The NYT/IHT has an in-depth story describing how life — and political views — have changed in the Thai countryside over the last 50 years:
As campaigning for the national election Sunday entered its final days, there was broad consensus that rural votes would be crucial in deciding the outcome. But no one is quite sure what rural means anymore.
The piece covers a lot of ground, but one element that may be of particular interest is the description of villagers’ international experiences:
Villagers here complain of slow Internet download speeds. On a single street that winds past rice paddies, residents tell of work stints in Taiwan, Singapore, Israel and Saudi Arabia, enough frequent-flier miles to rival the inhabitants of a tony Bangkok condominium.
Every family has someone who has gone to work in Bangkok or abroad, says Nirand Nammontri, the owner of a grocery store in Baan Nong Tun who built her house with money that her husband made working at a printing factory in Taiwan.
LAWA, THAILAND — The villagers in this poverty-stricken farming community are passionate about their food, especially the traditional varieties of fermented fish that one aficionado describes as tasting like heaven but smelling like hell.
It can be a fatal attraction, medical researchers say. The raw fish that is so avidly consumed in the stilt houses that sit among rice paddies and wetlands of the country’s northern provinces contain parasites that can accumulate in the liver and lead to a deadly cancer. Known as bile duct cancer, it is relatively uncommon in most parts of the world but represents the majority of the 70 liver cancer deaths a day in Thailand, according to Dr. Banchob Sripa, the head of the tropical disease research laboratory at nearby Khon Kaen University.
From the Jan. 29 NYT: Serious in Singapore. Includes observations on economics, public policy, education, and more:
I am in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighborhood of Singapore, and the principal, A. W. Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class. All the 11-year-old boys and girls are wearing junior white lab coats with their names on them. Outside in the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a “crime scene” and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered. The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the students into little C.S.I. detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.
I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade. When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said no. She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the same direction early. A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent — but impressed.
This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between “what world am I living in,” “where is my country trying to go in that world” and, therefore, “what should I teach in fifth-grade science.”
I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in U.S. politics today. Republicans favor deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defense budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation’s priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.
Showcase: Forgotten Elephants [Lens Blog — NYTimes.com] — "Once the revered symbol of Thai culture, the backbone of industry and the protector of the country’s sovereignty during war, elephants now wander the streets of Bangkok, reduced to providing rides for tourists and helping their owners beg for their next meal."
Is Britain really like The Wire? [BBC} — "It's a TV series featuring murderous villains, cynical politicians and corrupt, lazy detectives. Fans of The Wire say it's a realistic portrayal of American poverty, violence and hopelessness. But what, if anything, do the mean streets of Baltimore, Maryland, have to do with Britain?"
Over at the New York Times’s Travel Q&A Blog, David G. Allan recently pointed out some resources for two inexperienced travelers coming to Thailand. I was happy to see that my Khao San Road story was among the highlighted articles.
I am 18 and not a terribly experienced traveler. I have traveled in the United States, Spain and Portugal. This May a friend and I are braving our way to Thailand. The tickets have been purchased, but the itinerary is not yet set, and we have our anxieties, as do our mothers. Do you have any advice on where to go? We are doing the trip on a budget, and we are looking for a very cultural, and exciting, experience.
Thailand is quite safe in terms of crime, very inexpensive and culturally exciting. You should have an experience that eases your (and your mothers’) anxiety by sticking to well-worn travel paths yet avoiding any elements that cater to foreign tastes in illicit sex or drugs (which is strictly prosecuted).
You will no doubt fly into Bangkok, and you should stay long enough to visit such sites as the Grand Palace and Wat Arun and take a boat ride along the Chao Phraya. If you want to meet fellow backpackers, you might explore Khao San Road as Newley Purnell did in “A Hippie Haven Goes Upscale” (Aug. 19, 2007). For good (and inexpensive) food options, read “Street Smarts in Bangkok” (Jan. 6, 2008) by Joshua Kurlantzick, and for a glimpse into the lives of the city’s up-and-coming artists, read “To Be Young and Hip in Bangkok,” by Matt Gross (Nov. 20, 2005)…