Western society and values, R.I.P.

It seems that wherever you look in town and country, Thais of all ages are busy creating. Using mundane, everyday materials, works of art are crafted. From the silversmith to the motorcycle repair shop, ingenuity is at work, with a smile and the patience of a Buddha. You would be forgiven for wondering if the Thais are an exceptionally gifted people, as they all seem to be at it. From toddlers up.

Where and when did we lose this ability in the West? Only the very rare budding genii seem to be spotted and nurtured, future concert pianists and Picassos; the talents of the remainder go unremarked, or are spurned for more materially beneficial pastimes.

Pan to typical middle-class Western household...

'Kids today'... slouched in front of a flickering scrceen, X-Box control in hand, congealing ready-meal TV dinner forgotten on the couch. Concentration span of seconds. A book? Only if it starts with "Bea" and finishes with "no"... and doesn't distract from the Cartoon Network, or the latest soap or reality TV offering. Lazy. Rude. Disrespectful. Everything that's different must be inferior by definition. Taking everything for granted in a throwaway environment. Easy come, easy go. Can't cook anything that doesn't have microwave instructions. Think a screwdriver is something that comes in a glass. Taught to look after number one, social responsibility a poor second. Prone to tantrums if they can't get what they want immediately, in this 'satisfaction guaranteed', jam today (or tomorrow at the absolute outside or we'll sue) society. Parents a joke, there to be sponged off until their kids can escape the restraints and get on with having fun, having achieved so-called 'independence'. And these are the future custodians of the West? Excuse me while I go and bury my head in the sand, and wait for the inevitable disasters to start happening. Can you imagine these selfish, maladapted little monsters growing up to be our political and business leaders, our teachers and philosophers?

Our fault of course. Human nature to accumulate, gorge on excess when we are lucky enough to have access to it. Trouble is from hunter-gatherer tribal days when such excess was to be feasted on once in a blue moon, now it's par for the course, and we don't know how to live without it. The kids themselves aren't even aware what's going on - it's all they've ever known.


Thai children still have that open-eyed innocence and wonderment. A sense of value, respect. How often when you hear the rare sound of a child wailing in Thailand, do you turn round and see it's a sulky, red-faced member of a farang family who hasn't immediately got what he/she wanted, or throwing a wobbly because he/she is hot/cold/tired/bored/doesn't like the taste... etc?

"A Wii? Just had one thanks, over there, behind the tree..."

So much for the allegedly superior Western culture. You can keep it. Thailand and the East are heading in the same direction, but it will be a while before it catches up, enough time to see me out anyway! Yep, defeatist talk, but what can I say - too much momentum has gathered for the West to step back from the brink now. We're stuck with what we've got, for better or probably for worse, and we're fated to live with the consequences. It's not as if the East can resist; Western influence, even in decline, is too powerful - and to compete the East has had to follow suit.

On balance, taking all the negative factors in Thailand into account... cronyism, corruption, superstition (although hang on - we get all that in the West too, and more)... I know where I would rather be. And believe me it's not France, where I've been forced to spend the last few months. I abandoned the UK more than a couple of decades ago for the French countryside, with similar motives - to rediscover lost family and community values that still held sway in rural France, lagging far behind the British who were desperately hanging on to the coat-tails of its Anglo Saxon cousins across the Pond, in an attempt to emulate the American Dream. But now the French are rapidly catching up with the British. Resistance is fading, materialism is taking over, the French kids are going the same way as the Brits - into a fantasy virtual world, grafted to their games consoles.

Political change? Not a hope. Modern democracy is home to photogenic shape-shifters, donning the clothes and image that best pleases the masses, and offers the quickest fix for the consumerist addiction. And no one can quit, no matter what increasingly imminent and concrete threats the future holds. It's got too firm a grip.

A positive note to finish on? Sorry, just can't think of one. Other than I suppose we might just get lucky! We've lasted this long after all...

(See what spending a few months away from Thailand back in 'civilisation' does to you?! Normal service will hopefully be resumed once I get off the plane at Svarnabhumi, June 23rd :-)

Everyone in Thailand seems to have a skill of some kind - an ancient, wheelchair-bound Thai woman makes all kinds of animals from dried palm fronds in the Chiang Mai Sunday Market. I watched her for fifteen minutes or so. She never stopped smiling...


add a comment

Stumble Upon Toolbar Add to Technorati Favorites

18 comments:

Mike said...

