Saturday, August 21, 2004

A Sad Story

It would be hard to imagine a country that is more of an antithesis to Thailand than is Germany. Efficient and well-ordered with a populace that is known for being humourless, demanding and goal-oriented all in a relatively dreary and cold climate.

So it was sad to hear that a young Thai student living in Germany on an exchange program became so overwhelmed that after only one month she felt the only way out was to take her own life.

It would be easy to cast about to assign blame. For example, the Thai tendency to focus on image, pomp and ceremony over substance and competence. In this case, reaching even a minimum level of proficiency in the German language before sending the girl off would have been advisable but of course it didn't happen.

Even more difficult for her family is that in the weeks leading up to her overdose on sleeping pills (though she survived but finished the job by leaping to her death from a window in the hospital where she was recovering) she repeatedly phoned and begged to return home. Anyone faced with the same pleas from their child would reasonably see it as a logical situation to use tough love. The first time away from home can be tough for someone, especially when they are from an incredibly insular culture and that initial experience is in a foreign country. Seeing this as only one of a multitude of lessons to be learned when growing up, it's hard to see any fault in the family's urging her to hang on.

Maybe even after that desperate act that landed her in hospital she sensed a disapproving scorn from a people who strive to avoid loss of self-control. Where she would have been surrounded by loved ones cooing their support had it happened in Thailand, perhaps the guttural clipped language and sickly hospital food brought home the reality even more and she took the final plunge. Speaking of blame, someone who has been admitted to hospital after trying to kill themselves should surely be watched or at least be in a room devoid of possibilities for finishing the job.

Stories like this always cause a round of hand-wringing with the usual stock cliches being bandied about. The importance of maintaining Thai culture against the ever-present big bad western influence while still recognizing that the wider world does have positive benefits to offer. The idea of foreign cultures is one that many young Thais almost seem obsessed with. The reality rarely jibes with the images of Hollywood movies and music videos than many of them have grown up with.