musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Sweet Sixteen

I hadn’t circled the date on my calendar — and actually I can’t remember the exact date — but this week marked the 16th anniversary of my move from the United States to Thailand. Holy jumping sassafras! To say that the time has flown by would be a definite understatement. But even after sixteen years, and a few bumps along the route, I wake up each morning very thankful, and very happy, that I am able to live and work in a magical, tolerant country. This still feels like paradise.


Actually, I haven’t spent the entire 16 years in Bangkok. I moved to Cambodia in 2002 to open a bookshop in Siem Reap. I stayed there for nearly two full years before I felt the tug of Thailand and moved back to Bangkok … to open another bookshop. What’s next? I like challenges and new places, so maybe a bookshop in Mandalay? Hmm. I’d be lying if I said that the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. But reality screams back, telling me that that’s not going to happen: No way, dude! You’re better off staying in Bangkok. At least for now.


I’ve met many other Westerners who have relocated to Thailand. Some of them seemingly had no choice in the matter, having been sent here by their company for work. But many others, like me, moved to Thailand because they became disenchanted with their native country and felt that life in Thailand offered something different and exciting. In other words: something better. Some expats adapt and thrive here in Thailand, but others are bothered by the heat and chaos and can’t ever grasp the differences in culture and language. Still others find that they miss something — or someone — back in their homeland and end up moving back relatively quickly.


Me, I’m sticking it out and staying put here in this comfortably weird corner of Southeast Asia. I constantly follow news reports and get e-mails from friends back in the US, so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what life is like back there. And it scares the hell out of me. Why would I want to go back to that sizzling pu-pu platter of insanity? If anything, a high percentage of Americans have become more intolerant, destructive, angry, and ignorant over the past few years. Looking at the field of pathetic Republican candidates running for president this year is frightening evidence of this downward spiral. How can so many members of the voting public support religious maniacs who spew lies and distortions? One candidate, Rick Santorum, appears to have a particularly bizarre obsession with sex, babbling on and on about what he defines as family values. But he’s a Catholic, those masters of guilt and hypocrisy, so his having such Victorian attitudes toward sex shouldn’t come as a shock. What is shocking, though, is that he has commanded so much support from the American voting public thus far. Then again, considering the warped “morals” of the religious right, Santorum’s views must be in tune with those of their own.


Charles M. Blow wrote an outstanding piece about Santorum’s sexual fixation (frustration?) in the New York Times last week. He used many excerpts from speeches that Santorum has given on the campaign trail to showcase that obsession. Here is one such example:


Santorum: “It comes down to sex. That’s what it’s all about. It comes down to freedom, and it comes down to sex. If you have anything to do with any of the sexual issues, and if you are on the wrong side of being able to do all of the sexual freedoms you want, you are a bad guy. And you’re dangerous because you are going to limit my freedom in an area that’s the most central to me.”


I’m inspired to borrow a portion of Santorum’s rant, change a few words, and throw it back at him:

If you have anything to do with religious issues, and if you are allowed all of the religious freedoms you want, you are a dangerous guy. And you’re dangerous because you are going to limit my freedom.


And these zealots ARE a very dangerous bunch. I think that by embracing religion — specifically Christianity — to such an extreme extent, America has lost its way to the highway and is headed for the ditch. A staggeringly high percentage of Americans think it’s more normal to pray about matters than to think them through logically. But of course logic or intelligence never enters into their thought process. They are more alarmed about premarital sex and gay marriage than the deteriorating environment or the poor quality of public education. Santorum’s mindset, and that of his religious supporters, vividly illustrates what turns me off about America, what scares me about America, and why I have zero desire to go back there.


Thailand certainly has its share of problems too, and more than a few idiot politicians are running loose. But at least they don’t use religion to blind the masses. In recent years, Thailand has suffered from floods, a military coup, Red Shirt protests, and Yellow Shirt protests. But I’d still much rather live here in this imperfect Asian kingdom than back in the misnamed land of liberty, freedom, and justice for all. From now on I think I’ll just call it the United States of Religious Loonies.

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