Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thai-Light-Zone: Pardon Me, Have You Seen My Adolescence?

Someone said that Americans keep their dogs in a permanent state of adolescence. It makes sense, actually. American dogs cannot run free, they cannot procreate, they never need to look for their own food. They are our pampered little four legged trophy dogs, constantly wagging their little tails and begging for our affection, and a handout of course.

Dogs in Thailand on the other hand are fully adult. They live a dog’s life everyday. Most of them fend for themselves without any help or interference from the local humans. They display bland, world weary expressions as they wander their appointed rounds: places they found food once, places where humans are cooking, places where students eat lunch or snacks, places where other dogs spend lots of time, places of exceptionally deep shade, places with good garbage.

They are amazingly adult. They will run up a side street where there is little traffic and come to a comfortable stop upon arriving at a main street. Looking first right (Thais drive on the left) and then looking left, then looking right again, they walk safely across the street. If you run past a dog, or ride past on a bicycle, the dog will simply give you a little look without much interest. The dog looks at you just to make sure you are not about to drop some food or hand out a snack. A sleeping dog may open only one eye to see you.

You almost never see an experienced mother dog in America. In Thailand it is common to see dogs that look like the wolf mother of Romulus and Remus, teats almost dragging on the ground, well traveled pudenda dragging open at the rear. They have wonderfully wise expressions, for dogs I mean. They have seen it all, scrounged food for four or five, populated the earth and lived to tell about it.

These Thai dogs know what not to do as well. They know exactly what the humans will or will not tolerate. If one approaches in an unacceptable manner all the human needs to do is cock his foot as if to throw a kick. That dog will retreat ten feet in one second and stop whatever it was that he was doing. Reaching back as if to throw a rock works pretty good too. If they go too far they’re liable to be picked up bodily and thrown into a tree. That gets their attention and keeps it: wow, I’ll never do that again.

One thing for sure, the mating behavior of sexually intact, independently living, chronologically and emotionally mature dogs is a revelation for an urban American more accustomed to aging puppies. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

The situation is reversed as regarding our human offspring. In America children must learn to “stand on their own feet” from a very early age. They must learn to sit in restraints and like it because no one has the time to carry them. They must learn to play by themselves even if their parents are close at hand because, please try to understand, the parents have a lot to do. They must learn to get up early and get fed and dressed and left at an institution all day because mom and dad need to get to work, bring home the bacon. They must learn to like television.

American children are made to work alone on thousands of projects throughout their schooling. Don’t look at him! I asked you! They are encouraged to leave home and go to live at universities far from home. They are expected to have created their own independent life before their twenty-fifth birthdays.

In Thailand this demand for independence is turned on its head. All children are encouraged to work together on most school projects. Ideally, one’s children will never leave the family home, they will get married and have their own children and live their lives as part of a big extended family. Babies are held at all times for about the first eighteen months of their lives. You heard me right, held in someone’s arms almost without a break for about eighteen months.

In some families this togetherness thing is carried to extremes. In some instances Thai children are maintained in a permanent state of adolescence well into their chronological adulthood. If their parents are particularly long lived this state may extend into the child’s old age. This phenomenon manifests itself in all financial demographics. In poor families, one or more children may be needed in the family house on a full time basis, perhaps to care for a handicapped family member or work in the family enterprise making baskets or dying fabrics. Marriage would only add mouths to feed, or maybe there’s just not enough room. In rich families one or more children may just never be inclined to leave such a perfect set up. They don’t work hard, if at all; they always have a nearly new car to use; they always have money in their pockets; they are well dressed; they are fully equipped with the latest electronic gadgets. Where else could they live like that?

In many cases there is a domineering mom or dad involved. See what happened to your sister when she got married? I just don’t want the same thing to happen to you. This can lead to adults with successful professional careers living after work in shorts and t-shirts watching television with mom everyday. Plenty of money to spend on travel and leisure and no adult responsibilities outside of work. I don’t know whether to cry or to wish that I were so lucky.

These perpetual teenagers have the same immature characteristics as the American dogs do, if I may be permitted such a gross analogy. Their smiles are genuine but lack the cynical edge that personal responsibility brings. They are certainly smart enough but they lack wisdom. They don’t worry about eating; they simply wait to be fed. They never become fully formed adults; they remain two-dimensional caricatures until and unless life or common sense steps in and thrusts full responsibility on them.

(I wrote this a couple of years ago. It needs more of a conclusion, don't you think?)


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I thought we Americans were always bashed for having such extended adolescent lives, that often go well into our 30's.
My younger brother never moved out of Mom's house. He's 53. Never married, of course. Lives pretty much like he did when he was 16. Has a menial job. Until mom died 2 years ago, she did all his cooking and cleaning and laundry too.
I don't know how you can better conclude this piece. Maybe contrast it to your own maturation, such as it is, you dog you!

fred c said...

That's about when my mom died. I hope that you were as comfortable with it as I was. My mom only ever wanted to die anyway, I hope that she's happy now. But I doubt it. How about your brother, eh? Finally got the house, did he? It's no fun when your brats just wait for you to die.

My maturation? That dog is lost on the back stretch.

Anonymous said...

When I visit America I am not use to one thing. The dogs all the people have in there house like people and they sleep with the dogs. One day I go along to a dog doctor with my freinds family with 2 big dogs my freinds pay lot of money to fix the dogs. 1000 dollars to fix the dogs. Lot of money for me when I live in America I will not have dogs.