Thailand Is My Home
I’ve lived in Thailand 3 years now and have come to regard it as home. I’m still American, and of course that has certain obligations, though they’re diminishing. I liked America fine, but the prospect of growing old there as a single childless man just didn’t appeal to me, so I decided to search for a better life, and thus far I haven’t regretted it.
I’ve no idea why that would bother anyone, but occasionally when I celebrate life here I’ll get criticism for having chosen to live elsewhere, suggesting my life as an expatriate is somehow a breach of national etiquette, an act of disloyalty, as though I’m bound to the land of my birth until death do us part.
Of course I don’t feel that way. I’ve paid my way and I didn’t complain. I paid my taxes, more than most as a matter of fact, and I didn’t mind. I accepted it as part of the price for living there.
But I’ve moved on.
As youth our affinities are thrust upon and pounded into us, and we’ve neither the facility to question authority nor the ability to think independently. Our indoctrination into church, school, neighborhood, state, tribe and country is foisted on us, and we accept it because we’re children and haven’t earned the right to choose. They line us up, point us in a direction, bark ‘march’ and we march.
From the moment we’re institutionalized the pledge of allegiance is drilled into us as though it were a sacred tract transcending even morality.
We’re taught to repeat the words before learning what they stand for. Whatever the country does, whether it creates or destroys, whether it serves man or it serves itself, whether we’ve benefited from that country or not, the ritual remains unchanged and we’re expected to perform it as though it were a divine edict issued from some imagined shared divinity.
That flag represents decency and good, we are told, and being born beneath it obligates us to blindly defend it, and that is our God-given duty.
Throughout history the word patriotism has been bandied about by self-serving politicians to incite the masses, as though it were a prerequisite for getting into heaven, though as far as I know no religion promotes patriotism as one of its tenets, and gradually any student of the past learns that along with the good, some pretty nasty acts have been done under every banner.
They wave the flag, point to the differences between us and when it behooves them they identify them as threats.
Going to Vietnam was our patriotic duty, the flag-wavers said, and off we went.
‘Be a patriot,’ they shouted as they pointed to Iraq, suggesting it somehow threatened our way of life, and many of us believed them.
But all too often ‘patriotism’ is just a word used as a tool by the self-serving wealthy to advance their own agendas, and ironically most of those sent to do the fighting don’t even own a patch of land in the country they’re defending. They’re fighting for the folks that own the land, who are usually too busy aquiring more land to actually participate in the fighting themselves.
It can be confusing. Was support of slavery patriotic? Were the Indians who originally owned this land guilty of treason for fighting to defend it? Which Iraqis were which? Was Patrick Tillman’s family patriotic for demanding the military stop lying about and exploiting his death? If your country behaves badly are you a patriot for embracing bad behavior, and are you criminal for not endorsing the behavior? I suppose that’s something history ultimately determines.
Of course every country has its rituals, fight songs and contrived ceremonies celebrating themselves. Most suggest they are protected by some deity imbuing them with special strength and that this common divinity somehow exalts and protects them.
Iran, Russia, Mexico, Korea, England all have their drills and repetitious exercises promoting the home team, and there can be penalties if you don’t observe them. Most carry penalties for desecrating the national flag, and altering China’s national anthem is a criminal offense.
The Nazis had their ceremonies and set the standard for nationalistic jingoism as they goose-stepped their way into history, and while retrospectively despised, every government searches for the fervor that propelled the Third Reich into everlasting infamy. In most countries it’s considered an obligation to take one for the team, to sacrifice yourself for a largely imagined community of people whose only shared trait is a common border. But in recent reality, we’ve found you’re usually fighting for the people in charge.
In that respect, Thailand is no different. Here all radio and TV stations broadcast the national anthem at precisely 8 AM and 6 PM every day, and all Thai citizens, rich or poor, are expected to stop in their tracks and stand at attention until it’s finished, while every morning students are required to sing the anthem and pay respects to the flag. The king is likewise sacrosanct, and criticism is technically illegal, though I’ve never heard of the law actually being enforced.
Still, while I don’t understand their need for rituals I respect them here, just as I do in the states. But I’m not bound by them.
Over the years I’ve devoted myself to a number of professional teams, companies, music groups, celebrities, political parties, politicians, foods and even brand names. I was once a Chargers fan, a Padres fan, a Union man, a John Edwards (ouch) supporter, and like many I defined myself by what bands I listened to. Ultimately I found myself examining those affinities and refining my choices.
I found myself moving on.
I still respect certain athlete’s abilities, appreciate certain artists, and support causes, but no one–nothing– gets my blind loyalty, because I’m a grown-up and being an adult comes with certain responsibilities.
Nowadays I don’t have a team. I check the latest scores because old habits die hard, but I’ve come to accept the fact that just because those guys put on that jersey, they’re no more representative of me than the guys who put on the opposing jersey, and their ‘accomplishments’ don’t alter my world in the least.
These days I’ve come to the realization that determining my allegiances is a process, and I’m constantly questioning and revising them. I’ve come to think of myself first of all as a citizen of the world, and consider that my obligation as a member of the world community. I believe what’s good for the world is good for us, and vice versa, because I’ve usually found people are people, with all their attendant strengths and flaws, and when I step out onto a basketball court or attempt to teach, nationalities just don’t seem to matter much.
There are good folks here as there are good folks there, and I support them based on their actions just as I support people there for the same reason.
As I mentioned, I’m happy here, but I still have family and friends in the USA and I continue to have causes I support and loyalties there. But for now it’s Thailand I consider home.
Of course, that could change…
So call me what you will, but I’ll continue to root for the good guys whatever flag they fly, irrespective of borders. But before I fight for anything I want an explanation…because I don’t believe in unconditional love.
My allegiance demands more these days… my devotion has to be earned.