Saturday, 23 February 2008

The problem with "no problem"!

So – we’re back from diving! Well actually we’ve been back for a few days now but I’ve been busy working on another project so the blog (sadly) had to take a back seat...

I will be posting a review and some photos of our trip to the Similans – but I’m waiting for Paul to find the time to go through his photos! He’s also taken some great shots of some of the nature around here and other bits and pieces on the island... All coming soon!!

So – back to the topic in hand – The problem with “no problem”!....

A couple of posts back I wrote about the “cool heart of Thailand” and the Thais’ philosophy of “mai pen rai” or “no problems”...

My previous post painted quite a rosy picture, but naturally there are a number of drawbacks that stem from the “no problems” attitude to life.... What if there actually is a problem that needs resolving?

Upon our return to Koh Lanta we experienced a scenario which highlighted to us – that just because the locals may say “no problem”, it doesn’t actually mean that there isn’t a problem...

We arrived at the North of the island from our ferry, and needed to get a taxi down to Kan Tiang Bay in the south of the island. Most of the taxi drivers were insisting on double the fare that we had been told we should pay, so we were bartering our way around the many taxi touts who were swarming like wasps around the fresh tourists who had just stepped off the ferry.

We were just starting to get agitated by the swarms who seemed set on getting double the fare, when we clocked a very quiet and calm looking tuk tuk driver, just sitting on his bike – waiting for customers. We asked him how much and he agreed straight away to take us for the price we knew was the “right” price.

Then it occurred to us that we had two sets of diving equipment, luggage for two people for a week, and of course, two bodies... I sensed a problem... Tuk Tuks on Koh Lanta are basically little carriages attached to the side of a moped – and the road to Kan Tiang Bay – is very hilly!!! Would the load be to heavy for the tuk tuk to bear?

“Aaahhh – but very heavy!” I said in a concerned manner to the tuk tuk driver.

“Mai pen rai!” he smiled gently....

We deliberated for a while – but it was hot, we were tired, so we decided to go for it..... The driver had said that the weight wasn’t a problem, so we trusted that he had obviously managed such a heavy load as far as Kan Tiang Bay before....

ha ha ha – how wrong could we be... half an hour later and we were pushing the tuk tuk plus the driver, plus our luggage up a steep hill in 35 degrees sweltering heat....

Still, throughout the whole “adventure” the driver remained gentle looking, calm, and determined, and I felt sorry that his tuk tuk hadn’t made it up the hill!! When we arrived in Kan Tiang Bay, I decided to give him a tip simply because I found his manner so endearing... when I gave him the money, he smiled.... “No money” he said, and showed me the contents of his money pouch – it was empty...

It was then that we realised that this gentle man really needed to make this trip to Kan Tiang Bay... even though it was unlikely his bike would make it, and it was unlikely he would make a great deal of profit from it – taking petrol into account, and even though it could possibly have ruined the engine of his bike... he needed the money...

This particular example highlights the poverty and struggle that many of the Thais are faced with, but also pulls back the cover and begins to reveal the trouble behind the "mai pen rai" attitude. The problem with “no problem” can be far more serious than pushing a tuk tuk up a hill... The opportunity that it provides to “bury” problems can easily lead to an inability to recognise and deal with issues that actually are a real problem.... if you couple this with the “chai yen yen” , “calm down” “cool heart”, you can see the potential for a scenario where a Thai person may struggle to even face a problem, let alone deal with it. The problem therefore persists, but if they express their frustrations, they lose face... the result – constant escapism and suppressed anger – likely to explode if poked in the wrong way!!

Don't get me wrong, I love the Thai mentality from my experiences to date, but I can see the potential fallout. East and West are complete opposites, as are the mentalities of the people who dwell there. It seems to me that there is a lot we can learn from each other to strike a balance, and find a healthy middle ground....

This article was inspired by Pod, who quite rightly removed my rose tinted glasses! Thanks Pod!

1 comment:

Thai QA said...

Yep, mai pen rai is fine for the beach when you want to kick back and relax but it can be a real pain in the butt trying to meet deadlines when all around you subscribe to the mai pen rai mentality and persist in telling you to jai yen.
Glad you got back from diving safely. Hope we see some good pics soon.