The Huffington Post recently released an article called “21 Signs You’ve Spent Too Much Time in Thailand” and it’s about as bad/inaccurate/annoying as any of these listicles (list + article = listicle) ever are.
Portrait of an Ignorant Tourist
Relying heavily on what appears to have been a weeklong vacation through the southern beaches (and maybe a quick Google search of “Thailand”), the list is part of the great nauseating canon of online resources meant to convince YOU (the would be traveler) that Thailand is a paradise of cheap eats, kind-hearted natives and PARTAYYYYS! Call it fun, call it young, call it fluff. I call it irresponsible and something that has to stop because it’s not fair to twist and turn and create a utopia out of a nation that deserves to be honored and celebrated, not because it is a young spring-breaker’s dreamscape, but because it is a complex place whose people deserve as much credibility and respect as the Western tourists who flood their villages and their cities looking for a wild time.
But I guess I shouldn’t expect much from an author whose bio states her favorite places to travel are “in Central America because they have the cutest animals.” She’s clearly a world citizen. She’s clearly someone who thinks deeply about the places she travels and works to acknowledge the lightness and the darkness of these places. She’s clearly someone who would never want to misrepresent or use a people and its country as a device for a dumb article that other dumb people will post on their Facebook walls #travel #dreamvacay #gagme.
In spirit of the listicle, I’ve decided to make one of my own in response, debunking each and every wrong generalization she’s made about a people and a country I’ve come to deeply respect and love. For total comprehension, take a gander at her list and then read through mine.
1.) No one prefers motorbikes to minivans.
In a recent Global Status Report from the World Health Organization, Thailand ranked 3rd in total motorbike accidents with over 10,000 deaths caused by bikes annually. Many of these deaths occur when people try to cram more than two people on a motorbike, much like the fearless and intrepid moto-moms you talk about in your list. They cram all of their family on one bike because cars are extremely expensive and many families cannot afford more than one motorbike per household.
2.) No one is counting the days until the next full moon.
The full moon party culture is a culture made and completely funded by white Western tourists. Thai people hardly know and definitely don’t care about full moon parties. What they do know and do care about are the massive amounts of waste and violence that come with large groups of drunken tourists overtaking small beach communities.
3.) Instead of being so bamboozled by a Thai menu, do a little research before coming.
Go to a Thai restaurant in your local area and take a gander at the menu. Google search Thai translations for some of your favorite dishes. And remember that these “silly” menu translations only exist as a courtesy to tourists.
4.) Fish sauce isn’t gross. You’re gross.
Thai people take great pride in the food they create. Calling a key ingredient of Thai cooking gross, but tolerable, is ignorant. Fish sauce has been around for centuries and has a very interesting history in this part of the world.
5.) No one wants to watch drunken tourists jump over a rope of fire.
Yet another culture created specifically for tourists, fire shows are dangerous and have very little to do with Thai culture. You write how these tourists eventually “work up the courage to (sloppily) jump into the flames after a few drinks,” which sounds about as safe and as Thai as jumping off the Empire State Building while simultaneously stabbing yourself in the eye with a clothes hanger.
6.) Thais favor fair skin because of articles like this.
The culture of fair-skin obsession is most definitely a culture in Thailand, but not one that should be joked about. It finds its source in a deeply embedded sense of racism fueled by Western ad campaigns that heavily feature dangerously-thin, snow-white skinned, blonde, blue-eyed women clutching onto the pale, muscly arms of similarly blue-eyed, hunky blonde men. Imagine being a darkly tanned person (like many Thai people are) and only ever seeing images of beautiful, happy white people smiling down at you from billboards and TV commercials. Imagine the adults in your life telling you that your black skin (there is no gradient between pale skin and black skin in Thai) is ugly. Of course you begin to hate yourself and of course you seek out creams that promise to make you whiter, more beautiful, more western. And imagine still being tan and seeing fair-skinned tourists wearing sexy clothes, parading about in a drunken romper as they skip from temple to full moon party to the 7-Eleven. These creams are more powerful than merely turning skin into a “desirable shade of pasty.”
7.) I’ll give you this one. The malls are fabulous.
8.) Suzy Strutner, you think all we do is drink.
The emphasis on partying and alcohol (when we’re not even halfway through the list!) is alarming. Further, talking about the affordability of this alcohol consumption is irresponsible, dangerous and encourages a type of tourism that is belligerent and harmful to local communities. You’ve yet to list one actual cultural sight or tradition on this list.
