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Some Countries Are More Fascinating Than Others

I’d hereby like to nominate Thailand as the Least Interesting Country On Earth.

Maybe it’s only because I went there right after Taiwan, which is so dense with interestingness that it exhibits a gravitational pull, but I seriously cannot find one period or event in Thai history to give a shit about.

I spent last week in Chiang Mai visiting some friends who have been living there for a year. I figured once we started talking about the country’s history and culture, I’d find a thread to pull.

No fucking luck.

Thailand’s history so standard it reads like the script to a CBS pilot. People arrive, set up communities, gradually develop to modernity. It never had an empiric capital, a la Rome or Angkor Wat, or any starbursting cultural talents like Eratosthenes or Shakespeare.

Thailand was never colonized, so there’s no interesting anecdotes about subjugation, resistance and revolution. They’ve never had a decent dictator, a Mao or a Tito or a Pinochet to illuminate some of the sweaty crannies of human depravity. Thailand wasn’t a significant actor in any of the major wars of the 20th century.

Even now, it’s not all that interesting. It’s one of the richer countries in the region, but it’s not developing especially quickly or pioneering its own growth model. Its government is corrupt, but not severely enough to be memorable. The red-shirt/yellow-shirt stuff should be interesting, but appears to have yielded precisely two good anecdotes, nothing at the philosophical or structural level.

It’s not that I’m anti-Thailand. It’s beautiful and friendly, the food is great and I have never had a more relaxing time. This week was a reminder that most of the things we find interesting are great and terrible. Thais are lucky they’ve had less of that to live through than many of their neighbors.

Usually when I leave a country where I’ve spent a week, my head is full of inspirations, books and Wikipedia articles to follow up on. This time, as the plane rose into the sky, the only thing I thought of was ‘I wonder what they put in red curry paste.’

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