Bangkok journal: a Fulbright year in Thailand by Stephen A Garrett

By Stephen A Garrett

An American in Thailand paints a shiny photo of a desirable society during this account of his 12 months as a Fulbright pro­fessor at Chulalongkorn collage in Bangkok. Garrett exhibits what the Fulbright pro­gram is actually like, together with such de­tails as facing the “web of bu­reaucratic eccentrics,” discovering housing, and dealing with “live-in” snakes. M. Carlota Baca, Director of educational Li­aison on the Council for foreign trade of students, describes those diary entries as a “graceful mix of per­sonal memory, shuttle literature, ru­mination on previous U.S. overseas coverage in Southeast Asia, and really deft portrai­ture of human types.”

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Is all this luxury a reward for having to endure the tedium of endless receptions over the years, or is it an integral part of our foreign policy, designed to impress the locals so that they have a proper respect for American power and interests? Whatever, the steelworker making fifteen thousand dollars a year in Gary, Indiana, with three kids and a thirty-year mortgage on an old frame house, might be interested to know how some of his taxes are being used. Of course, they're also being used to help pay for my grant, but in this case the importance of my presence here to international understanding is such that no legitimate quibble can be made.

It was similar to sitting in a sauna; it seemed as if the air was so heavy and moist that one could almost reach out and touch it. It was a bit difficult to breathe. Both temperature and humidity were in the nineties: welcome to Bangkok. Thailand has an authoritarian government, but the style of customs and passport officials at the airport terminal was agreeably casual. To my surprise, there are no longer any inoculation requirements for entry into the country, not even for smallpox or typhoid.

After dinner we sat around in the spacious living room and partook from an elaborate tray of after-dinner liqueurs and brandies. The conversation during the evening was often strained. Thais are said to be generally uncomfortable in the presence of farangs until they get to know them well, and this occasion seemed to bear this out. There were rather extended periods of silence interrupted only by nervous sallies from someone valiantly attempting to get the conversation going. Perhaps under the influence of the after-dinner drinks, things loosened up a bit later in the evening.

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