Kinder and Gentler, conclusion

 

It is fascinating, but Western-made products are not beckoning from every nook and corner of Thailand. Locally-produced clothes, even the unlabeled ones, are sold side by side with branded and world-known products. Thais seem to be proud of goods indigenous to them. Among the Filipinos, our own products are generally looked upon as inferior. By the way, most of us usually have relatives abroad who send over imported items – shirts, shoes, toothpastes, shampoos and lotions by the liters, haha.

 

larawan ng isang palengke sa Thailand

More processed foods are sold and patronized in Thailand than in the Philippines/ eugenegoesthailand.com

Mass consumption in Siam does not appear to be at a crazy, uncontrollable pitch. Among the Thais, there seem to be balance in adopting the old and the new, the native from what is foreign and, the modern versus the ancient. Their wet markets look just like Farmer’s Market in Cubao, no kidding. Their dry goods markets look to me as akin to the Marikina Shoe Expo or Greenhills, but are less jumbled and less dirty… Dry or wet marketplace, so many things are being sold – clothes, shoes, fruits, vegetables and cooked foods.

 

larawan ng mga hiniwang sariwang gulay na ibinebenta sa Thailand

Thais ordinarily eat fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks/ nungning26.wordpress.com

I particularly noticed that Thais sell cubed, boiled squash and boiled green papayas – cool and awesome. Filipinos eat those foods, too and often. But one cannot get them ready-to-eat in the markets or stores. On the other hand, the Thais seem to have adopted the Chinese way – value-adding, packaging the goods (however modest or humble) and presenting them nicely to costumers. They improve on things and sell them to many, way better and on a larger scale than what we do in the Philippines. Yes, Filipinos also have such creative marketing attempts as seen in Saturday markets in certain cities of the country. But they are done in a limited way and cater to middle-class consumers or health buffs only.

 

The Thais seem to me more controlled in their temper and behavior and are less showy than Filipinos. Their demeanor and appearances are generally decent, laid back or simple. Nothing loud, offensive or screaming in the way they carry themselves – with their wealth, status or fame. They do not flaunt  their assets, clothes or accessories to show off or spite others. Their women do not flaunt their femininity and sexiness openly and their lipsticks and make-ups are not excessive. Thai men also appear to me to be cleaner, ahaha, and do not have that wild look and swagger of most Filipino men. On first impression, the speech and demeanor of male Thais could hardly be called sexist. I found this in sharp contrast to Filipino men who wear their machismos like amulets, true…

 

larawan ng mga Thai, mga bata at kabataan

Thais appear to be simpler in appearances and gentler in demeanor than Filipinos/ visit-chiang-mai-online.com

 

As I said, we came across a number of gays and lesbians in many places and establishments. They are noticeably almost everywhere. But somehow, they do not appear to be like the gays in the TV show, America’s Next Top Model. Instead, they are the quiet types – most of them. They seem confident as members of the third sex, but conduct themselves modestly. I wonder if this has anything to do with the Thais’ predominantly Buddhist religion or the fact that there are also some Muslim believers in their society (although, as far as I know, in lesser numbers).

 

The Thais seem not to proclaim anything loudly. We did not see names of politicians painted on bridges, roads and waiting sheds, no. We were not treated to constructions that are nakatiwangwang (left around indefinitely), hazardous to motorists and pedestrians and eye sores to the onlookers. We did not come across dirty, dark and sinister corners – unattended to, neglected for a long time and induce terror to unsuspecting passersby. Curiously, there are not many signs of decay, stagnation and hopelessness in the places we visited or chanced by in Thailand. Pollution in their cities likewise seems to be controlled.

 

larawan ng Muang Thong Thani sa gabi, kuha mula sa malayo

Progress also has its social costs in Thailand but not as severe as in the Philippines/ panoramio.com

There are signs of poverty also, that did not escape us. But not as severe as in the Philippines, where being squalid in terms of living standards is rather common and oftentimes, even expected. Coming from a country where poverty is almost a staple – as ordinary as sunlight – a setting where poverty has bred other social problems like mass inhumane housing conditions, malnutrition that lead to retardation among children, injustices that span through generations and crime syndicates that are said to be more powerful than some local government units – imagine, for a moment, encountering something uncannily, unexpectedly different?

