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Decency drowns in a culture without a sense of shame

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Another interesting opinion article by K. Voranai in the Bangkok Post

Can't get through the front door because of the flood? No problem. Paddle your boat to the side, climb up to the roof, remove the tiles, make a hole and drop down into the bedroom.

Perhaps tie a rope around your waist, then drop down like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, playing the theme music in your head while you're at it. It's exciting stuff.

Once inside, steal everything.

That's one of the many looting stories from the southern provinces that have been experiencing heavy flooding.

One Japanese rubber factory offered a reward for its missing goods that were carried away by floodwaters. But that's not good enough. Locals who found the goods haggled with the factory, wanting more cash. After all, it's hard work finding other people's stuff.

The flood perhaps drowned any sense of shame they might have had.

Meanwhile, in tsunami and earthquake ravaged Japan, when locals find goods that don't belong to them, they go to the trouble of creating a makeshift lost and found.

Cultural difference? You tell me.

On a visit down south last Sunday, Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn told flood victims to look to the people of Japan as a model for how to cope with hardship.

No one can disagree with the sentiment, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.

Why do we, citizens of a proud nation, have to look to another people and another culture to find a role model for such seemingly basic human traits as discipline and common decency? Does this mean we shouldn't be so proud of ourselves?

Of course, the typical haughty middle or upper class Bangkokian might scoff: ''It's just those chao ban [you know, prai or peasants]. That's what they are, what can we expect of them?''

But that's a bit too convenient, isn't it? Can we really blame social class, a matter of ''breeding''? For the life of me, the only difference I see between the poor looting in times of natural disaster and the well-to-do cheating in business and in politics is that the latter is a more lucrative practice, year-round.

If poverty makes the poor steal thousands, then does wealth makes the rich steal millions? We don't steal out of necessity; we steal out of greed, whether we are princes or paupers.

And then we are able to live with ourselves, because we lack shame.

It's doubly baffling for a culture that puts ''image'' on a golden pedestal to be so thick-skinned when it comes to lying and cheating _ even rounding it all off with a staunch denial. But that too is because of the lack of shame.

Before we go on, let me make something clear. It is because I love my country so dearly that I criticise her so passionately. It is because I want the best for her so sincerely that I champion her cause so resolutely.

But too often when we criticise Thailand, we become targets for the anger of those who love this country so superficially and defend her so blindly. Consequently they allow her to drown in her flaws so helplessly.

Is that fair enough?

I teach fourth-year students at one of the country's top universities. A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the international workplace and different work cultures. I asked them to list the traits of the Thai work culture.

Lazy was the first description sung out, followed by guilty giggles. Then they had a bit of problem, not knowing what else to say. So I encouraged them by saying that none of them had ever actually worked before, so they probably wouldn't know. But I told them to think of it this way: In a society, the classroom reflects the workplace. The workplace reflects politics. Politics reflects culture. Culture reflects family. Family reflects classroom.

It's the circle of life; the values are all the same. We are who we were raised to be. We retire as who we strived to be. And then we go to the cremation vault _ ashes to ashes, dust to dust _ leaving a legacy of what we were for later generations to either enjoy or suffer, most likely a bit of both.

So, I said, whoever you are in the classroom, dear students, is pretty much who you will be in the workplace, and what you will leave for your children later in life.

That made things easier and the descriptions started to flow: never on time, missing deadlines, afraid of speaking out, taking the easy way out even if it's the wrong way - and all the rest of the usual suspects we have heard of before. Guilty giggles all around, until I had to cry out: By the gods, is there not one good thing you can say?

Guilty giggles once again, and the word ''family'' finally came up. In the classroom, in the workplace, in society and yes, even in politics, we treat each other like a family. We look after each other and we take care of each other. We are pi and we are nong.

It's a warm and fuzzy feeling of brotherly love and stability, of knowing there's always someone you can depend on who will stand up for you. It's a cultural trait that we displayed honourably on a national level after the 2004 tsunami when the people _ from the rich to the poor _ united to help the ravaged provinces.

