Paxeducare’s Blog

Is Sustainability an Oxymoron in Southeast Asia? Or Is This a Westo-Centric View?
January 10, 2012, 10:01 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

My husband and I are now on the last days of a month long sojourn in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We have left our son, Boyce, who flew back to Mississippi a couple of days ago. We left our daughter, Gretchen, in Mae Sot, Thailand, where she works. Most of the time we have spent in Thailand. Traveling with our two grown children most of the time has been a wonderful treat. Asia seems a feast for all of the senses: loud cars and motorcycles, street noises of all kinds, smells of food frying, odd sewer smells, dirt and dust. Stimulations of sites, bright hues, garish western gear, huge billboards advertising things we “must have”. Taxis of all sorts: tuk tuks (motorcycle taxis), songtows (pick up taxis), bicycle taxis and really new and fresh looking car taxis in Bangkok and Saigon. Energy conservation is ubiquitous, if nothing else to save precious Thai Bhat,  US dollars (used in Cambodia) and Vietnamese Dong. In many guest houses we have stayed in the electricity is connected to the room key: all of it goes off when you leave, including the air conditioning, in those places that have AC. In a couple of places, recycling was important: bins provided for various kinds of items.

                On the other hand, bottled water is a must and what to do with all of the plastic bottles. The locals don’t drink the water either as it can make one sick. Large jugs are provided and replenished. Not so for the tourists. I presume some sort of recycling at the hotels is in order for all of these bottles, but am not sure. The larger issue to me is the carbon emissions: public buses are few, though the train system in Bangkok is good and quite crowded much of the time. After a few minutes of either walking or sitting in Saigon, Chang Mai and Bangkok traffic, I found my lungs filling and the view clouding. Many locals wear face masks a good deal of the time-rather sobering. There is an art to walking and driving any vehicle and, to my surprise, we did not witness any accidents.

                What I find interesting is the seemingly ubiquitous ethos of consumerism, particularly in the larger cities. Seems we in the US do not have a corner on this. Not only local markets that seem to cater to both locals and tourists (evolving I presume from what was once a local market culture) but the advertisements on huge billboards, the very modern, hugely overcrowded Siam mall area of Bangkok. One can choose from thousands of varieties of flip flops, the footwear of choice, everywhere, myriad kinds of shirts, pants, purses, cheap sculptors, snack foods.  Who is buying all of this stuff? While some of us in the West are trying to figure out how to live more simply, it is as if Southeast Asia is moving up and away from once upon a time what we would call simple living to trying to live what we in the US once may have called the American Dream. Truly this is a time of global transition , with some cultural “flip flopping”and it is so interesting to experience this first-hand. What all of this resource use will do the planet gives one pause.


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