The Looking Glass Magazine

 

America, Land of the Free
 or Land of Overprotection
?
by Jack Corbett

  1. Fact:  A man cannot be a U.S. citizen living year round in Thailand and bring his Thai girlfriend to visit the U.S. with him--if only to visit the Grand Canyon.  But you sure as hell can take her to Vietnam...anywhere, anytime. 


  2.     Jack Corbett

 

You’ve heard it so many times–that America is the Land of the Free, and trust me, you are going to keep hearing it from those so called patriots proclaiming that the U.S. is the best place on earth to live, and that you’d damn well better love it or leave it, (so fuck off and let them do whatever they want to you and stop complaining). So watch out, anytime you hear that kind of talk, you are in the presence of a neo Nazi. It is these kinds of people who brought Hitler to power and who made it possible for the Germans to slaughter millions. If our ancestors talked this way back in 1776 Americans would have been completely satisfied with British rule under King George, there would never have been a Declaration of Independence, an American Revolution or a Fourth of July. We are a police state, and even if it’s not so bad as it was in Nazi Germany when most of Europe trembled underneath the jackboots of the German S.S. , it is a fact. We are a police state especially when you compare living in the U.S. to living in Thailand and perhaps many other countries was well. But never fear, living in a police state has its good points along with its bad. But the thing is, you really have to live in other places to really know the difference. You see, living in the U.S. is like trying to focus in on something with a pair of binoculars from just six inches away. You are simply too close to see anything else but the United States. No other country from this close can be viewed through your lens and even the U.S. is too blurred for you to see it accurately. Truth is, the police are everywhere, and in most cases they are very busy trying to take something away from you–whether it’s your money through fines, court costs (DWI for example) or your freedom by putting you in jail, detaining you from an important appointment, or other infringements upon your freedom.

Driving in Thailand compared to
in the U.S.

Is utterly chaos. Even worse, it’s terribly dangerous. Yet it’s much freer here. I asked my girlfriend, Spicy, how old a boy had to be here to be able to drive after seeing young boys who appeared as young as twelve driving motorbikes home from school. She replied: “Up to the people.” Then she added that children were driving as young as twelve, and that’s when she learned to drive. One soon learns that there are either no rules for drivers or that if there are any no one seems to be paying much attention to them.

There are very few stop lights here in Pattaya. In fact, one can easily drive a mile on a major street without seeing a single light. On Second Road, a major artery that has four traffic lanes it’s all one way. But if you are a pedestrian crossing the street you had better be looking to your left, then your right, then to the back of your head, before starting the process over again before venturing out into the street. Theoretically an exception is made to this one way traffic rule for baht taxis with a single lane being marked off with a yellow line. So when all traffic is heading North a baht taxi (and there are many of them) can head South in this lane. However, motorbike drivers feel that they also have the divine right to drive South in this lane delineated for baht taxis, no matter what the Thai traffic laws say.

And if you think you are safe walking down the sidewalks think again. Once again motorbike drivers think they have more right to the sidewalks than you do. And don’t ever make the mistake you have the right away as a pedestrian. They do for they are bigger than you, and if a Thai driver hits and kills a pedestrian, well, tough shit. He doesn’t have any money anyway. And if for any reason it should ever go to court, it’s going to take about six years or so, and then the pedestrian’s family is going to wind up losing anyway.

The Western or Falang motorbike taxi drivers are just as bad as the Thais. For one thing they seem to be drunk about half the time. And it’s a case of monkey see, monkey do. Here a pedestrian is not even safe on the beach, if he’s on concrete that is. I can’t even count the times I was walking down the beach underneath the palm trees along Beach Road only to encounter a motorbike I had to give up the right away to. I wanted to kick the machine over as it went past me, and I can assure you that in the United States its driver would have been put in jail straight away.

Several days ago I ventured forth on my bicycle for the second time, pedaling from just South of Soi Six on Second Road to the Long Beach Hotel just off Soi 16 in Naklua. Now my bicycle only weighs around 19 pounds and because of this it’s pretty fast. I could nearly keep up with the motorbike traffic and over the long run in Pattaya’s City traffic I could more than match the pace of cars and buses. But I was nearly killed twice inside of twenty minutes.

The first incident was when two motorbike drivers decided they wanted my lane. Now in the U.S. it doesn’t matter if you are driving a motorcycle, car or bicycle. Once you occupy a lane it’s yours and you have every bit of right away to it. So here I’m pedaling along at about twenty miles an hour when I spot two motorbikes converging on me from my left their drivers intent on driving right through me.  Anyway, they didn’t but for a second or two it looked like they meant to collide with me from my left. Which would have meant they never saw me in the first place which is believable.  This is Thailand. It’s the tropics and it’s hot here, so I think a lot of brains get the juice fried out of them during the heat of the day making their owners oblivious to everything that is going on around them.