But it's a double-edged sword. Because we also tend to cheat and be corrupt together like a family, because how could we not spread the grades and the wealth among family?

The ''guilty giggles'' are key to this story. If we are to look at cheating and corruption as the disease, thick skin and denial as the pigheaded symptoms, then perhaps the cure is a sense of shame.

Those guilty giggles show that the students have a sense of shame, which should be fostered. Those who are thick of skin and dense in the head can only see Thailand as it is portrayed in tourist brochures and refuse to accept any other version. Well, I don't write tourist brochures.

I'm no stranger to the disease and the symptoms. There was a time when this writer was young and foolish, as opposed to being in his thirties and foolish.

On one occasion, I was pulled over by a traffic cop for a violation. He asked for my driver's licence. I shrugged and dropped the rank of ''my father, the general''. The traffic cop shrugged, saluted and waved me to drive on.

For the first few seconds, I felt big and proud. But a few seconds later, I was overcome by a sense of shame. The general didn't raise his son to be like this, to be so shameless.

Ever since, a traffic ticket is something that must be taken like a man, which means dragging my lazy behind to whichever precinct and paying the fine.

A sense of shame is something the rich and poor can and should have in common, and it can be fostered at any age.

To put things into perspective, generally speaking we are no better or worse than other cultures. The Japanese triple disaster is definitely a unique case. Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, showed that even citizens of one of the most advanced countries are capable of widespread looting. And of course, like haughty Bangkokians, there were haughty Americans pointing at the race and social background of the looters, instead of taking responsibility collectively as a united people, as neighbours and countrymen.

From the most developed of democracies to the staunchest bastions of authoritarianism, corruption in business, in politics and in society exists.

Everywhere in the world, the sense of shame could use some fostering.

But there's a reason why _ from scientific surveys and polls to gossips and rumours _ Thailand has a reputation as one of the more corrupt countries in terms of business, politics and society. And we have to take responsibility for our country.

What we need in this society is to foster the sense of shame, to admit wrong, to develop the courage to speak out and condemn what is wrong and to love one's country sincerely enough to make things right.

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Read it x 2 and I don't disagree with Vorania this time and it was VERY interesting point ---->

On a visit down south last Sunday, Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn told flood victims to look to the people of Japan as a model for how to cope with hardship.

No one can disagree with the sentiment, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.

Something like this happened in Thailand way too many times. I remember a TG flight to EU crashed in Augthong province (many years ago), many people die, many locals went to victims luggage and took whatever they can without helping those victims.

I remember an accident on the road to Puket many many years ago and it happened because some greedy locals put big rocks on the high-way. The mini-bus that carries journalists of a well-known Thai magazine flipped over then some locals arrived, not to help but to take money, clothes, cameras and whatever they can. One Thai journalist was badly injured, those victims asked them to call polices or hospitals, none helped them. The journalist die!! ;(

How can we say we are Buddhism?? What is the point of having those huge Buddha images all over the country?? Why some of us are so shameless and greedy??? ....

There were lots more I can tell but I leave it for now.....

Edited by pandorea

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I read the article, and then thought to check in here, for sure someone will have posted it. Pandorea your post reminds me of a guy I know in Phuket. He was speaking to his wife on his phone on the main Phuket highway (on a Harley, pulled over to the side of the road). Two kids on a chicken-masher sped into him, and a glancing blow removed his his right leg below the knee. He was lieing on the roadside screaming, a lady pulled up on a bike. She picked up his phone, redialled his wife to tell her what was happening, and then put the phone in her pocket and drove off. Amazing eh?

Now he plays golf every day, and is a most improved player ;)

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An amazing piece overall. It is 10,000 more times powerful when it comes directly from a Thai. I really loved this point:

The Japanese triple disaster is definitely a unique case. Hurricane Katrina, which hit New Orleans in 2005, showed that even citizens of one of the most advanced countries are capable of widespread looting. And of course, like haughty Bangkokians, there were haughty Americans pointing at the race and social background of the looters, instead of taking responsibility collectively as a united people, as neighbours and countrymen.

