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Thoughts on a Trip to Thailand

Thoughts on a Trip to Thailand

By Aric Krause

Having just returned from Thailand, I was struck both by the impact of the Asian currency crisis and by the resilience of the Thai people. Driving away from the airport in Bangkok, I was struck by the impact the crisis had on infrastructure: buildings left unfinished, the crumbling pylons of an unfinished raised transportation system, finished buildings obviously abandoned after the currency crisis. The driver of my taxi informed me that his job used to be quite lucrative until the crash. "Tuk-Tuks," or motorized tricycle taxis, became so plentiful during the currency crisis that it is very hard for taxi drivers to make ends meet anymore. Of course, for tourism, the crisis did wonders. Thailand depends heavily on tourism, and the depreciation of the Thai baht made visiting Thailand incredibly inexpensive.

The resilience of the people is amazing. Entrepreneurship is definitely alive and well in Bangkok and in every part of Thailand I visited. Everywhere you look, people are selling something: in every door, a convenience store; on nearly every sidewalk, multiple vendors selling trinkets and cigarettes (quite often, smuggled from duty-free shops in Hong Kong and Korea as the locally manufactured Marlboros and Camels are seen as inferior). Everyone is selling something.

The young people value education very highly. The outstanding education obtainable in the universities is definitely demand-pull. Many of the students I spoke with dreamed of starting their own firms, making products for export to the United States. Those who did not have entrepreneurship dreams wished instead to relocate to the U.S. or Canada, wishing to take their chances in the west. The ability of students to dream is in no way diminished.

The young people I spoke with who are not students dream of serving as tour guides, feverishly trying to learn English to serve their western clientele. The nightlife is strong and amply available, but is specifically geared toward the tastes of westerners. At one nightclub in northern Thailand, the musical entertainment played spirited covers of Britney Spears and N'Sync.

Thailand's history of economic independence means that people are well used to eking out their own living Thai people have always been masters of their own fate. Even though the infrastructure is crumbling and the economy is tremendously soft, the people are still fighting, still working toward their own dreams and goals. It is refreshing to see.

Aric Krause is the associate dean and an assistant professor of economics in the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business. In the summer of 2002, Krause was a visiting professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand, where he taught in the Master of Arts in Business and Economics program.