A place where things seem to be fresh and growing, where despair is not worn by people like a hard mask and transition is actually meant as that? Where things appear to get done but are not forced? Where garbage do not pile up in corners for weeks? Where it probably pays for people to persevere and efforts actually get rewarded? Where things are viewed not from the conflict and zero-sum game perspectives that we have been led to believe in and actually try to live by? In Thailand, we did not see row houses or shacks in veritable pitiful conditions. We did not see civil disobedience acts of citizens in the form of deliberate traffic violations. We did not come across desperate youths doing drugs in broad daylight.

 

As I said, we did not get to see Bangkok, and perhaps I am painting an incomplete picture of the country… News and cable features often report Bangkok as Asia’s secret, decadent den and sometimes even tag the city as modern progress gone bad. But we did not see the capital and with the limited parts of the country that we encountered, our expectations were met and exceeded, for the most part.

larawan ng mga ginagawang gusali sa Muang Thong Thani district sa Thailand

Areas are being developed and buildings are being constructed but seemingly not in a hurried pace/ tekint.co.th

My sister and I were surprised that a particular blueprint of development appears to be possible in a tropical, “Asian” setting and we were just glad at the phase the Thais seem to pursue their definition of development in the modern days. Looking at their infrastructures and environment, one could see that progress is being pursued at the rate that is neither mad, nor driven by a rush for money or search for fame. It is odd, from my point of view, they seem to proceed at it in a pace that is planned, measured and well- considered. And, seemingly, projects and improvements are not skewed in favor of the few – an allegation that is commonly heard about contracts and infrastructural development in my country.

 

A late Filipino-Canadian director and artist once said – Filipinos are among the most economically and socially-conscious group of people or race that he has encountered. Am thinking, maybe, he is right… Coming directly across one of our closest Malayan cousins, even for only a few days, I learned uncomfortably that snobbishness, class-consciousness and some degree of ferociousness (haha) is more pronounced among us, Filipinos, compared to our Thai neighbors.

Seeing Thailand and meeting the Thais up close got me rethinking about my Asian roots. That is, if there is one such. In the University of the Philippines (U.P.) where I studied, many professors and students claim that there is one… By the way, this was almost two decades ago when ethnicity was a cool topic in the academe, as gender was. People were saying then – it’s about time we took our regional particularities more seriously… Anyway, Thailand encounter got me Asian think, ahaha.

During my college days,  American professor Noam Chomsky and the French thinker, Michael Foucault were “in” and talks in the university were usually about the “new arrangements” after the Cold War and the “new geo-political mapping” in the era of “porous” country borders. That time, I took a subject about Southeast Asia, specifically about the various ethnic conflicts in these countries. I still remember bits and pieces from that study and some details maybe worth recalling, to throw light on the comparative issues between the Thais and Filipinos that this post incidentally raised.

 

 

larawan ng mga templo sa bansang Thailand

Thailand has many centuries-old temples and palaces/ hawcc.hawaii.edu

Thailand or the old kingdom of Siam is tens of thousands years older, as a civilization, than the Philippines’. It was a nation already, in Political Science sense, long before the early Filipinos learned cooking and pottery. It had kings and palaces and ventured into colonization or annexation of its neighboring countries, about three hundred years before Miguel Villalobos set foot on Philippine soil. The country has been and is still ruled by a monarchy, although it has adopted a two-chamber parliament since the 1930s. Thailand prides itself (and it has good reason to do so) as the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by any foreign power but has maintained stable alliances with powerful countries such as Britain, Japan and the U.S.

In 1986, when Philippines was undergoing a transition as a country that toppled an almost 20- year dictatorship, Thailand was beginning an unprecedented 11-year economic growth, that technocrats and policymakers all over the world would hail as phenomenal – a 12% GDP growth rate. Over the decades, Thailand has maintained its position as the world’s top producer and exporter of rice. Over the years, the country has likewise kept its place as a Newly Industrialized Country (NIC), a far cry from the Less Developed Country (LDC) status of the Philippines.