Pete I tend to see both sides of the coin here. In our village the kids make their own sanuk pretty much like I did as a lad in rural England many moons ago. A clapped out bike if they are lucky.

But nip into Prachuap after school and the Internet cafes are bursting at the seams with Thai kids playing computer games. Same country different worlds.

One final example. I have a Thai friend in town who is what I would call a middle class Chinese Thai. His kids have all he latests gadgets just like home and are somewhat spoiled in my opinion. Usually when I visit they are glued to the TV watching cartoon network!

The FrogBlogger said...

Oh sure Mike, there's no doubt it's on its way in here too, part of an inevitable Westernisation. The redeeming factor is that it's lagging far enough behind to remind me of how things once were back home! Give it twenty years or so though, and the kids here will as miserable and ungrateful as they are in the West today, probably! (Ever the optimist ;-)

Jon said...

Hi Pete, another excellent post - have stockpiled a load from France?

You're absolutely spot on, this is precisely the reason we are raising our son in Thailand, initially anyhow. The thought of him growing up to have no respect, patience, and appreciation of Thai culture helped make the decision.

I have to agree with Mike (and you) that some parts of Thailand are replicating the West but while I still see kids reading books, comics and actually talking to their parents, then not all is lost yet.

Talen said...

My girls brothers fall into the western category a good bit. Every free second they have is playing video games or drinking beer. but they still work around the family farm.

I think they best thing Thailand has going for it is the community factor but you never know if that will get lost in time or not. America was big on community but somewhere in the 1950's -1960's that fell by the wayside.

Anonymous said...

My Girls, 10, 7, 5 have been in Thailand for two years, previously UK.
They attend Thai School where I'm sure they get taught about respect and being nice little girls etc. etc..
The Teachers always say they are very well behaved and quiet. It seems I've got something right.

I seldom saw them during the school holidays as they were out playing with friends in the village, having little adventures etc. and swimming in just about any local water they could find. Very similar to my Childhood too.

When I go back home and visit places from my childhood I seldom see any Kids 'playing out' at all. Most of them are home attached to digital devices.

It seems to me atleast that nature has benefitted from there absense and reclaimed the Area's I used to play for herself.

Unfortunately we've still got the cartoon Channel here and lots of digital devices too. If anything the Village Kids will play with them for longer durations than my Kids if they get the opportunity . I also know the local internet shops are sadly full with young online gamers after school so its only a matter of time.

Maybe the Nature will benefit here too ;-)

The FrogBlogger said...

Hi Jon... hardly stockpiled, in fact as my 5 month stay in France has worn on, ideas were increasingly lacking, to the point when posts dried up altogether for a while. Just not inspired to write about France, maybe another time. Hope it all works out for your son here, before Thailand gets too Westernised! Look forward to seeing him play for Arsenal one day, but he'll have to learn French ;-)

Talen yes it was around the late 60s that things started to go seriously downhill in the UK as well, following the US lead. I can hardly recognise the place and some of the attitudes when I go back now (and it's 10 years since my last visit).

Anon, you're right only a matter of time probably. Still it's a good sign your kids have managed to adapt so quickly to Thailand and its quieter ways. Long may they last here...

david mcmahon said...

Thanks for your visit and egenrous comment.

These are beautiful images of a country I have been fortunate to visit several times.

The FrogBlogger said...

Thanks David. Praise from a pro photographer is always gratefully received. Have added yours to my 'random blogs I admire' section.

Ben Shingleton said...

Hi Pete, I think a lot of it has to do with family ties and a work driven culture. Going from a 5 day week in UK we now work 7, and the kids are involved, pretty much every day is work. Family attitudes are also different, rather than having aunts / uncles / cousins at home you see now and again, cousins in Thai families are bought up as brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles are parents, which must help kids to break away from 'us and them' mindsets, and help create positive impressions of others. Also, you have that special 'Phi' mentality - respect your elders - embedded as soon as the kids are crawling.

Like Mike I've seen some richer children though, who are being brought up in a more 'Western' households (ie - they are always told how brilliant they are, and always usually get their own way) it doesn't mean they will turn out bad but, I think it is different from a traditional Thai upbringing.

