Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Lynn's Trip to Thailand part 2: Ah, Phuket!

As near as I can tell from this writing, the joke on how “Phuket” is pronounced is a pretty common one. The most surprising part of this is that Lynn Johnston would make a joke about it, since there is a good portion of her audience who would find the “F” word to be offensive. I get the feeling that real-life Lynn may be a little more profane with her language than Elly Patterson, although considering last Sunday’s strip involving all the stars, saturns and exclamation points; maybe not.

The flight to Phuket from Bangkok is only about an hour long, but there are many flights a day- mostly 747s and they're all full. From the air you can see the great wetlands change to hills and then craggy mountainous terrain. Islands pop out of the sea like poker chips on end, and countless bays cut into the shoreline making this part of the country look like a pirate's paradise. The huge cliffs make this a climbing destination, but from what I can see of the tourist crowd, it's beer and beaches that get the most attention!

Bangkok Airways or Thai Air International flies from Bangkok to Phuket. Checking Expedia, I see that every single flight of Bangkok Airways is on an Airbus Industrie plane, while Thai Air International splits time equally between Airbus and Boeing 747. Obviously Lynn flew Thai Air International and drew her usual conclusions based on limited evidence. And finally our first reference to beer, but not to Lynn drinking it. What is wrong with her?

You hear every language here. Just because someone looks North American doesn't mean he speaks English, but English seems to be the one unifying tongue and is used for ordering food and chatting up hotel staff. The funny part is the accents! Someone with a pronounced German accent trying to understand someone with a thick Thai accent can result in some great bouts of confusion- all of which adds to the flavor of this soup.

The languages native to Phuket are (according to this website) Moken, Moklen, Thai Southern, and Urak Lawoi’. Clearly, Lynn is not talking about the language of the natives, which is made more evident by the phrase, “looks North American”. She is talking about the language of the tourists. I presume by “looks North American”, Lynn means “looks like me.” Looks like a Lynn, must talk like a Lynn. Can that really be what she was thinking? As for English being the unifying tongue, I refer to this message from this on-line source:

Do people speak English in Phuket?

As a truly international resort, you will find that English is widely spoken by most who involve in the tourist industry albeit at differing levels of competency, and you will find that communication with Thai people is mostly a delight - with the exception only of the most hardened workers in the tourist industry.

In other words, Lynn has come to the mistaken conclusion English is the one unifying language on Phuket, Thailand's No. 1 Resort Island. This is a strange conclusion for someone who has visited resorts before and should be well-aware of the language requirements for employment in the tourism industry.

They say there was an indigenous population in Thailand; very short, dark people and when the tin mines flourished, many mainland Chinese who came to work here decided they liked the place and the people and stayed. They eventually intermarried and created a new culture and a new language. The Thai people are proud of their unique mix and their diversity. Their alphabet is totally different from anything we're familiar with and I have to say- all the Asian lettering is a graphic artist's dream!

As she did with her trip to Oaxaca, Lynn Johnston cannot help but recount her understanding of the local history. As with the Oaxaca blog entries, she prefaces it with the words, "They say", which means, "If you correct me on my errors, it's not my fault, you picky faces. It's their fault." As you can from this history of Thailand and this history of Phuket and this history of Thailand mining, Lynn has gotten the history of Phuket and the history of Thailand mixed. Nothing new there. The history of Thailand begins with the migration of the Tai- Lao speaking people from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Phuket was the place for the early tin mining, and apparently Thailand’s tin mining industry occurred much later. It doesn’t appear that either the indentured servants brought to Phuket or the Tai- Lao speaking people came there because they wanted to work.

Something of interest: There are 3 sexes here: male, female and in between. Spectacularly beautiful young men with coiffed hair and long manicured fingernails greet you in the hotels and garment shops along with the rest of the staff. Acceptance is everywhere, but there is still an underlying resentment that makes it difficult if not impossible for these people to get higher education and well paid jobs. They are left to seek work in the entertainment business or the sex trade and cannot get legitimate passports if they become transgendered. Still, they are a colorful and attractive part of Thailand and with luck, the politics will change.

Lynn Johnston is speaking about the ladyboys or katoeys. This person has an interesting opinion on the subject. Going to my good friend Wikipedia, it appears that Lynn Johnston is referencing the fact that katoey work in predominately female occupations and in 1993 Thailand's teacher training colleges had implemented a semi-formal ban on allowing homosexual (which included katoey) students enrolling in courses leading to qualification for positions in kindergartens and primary schools. This ban was rescinded later following the replacement of the Minister of Education. Other than that, I wasn't able to find any specific evidence to confirm or deny Lynn's claims about higher education and well paid jobs. The people I know locally in Arizona didn't have that difficulty and it appears Thailand is far more open about this than the United States. I have my doubts about Lynn's opinion.

According to this article, the katoeys are trying to get recognized as a separate gender for the purposes of legal recognition to be a part a new constitution. “Male, female or other” is the phrase used in the article. This is unlike North America, where the preference of the people I know would be to be called “she”.

The taxi ride in from the airport took about 40 minutes. The route is rural and rustic and looks somewhat like Mexico, but far more lush and green. Little of the classic Asian architecture is left here. It's mostly modern buildings with glass fronts, big box stores and Starbucks. There is nothing outstanding yet about Phuket province. Tiny shops along the streets, narrow 3 story buildings, grey with the dampness in the air accompany us to the turnoff to Kata where we'll stay for a few nights. Travelling with carry on gives you a lot of freedom and spontaneity....and I'll write more tomorrow!

Judging from the history of Phuket I linked above, this is not really a place for classic Asian architecture. The history talks about the great things done to recover the area after the tin mining destroyed most of it and how the only great structures were the homes of tin mine owners. As for Kata, I think Lynn is talking about the Kata Beach resort area. I have no idea what she means about freedom and spontaneity when you are traveling with carry on if you are riding in a taxi to a place only 40 minutes away from an airport.

Looking at what I have written above, it appears the bulk of it is my trying to explain what it was Lynn Johnston was saying. This is worse rambling than the Oaxaca trip Blog entries and the pictures don't even go along with what she is writing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, that "classic Asian architecture"!

I enjoy viewing it while eating that "Vaguely ethnic food", then go home to my hotel and watch that "Dubbed Western Import Series"!

Good grief, she's on a vacation in Meaninglessville.

5:40 PM  
Blogger DreadedCandiru2 said...

Well, the passive-aggressive whining that she ain't in Beijing at least livens up her not getting how stupid her remarks about social conditions that confuse her sound and talking about beer.

3:49 PM  
Blogger howard said...

I wonder how Katie and Lane will take this stuff when they read it. Of course, Katie has had to deal with her mother's indirect opinions of her in her comic strip for 30 years now, so my guess is she might be used to it.

4:39 PM  

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