 

On the other hand, Philippine history is one of unfolding interrupted. The 333 years of Philippines under the Spanish rule must unquestionably be factored in, in classifying and formulating the Filipinos’ value system as a people. Likewise, the 50-year American rule and its undeniable influence – way too huge and pervading almost all aspects of peoples’ lives and thinking. And, yes, the historical fact that as a people, Filipinos were organically, partially, originally Muslims or pagans – in faith, living and social structures. As a people, we are some way, somehow, descendants of fiery tribes that got no further than forming federations, before being defeated by invaders from the Western hemisphere.

 

larawan ng ipinintang imahe ng pagsakop ng mga Espanyol sa Pilipinas

Spaniards easily conquered the disparate tribes in the Philippine archipelago and stayed for 333 years/ eserbisyo.gov.ph

 

I have been saying that the Thais seem to have things better over there, appear to have better attitudes and apparently, they have a better run of their place and lives compared to us, Filipinos… But I think it is worth pointing out, continuity in weaving one’s civilization, one people’s way of life, is quite important and central to the question of why the Thais seem to have things better. Unity as a people has never been that big of a problem among the Thais. Their political upheavals in the recent years are more in the nature of call for reforms.

Among the Filipinos, however, unity and Philippine nationhood has always been problematic and is continuously being questioned and am afraid, unless and until this has been resolved, our identity as a people will remain vague and insecure at best and, we will maintain our knee-jerk reaction of always looking to the West for answers.

 

larawan ng pagpapalaya sa Pilipinas mula sa mga Espanyol noong 1898

Inequality seems to be more pronounced and layered in the Philippines compared to Thailand/ craighill.net

In the same vein, I guess, we, Filipinos, must have carried it in our veins and in the fabric of our economic and social lives to be less kind, less gentle, than our Thai cousins. We must have come from same Malayan genes as our Malay, Indonesian and Thai cousins, been exposed to the same mountainous terrains and hunted on the same archipelagos, yes. But perhaps, I am not selling or discounting my nationalistic sentiments, when I say that comparably speaking, inequality is more pronounced in my country and the layering of social classes among my people, apparently starker.

 

For now, I dare assume that the Thai economic, political, intellectual and cultural elite as a group, is more grounded as to the particular kind and direction of development that it wants for its people. Likewise, that it is also more in touch with its organic Asian roots and core values cooperation as the underlying principle, with a sense of the collective and the common welfare and, has deep respect for traditions and old people.

And the same with the Thai people in general, I suppose. There must be an ocean of difference – being a member of a race that has not been defeated, not having experienced privations and greed at extreme degrees and, having been ruled by leaders who, more or less,  share the same vision of development and progress. These are luxuries or advantages that Thailand’s neighboring peoples do not have. We, Filipinos, certainly do not… Well, we may not be as kind or as gentle as the Thais but surely, our struggles and hopes as a people, are arguably several hues and shades different. Of that, I am certain.

 

I guess we have been taught too long that new values is something that could be acquired and learned in a matter of weeks or months or years, a few of,  as in a crash course. And old, obsolete and those values that “no longer work or fit” could be unlearned just as easily and in the same short span of time.  I beg to disagree in strong terms. Values, as a set of rules to uphold and to live by for the individual, are personal, yes. But it is likewise and in many ways,  social and communal. And it is continuously being woven by us – passed on to us and shared to and with us by our ancestors and families and, we will pass it on and share with those people younger than us.
larawan ng mga punong kawayan sa kagubatan

Values like kindness and gentleness are passed on and can be handed down/ flashcoo.com

The people close to us introduce, inculcate and nurture our values, so do  the communities and institutions we become part of and the social and public lives that we enter into. In the same manner, we are supposed to give, cultivate and cherish those values by imparting them to others. I suppose, that is how we will grow and develop as individuals in our society. In this sense, values is a happy mixture of our private beliefs and norms, as well as our social and public projections and principles, adhered to and propagated by us, to some degree. It is about the ties we choose to maintain or to ignore, the loyalties we keep or break and the affinities we enter into or get away from.

