In Southeast Asia, located in the heart of the Indochina peninsula, lies a land rich with natural beauty and temples housing golden buddhas larger than a American two family home. Thailand, formerly know as Siam, is home to over 65 million inhabitants, with a population density of 127 persons per square mile. Thailand’s tropical climate is inundated with the most beautiful beaches and breathtaking mountains in the world. Due to its natural attractiveness, Thailand attracts tourists from all over the world, to swim in its paradise-like beaches, and witness its over 18,000 golden temples. However, like most tropical paradises, Thailand has a unpleasant rainy season coupled with horrendous monsoon winds.
In 2004, Thailand suffered the devastation of a natural disaster; A Tsunami. According to the International Wound Journal, over 800 people were killed and thousands of others hospitalized. The Thai medical infrastructure was not built to handle this many health issues. Hospitals became overcrowded and reaction time was poor at best (Prasartritha,Tungsiripat,Warachit, 2008).
In 2006 the Labor force in Thailand was around half of the population. Around 50% of those workers were engaged in some type of agricultural farming, 37% offered a type of a service, and the rest dedicated their time to industry. Because of the style of government Thailand has, there is only 3% of the entire workforce that belongs to a union. In 1932, a revolt created a paradigm shift, in the type of government. It was converted from military rule to a more peaceful style of gubernatorial control; a constitutional monarchy.
For the purposes of research, an interview with a female resident of Thailand was initiated. A girl, who was temporarily located within the United, on a work visa, was asked questions regarding cultural differences or similarities, that currently exist, between the natives of Thailand and the United States. The informant, who will be named Patty; for the purposes of anonymity, grew up in Thailand and around twenty-five years of age. The following data was ascertained directly from a recorded interview, with informed consent, on October 20th, 2014, via audio recording. Due to the difficulty understanding some of the informant’s answers, a “best guess scenario” was employed.
First, Patty’s childhood was inquired about. Patty grew up in the Northeastern Province of Thailand called, Si Sa Ket. Patty described it as rural, and almost like a suburb of Bangkok, the Capitol. She admits to coming to the United States about 5 years ago in order to learn English. She has been employed by a host family to clean their home, and take care of their newborn child. When Patty was asked about her job her reply was, “People don’t want girls from other countries to take care of their child. They want us from Thailand, because we are the only ones able to teach proper manners to a child.” Since her family was not wealthy enough to pay for her trip to the United States the company who matched her up with the host family did.
It is difficult to determine the income of Patty’s entire household in Si Sa Ket, but being that she lived in a rural area, she and her family were likely to be middle class, or lower middle class. According to data gathered from the World Bank, poverty in Thailand has substantially decreased over the last few years. In 2013 only 7.3 million citizens, or 9% fell into the poverty category. In a recent newspaper article found in the Bangkok Post, in 2014, 345 Rolls Royce vehicles, valued at over 20 million baht were currently owned and operated. Out of the total number of 65,000,000 inhabitants only 0.001 % of the population of Thailand, could afford to pay for a vehicle priced at over 20 million baht. This indicates that only a minuscule number of the population are wealthy.
Patty then draws some comparisons of the cities she has been to. Patty says it is much cleaner in the US than Thailand. Patty’s explanation is that the US has more machines to clean public spaces than in Thailand. Patty then states, “Although it is much dirtier in Thailand, people there have a different mind.” Patty expounds by saying that the people in Thailand are more laid back, than people in US. She believes people in the US like to act dramatically, especially when it comes to money. She then says that people in Thailand are honest and genuine, while people in the US are not.
Next, Patty was asked, “Is there anything scary or exciting to you about Thailand?” She replies, “There is one thing that has happened in my life and it’s about Jesus.” Upon further inquiry, Patty reveals a sign that she received from Jesus verifying that he was real. She states that one day while she and her friends were waiting for a bus, she prayed the following prayer, “Jesus if you are real, make the bus come now and I will believe in you.” She says the next thing that happened was that the bus actually did come, even though it was not scheduled to arrive for twenty more minutes. Her friends told her they saw it too, so Patty is no longer a Buddhist, she is currently christian.
Found online in the student research center, at Northampton Community College’s library database, 95% of all the Thailand is buddhist. The other 5% are Muslim. There are also some Hindu and Christian communities. For Patty, although the decision to choose to believe in Jesus was based in hard evidence, it is doubtful that her family shares in her optimism of Christianity.
This story uncovered the most fundamental difference between the US and Thailand. In Thailand, the freedom of choosing ones own religion is not part of their culture. Speaking from experience, in the US, it is commonplace for a man or woman to adopt a religion of their own choosing in the United States after the child has become old enough. There are a hundreds if not thousands of different religion choices available in the United States.