The Japanese are a culture that is hard to understand in a completely opposite way. I'm sure there is some looting and stealing going on there, but there is a general feeling of shame which makes their reactions superior. Regarding America, what he said is exactly what we did. We blamed it on race and social background...calling it un-American. It puts things in perspective, which I'm grateful for. It's hard to compare the USA to Thailand because of vast differences in history, culture, and most importantly, sheer size (5,000 kilometers from California to New York), but he makes an awesome point. When Katrina happened, the shame was on black people, poor people, and a sad government. The shame wasn't on America as a whole...at least that's how us Americans saw it. ;)

Countries are built on patriotism, something of which I think the USA and Thailand have too much of because it's turned into blind patriotism. Other countries are guilty of this too. I just love the way that Voranai pointed out the similarities about what sucks about Thailand AND the USA. I want to take the guy out for beers.

On a related side note...his father is a fucking general!! That's why he is well-educated AND able to publicly speak his mind about Thailand in English. Awesome.

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couldn't read all of rob (basically a lazy B) but i got the gist of it. a very good read and well written. i like the sentiments of the students. how do you change a national culture? its got to come from within i.e. they want to change. do they really want to change? if corruption is in the highest ranks (politicians and government), surely its got to be in the lower ranks also. if its easy to get money by corruption and everyone is doing it, why shouldn't the lower class want to get into the action also. its one thing to say "i am a very devout buddhist" or say we as a country are buddhist, but if you don't follow the teachings and use them as your guide thru life, you may as well be an athiest. if there is no respect for your fellow man (woman), anarchy isn't far away.

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I find it interesting that he uses the word "shame." Because when you really think about it, that's what it comes down to. We all talk about many of the things we dislike about Thailand, the corruption, the lying, etc, etc, but when you really, really look at what's behind it all is the fact that there's no shame. Yes, face is important but since money washes away all sins it doesn't matter how you get the money.

Obviously, not all Thais are brought up this way but by the same token is there a single farang living here who hasn't been ripped off by a Thai that they had considered trustworthy? No, not your tuk-tuk or ping ping show upstairs scams. I'm talking about Rob getting ripped off for 50,000 baht by someone he's known for several years, trusted, and sent (probably) millions of baht in business to. I'm talking about the guy who let a supposedly "good friend" stay at his apartment while he was away on business in Singapore because she had no money and no place to stay and coming home and finding she had sold all of his shit.

Even look at something as simple as the idiots who stand right in front of the doors at the BTS blocking the people from getting out. I guarantee if people started saying, "Hey, fuckhead, move! People can't get off the train if you're standing there you fucking retard!" people would quit doing it. Being called an idiot in public or having people embarrass you is a strong deterrent.

But like Johnno says, it starts with the individual. Every time you look the other way and don't say anything, you're actually contributing to the problem. By not saying anything, by not causing them shame, you are making it that much easier for the person to continue that type of behavior.

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Two stories I read recently...

In Japan, people are handing in large amounts of cash and property they have found after the tsunami.

In Thailand a truck carrying fish overturned and locals came out to steal the fish. When the police tried to intervene, they were attacked and beaten off.

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I find it interesting that he uses the word "shame." Because when you really think about it, that's what it comes down to. We all talk about many of the things we dislike about Thailand, the corruption, the lying, etc, etc, but when you really, really look at what's behind it all is the fact that there's no shame. Yes, face is important but since money washes away all sins it doesn't matter how you get the money.

Obviously, not all Thais are brought up this way but by the same token is there a single farang living here who hasn't been ripped off by a Thai that they had considered trustworthy? No, not your tuk-tuk or ping ping show upstairs scams. I'm talking about Rob getting ripped off for 50,000 baht by someone he's known for several years, trusted, and sent (probably) millions of baht in business to. I'm talking about the guy who let a supposedly "good friend" stay at his apartment while he was away on business in Singapore because she had no money and no place to stay and coming home and finding she had sold all of his ****.