 

When I say that Thais are kinder and gentler, I entertain no illusions that with a sudden change of attitude and inclination, most Filipinos could turn out as gentle and as kind, no. Inasmuch as I would like us, Filipinos, to be as confident and secure about our identity as a people as the Thais, to be as kind to strangers and the next person and to be as gentle and fair in our dealings, I know that it will take a long time before that happens. It would take a lot by way of economic arrangements, social and cultural opportunities and painstaking educational efforts before Filipinos reach that point where we can actually claim that we are more caring, more sensitive and more considerate to our fellows – than we are now – and actually have the goods to show for them.

 

As we were waiting for our plane back to the Philippines in Suvarnabhumi airport, a television show was on in the lounge, airing a Thai professor. The guy was explaining the logic and practicality of adopting respect for fellow human beings  – why it pays to be polite, respectful and considerate at all times. At that moment, I asked myself whether there really is such a thing as an Asian culture. And, if it is possible that all things are not “global,” just yet. I mean, in the way that things global are ordinarily propagated and understood, nowadays. I don’t know… 😉

 

Kinder and Gentler

 

My sister and I went to Thailand recently, a first time for the both of us. For her, it was to attend an activity. For me, it was to see if the Thailand folks really do look like us, Filipinos and vice-versa, and, if their cities look just like ours, ahaha. Thing is, I have a friend who used to live in Thailand as an expat. For three years, she provided me with stories of how the country looks, how the people live and how foreigners like her can’t seem to master the language, haha.  So, I went there finally, with the sister, to have a first-hand view and feel of the country. We never got the time to go to Bangkok, unfortunately. But that could probably wait. In the meantime, we saw enough to make our first impression of the people and the place. I hope…

 

imahe ng palapagan ng Suvarnabhumi, kuha mula sa himpapawid

This city typifies urban planning with an Asian touch/ tothailand.com

 

First off, the landing. The aerial view is better, comparably speaking, haha. At the risk of sounding like I’ve tossed my nationalism or what would pass off as some such sentiment, allow me to say that the view from above Suvarnabhumi sky looks better than what greets the eyes upon taking a peek at Philippine soil. This airport in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan Province, is Thailand’s  new international airport, about 25 km. east of Bangkok.  A visitor could not help but notice that Suvarnabhumi or Golden Land has been planned – there are patterns in the structures and highways built and being constructed,  the buildings of the locality do not crowd out each other and hey, the panorama does not look crazy and confusing from high above.

 

larawan ng palapagan ng Suvarnabhumi sa Thailand

This airport has the tallest control tower in the world and ranks as the third largest single- building airport terminal/ eglobaltravelmedia.com.au

 

Apparently, this Asian urban center is not too busy, too frenetic and too highly-industrialized. The traffic of the people and the vehicles,  not at the dizzying level yet. There’s still plenty of room to move, or so it seems… Visibly, there are constructions going on – high rise buildings, condominiums, supplemental roads, etc. The proverbial cranes and lorries can be seen from 200 feet above. As a city, it looks more like the moving kind, but not in a way that is hurried. There’s development, but perhaps not the kind that is based on ruthless efficiency and mad rush for glamour and glitter. At least, that’s my impression of the surroundings…

 

Suddenly, plainly, I missed the roofs of the buildings and houses in Paranaque (the immediate vicinity of our metro’s airport), full of used tires and whatnots, waving to visitors upon landing (I hope the Philippine tourism authorities  do not sue me or put me in their hunt list, lol). No, it wasn’t envy I felt at that time, just simple acceptance, maybe, of our Third World standing as a country, the laggard of Southeast Asia. We  still have a long way to go towards mustering a good and decent front for the travelers, from near or far…  When I was a freshman in college, the raging discussions in the social science arena was development – missing the take-off, leapfrogging it (’twas a cool term, back then) or remaining in the so-called periphery. That was more than 20 years, by the way. Oh, well…

