Please don't Romanticize the Rustics!
That's what my Chinese wife use to say to me when I lived in Hong Kong and made the mistake of saying really generic nice things about the Chinese farmers or those in what used to be rural areas. Which may be why I can recognize it clearly when some farangs I know in Thailand talk about the Issarn folks and the red shirts as if they are the purest people in the world. Don't misunderstand me: I love Issarn, have been many times and will go again. But I don't place people in rural areas there - farmers or whoever - on a pedestal or see that their main enemy is Big Bad Bangkok. Strangely enough, I notice no one ever romanticizes the rustics in the South, the millions of farmers who voted against Taksin. Curious, no? But, anyway, let's take a look at a few facts. A farang friend married to a Thai living outside Khon Kaen sent me this:
My wife's Papa just ran in the local election for 'Master of the Village' - and he won. Gives him a monthly salary of 8,500 baht a month but the key perk is the ability to rip off a % of every village project. He was paying 1,000 baht per person to get them to vote for him - cost him over 100,000 baht to win the election. Thai politics - gotta love it.
OK, now I think it is important to note that this guy's father-in-law is a very hard-working farmer. That's right, he is a farmer in Issarn and paid other farmers in Issarn to vote him in. Money will be disappearing into his pocket that should have been spent on community projects. The farmers agreed to this for quick cash and had no problem with dare we say "corruption" (gong gin). The farmers in that area all love the red shirts and Taksin. So when these projects cannot be carried out, they will blame Bangkok. But who is to be blamed? Obviously themselves.
Another fact: In Thailand, perhaps especially in Essarn, there is what Thais themselves refer to as the NIGHT OF THE HOWLING DOGS. Kheun Ma Hon. This is when before elections the folks called canvassers trot upcountry with bags full of money to bribe the heads of villages (or feudal lords, if you prefer) for their votes. The dogs don't recognize the strange faces so they bark and howl like hell. Thais - including Essarn Thais - know all about this. In other words, Essarn Thais like all other Thais take the money to vote for someone, rather than vote their conscience. All foreigners have heard the expression, "Thais are the nicest people money can buy." Indeed. So why then do some foreigners talk about corrupt Big Bad Bangkok ripping off those poor Essarn farmers?
Another fact: Have you ever noticed how whenever some idiot pedophile from the West shows up in Southeast Asia there are big headlines when he is caught. But not one word in print about the tens of thousands of Thai family members who do bad things with niece, daughter or sister. I know of girls who were moved to another part of the country to get away from a family member who did or wanted to rape her. In Nakorn Phanom a Thai-speaking foreigner living with his Thai wife and deeply involved in the community told me that kind of thing seemed to be worse up around his area. Why do Thai newspapers say nothing about this?
Another fact: My former girlfriend was from Korat. She was very happy when she came to Bangkok to live. I told her it was postcard perfect up there and folks had a laid-back life, so why would she be happy away from there? She then began to tell me behind-the-scenes horror stories about murders, jealousy, tales of vengeance, and showed me empty houses where the Thai male had caught AIDs and died but not before passing it onto his wife and she died. Tales that made my blood run cold. You may have a girlfriend from Essarn with fewer horror stories to tell but, certainly, there were no blinders in her eyes toward Issarn. They were like everyone else but lawlessness was a bit worse in the countryside, in her opinion.
The bottom line: Thai farmers work their asses off during much of the year and deserve what help they can get from Bangkok and from their community. But until the system changes, which it won't, and until Thais at all levels stop participating in or at least condoning corruption, please don't mindlessly blame Bangkok's government for all the problems and, as my ex-wife would say, please don't romanticize the rustics.
"Greed will be Thailand's epitaph." - Buddhadasa Bikkhu
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