January 29, 2013

this is not paradise

These past few weeks I’ve been told, from my friends mostly, that I’m living in paradise. That I've escaped the brutality of Canadian winter and the buffoonery of Rob Ford (for now, at least). I could write even more things that make me happy about being in Thailand. I could. But I won’t. Because there are plenty of corners of the internet (ahem, every travel blog ever) that will tell you why it’s better to be “there” than “here.”

I just have a few gripes with that word, paradise. Mostly because I don’t know what it is. Do you? Is it something you know when you see, feel, etcetera it? Maybe it’s too otherworldly, the can’t-put-into-words kind of experience. Or maybe it’s whatever, as long as you’ve fled the harsh realities of a world that is moving too fast for you. If that’s it, then I haven’t fled far enough.

Thailand has harsh realities of its own, too, that make it no paradise. So I didn’t feel like taking up space by writing another list of ten things that are awesome about Thailand. I’ll save that space for more important things like another Ryan Gosling meme (there’s just not enough, you know).

Instead, I’ll write a list of exactly three things, in my eyes, that make Thailand not so awesome:

1. Domestic violence is so widespread and it seems nobody wants to do a thing about it. Women don’t want to admit it when it happens. People don’t want to acknowledge it when they see it. Thai police don’t get involved because to them, it’s not a crime unless there’s a body. In fact, the receptionist at the magazine I’m interning at has fled the city in fear of her life after her husband beat the shit out of her. Broken nose, bruised face, in every sense of “beat the shit.” I don’t know if she has help. I don’t know if she’s safe. “I don’t know” is what you’ll hear a lot of in Thailand when you ask anyone about this subject.

2. As much as I hate a generalization, there’s a reason they call Thailand the world’s brothel. People exploit and sell children for sex because they can exploit and sell children for sex. Laws are lax because the money rolls in, or the money rolls in because the laws are lax. Whichever. There’s not much more I can say about this that one of my editors hasn’t already said.

3. Recently, a journalist was sentenced to 11 years in prison for criticizing the King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Actually, he criticized the law that makes it illegal to criticize the King. I know the royal family is much beloved by Thais, and maybe rightly so, but if you can’t even have a meaningful discussion about the head of your state, forget it, you don’t have a scrap of human rights without free expression.

I know that I’m as likely as any wandering foreigner to think that the Western way is the right way. You can tell me that this is the “culture” and this is “how it’s done” so revel or reject, just take your disconcerted views elsewhere. How na├»ve. I will criticize Thailand like I criticize Canada. Because faking paradise is dumb.

Instead of pretending these problems aren't real, I would much rather indulge in Thailand's imperfections. Imperfections are what make something, or someone, more appealing, like a book that’s peeking out from the shelf, or the crack in the cup, or the bad boy. We all are naturally drawn to imperfections. Thailand may be damaged, but I love it because it’s so wrong for me.

Sorry, I didn’t find paradise, just displaced reality. And I’m okay with that if you are. Also, I read The Beach. I know what happens when you find paradise. Really awful things.