This is Will typing. For better or for worse, I've decided to give this blogging business a go. Suze has been updating with reports of places we have visited so far so I'm going to try and do something a little different and try to give an overview of what we have experienced so far. I hope to write a few posts describing the random weirdness, the feelings about being away from home while the country undergoes an 'adjustment', the food and other possible tangential (Ed: I challenged him, apparently it is a word) thoughts.
I am humbled by South East Asia. You forget that many of these countries are open economies, open for business, with huge populations of cheap labour and have economies of scale to match. Thailand, for the most part, puts Ireland to shame in terms of education, healthcare, infrastructure and public transport. I've seen less homeless people in Bangkok than I have walking down Camden Street, the transport and road systems are unbelievably cheap and efficient, and from meeting a fellow Irishman who came down with Dengue Fever, I've learned that a spell in a Thai hospital is a far more pleasant experience than it would be at home.
Even Malaysia, which isn't even a first-world country, has better healthcare, better public transport and is quite obviously booming. The amount of western investment here is clearly huge and it's hard to walk through a retail area without noticing the wealth of 'help wanted' signs (Ed. they have not, however, heard of employment laws as many places specifically ask for women under the age of 30!). Throw in the nice weather, friendly people and cheap living and it's a good place to be.
Thailand is actually in recession, tourism is down and they're desperately trying to devalue their currency (without much success) to remain competitive. The Thai government was not democratically elected, but the result of a coup a few years ago (elections are promised once the political situation is stable but it's unclear as to when this will be). Despite this, the current government has been communicating clearly on their economic position, outlining the steps to recovery and their attempts to deal with currency fluctuation, political and civil unrest and the challenges they face.
WARNING – the rest of this piece is a complete rant about Ireland. Look away now, or at least wear protective goggles.
How nice does that sound to an Irish person who has been kept in the dark by our leaders, who are hanging in there despite the public outcry for change, having been nailed to a doomed economic policy which has now resulted in our financial decision-making being transferred to Europe and the IMF? Thailand is definitely not perfect; there is large-scale corruption, censorship and other social issues. However, it appears to me that they have provided the sound basis for structural and societal foundations that will continue to improve the region, regardless of who is in power. Walking around here, it just strikes me that Europe, and especially Ireland, will not be able to compete with this region in the future. There's more of them, they'll be better educated, more flexible and will simply prove more of a draw to multinational corporations, if that is not already the case. Don't mention the 12.5% corporation tax rate!
I do miss home, but reading the news makes it an awful lot easier not to miss home. The past few nights, I have stayed up late watching the two 7pm announcements from the Fuhrer Brian Cowen and Goebels Lenihan. In both cases, I was expecting resignations, humility and a pledge to do the best for Irish citizens but no, all we got was contempt, ill-humoured waffle and some sort of mistaken belief that history will prove them correct. Ireland is no longer a country; it is an outpost station for Project Europe. Every single decision that has been taken since at least September 2008 has been to service the best interests of the EU rather than Irish citizens.
As I write this, the media predicts that Portugal is next with Spain possibly teetering on the brink. Once this happens, and it looks ever more likely, what's going to happen to us? If Europe has failed to stop the financial contagion to other nations, we are in trouble. It will be less about treating the Irish issue sensitively, if it ever was, more about hacking and slashing at public services in a bid to satisfy the bond markets and to move on to the next diseased nation.
Yes, yes, I know, I know. Some of you are saying I should forget about all this, just enjoy my holiday, but it's hard to do that when the Bangkok Post is covering every detail of the situation, the Indonesian press is dissecting how our bailout is hammering their currency, BBC World is camped outside Leinster House and we, being people who want to live, work and contribute in Ireland, will be returning home next year to the prospect of increased civil unrest, a new government, increased taxation and an even worse national mood.
For the record, I am enjoying my trip; I'm loving it in fact. I'm seeing new things, getting an outsiders view, eating the most amazing food and living on pennies. It's bloody amazing. That said, when you mention you're from Ireland, people look at you as if you'd mentioned you'd bought a two-bed apartment in Lucan in 2007 at a Dublin house party.
I promise that my next post will be about weird food, missing lucozade, the crazy Lese Majeste laws in Thailand, buying a sweet acoustic guitar and being eaten alive by mosquitoes. In the meantime, keep the country warm for me, switch on the engine on my car every couple of days and make f**king certain that Fianna Fail and the Greens are annihilated come the supposed January elections.