Even look at something as simple as the idiots who stand right in front of the doors at the BTS blocking the people from getting out. I guarantee if people started saying, "Hey, fuckhead, move! People can't get off the train if you're standing there you ******* retard!" people would quit doing it. Being called an idiot in public or having people embarrass you is a strong deterrent.

But like Johnno says, it starts with the individual. Every time you look the other way and don't say anything, you're actually contributing to the problem. By not saying anything, by not causing them shame, you are making it that much easier for the person to continue that type of behavior.

Love your post Bill. Too bad I haven't got reputation points enough to give you. ;) and I totally agree with Johnno. As long as PeeThai keep our mouth shut every time we see something wrong, that means the wrong will continue. Pity!

There was a Thai saying "ชั่วชังชี ดีชั่งพระ" (never mind an immoral nun, never mind a good monk). Basically "Thai" teach "Thai" not to give a **** to whatever other people do. I really want to know who the hack started this saying because it's totally wrong. See what happening in Thailand....shame!!

After this article of Voranai, he's got himself another Thai fan.

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Interestingly, this was one of the comments in the Stickman Weekly post:

Singapore for work, Thailand for play.

I've worked in Singapore off and on for 10 years. I love travel in Asia, but I always feel Thailand is a dodge. I go there to cuddle up in a cheap 5-star hotel, to go to Soi Cowboy for fun, but I do my shopping in Singapore. The way many Thais run a scam on anyone means I can't be bothered to venture beyond Bangkok, where I know I can retreat into the seclusion and comfort of a hotel I can trust. I know the country has beautiful scenery, many friendly people, but knowing I can't go anywhere without having to figure out who is trying to help and who is trying to have me for my money means I don't take the place seriously. Having done some dating over the years, I also feel this applies to some extent to the people. I've had my share of "Oh I am Thai, we do like this", but expect me to run by a very different set of rules. Singapore is nice and easy. It is open, honest and pretty much fair. It hides little and you feel safe. Sure, they might flog you or hang you, but they'll let you know in very clear terms what needs to be done to let it get to that. I like predictability.

This is what I'm talking about when I say this is a major hurdle for Thailand in terms of advancing beyond a third-world or developing country. If this is the impression that people walk away with eventually Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc will seem like much more attractive alternatives.

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Read it x 2 and I don't disagree with Vorania this time and it was VERY interesting point ---->

Something like this happened in Thailand way too many times. I remember a TG flight to EU crashed in Augthong province (many years ago), many people die, many locals went to victims luggage and took whatever they can without helping those victims.

I remember an accident on the road to Puket many many years ago and it happened because some greedy locals put big rocks on the high-way. The mini-bus that carries journalists of a well-known Thai magazine flipped over then some locals arrived, not to help but to take money, clothes, cameras and whatever they can. One Thai journalist was badly injured, those victims asked them to call polices or hospitals, none helped them. The journalist die!! ;(

How can we say we are Buddhism?? What is the point of having those huge Buddha images all over the country?? Why some of us are so shameless and greedy??? ....

There were lots more I can tell but I leave it for now.....

This is a very sad story but unfortunately not a highlight as this is what happens nearly always. And not only in Thailand.

I was told that once you have an accident in Thailand, first thing will be that people take whatever they can from you and only afterwards maybe call an ambulance. One reason why people do not help even if they are not looting victims is that they fear to get involved in the case.

And i also remember that when the Austrian airplane owned by Niki Lauda crashed, investigators from the airline had to pay lots of money to get things back from locals that took them away from the crash site - personal luggage as well as parts of the airplane. So it also was about evidence (in Europe, hampering investigations is a crime as you might know!). And this was not in Thailand but in Malaysia - so same, same????

Normally, these people should face trials, court and imprisonement. But they should know it in advance to make up their mind before creating havoc.

Your question about being or not being Buddhists is more than legitimate, Nicky, although I would say it would count for most of religions. Poverty and selfishness or (even worse!) the concurrence of both of these parameters abet this deplorable habit. in Europe e.g., people for sure would not loot victims of an accident but in several cases it is that nobody helped or called for help.

