Friday, August 17, 2012

A Choice: Bangkok or Los Angeles? Thailand or the USA?

Being an American is about having the right to be who you are. Sometimes that doesn't happen.”

― Herb Ritts

“Two centuries ago, a former European colony decided to catch up with Europe. It succeeded so well that the United States of America became a monster, in which the taints, the sickness and the inhumanity of Europe have grown to appalling dimensions”

― Frantz Fanon

No city is perfect. No city is planned perfectly. No city is going to meet all of your needs. But . . .

There is no way that the above scene would have occurred in Los Angeles. You won't see businesses pop up on the sidewalk in front of another business. They'll whine. Americans if they don't get their way, get downright nasty like this one.

The more I watch US Politics, the more I want to stay in Thailand or some other part of the world. The 2012 US Election oozes levels of corruption--so very hard to fathom. And many Americans are totally clueless. Sort of like with the gun issue. In a span of just over 5 weeks, the USA has experienced at least 3 mass killings. The most prominent being the Colorado shooting and the Sikh Temple massacre. Lately, I've been forced to really compare Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia with the United States. I have the most exposure to Thailand, so my assessments will be largely based upon my familiarity with Thailand and Bangkok specifically. Bangkok is the heart of the Thailand economic engine. The longer I stay here, the more attractive it gets, and the less attractive America gets. The thing is that I still have things to do in the States.

In 2012, the political debates in the America are focusing on notions of freedom. I don't feel free in America. The amount of doublespeak and doublethink is getting really bad. Free the "job creators." Hmmm. Small government! Hmmmm. Were not those the people who started the "Great Recession?" Americans talk about freedom, but it is always contexualized. They want specific freedoms, but deny it to others. Free the "job creators" but put down women who don't want to get knocked up. This is part of the American Gene, which established freedom but primarily for white slave owners who owned properties as a preference. Forget about the slaves and poor whites who didn't own property. It's a country of contradictions.

In a general sense, there is a major difference in freedom between Thailand and America. For the most part in Thailand, so long as you honor the King, you are fine. America seems to be going in the opposite direction. People are getting into each others business a tad too much. This is both on Republican and Democratic sides.

For example, Bangkok, hypothetically, should be a Republican's wet dream. But they are so screwed up in the head. At first, they might be having a fiscal orgasm due to the lack of many business regulations, but their anti-gay agenda would be laughable here, and people here despise that type of invasive behavior. Remember, this is a country that has a population of ladyboys called katoeys. American Christian values would also create tension and divisions as they will want to project their ideology upon other people free will. Americans have a bad habit of telling other people how to do their business. That generally doesn't happen in Thailand.

What about corruption? Now, this is a funny one.

American politicians have always been about figuring out how to legally find a way to corruption, and to get into your personal business. Having traveled in this part of the world (SE Asia), I am now throughly convinced that the American political system is one huge quagmire of corruption. The rise of the SuperPacs has infused the 2012 US Election with now officially sanctioned corruption. In Vietnam, there is only one casino sanctioned by the government. In the USA, the man who runs the Venetian Hotel in Vegas is funding the Republican candidate. That's only because he declared it. For most, you don't know who's funding it. It could be foreign countries. You don't know, but the corruption train gets longer. In the USA, corruption is a rich man's game in the shadows.

Corruption exists in Thailand, and in Vietnam. Basically many of the Asian countries have very different ways of doing things. Sometimes in Vietnam, it is expected to give a little extra for the extra help. In Thailand, it also sort of works in the same way. For this reason, it has often been difficult for people to work in SE Asia, but there are opportunities. The key to understanding business in Thailand and in Asia is that it is deeply personal. It's not the contract that is the core but the personal relationship.

Is there a point to regulation?

In some ways, yes. When you compare countries, you do see obvious contrasts. In the US of A, you can actually get to places even though they look all the same. People actually give pedestrians the right of way, at least in LA. Bangkok is the opposite. But everything has a sense of balance. For each benefit, there is a drawback. There is no such thing as perfection. The sensibility that allows you to cross the street is also the sensibility that will mandate who you sleep with and how you sleep with them. Stupid. The cost of true freedom has a price, which might be chaos. If you give everyone freedom to do what they want, you will invoke a sense of chaos.