 

 

In Suvarnabhumi, we stayed at an airport hotel called The Cottage. Yes, there’s a service van to pick visitors up from the airport. The staff are friendly and polite. The ambience of the place is private and quiet. The elevators work wonderfully well, there’s a small pool with lounging chairs and plenty of bean bags around, yehey! But what I appreciate most about the place is the hotel’s patio or veranda. It’s a thin strip actually, just outside the hotel cafe. But the atmosphere in that corner is such that it brings a lounger peace and quiet. There’s a soft piped-in music that plays in the background and a kind wind that blows from above. If anybody would ask me what I want to take back to the Philippines from Thailand, I’d say it’s the loving and generous wind from the patio of The Cottage.

 

First morning, I took a walk in the street of the village where our hotel was located. It looks to me just like any subdivision in an urban center in the Philippines. The houses look curiously the same as those that can be found in my country – the apartments look the same and even the house fronts do not look any different. I observed (I observe a lot, so other people notice, lol) same house plants, same fruit-bearing trees (I even stole two tamarind fruits from the wayside, there’s just too many of them) and same breeds of house dogs, true . Except, the Thais usually have this small worship corner in front of the yard that looks Buddhist to me. In the Philippines, we also have one such corner with the statue of the Virgin Mary instead. We call it grotto – a patent reminder of our Catholic faith and three hundred years of Spanish influence.

 

And yes, same look of people, indeed. The Thailanders look very much like us, Filipinos or we, Filipinos look a tad just too like them, haha. Except, they speak less English… Most people who saw me walking greeted me – either with a smile, a bow or a Good Morning in Thailand language. Whenever I muttered good morning in return, they would tell me, “Speak Thai?” And when I’d say “No,” there’s a pitiful but kind expression that runs in the face of the one who put the question. It’s like saying, “Oh, but we could engage in a longer conversation if you do. But then, go ahead wherever it is you are going.” They’re amiable and polite – our Malayan cousins in the old country of Siam.

 

On the streets in the village, I saw a lot of vendors – on foot and on vehicles.  Some sell street foods like dumplings or rice cakes, some sell trinkets and souvenirs and some sell fruits. Entrepreneurship is all around, one could see and sense it. Plenty of homes have two cars in their garage – a pick-up for the small business and a car for the family. Some yards are steeped with products to sell or what remain of their inventories. The residences do not  come as your  typical middle-class households settled in their statuses. At least, they appear to me to be still up and working on it. Houses seem to be peopled by folks still building up their middle-class arsenals – busy as bees with loans and mortgages and tuition to pay perhaps, but ready and willing to face the challenges. I saw several family-type businesses – single proprietorships with a dash of help from what? Office-based professions, probably.

 

larawan ng bungang prutas na lansones, marami sa Pilipinas

Philippine variety has thinner skin and could be sweet or sour, a matter of luck/ http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Lansium_domesticum

There’s a small pick-up truck that passed me by, selling fruit common in the Philippines in the months of August and September – lansones. I went closer to the vehicle as it stopped for a man in front of his house. The woman at the back of the pick-up scooped the fruits very fast and weighed them – one kilo for 20 baht. The driver, probably her husband, was looking at her from the vehicle’s mirror. Marveling at the price, I decided to buy a kilo of the produce myself. At the exchange rate of 1:1.5, what I bought approximately cost 30 pesos. In the Philippines, lansones usually sells for 70 or 80 pesos. When I examined and tasted my purchase, I found out that it’s a variety slightly different from what we have here – theirs has thicker skin but yes, sweet. It’s a rather good purchase, actually. And the fruit’s called longkong in Thailand, a man in another house front would explain to me, later.

