And so, after almost four months in Bangkok and Thailand, it is time for me to move on. I do so with a great sadness mixed with my usual restlessness. For Thailand is a wonderful, interesting and, yes, often infuriating and confounding place. But as most people say, there’s no place on earth like it.
I’m writing this from a train en route to Butterworth in Malaysia, the little town that seems mainly to exist as a train terminus and a port for the ferry to Penang. From Butterworth, I’ll head down to Kuala Lumpur, and thence on to Singapore. On Dec 10 or 11, I’ll board the White Star freighter ship and start the 10-day journey to Perth. In all likelihood, I will miss the Dec 21 end of the world as predicted by the Mayans and I will definitely miss the premier of “The Hobbit.” Which is worse will be left for historians and film critics.
But back to Thailand. I’d like to list a few impressions that I’ve had of the place and its people. It will likely piss some (many?) people off, but bear in mind these are my impressions only. I’m not writing an anthropological dissertation on Thai society. I’m not necessarily even criticizing the place. Thailand belongs to the Thais and they can do what they want. At most, my observations and impressions might contain some cautions for Thais based on what I’ve seen in other parts of the world. Take ’em or leave ’em.
UPDATE: Read this from pro-monarchist journalist Thanong Khanthong, for a sense of what I’m talking about. “All human beings have flaws. But His Majesty the King is the most perfect human being of all – both in the way of the world and in the way of the Dhamma. It is because of these attributes that Thais feel immense joy in their hearts upon seeing him – an emotion that foreigners find hard to fathom.” (Emphasis added.) Boy, is that true. This article paints Bhumibol as more of a priest-king than a constitutional monarch. Here’s some more from Khanthong, reinforcing the idea of the king as a literal embodiment of the divine. Again, I really have a hard time grasping this concept, but I don’t get the infallibility of the Pope, either.
So I found Thailand a magical but confounding place. I loved the people and the culture, but I worry about it. I can only hope that the Thailand I return to when I’m done with the round-the-world journey is stronger, more stable and more fair to its citizens. And that the King (or Queen?), whoever they may be when I return, reign well. Farewell, for now, Thailand, and all my dear, dear friends. You have touched me in the best ways possible.