Bangkok is a city with very little in terms of governmental regulations. Bangkok has several million people living here. Many of them are technically not registered residents. They are all forms of workers who are earning money to send back home, often to the outlying provinces. Many are not here legally from countries like Burma and Cambodia. Many of the venues stay open all night. Bangkok is a city that doesn't sleep except during the morning hours of 5AM it seems. There are places that actually open at 2 AM and close at 9 AM. During the day, the city is often congested, and quite busy during the day. Part of it is the penchant for gridlock in Bangkok. People try to force their way through, and lock up the grid.

Food regulations. There are McDonalds here, and they are considered "Hi End" places. Not because they are good, but because they are expensive for Thais. McDonalds does follow US health standards. But the food still sucks, even though there are menu offerings that do not exist in the USA. In contrast, most Thai's eat at the ubiquitous open air venues. I sometime eat at a stand that would never have passed the food inspectors, but it passed the customer number rate. You rate a restaurant by how many people patronize it. Food stands do not require a wide array of permits either to open. You do have to be good though. Did anyone tell you that if you did not do well with a franchise, that company can take it away from you? Yes, there is a point to regulation to prevent food poisoning. But then, the food at McDonalds is still toxic. It passes the food inspections, but it will still make you into a 300 lb balloon. You will need to go to the plastic surgeon in the background.

In Thailand, it is the consumer who is responsible. If the consumer screws up, it's all on that person. Also, if you wish to file a lawsuit, you must put up a significant amount for a filing fee. If you lose, you lose the money, which can be 20,000 Baht or more. Given the average rate of people just making 8,000 Baht a month, that's a lot of dinero.

Controlled Chaos.

If you just look at what you pass by, the entire country of Thailand would fail US code enforcement. One way to read how much regulation exists in a city is to review the traffic, and how people drive. Signs are not uniform. In fact, there are signs on skyscrapers here, which would have the LA City Council throw a fit. People open up businesses in front of 7/11. Total chaos.

The US of A has a lot of regulations. The suburbs are full of them. In fact, all the garbage about freedom and about big government is a bunch of horse dump. Republicans have big government, but they want to regulate your personal life. They want less government in terms of running ponzi schemes and fraud and being sued for putting out crappy product. Democrats also have big government, but they are trying to regulate how you keep the house painted. Republicans will regulate whom, how, and why you sleep with that person. Oh, and if you get raped, they want to regulate your choice to abort a child as a result of a violent crime. Democrats will regulate the building code for the house that you would be sleeping in. They'll get annoying with some nanny state sort of vibe about the amount of bedrooms per household with children. Basically, both of the poltical parties suck. Republicans are more obnoxious as it seems more personal, invasive and Big Brother. Everything seems to be a sexcrime to them.

There was a time I thought America was going to be like Huxley's Brave New World, but now I'm more inclined to think like Orwell's 1984.

If you want a place free from regulations, for the most part, come to Thailand, or to other parts of SE Asia. There are costs. I have seen motorscooters going in the wrong direction. I've seen neon lights on cars that would get you immediately pulled over by the California Highway Patrol. I've seen 3 lanes develop out of a 2 lane road. In America, you are afraid of driving your own car because the traffic cop might give you a ticket so you stay in your lane. In Thailand, you make your lane. But because of this, you get gridlock all over the place. I've sat in a car for 1 hour just to move a block. The regulations that you have to worry about is legal residency. In that sense, Thailand is a tough nut.

Building Boom

Thailand made huge progress in terms of rebuilding after the 2004 Andaman Ocean Tsunami. I've always wondered why it takes so long for Americans to rebuild after a disaster, especially the slow progress in New Orleans. I now know; it is the reports and code enforcement requirements. It's also insurance companies avoiding paying you like Progressive's fiasco in which they tried to avoid paying by going to trial against their own customer.


For every delay in the USA, Bangkok seems to be putting up another building. In Bangkok, people build buildings, and it seems that the impact to traffic is ignored. There were two buildings going up. TCP supposedly is building ecofriendly towers. This is a Japanese construction company by the way. This lack of restriction makes for a very interesting skyline in Bangkok. People build new malls to outdo the last one. They build taller buildings to outdo the latest.

In the Sukumvit area, you can see very high end properties. Many of the hotels in this area are on par with very expensive hotels in Tokyo and New York. It creates a very interesting skyline. But, it isn't seemless.

