Wednesday

CONTAMINATED MINDS


Sitting in Samui airport - watching stranded Westerners walk around a very artificial food / shopping court to the strains of anodyne, MOR covers of Bob Dylan and the Lighthouse Family - while a few hundred miles away in Bangkok, 11,000 Thais try to get the prime minister outed by the military, it is hard not to think of Daniel Dennet's assertion that whatever good ideas or memes we Westerners bring with us to less developed countries, we also carry along with those ideas a whole slew of viral, contaminated memes.

In Samui and on Koh Phagnan, we saw shoeless, homeless Thais wanderng around offering coke, ecstacy and weed to anyone with a white face and a bumbag. Perhaps fifteen years ago, these chaps would only have been selling a bit of homegrown Thai stick, but these days the drug tourists (mostly from the UK) are a huge, thriving black market economy. The weed comes in packaged bricks, indicative of the fact that it s now grown in huge crops, and not just for export. Add to this the people who follow behind the so-called 'hippy trail' - the fat-bellied, middle-class tourists in their forties and fifties who come in their wake demand that each restaurant serve, first and foremost, a familiar selection of eggs, bacon, burgers and chips - most menus have Thai food at the back now. Furthermore, the construction on the tiny islands has increased exponentially over the last two decades - spacious beaches reduced to Costa Del Sol-style 'strips', with the afroementioned poor Thais walking disconsolately up and down, selling sarongs, laser pointers and flip-flops.

"Thailand's dead now," said one anonympus twenty-something, obviously a veteran of the hippy trail. "Go to Vietnam, or Cambodia, or Laos - they're like Thailand was ten years ago." So, if we follow Mr Hippy's advioce, and take our dollars and pounds further afield, what can we expect? That fifteen years down the line, cheap flights, package deals and hastily conceived, poorly planned urban development will have ruined this 'unspoiled paradise' too?

The Thais barricading Bangkok airport might not be protesting about this, but they do want a move away from 'Western-style democracy', another of our less than unconscious exports. They want a country with its own identity, free from the corruption they see as endemic in the ousted Thaksin government, and many Western countries. Whatever their goals, I have small hope that perhaps the path they are treading along, armed with guns and pipes and knives, might someday include some sort of memetic antidote or immunisation to the shameful desecration of these once wild and beautiful islands, so beloved of the hippies who 'discovered' them a few years ago.

Who knows? Despite the fact that the Thais are some of the kindest, warmest, most welcoming people a traveller could hope to meet, perhaps they would be better off without us, or the viral memes we trail in our wake, like the stingers of poisonous jellyfish.


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