Thailand: Fazed, dazed and lost in the maze...
September 1, 2000
If you want to know about the present state of the Thai psyche, you only need to read a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese?", written by Dr Spencer Johnson (London: Vermilion, 1998).
It is an amusing yet enlightening account of four characters - two mice and two little people - who lived in and ran through a maze looking for cheese to nourish them and make them happy. It is a book about how to deal with change in your life.
Cheese is a metaphor for what you want in your life, whether it is a job, money or possessions. The maze is where you look for what you want, such as the organisation you work in, or the family or the community you live in.
The two mice were called "Sniff" and "Scurry". The two little people were named "Hem" and "Haw". They ended up at Cheese Station C, where there was a great deal of cheese available. They all were very happy.
But gradually, the cheese ran out. Sniff and Scurry, since they were animals, could not have cared less. Since there was no longer any cheese left, they simply up and left Cheese Station C. They set forth into the maze to look for cheese at another place. Eventually, they came to Cheese Station N and found new kinds of cheese that they had never encountered before. Happily they settled down in a new environment.
The situation was totally different for Hem and Haw. As human beings, with a heart and a mind, and a complicated structure of beliefs, Hem and Haw could not bring themselves to accept the reality that things had changed. They asked who had moved their cheese. They were so comfortable at Cheese Station C that they had become far too used to it. They did not want to leave the place. They had thought they would be living happily in Cheese Station C forever.
They began to question their place and philosophise about their condition. Then they felt afraid to venture out into the maze again. Years of the good life had made them reluctant to change.
Only Haw gradually came to accept the reality. He left Cheese Station C to try to look for cheese elsewhere. At first he was not certain of himself. There were fears in his mind. Then he began to adapt to a new environment and found some pieces of cheese to keep his life moving onwards.
In the meantime, Hem remained stuck at Cheese Station C. He did not dare to move. He was still thinking about the good old days and asked why the world was not fair to him.
Finally, Haw came to Cheese Station N, where he met Sniff and Scurry who were already having a good time tasting all the new kinds of cheese. Haw settled down and found that the new life at Cheese Station N was even better than the life he and Hem had at Cheese Station C in the old days. He wondered what was happening to Hem.
Amaret Sila-on, the chairman of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, handed a copy of "Who Moved My Cheese?" to a visitor and said the analogy in the book perfectly fits the confusing state of mind of the Thai people. "Most Thai people still don't know what they are confronted with. They don't know whether it is a temporary change or a permanent change. And they don't know that if they don't move fast enough, they'll miss the bus," he said.
With this fear about change, or the misconception that things will soon return to the good old days, most Thais are just sitting back and doing nothing. They don't want to change and just hope that other people or the government will turn things around for them.
In short, most Thais are like Hem. They are confused about the present state of their condition and uncertain about their future. But instead of moving forward and trying to rid themselves of past mistakes, they cling steadfastly to their assets, which in reality are no longer theirs. They are trying to save what they cannot save.
Amaret remains cynical against a vast landscape of Thai banks, Thai companies and even Thai academics who fail to see a way out for the country. "For how many years have we been paddling around in the pond? It is getting us nowhere." he said.
In a world full of cheese, that is a sad situation indeed.
BY THANONG KHANTHONG