Edited by kaunitz

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Two stories I read recently...

In Japan, people are handing in large amounts of cash and property they have found after the tsunami.

In Thailand a truck carrying fish overturned and locals came out to steal the fish. When the police tried to intervene, they were attacked and beaten off.

Take the world. There are about 200+ countries in our world.

Similar to Japan, inhabitants of maybe 3 or 4 other countries might act.

Similar to Thailand, inhabitants of about 100 countries might act.

For the rest, people would take the goods or money but not fight police.

Always given that there are personal exceptions in one or the other direction.

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Interestingly, this was one of the comments in the Stickman Weekly post:

This is what I'm talking about when I say this is a major hurdle for Thailand in terms of advancing beyond a third-world or developing country. If this is the impression that people walk away with eventually Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc will seem like much more attractive alternatives.

I think that one of the big problems in Thailand is the general thinking of keeping "peace" which means that even if someone is treated badly, s/he only would complain to friends but never tackle the problem. Therefore, people of bad intention can feel quite safe because they never will face consequences when betraying others.

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I find it interesting that he uses the word "shame." Because when you really think about it, that's what it comes down to. We all talk about many of the things we dislike about Thailand, the corruption, the lying, etc, etc, but when you really, really look at what's behind it all is the fact that there's no shame. Yes, face is important but since money washes away all sins it doesn't matter how you get the money.

As I mentioned in another reply with different words: There is shame but not with those who are doing bad but with those who are affected by bad things others do to them. So the bad guys never or seldom are confronted with the bad things they did so they have an open playground. And they know that.

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Before we go on, let me make something clear. It is because I love my country so dearly that I criticise her so passionately. It is because I want the best for her so sincerely that I champion her cause so resolutely.

But too often when we criticise Thailand, we become targets for the anger of those who love this country so superficially and defend her so blindly. Consequently they allow her to drown in her flaws so helplessly.

Is that fair enough?

didn't see this first time around ... good article !! and i like his point above ... what many Thais don't seem to realize is that criticism can be constructive and not always destructive !!

and if they think we give Thailand a hard time .... they should hear (in the most part) what we have to say about our home countries !!!

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didn't see this first time around ... good article !! and i like his point above ... what many Thais don't seem to realize is that criticism can be constructive and not always destructive !!

and if they think we give Thailand a hard time .... they should hear (in the most part) what we have to say about our home countries !!!

Well, I guess one of the funny parts is that even saying that Thais don't deal with criticism well could be seen as criticism. :-)

As far as what Kaunitz is saying about shame, I'm not sure I agree. What of the girls who sell their asses in Pattaya, Soi Cowboy, Nana, and Patpong? Surely when they go back home to the village during the holidays they have not harmed anyone. By the thousands they take busses back to their home towns wearing shorts that barely cover their ass and tops that give everyone a good look at their breasts and the dragon tattoo running down the length of her back. They sport fancy new mobile phones, maybe even a laptop (for keeping in touch with their customers), and all sorts of riches that even the most brain dead parents should know could not be earned by a girl working a legitimate job.

Do the parents ask where she's getting the money? Probably not. In fact, her show of wealth might even encourage her own parents to demand that she send home more money every month. I mean, how are mom and dad supposed to keep face in the village if they don't have a new car or a new house?

Where's the shame?

Or do they feel pride as they cruise the village in the brand new truck that their daughter has purchased for them selling her body to sweaty sex tourists every night? Isn't that really the reason why they don't ask questions about where the money is coming from?

And it's not just the bar girls. Like Voranai points out, stealing millions while pretending to run a legitimate business (or doing your government job) will never bring shame as long as you have money. Poll after poll in Thailand shows that over 50% of the people are okay with corruption as long as they get something out of it.

Like I said, money washes away all sin in Thailand. Without sin how can there be shame? You can only feel ashamed if you feel what you're doing is wrong. And if having money makes everyone forget what you had to do to get it then shame has no place in your thinking.

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