The second incident was all my fault. But it was because I’m American and we Americans drive on the right side of the road. The Thais like the Brits drive on the left. I had successfully managed to get over to the condos on my bicycle and now I wanted to go back to the Sky-Top Guest House where I’m staying.  It took just a few moments to drive up Soi 16 to Naklua Road which is a four lane street where the traffic flows both ways. Instinctively I looked to my left to see if my lane was all clear to the North. If no cars were coming I could pedal off to my right and head South towards Sky-top.  But now that I think about it I probably was thinking I’d have to get over to the far two left lanes to continue my journey. The problem was that my eyes took in the traffic conditions to my left and I never saw the car heading right at me to my right as I pedaled out into the street. I saw the car when it was just a few feet away and since I wasn’t going very fast on the bicycle I was able to stop on a dime. But I knew I’d have to get further out of the car’s way so as I stopped I jerked the bicycle upwards and away from the car. In that spit second I was able to move the bicycle something like three feet out of the car’s path as I felt the sharp impact of the horizontal aluminum tube of the bike’s frame crunch into the lower part of my groin and ass.

It was only because of my very fast reaction time that I was able to escape death or serious injury. Had I been Thai or an Englishman I would have been watching the traffic to my right in the first place. All of this means being American means driving in Thailand is even more dangerous than it is for most other drivers.

But while on the subject of motorbikes, it’s Songkran that kills more people on motorbikes faster than any single other cause. Songkran is a kind of New Year’s holiday celebrated by the Thais that seems to be loved and loathed in equal measure. The object of the game is to get as many people around you as wet as possible. And what started as a holiday for the Thais has been taken up by visiting Westerners (falang) with a vengeance.  Songkran is celebrated all over Thailand and to some extent by several surrounding countries.  But it’s at its worse or best in Pattaya where it lasts for an entire week reaching its climax on the last day. Every year four or five hundred people are killed during Songkran, most of them on motorbikes.

For a week traffic is jammed up along Pattaya’s main streets. In the last couple of days driving becomes nearly impossible as traffic slows down to a crawl. All along the streets there are what appear to be 55 gallon barrels of water lining the sidewalks as pedestrians scurry about filling up giant squirt guns and plastic jugs from these containers. Meanwhile the same 55 gallon barrels keep coming down the streets in the back of pickup trucks holding four to eight men and women trying to gun down anyone within range with their squirt guns and jugs.

The jugs are the worse because it takes just one person a split second to dump up to a gallon of water all over your head and body. And as thousands of people join together to water down the surging humanity around them, the streets start to run deep with water.

And never mind the fact that Pattaya has a severe water shortage and that Songkran wastes incredible amounts of water. After all, you are free to do pretty much what you please here. In Western countries such as the U.S. government would shut Songkran down simply because wasting such huge amounts of water is not in the public interest at all. Not to mention that Western governments and the people electing them would be horrified by all the carnage caused by so many motorbikes skidding out of control in all that water.

But it seems that Thailand is all about having a good time. And never mind the consequences. Payback will start to arrive a couple months later as Pattaya and the surrounding area starts to dry up. The city is doubling its population every six years, and with the huge amount of construction in new hotels and condos the available water supply is stretched way past its limits. So water needs to be brought in by small trucks carrying large tanks.

Water is supplied by reservoirs nearby. But there is no system in place to collect all that water pouring from the skies into Pattaya’s streets. They might be flooded but most of that water ends up flowing out to sea where it is wasted. Water must pour directly into the reservoirs for it to be useful to the surrounding communities.

One would think that government officials would realize there is a severe problem and do something about it. But if you ask them most of them will say there is no problem and carry on as if everything is just fine. After all, it’s a free country and everyone’s pretty much free to do as they see fit, even those working in government.

Americans feel pretty much forced to be careful out of fear that somebody’s going to sue them for damages. Not here. Not too long ago the strip between Beach Road and the ocean was full of potholes, and even today there are lots of manmade obstructions that can cause a man to trip and hurt himself. Back then there were large holes that had been excavated in order to repair sewer lines, electrical conduits, etc. A twelve year old boy fell in one that was full of water and drowned. There had been no barricades to keep people from walking into it and not as much as a single warning sign. The parents were paid off several thousand baht or so–around a hundred bucks. So that’s what that human life was worth.