Conversely, in Thailand, the buddhist religion dates much further back in time then Christianity. Therefore making Thailand a country rich in tradition, and ancient spiritual practices. Surprisingly, a country so rich with heritage, has many problems because of this cultural lack of faith based options.
Because Thailand is 95% Buddhist, there is much discourse between the Buddhist monks, and the 5%, Muslim population. According to an article in Time International, most westerners view Buddhism as a spiritual path to enlightenment through meditation and prayer, not violence and attacks. Regarding the American perception of Buddhism, the author, Hannah Beech writes, “Our image of a clash of civilizations does not include renegade buddhist monks”(Beech, 2007). A choice, which most every American receives, either when its his/her time to leave the parents domicile, or before, to practice a religion of their choosing, therefore has a proven peaceful effect on its citizens.
Focusing on the differences between society in Thailand and America. The largest distinction is that 95% of Thailand is the same religion. This creates social unrest and violence in the streets of Bangkok. On the contrary, in America, there are so many choices of religion, that it would be almost pointless for any one of them, to raise arms against another. This would just prove that religion to be hypocritical in the countries eyes and would probably be the end of the income for that branch of religion.
Another difference is the average amount of income varies greatly between these two countries. American earns more money per day on average than a Thai employee or business owner. Patty tells us that when she was growing up, her family was not paid per hour, but by each garment they designed. The more complex the design then you got the most money. Patty says,” Around 20 years ago you got 3 dollars, or 90 baht for a design.” This being true, it would take a person to design 1000 complex garments to make 3000 dollars, and making a dress by hand can take up to a few days or even a week. twenty years ago in America, one could easily earn forty thousand dollars a year working only 40 hours a week. Upon further discussion, a very uncomfortable topic was briefly discussed.
A typical American, if they have pets, usually end up caring for a cat at some point throughout their life. In Thailand, there is little concern for owning pets. Because of the population density combined with lower incomes, the average Thai is more concerned with putting food on the table, than buying food for a domesticated animal. Therefore many consume the animals that Americans have domesticated. According to Patty, cats are not respected or treated humanely in Thailand. In her words they are, “Kicked to the curb.” In many overpopulated countries in the it is common to eat the animals instead of care for them as pets.
After hearing this, the realization that the world is a very large and diverse place occurred. Through researching some photography of Thailand, most of the country appears to look like a paradise, of course, neglecting the busy city of Bangkok. Patty also states that the Thai people are generally more laid back than Americans, especially about money. She also believes that Thai people are more genuine than Americans she has met.
In her own words, she says, “Americans are good at acting, they can make you feel right along with them.” This may something to do with the amount of time the average american, from 2 years old, until death, spends glued to the television, watching actors all day long. Due to the warm weather, and scenic surroundings, Thai’s spend their time outdoors on the beaches or in the mountains, not in front of computers or TV screens.
Although there are many cultural differences between Thailand and America, people all over the world are still interested in being as happy as possible. Everyone everywhere, is in a constant search for their own version of happiness. Sadly, some people’s version of happiness is killing others because of their religious differences. In countries where there are many religions to choose from, there seems nothing more than quarrel between the two, barring the occasional violent outbreak. Although religious differences may become violent, in America it has never resulted in a large scale attack or civil war, incited from within its borders.
Wherever there are people, there will always be human will competing for control of the other. Part of our human condition is that we all secretly, or overtly, wish to be in control of other people, places, or objects. This is ever-present in all the worlds affair’s. Even, in a place as beautiful as Thailand, parents still have to force their children to go to school, and don’t want them mixing with other religions. With over 18,000 buddhist temples, some of them made from gold, there are still violent outbreaks involving renegade Buddhist monks and Muslims. In a land with mountain ranges topping off around 9000ft, thousands of people living near the beach were injured or killed, by the Tsunami in 2004.
No matter what location you are on this earth, there will always be problems within societies and different cultures. Overpopulation, poverty, childhood drug use, prostitution, communism, religious differences, and lack of resources, are just a few of the possible maladies a culture may endure. For a country like Thailand, with golden Buddhas, and beachfront property that only the richest Americans can dream of, the old adage; all that glitters is not gold, would be appropriate to best describe Thailand, The United States, and surely many other countries in the world.
Thailand (country).” Encyclopedia. World News Digest. Infobase Learning, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. .
Prasartritha, T., Tungsiripat, R., & Warachit, P. (2008). The revisit of 2004 tsunami in Thailand: characteristics of wounds. International Wound Journal, 5(1), 8-19.
Maikaew, P. (2014, November 5). Rolls-Royce sales on a roll. Bangkok Post. Thailand. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2014, from http://www.worldbank.org/en/
Beech, H., & Horn, R. (2007). Stupa and State. Time International (South Pacific Edition), (19), 51.