Reverence and irreverence: Tourist Traps


First off, I’m not Thai. Let’s get that straight. I don’t know what it’s like to live here, I don’t know what it’s like to speak Thai, and I definitely don’t know what it’s like to be a resident of one of the most frequented tourist destinations in the world and have my entire livelihood slip away like a handful of sand. Walking down the street, I’m bombarded with shopkeeps and taxi drivers calling for my attention. I try to ignore the women in front of the massage parlor calling me handsome or trying to touch me. I do what I can to not see too deeply into the eyes of people on their last legs, having sold their businesses and taking their wares on foot. There’s an air of desperation here.

It’s a big bummer, and I’ll freely admit it brings me down. Although, that’s my fault for seeing only the despair. Paired up with the shuttered hotels and empty storefronts are interspersed shrines and sanctuaries for the heart. They’re all over the place.

These ornamented treasures are like little oases in the midst of all this consumerism. One second a shopkeeper will be hassling us to quickly buy a knock-off brand-name shirt, and the next you’ll find a small shrine tucked in a corner with a painting of the late king. The contrast is dizzying.

I don’t equate this to having the American flag plastered up in restaurants and stores. This is something entirely different. American flags are slapped on anything that’ll fly off the shelves. That’s not the case with Buddha’s, Brahmas (deities in Buddhist cosmology), and The King.

Thailand is a monarchical society and devoutly Buddhist. From what I observe, a vein of strong reverence for The Buddha and the royal family runs deep. One need only look around to see it. There are even signs displayed to remind people that tattoos and clothing displaying images of The Buddha are “WRONG.”

Witnessing the remarkable juxtaposition of a rundown tourist trap dotted with decorated shrines makes for a strange sense of vertigo, especially as a foreigner. I have no idea the true attitude of locals toward these shrines, I’ve yet to ask. What I do know is that they are seen as homes for the Earth Spirits which were displaced by the humans who settled on the land. These shrines are then created for The Spirits to have a place to live. Offerings are then given in order to appease said beings and keep them from causing trouble.

I love the idea, perhaps it can translate to actual preservation and conservation of the land itself; but, I digress.

I hope to avoid resorts for the rest of my life after this; but, this has been a great experience and I’m glad to have met all these wonderful people. There has been no small amount of kindness from some of the locals. Including our guide, a few restaurant owners, a tailor, and a hotel worker who’s also named Alex. All have been welcoming and enthusiastic. The other students I’ve met and the teachers have all done much to trigger energy in my heart. All the excitement is exhausting. Being surrounded by others with similar interests and passions is a blessing.

Until next time and thank you.