You can have right next to each other, high end housing options next to almost slum conditions. In Los Angeles, they regularly bulldoze homeless camps along the freeways and parks. Corregated steel roofs would not get past the code enforcers. So, things are possible in Bangkok, that are impossible in the Unitied States.

Bangkok is organized chaos. Here, buildings sometimes go up without any sort of environmental impact report. You can open up a food business and not worry about the food nazis. You can set up shop in front of a 7/11 with a cart. There is no regulation. In a bad sense, things get to be difficult to complete due to congestion and very strange roads that seem to require a dozen u turns to go one stupid mile or kilo. But, a business can close as fast as get openned. The risk is higher.

Traffic--A signifier for the signified.

The US has a lot of traffic rules. With photo radar, motorcycle cops, and the DUI stops, a driver in Los Angeles is always going to be nervous. But then there are rules to be followed. You will get to the mall to spend money on the same generic item that you could have bought closer to your home.

Bangkok is one of the most unique places to drive, and it is a wonder why people don't get into more accidents. Driving here requires a sort of strange passive aggressive behavior. You let people in, but you also politely cut people off. You have to experience it to understand it. Traffic rules seem to be guidelines more than laws here. It's exponentially more in Hanoi and Saigon.

This is a good example. If you thought going to a mall in the United States was a bear of a project, try it in Bangkok. This regional mall is slammed with traffic during the weekend.


Public transportation in Bangkok versus Los Angeles

Taxis make up a bulk of the traffic in Bangkok. Because of the relative high cost of owning a car, many opt to use taxis or motor-scooters. The CC size of the motorcycle engines are capped off at 250cc. Anything more often gets hit with a severe tax. In a sense, there are governmental controls, but most of it is designed to address infrastructure capacity and needs. Taxis form the backbone of the system here. In fact, you have more options. They convert pickup trucks into short range buses. One of the buses is free. I believe they have no AC, and painted red. Motorcycle taxis are also in abundance. Of course, you have Tuk Tuks, but then they are less prominent than in the past.


With the advent of the MTS Skytrain and subway systems, you have easy transport in core areas of Bangkok. Like LA, people don't normally walk to places. It's not like New York or Tokyo, the other mega-cities where walking is possible. The weather doesn't make it conducive to making this a walking city. Bangkok is a sort of hybrid of New York, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and anything else. Where it is close to public transportation hubs, you can get some services. If you are not close to them, then you are like in LA--spread out. In Bangkok, things sometimes are very local. People eat, drink, get groceries within a small geographical slice out of the entire city.

Los Angeles is a very cold city. Even though it is built in the middle of a desert, it is cold. The Metro Rail System is simply a duplication of the old Red Car system that we used to have in the 1950s before they got torn up in favor of buses. Again, in Los Angeles, it was a case of corporate corruption. It is still difficult to get to anyplace in Los Angeles without a car now. Getting there in a car is also stressful, as you will always be looking over your shoulder for law enforcement. Even when you get home, you are always worried about city code and other issues about your own house.


Everytime I return to the USA, I feel constrained. There are benefits and drawbacks to all things. On the other hand, my idea about the US of A is that it is one screwed up country. Too many people are "really" trying to control you, and to control your life. I would stick this blame squarely on Republicans who want to regulate whom you sleep with, whom you marry with, whom you drive with, whom you live with. Big Government isn't always about Big Spending. It can be about Over Regulation. The two parties combined now form the government of Orwell's Big Brother. They will do anything to keep order, but order has a price. Freedom has a price as well. It will take you 30 minutes to go 1 block in Sukumvit. Take your chances. One of the more interesting things about the differences is the different take on responsiblity. In America, you will sue a person for something you actually did and maybe actually win. In Thailand, if you make a mistake, that was your choice so suck it up. Americans seem to whine a bit more. Actually I can't say that, I've seen Euros whining quite a bit over here as well.

Los Angeles versus Bangkok. If you want to get anywhere, ironically, Los Angeles is pretty good IF you got a car. If you want to open up a business or dress up in a harajuku outfit, Bangkok is the place. Both have costs and benefits. But, with enough connections, I could live in Thailand. Very possible. But now is not the time, yet.

With freedom, there comes risk. So be ready for anything.