speed is the opium of the people

Ãdevotion courage sacrifice on TwitPic

M-150 Energy Drink from Thailand. The label reads “devotion courage sacrifice”. (Forgive the crappy image quality, it was taken with my mobile, which has no macro mode)

In Canada, these energy drinks are marketed to people who party. In Thailand, it’s different, these drinks are marketed to people who work, in particular who need to stay awake to work. And who does these jobs in Thailand? Typically, migrants from the countryside: your taxi driver was probably yesterday a farmer. This label is interesting because I’ve never seen it put explicitely: “devotion, courage, sacrifice”. Those are the things that you would feel if you were doing a dangerous job in the city, like working construction under dubious safety conditions or driving a taxi late at night on insane roads. Many of the people working here have families back home in the provinces, which they support with the money they make in the city.

I’ve seen these drinks at 2 AM on Silom Road: vendors set up specifically to sell to taxi drivers who wait in long silent rows for the bars to let out. There is food, water, and huge tubs filled entirely with energy drinks like this one. It’s dangerous to drive in Bangkok, you have to stay awake to stay alive.

It’s not limited to stimulants you can buy at the 7-11. John Burdett writes eloquently about the connection between amphetamine use (in Thailand it is called yaba, “crazy drug”), and the urbanisation of rural people — in particular that the rise of yaba is connected to work, not pleasure:

“They came from the north, the south, the east and the west. Krung Thep was not only the biggest city, until recently it was the only modern city we had. They came from the plains and from the hills. Most were ethnic Thai, but many were tribespeople from the North, Muslims from the South, Khmer who had sneaked over from Cambodia, and plenty were technically Burmese who lived on the border and never paid it any mind. They were part of the greatest diaspora in history, the migration of half of Asia from country to town, and it was happening at an accelerated pace during the last third of the twentieth century. Men with iron muscles and the dogged heroism of unmechanized agricultural labour, women with bodies ravaged by continual pregnancies, they possessed in full measure all the guts, all the enthusiasm, all the naivete, all the hope, all the desperation necessary to make it in the big city. The only thing they left out of account was time, of which they knew very little apart from the rythms of nature. The sadistic vivisection of life into hours, minutes, seconds, was one of the few hardships never inflicted by the soil. Deadlines, especially, were the source of a new kind of anxiety. Stress? It’s urban version was strange, alien, insidious, and something they had no way of dealing with. Yaa baa was a poison whose time had come.” — Bankgkok 8, John Burdett

It’s interesting how small things, like a drink you buy at 7-11, can tell you a lot about what is happening in Thailand, economically and culturally.

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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