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Through the Myth-Making Glass Lightly

There is a nearly uncountable number of urban-rural myths regarding people in foreign lands--places other than where you live. Here are a few: All people want to come to the U.S.; all people have been on airplanes; all people have cell phones (mobiles). False, False, quickly becoming True. According to many reports, studies, and first-hand observations, most people want to stay in the land of their birth, and, contrary to the prophets of mobility, most people want to live in the town or village in which they were born. So it is, also, that most people do not travel outside their country. How could that be? With a billion+ passengers on airlines and trains every year? A small group of people must be taking a lot of trips. Nevertheless, it's all true.

Here's just one case-in-point. She is 35 years old and a district manager for FedEx in Thailand. Her only airplane experience has been on FedEx cargo planes. She has seldom been outside Thailand, occasionally visiting nearby Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia or Burma (or as it's called in its current ice-age incarnation-Myanmar). She is bright, university-educated, hip, computer-literate, beautiful, and loves the Bangkok discos and the night-market entertainment of her hometown, Chiang Mai, where she still lives.

She has four mobile phones, all with text-messaging, graphics and music. She adores her King, is a devout Buddhist, and a terrific cook. She hasn't married yet because of her career, her sisters' and friends' experiences with Thai husbands, and her wariness of farang (foreign) men. She meets a ton of them through her job and her vibrant nightlife.

She has a very curious mind--she reads the news avidly, sees all the latest movies, and surfs the net. She is disinterested in traveling to the countries she sees and reads about, based on her observations of tourists in her country--some 12 million annually in a country of 65 million. "Anglos (trans: Brits, Aussies, Yanks and the Deutschers) don't always smell good all the time," she says, "and they move around as if they were in an amusement park. They don't try to understand our culture, they think our food is 'cute', and they don't even try to learn a little of our language." Those are her words--her English is almost perfect--she also speaks French and German.

A point inside this case-in-point: There are huge chains of fast-food restaurants in Thailand, primarily American, Burger King, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, et al, and they are always stuffed with tourists. During all the years I've wandered in this beautifully unusual, self-sufficient country, I've often stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of tourist-laden eateries. Once, and only once, I went into a McDonald's and asked a farang (a foreigner), "Did you travel 10,000 miles just to eat a hamburger?" He said: "Hey Mate, it's a bit of home and it makes me sleep better. Who can live on Thai food?" It was an amazing statement! Let's see: 65 million Thais live on Thai cuisine which is one of the most popular throughtout the entire world. Amazing!

So... is she somewhat xenophobic? Somewhat, some Thais are. Is she happy? Well, she believes she lives in the Garden of Eden. Might be so or maybe a delusion. Is she part of the Global Village? Indeed! Will she ever visit the other side of the rainbow? And do what--eat at McDonald's?

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