The other thing I notice is TV. I can't tell you how much time I've saved through not watching mindless talent contests, soaps and even sport. I think this saved time may help foster that Thai creativity you talk about at the start of your post. In the UK, they don't realise how much they seem to rely on the TV listings...

The FrogBlogger said...

Ben, lots of good points in there... hard work, phi - definitely a big factor... the TV... but how long before things change radically here, as LOS gets richer (assuming they start to spread the wealth around a bit more). Hmm, thinking about it, maybe the elite is doing the Thai people a favour by slowing down their Westernisation, even if for entirely selfish motives...

Wotchit said...

If I can inject a more hopeful note Pete, just like to remind you that EVERY generation moans about the younger one. Think back to your childhood (ohhh...through the dim and distant fog ;)). I'm sure you can remember someone, even in those halcyon day, muttering something about 'flaming kids...don't know they're born...in MY day we had to put up with lead poisoning from our tin soldiers and nowt to eat but gravel...' Its the natural order, whinging about the youth of today.

The FrogBlogger said...

Gravel? Luxury! We got a cup of sulphuric acid if we were lucky before Dad slit us in two wit' bread knife :-)

Wotchit, trouble is some of us are indeed old enough to remember a more rewarding, less self-interested philosophy of life, and the younger generations will only cotton on to what's going on mostly when it's too late...

Hindsight only works when you've been around long enough to have it :-(

Wotchit said...

LOL, lifes wasted on the young.

Catherine said...

Pete, I'm sorry to hear that the French kids are going the way of the US and the UK.

When I lived in Pau, the local kids I knew were bright, well-behaved, and interested in the world around them.

The Canadian and American kids I knew had Gameboys constantly in their hands, but not the French.

Their days seemed to be filled with outside activities.

In the winter, on Wednesdays, for a half day the schools in my area let the kids go off skiing.

I couldn't imagine them giving that up to sit in front of Gameboys and computers.

From what I experienced, France, like Thailand, has a close-knit family structure with everyone involving themselves in the upbringing of the young ones.

In my area, French mothers worked, but it was known that their first responsibility was to raising their children, so no latchkey kids as in the West (that I knew of anyway).

These days, in the West both husband and wife feel the need to work to support their families.

But with both dragging in from work tired, the kids are often left to babysit themselves with gadgets and more.

The kids are raising themselves and this is what we get. Sad.

Eve* aka JB said...

Ah, something I've been thinking of. Like in Muong Ngoy -- a small riverside village in Laos (and aware that you're writing about Thailand) -- they have no electricity. On one hand that means no fans or tv. On the other, women weave beautiful handlooms and children and men make awesome bamboo-ware. Apparently the Laos government is now talking about 'electrifying' the village. More than anyone else, village parents are concerned. Would their children turn into the kind of children you (read, I) saw in Dien Bien Phu? Rows and rows of seats filled up in internet cafes with kids pushing buttons?

Still thinking and wondering... will come back here again. Thankyou for stopping by on my blog.

JB

The FrogBlogger said...

Catherine, in total I've spent 20 years in France. Nothing like as bad up to a few years ago, but it's been creeping up on us for a while now. My place in Provence is rural too, plus we spent 5 years living in the Savoie, where most kids were skiers as in Pau. But there's a kind of inexorable Americanisation; even if out in the sticks family values are still important, it's a losing battle. Ever shorter lunchbreaks, all kids have to talk about at break is what cheats are available for Xbox Oblivion... ok nowhere near as bad as the UK yet, but getting there.

Catherine said...

Twenty years in France, that's a huge chunk of time! I left France in '94, so we have an overlap of experiences.

And while Pau is an old city (with a long English connection), the French believe it is 'out in the sticks'. It was especially thought so by Parisians.

My time in France was pre-internet explosion. so it's a given that the country has moved on since then.

But as for moving up... well... as you said, that is debatable.

The FrogBlogger said...

Eve, been enjoying your trip through SE Asia... learning from your mistakes as I plan my trip to Vietnam! Guest houses that are really brothels are to be avoided, my wife3B would not be pleased...

Yes the internet, a double-edged sword. It's not as if most of those kids in the internet cafes are doing anything useful, just playing games... no social interaction, they don't even look up from their screens as you enter...