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Thailand Experiences
The Thai Attitude to Work

If there is work to be done, Thai's do it generally quickly and efficiently. If there is no work, Thai's are very, very good at relaxing, or doing nothing, or sleeping. You will see people asleep in the strangest positions on top of piles of girders, old tires, slumped over cash registers. Their highly flexible bodies and loose ligaments allow them to be comfortable almost anywhere. In the old days, the life of the population was backbreaking work in the fields for most of the year. Any opportunity to relax and take it easy was not to be missed.

Until recently, the vast majority of the population farmed their land, and produced enough food for the needs of the family and with luck enough extra to sell for cash to buy necessities and possibly even a few luxuries. Only a tiny minority of aristocrats and a very few rich, usually Chinese, merchants had enough money to save an appreciable amount. The aristocrats achieved their wealth by taxing the population, which was in theory under their protection.

So the vast majority of the Thai's toiled under the hot sun, and scraped an existence with no thought of much more than survival. Only in the last thirty years or so has the situation changed, money and luxury goods become available to more people, and education opened doors to those who are willing and able to learn the new skills needed in a modern economy. They seem to be excessively good at this. An English farm manager told me that he had worked on land reclamation in the middle east. He had many foreign workers from many cultures to train in the use of highly complex machinery. The Thai workers were much the best, and would only need telling once how to drive and operate difficult vehicles. Perhaps this goes back to their recent need to learn by observation of their parents who could be carried away by disease or other calamity at a young age.

In the old days, most people did not need to consciously learn much. Children went out to the fields with their parents at an early age, and picked up how to be good farmers simply by observing and later copying the older members of the family. By the time they were adults, they knew all they needed to know to survive.

Now, similar changes happened in the west but much more slowly. Western society, then, was able to adjust itself gradually to the new ways. The same changes are happening so rapidly here that one can only marvel at the speed with which the people have absorbed the new ways with so little apparent strain.

Thais, though, have a deep suspicion of change. With a history where any change was likely to be bad farming need stability and continuity change is never, never forced. If it happens, accept it gracefully and make the best of it, but never, never force it. This is perhaps why Thai culture is less creative and innovation than many. In the less reliable weather of the west, it was necessary always to be thinking of what to do if... Here, it was always possible to predict, with a fair degree of accuracy, what the weather would be like next week, next month or next year, so everything was preordained and therefore, nobody needed to think about it.

Thailand now is going through very dramatic changes, with so far customary tolerance and acceptance of what is seen as inevitable. It remains to be seen if the Thai's can continue to bend with the wind without the stresses which are inevitable damaging their culture irreparably.

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