 

 

The streets, yes, the streets in Thailand… They look pretty much like the streets of Metro Manila, minus the mind-boggling traffic that we have, haha. The one that first-time visiting foreigners usually describe as “crazy,” haha. Yes, that one…  But then, we discovered (much to our chagrin) that Thailand is another right-hand drive country. Gee whiz, I miss the  “Look to your right,” and “Look to your left,”  notices painted on the street grounds in Hongkong, for pedestrian visitors unfamiliar with the place. There are no such helpful signs in Thailand, for tourists from the boondocks like us. Also, it appears to me that their sidewalks are not so wide. Or, they’re not wide enough in busy, commercial centers that we visited.

So it happened in our adventure that we were about to cross, looking to our left side of the road when cars sped us by from the right. Another time,  we were looking to the right, when we nearly got sideswiped by cars coming from the left. Shocks, those were close! And we were not particularly absent-minded, awed or touristy at those times. Just used to the left-hand drive country that we come from, haha.

 

The motorists or the drivers in Thailand do not appear to me as snobbish, as rude or as smug as my countrymen, though. Pardon me, but generally that is how I would describe many, if not most, of vehicle-owning Filipinos. They dash on the streets in their cars, jeepneys, buses, vans etcetera,  in an almost unforgiving way, as though pedestrians were nuisance on the streets. The Filipino pedestrians, on the other hand, have found ways to get back, haha – either walking very slowly like strolling in the park,  or crossing without signalling even in non-pedestrian parts of the roads, or, being just that – nuisance. Hey, am not trying to sell my countrymen cheap, I’m just saying that we manage to display our spite for one another in ways that are very creative, haha. In the parts of Thailand that I saw, both the drivers and the pedestrians give courtesies to one another. Did I say that they bow a lot? Oh, yes, they do.

 

larawan ng mga taxi na kulay rosas sa bansang Thailand

In the old times, cabs were yellow. But now, they’re happily pink. At least, in these parts./www.flickr.com/photos/ livingamongstthecrowd/

And the pink taxis, I love them. So pretty, one could indulge one’s love for pink past her childhood and teenage years. Of course, there are also yellow cabs, yellow with green stripe ones and the bubble blue taxis – the latter there to match the ubiquitous pink, I suppose… For some reason, those pink locomotives do not hurt the eyes of the beholder. It probably helps that most of them are Japanese brands, recent models, and they come as, yes – uniform and standard. Happily, the fare isn’t very prohibitive, in my estimation. The roads of the places we visited look just like what we have in Metro Manila, only cleaner, I guess, haha.

 

I did not see dilapidated buildings as old, as ill-maintained or as decrepit as we have in the Philippines, lol, just the old temples and places of worship – very ornate in design, quite historical and much revered among the local folks. What strike me are the similarities in the two countries’ physical environment. I did not really feel like I was in a different country while I was in Thailand. Aside from the people there looking uncannily like us, dressing like us and smiling a lot like we do, I observed that there aren’t too many high-rise structures. Medium-rise buildings are more prevalent in commercial hubs and in less dense areas, low-rise structures. And there are still plenty of houses built on the ground, with fences and gardens, as in the Philippines. I mean, compared to Hongkong and Singapore where city dwelling normally means living in a building, Thailand’s real estate situation (in non-Bangkok parts) seems to proclaim that such scenario is still for the future.

 

larawan ng isang mangkok ng sopas na Tom Yam sa Thailand

Literally hot, little chance that a diner won’t get scalded/ templeofthai.com

Even the roadside restaurants and eateries look the same here and there. But Thailand’s highway eateries usually occupy bigger spaces, about 200 to 300 square meters on the average, designed like almost sprawled to the ground. Oh, yes, the ones we tried look like the classic eateries  – with 10 to 15 tables, with the old Coke posters hanging side by side with the Buddhist icons and, there is always a small fountain by the entrance, cool. I mean, literally and otherwise… Need I say that their Tom Yam soups are chili galore? No, I guess, there’s no need for that, haha. They use at least four(4) varieties of chili in their dishes and they even serve extras in a small bowl or saucer. Talk about spicing up your life, haha. The food servers are usually gays, like in the Philippines,  although they seem to me, less loud and a bit more courteous. 🙂

 

To be continued…