9.) We avoid tuk-tuks, but not because they’re expensive.
We avoid them because they are often filled with noisy tourists who encourage the drivers to quickly zip through traffic, treating the whole ride like their own private roller coaster.
10.) Sorry Suzy, I was wrong.
All we seem to do is drink a lot AND THEN force local store owners to grill us food as we drunkenly barge into 7-Elevens.
11.) 7-Eleven is also a symbol of, like, westernization and, like, the oppressive power of capitalism.
7-Eleven didn’t come into Thailand until 1989. Before that time, cities and towns were full of small, locally owned snack shops but most of the grab-and-go food culture was found in the rich offerings of street-food carts, which carried curries, soups and delicious grilled meats. However, once 7-Eleven started to spring up in South East Asia, these local snack shops and food carts saw a major decline in business. The new generation of Thai kids now sustains itself on the fatty, greasy foods found in 7-11, which has led to the first every epidemic of obesity in this region of the world. But no it’s, like, SUCH GOOD DRUNK FOOD THOUGH!!
12.) No comment.
13.) THAILAND IS SO CHEAP! …for tourists.
Perhaps this is why tourists often treat Thailand like some large, leafy playground. Their money feels like monopoly money to us. It’s not real and everything is so “cheap” that we feel like we can just throw this money around. We can, for the first time in our lives, truly “make it rain” as it were. But Thai money is not monopoly money to Thai people and the street food that you think is cheap and, like, sooooo inexpensive is hardly so for the everyday Thai person working a blue-collar job. On average, Thai construction workers make around 150-200 baht or about 5 US dollars a day. Think about the next time you dive into your 1-dollar plate of fried rice.
14.) Seeing children fighting is and should always be shocking.
Thai kiddos are a hot commodity in this country. They’re cute and tourists love them and so businesses and human traffickers capitalize on this by having them sell flowers on the street or, sometimes, engaging in extremely violent boxing matches with one another. There is nothing cute about children being treated this way and we have to remember that the only reason they are is in direct response to the positive attention/feedback/response they get from Western tourists, who are often more than happy to dole out a few extra baht to these “cuties” as you call them.
15.) Have privilege, will travel.
Gross. Musty regional airports. Thank GOD for the cheap luxury of Bangkok Airways (which is, by the one, one of the most expensive airlines in Thailand).
16.) All I learned about Buddhism I learned from this article.
Really? This is the only thing about Buddhism you choose to write about? How much footsie do you play that this has left such an imprint in your mind, Suzy?
17.) Eh. Kind of agree.
However, it’s worth noting that, in recent years, this culture of sweet-eating has contributed to 1 in 10 Thai people contracting diabetes, a life-long disease that carries both physical and economic burdens. Thailand has one of the highest concentrations of adults and children with diabetes in the world.
18.) Sweet fruit drinks (which always have a ton of added sugar, BTW). See above.
19.) More respect, less cleanliness.
The removal of shoes when entering places of business, wats or other people’s homes is a sign of respect to the person you are visiting. Cleanliness is a part of this respect, but it is more about not bringing the ugliness of the outside world into these places where you have been personally invited.
20.) Comparing temples to parking lots seems reasonable.
Except not at all because parking lots are ugly slabs of cement and temples are beautifully designed buildings that are often the center of communities and villages. Life revolves around the temple, both in a religious and cultural sense. That they are ubiquitous is purposeful and might only seem strange in modern day because they were built before guesthouses, restaurants and roads, and were meant to provide different services.
21.) Breaking news—Thai people are as kind and as cranky as any people anywhere.
Thai people are great and nice and welcoming but they are also grumpy and cold. They are open and they are closed off. They are full of smiles and full of curses and deserve to be more than just “nice.” Referring to Thai people as “nice” is like giving the “nicest student award” to the quiet girl at 8th grade graduation that nobody ever really bothered to get to know. It’s too easy and too stereotypical and too ignorant and too unfortunate that an article on the travel section of a major news source would ultimately choose to categorize an entire nation of people as “nice.” And as far as thanking them for allowing you to explore their land, according to this article at least, it seems like all you explored was Pattaya and the local 7-Eleven.
Maybe next time you find yourself in this part of the world, you’ll ask deep questions of yourself and the locals you are fortunate enough to meet. Maybe then you’ll be able to craft a piece of travel writing that is substantive and responsible and honors the culture you are writing about.