Even along some of the busiest streets there’s exposed electrical wiring hanging off utility poles at around the height of a man’s head. One early evening when Spicy and I were walking down Beach Road in a heavy downpour we both felt a charge of electricity coursing through our bodies. In the vicinity there’s a few bits of exposed wire. I still don’t know whether it was a residual charge of lightening that got us or electricity flowing through a wire we got too close to, but I’m betting on the wiring being the cause and the slovenliness and general carelessness of the Thais being the cause.

Living in Thailand can be terribly dangerous in ways that most Westerners cannot even conceive of. After awhile you begin to feel like a rabbit  always having to dodge cars and motorbikes, and that only the smartest and most alert rabbits are going to survive.

There are all these little streets going between 2nd Road and Beach Road each up to two blocks in length. There might be as many as six hundred bar girls filling up the sidewalks and bars lining these Sois with hundreds of Westerners and Thais walking down them. There’s also a lot of baht taxis and cars and even greater numbers of motorbikes pouring down these Sois, their drivers whether Thai or Falang equally oblivious of the fact that they are a total hazard to the people milling about on foot.  But to the mindsets of even many of the falang, what rights does a pedestrian have anyway?  And if one should not be able to get out of a motorbike's way in time, tough shit. Sue me. If you can.

Here you can go to a Go-Go Bar, order a Heineken, and then leave without finishing it. No one will complain if you walk out with the bottle in your hand and into the street where you are free to take it into the next bar with you or drink it as you walk along. I’ve even seen guys drinking their cans or bottles of beer while shopping in large supermarkets. Think you can get away with this in the U.S.? Think again. You will be arrested for disturbing the peace, creating a public nuisance, or some other drummed up charge.

Here prostitution is rampant with thousands of girls working the go-go’s, beer bars, the Beach or practically anywhere they can meet a man with money in his pockets. The going rate is $12.50 for an hour or two with a girl along Beach Road where you will see hundreds in a two mile walk. But this is Thailand.  In the U.S. the police will be out busy making a clean sweep while letting the real criminals go wild.

There’s lots of police out here but they don’t seem to be doing too much of anything. Now don’t get me wrong, when there’s a murder to be solved they seem to be about as effective or ineffective as the police in the U.S. They do seem to take their murders seriously. And they don’t allow any fighting to be going on either.  But in the U.S. you will see police car after police car lined out on the superhighways, each with his latest catch, the hapless motorist he’s caught speeding, making a wrong turn, or who he suspects has had a couple beers or more. In the U.S. they are starting to look like a bunch of black ravens swooping down on whoever they can catch so they can add their share to the money coffers of their state or local government.  And God help you if you should wind up blowing over .08 % alcohol and get a DWI which is going to cost you over $3,000 let alone a possible great loss in your personal freedom.

You are conditioned that whenever you see a police officer to gasp: “Not good.” And you are at least a little bit scared deep inside. But very rarely will you ever see a Thai cop stopping anybody. And as I’ve already explained, there’s one helluva lot more traffic infractions being committed here than in the U.S.  And if you do see a Thai cop checking someone’s drivers license it’s usually a Westerner who’s been stopped out driving his motorbike.  Very seldom will you see a Thai driver being stopped.  But don’t get me wrong, although there’s some obvious discrimination here I only see a Falang being stopped every several days or so.

Recently a law was passed closing all of the bars at 1:00 a.m. But how many times have I sat in bars until 3 or 4 a.m., even later? All they do is to turn the music way down and many of the lights. And keep doing business as normal as the police politely and quietly file past. Here it’s live and let live. Well, almost. More like, as Spicy once put it, “Up to the people’. And if the people want their bars and why wouldn’t they–Thais like to drink too and they certainly like reaping in the profits poured in by thirsty Westerners, then the bars shall remain open like oases out in the desert.

Next door is a bar complex with the worse god awful music in the world. One night they were playing it well past one and the police came to shut it down for the night.  But that was just for once night. After that the bar complex kept playing its music to after two and sometimes as late as three.  It is very loud and awful, as it has to be the worse music I’ve ever heard in Pattaya’s bars.  But it wouldn’t do much good to complain. This is not a police state such as we have in the U.S., and that is both good and bad.

Costs are extremely low here. Food is oftentimes insanely cheap. Medical care is very low. Wages are ridiculous. But there isn’t the extremely high costs built into all goods and services by a very bloated legal system in which practically everyone’s out suing everybody else for practically anything. There’s no social security for people when they get old.  That’s left up to the children to provide, which is priority number one, making sure that Mom and Dad are given as much money and often more than they can afford to pay. The government stays out of it while the family stays very much in.

