Thursday, April 5, 2007

Rich Thai Poor Thai

One of the biggest surprises for Western people when they first arrive in the Kingdom of Thailand is the extreme wealth that they will encounter here. One of the biggest shocks for Western people when they come to the Kingdom of Thailand is the extreme poverty.

Thailand, like most emerging nations, is a contrast of the haves and havenots at such an extreme that it can at times feel as if we have been transported back in time to a feudal system in which lords and surfs function in harmony. I guess the hardest thing to understand is how is there peace. The poor here, many living in tin shacks or $40 a month apartment cubicles, seem to live in harmony with the Mercedes driving, mansion dwelling, land and business owners. Most crime by the poor is done against the poor and most crime by the wealthy are done against the poor.

To truly understand the dynamics of this is somewhat ineffable but I do wonder if part of it isn't the Buddhist belief that people are born to a destiny that should not be questioned. If you are born poor, then fighting to get rich is to go against the karma of your past life. If you are born rich, then managing the wealth and people who are at your disposal is your karmic duty as well. I have a good friend who is a classically trained musician and a fabulous one at that, but because of her family's wealth she is forced to manage their business instead of pursue her love of music. Odd? No, it's practical and wealthy Thai families have a sense of heritage and future that goes beyond the individual who might want to pursue something completely different. It isn't like these wealthy Thai people can't do their love as a hobby and certainly they have the resources to do just that.

The mystery to me is that the poor, who obviously outnumber the rich, don't rise up and begin killing the rich in an effort to take something for their family. It really doesn't seem to happen here. Poor neighborhoods, like little villages, just want to be left to live and fight against development and advancement more often than getting on board.

Thailand is a land of amazing contrasts. The school where I teach costs students around $11,000 a year, while the average Thai worker only earns about $200 a month. Cheap labor of course means massive profits for those doing the hiring and so the division between the groups will only grow. Why do parents pay for their students to be trained in English, Japanese, and Chinese, and have top teachers brought in from around the world? It is not hard to understand that it is to KEEP THE DIVISION of those who HAVE and those who Do NOT. A child born in a tin shed along side a river will 99% of the time die in a tin shed along side a river, and what is oddest of all is that they really will expect nothing more.