Apologies for irregular posts and not responding to some of the useful, critical and informative comments made by New Mandala readers. I am travelling in England at the moment and don’t have a lot of time for blogging. I will be returning to Australia in about 10 days and will have more time then to respond to some of the important issues raised. I am particularly interested in pursuing the emerging discussion about vote buying. The ethnographic insights on vote buying provided by New Mandala readers are very interesting indeed and provide a much better basis for ongoing discussion than popular stereotypes.
One thing that has surprised me travelling in England is the enormous number of Thai restaurants. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Thai restaurants are now well and truly entrenched in Australia. I suppose that I had assumed that the greater distance from Thailand would make Thai restaurants somewhat rarer over here in the UK. This was naive! In fact, in the village where I am doing research in Chiang Mai I know of three people who have pursued various business and employment opportunities in England. If this pattern is repeated in other villages in Thailand then there must be a great deal of Thai enterprise in the UK.
Three days ago I was a beneficiary of this aspect of globalisation. In a small English city (Chester) I dined in a wonderful Thai restaurant -exquisite Chiang Mai style decorations and great food too! One of the waitresses came from a remote district of Chiang Mai and the other came from Surin. One told me of her plans for the future. Neither she nor her husband (the very skilled chef!) liked living in England. But they were keen that their child (not yet conceived!) would have the benefit of an English-language education. While she was looking forward to returning home her financial and educational goals meant quite a few more years living in England.
These are the sorts of livelihood strategies and aspirations that are given little emphasis in ideas about sufficiency economy (or other forms of economic fundamentalism found in Thailand and elsewhere). Thailand has now reached the stage where, in all probability, rural people earn more income off-farm than in the agricultural sector. More and more young people are directing their education and employment plans towards the cities. The key social and economic development challenge is to empower people to continue to pursue these diverse livelihood options. Of course, there is a role for agriculture in this economic mix. But agriculture needs to be put in context. And the assumption that “rural” equals “agricultural” (an assumption that often creeps into my own writing) needs to be left behind.