If a man is shot or even if he falls from a twenty story building to his death, there’s going to be pictures of it in the newspapers and on t.v. and the Internet. And there’s no sparing of all that blood and gore.  But in the U.S. the police and the courts are out to spare the public from having to view all of that.  They must be protected from the realities of life and the carnage of death after all.

Get married in the U.S. and then just see what happens if you decide to get divorced.  And trust me, most Western countries are just about as bad. If you are a man you will probably wind up paying at least 50 % for the worse mistake of your life.  But get married in Thailand...or at least if you get married in a Buddhist ceremony, and your woman stops pleasing you, you can walk and not even have to pay child support let alone alimony.

You used to be able to rake leaves out on the street in the U.S., even in the city, and be able to burn them.  But not anymore. And you can’t even do that out on the farm if you add a rubber tire or practically anything else to the fire.  Instead you have to drop your rubbish off at certain E.P.A. approved places while paying exorbitant prices for such ecologically clean places.

And then there’s all those safety shields on all that equipment you have to buy if you are a farmer.  Tractors have PTO’s, (power takeoffs) sticking out of their transmissions towards the rear.  For years now implement companies have been required to mount safety shields around both the PTO stub shafts coming from tractor rear end’s and the shafts that mount to them attached to such implements as rotary mowers, augers, stalk shredders, etc.  Such pto devices should be greased every four hours or so.  But now the farmer finds them very hard to grease because the safety shields often make it practically impossible for him to reach the grease zerks with his grease gun.

Ptos at the farm can easily take off an arm or a leg. However, most injuries are caused to a man who is foolish enough to leave his pto on while he is stepping across it or trying to work with it with his hands. So government steps in to protect the farmer from himself.  But it makes him far less efficient in doing so.

The classic one very cold winter morning I remember only too well. It was around zero degrees outside and we were delivering corn. The first semi truck was about to arrive at any moment to get a load of corn from one of my grain bins.  I had to move corn from one bin to another bin from which the truck would get its load of corn.  But the belt on the roof auger at the top of the first bin had gotten loose. I went up there with a large crescent wrench around thirty feet up in the air on top of the bin.  It would have taken me just five minutes to tighten that belt. But there was a safety shield fastened around the auger’s tightening belts.  To get the shield off required my completely taking off four bolts and nuts with a smaller wrench than I had brought with me. This required me to climb thirty feet down to my pickup’s tool box, retrieving a couple small wrenches, then climbing the bin’s ladder another time.  And then I still had to remove the four bolts and nuts before I could even begin to tighten the belt by the two large bolts on the auger motor.  What had started out as a fine minute job ended up taking fifteen minutes during which I nearly froze my hands off while almost falling off the slippery bin while doing it.

And I haven’t even touched upon heath care. Which is so heavily policed now and so ravaged by malpractice lawsuits that doctors are now telling their kids–“Do not practice Medicine.  So nothing is left to chance in our hospitals and doctor's offices where countless unneeded procedures are imposed on patients just to cover the health care provider's asses.  No wonder heath care costs in the U.S. are rising 20 % per year.  Meanwhile here in Thailand you can get all kinds of goodies without a prescription. There’s generic Viagra from India. And there’s all sorts of sleeping pills you can get for around two bucks for a small supply. They might be bad for you, but that’s up to you to decide or at least that’s the way the Thais have figured.

But there’s hell to be paid if you are a record or movie company. The latest production of King Kong had been playing at the Big C theater for less than one week at about the same time it was hitting the cinemas in the U.S. Then one night as my girlfriend, Spicy and I sat, at a bar close to Sky-top, a teenage boy came up to us with an assortment of bootlegged DVD’s. This kid had the latest, including a DVD of King Kong which I promptly bought for just 100 baht ($2.50) and which we saw in the comfort of our bedroom the next night. You got to hand it to the Thais. They might not respect the rights of the pharmaceutical companies, film companies, theaters, European watch companies, etc to make exorbitant profits, but they are damn good at copying practically anything and everything to be sold for low prices and which are often of excellent quality. Here you can even buy poor to excellent copies of $3000 Rolex watches at anywhere from $10.00 to $100.00.

In the United States and in the West in general we are a very regimented society where the police seem to be everywhere out collecting hidden taxes for governments unable to live within their means. We live in constant fear of having to pay steep fines or of being sued. But at least we feel reasonably safe while crossing the street.  But land of the free we aren’t.  We are the land of the protected.  Protected by police, governments, and courts all preying on us to get more than their fair share of the action. But this is what we voted for, and are continuing to vote for, so who are we to complain?

 

Click here to watch the Songkran Video, the Thai water
holiday of unrelenting seven day chaos

 

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