I’ll be honest — I took a day off training on day three. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to go to class, and I was willing to push through the aches and pains in my legs. But extensive internet research suggested this is a bad idea if you want to develop strength in new muscles. I know that as I get more used to the drills my body will adapt.
That didn’t stop my father from calling me a … nevermind.
Plus, I’ve talked a lot about myself up until now, so I figured I’d take this opportunity to talk a bit about Thailand.
The first reason I want to do this is because people generally assume unflattering motivations about why I’m going there. I’m not even offended on my part — I feel like it has to be insulting to the country. I’m going because this is an opportunity to get to know a new country through studying the martial art it produced. I’ve never really done anything like that before.
Second, I only recently noticed that, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a single Thai in my very multicultural high school. In fact, I don’t think I even met someone of Thai background until I went to Western. Even now I might know only one or two people of Thai descent.
I’ll give you a sense of why that stands out to me. Meadowvale Secondary School, class of 2010, had an incredible mix of Pakistanis, Chinese, Poles, Bulgarians, Indians, Japanese, Nigerians, Vietnamese and many more. A lot of people that went to Catholic school are surprised that I knew virtually no people of Italian, Portugese, Spanish, or French descent, but on that front there’s an obvious reason why.
I feel like having friends from all over the world has given me a general understanding of different cultures and religions. That, in turn, spurred my interest in geopolitics. And I really came to appreciate this knowledge and understanding when I found a lot of other students at university who had gone to private school didn’t know the difference between a Sunni and a Shia Muslim, or a Hindu and a Sikh, or a Tamil from Sri Lanka and a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka.
Yet, of all the countries and cultures represented at Meadowvale, Thailand was not. I think I’ve found out why. In 2006, there were 10,000 Thais in Canada. Compare that to 220,000 Vietnamese or 660,000 Filipinos.
Third, on Tuesday, I was waiting to pick up a pizza when a mini-doc on Thailand came on the little TV in Pizza Pizza. It was a sign.
So, with no further delay, let’s learn about Thailand.
Thailand is a country in Southeast Asia of just under 70 million people. The official language is — gasp — Thai, the currency is the Baht, and the overwhelming majority of its population is Buddhist (95 per cent). The capital and largest city is Bangkok, where I will be. Though I don’t think it’s officially the “national” sport, Muay Thai is obviously popular and considered a part of Thai culture.
The monarchy is very popular in Thailand. The current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, ascended to the throne in 2016 after the death of his father, who sat atop it for over 70 years.
Thailand was never colonized. It was also, I was surprised to learn, the only Asian country to fight on the side of the Japanese in World War 2. My dad, who owns approximately 600 books on military history, assures me that the details are complicated there. Thailand was a strongly anti-communist country and staunch American ally throughout the Cold War.
I won’t get into all the details, but a military coup overthrew the government in 2014. Shoutout to my friend Cameron “Smoth” Smith who was in the country for that. It must have been exciting. Though de jure a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, de facto Thailand is ruled by a military junta right now.
A lot of friends I’ve talked with consider Thailand poor, and I guess it is relative to Canada or Japan, say. My issue is I don’t think people take into consideration how much more prosperous Thailand is compared to its Southeast Asian neighbours. Wealth, or lack thereof, is a scale. The average Thai is about three times more well-off in monetary terms than the average Vietnamese. In Human Development Index, Thailand beats its neighbour Cambodia by almost .200 (.740 for Thailand versus .563 for Cambodia).
The last country I visited outside of Canada or the U.S. was Honduras. Honduras is much, much poorer than Thailand. My dad, who you should have figured out by now is the villain of this adventure, refused to acknowledge this until I put the numbers in front of him.
I was surprised to learn about the situation in Thailand’s economy. I was reading an article in The Economist this week in which an analyst called Thailand “the next Japan”, but he didn’t mean that in a good way. Like Japan, Thailand’s birthrate is very low, lower than Canada’s, and the population is ageing faster than China’s. Thailand also has an inflation problem — inflation is far too low. Because of all this economists who study the region think Thailand faces a strange economic future that looks a lot like Japan’s: low inflation, low growth, low birthrates, and a rapidly ageing society. Thailand will likely have to face these issues without the benefit of Japan’s wealth.
I’d like to think I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences in my life, but let this post show that I like to nerd out about history, politics and economics whenever I get the chance. Most of you already knew that.
Anyway, I’m going to class tonight, so I promise I’ll be back to writing about Muay Thai tomorrow. Pray for my calves.