealism…I was just about to embark on a course of global amelioration, when I met my Jewish friends Arthur. “Why?” he gently asked. I can tell you, it threw me. “Why, for the principle of it!” I stammered, astonished at this naiveté. “Principle?” he said. “Principle? My dear man, principles kill. Hitler had principles.”

That day I became a pragmatist…Here in Chiang Mai I think I’ve discovered the world’s last remaining mother-lode of pragmatism. Oh, it may need a little refining, but it’s a high-quality resource, good for another century at least.

I maintain that Thailand’s major stock-in-trade is – as it has been over the centuries – its unabashed amorality, its willingness to abandon lesser principle in pursuit of the ultimate principle – survival.

As never before, the country’s future depends on its retaining its pragmatic edge. A principled Thailand is a severely constrained, weakened country.
Fortunately, this pragmatism seems inherent, almost genetic.

At the now-stalled lights, a young woman alights from her motorcycle, kick the control box. Nothing. She kicks the other side. Magic! We’re on our way again.

What a marvellous place!


Archibald Ross Colquhoun explains arriving in Chiang Mai. “The inhabitants thronged out in great numbers to see strangers, but were quiet in their demeanor, and formed a great contrast to the often turbulent and rude crowds of Chinese cities.”

Amaugamated Lease Scheme completed in Bangkok R.B. Gibbins ceased private practice and became Legal AdviserTransfer of EAC Raheng forests to B.C.I. completed F.G. Gorton (Vice-Consul) left for Bangkok J.E. Johns (Consulate) arrived to replace F.G. Gorton