I came to Thailand a few days ago, mostly to get away from Japan for a while and to relax. As my previous post suggests, I was a little tired after walking the amount I did and as the Japanese would say “using my care” (気を使う) with customers for so long. I thought I would get away, do yoga, dine like a king on my favorite food and get my scuba license. Here are some thoughts and observations of my time so far.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but there are way more tourists here than I ever imagined. There seem to be two primary types: the long-term residents/retirees who soak up the sun, get daily massages and find Thai girlfriends (lots of old white dudes with Thai girls) and the young migrants who travel Southeast Asia for 3-6 months, party and stay at backpackers. There are a remarkable number of Americans, at least half of the people I meet. I’m not blaming them. Compared to Africa this is a ridiculously accessible place. It’s actually cheaper than Africa, it doesn’t have the stigma of disease and poverty, the food is better, the roads aren’t littered with potholes, it’s safe and it’s easy to meet people because there are so many backpackers doing exactly the same thing. I’m not surprised that people choose Southeast Asia.
Africa (at least the part I visited) does have English going for it though. For a country that relies so heavily on tourism, I am surprised at the lack of English ability. Everyone speaks a few preset phrases, but beyond that it tapers off to zero rather quickly. When I mentioned this to some German teenagers, they ridiculed me as a typical American tourist who expects the rest of the world to be like them. Now this bothered me because I think I have some credentials that distinguish me from that stereotype. I don’t expect the world to look or talk like me, I just mentioned that learning more English would only help Thailand. Even places like Japan and China with far more advanced economies understand the value of learning English.
For some reason this led me to looking up dominant world languages. English currently has 400 million native speakers vs. Mandarin’s 850 million, but English has over 2 billion non-native speakers and students, whereas Mandarin only has 1 billion. Mandarin is just too mono-cultural and hard for non-native speakers (tones and Chinese characters), which is why English, not Mandarin will continue to be the world language. This is only my opinion of course but because it’s my blog I can state it confidently as fact 🙂
Last thought, I never thought I would say this, but the young backpacker crowd is actually restoring my faith in travelers and to an extent in humanity. The ones I have hung out with completely reject and are repulsed by the sex tourism industry. They want to learn about the culture. They care about the humane treatment of elephants they ride on. Sex tourism especially is a huge issue in Thailand, but it is encouraging to know there is a strong movement against it.
But I digress. I’m enjoying Thailand but for some crazy reason Africa still holds a place in my heart. It’s now my measuring stick for comparing all other places. I’ve been in Bangkok and Chiang Mai so far, and tomorrow I fly/bus/ferry to Ko Samui where I am going to get my scuba license and check off an item from my bucket list. So excited. More stories to come from there I am sure.