One of my first experiences of Thailand was visiting a temple in Ratchada. One of the women there was selling coffee. Nothing extraordinary about that. However, she had two club feet and was clearly disabled. Disabled by western standards, at least.
Because although she was unable to run or ride roller skates, she was doing almost everything else perfectly well.
”It happened when I was a child,” she said, when I asked her about her ailment.
”I fell down and hurt my legs. My parents never took me to the doctor. When I was older and went to the hospital there was nothing they could do.”
Here was this middle-aged lady with her problem feet selling coffee at the Wat Kunnatriruttharam temple taking a few thousand baht a day in earnings. Sure, she has costs, so we can assume she probably takes home between 1,000 and 2,000 baht a day in profit judging by the amount a drinks she said she sells each day.
The reason I was so amazed by this was because I had just arrived in Thailand from the UK, where welfare payments were being doled out here, there and everywhere. People with non-existent or minor ailments were receiving free houses, having their bills paid and on top of that, pocketing hundreds of pounds a month in benefits.
Many of these were also fit, healthy people. Or foreigners who’d arrived in the UK and were receiving the benefits from the government, for no real reason.
How different this was to Thailand and that hobbling old lady at the temple. She seemed completely unconcerned about her club feet. It would have never occurred to her that they would prevent her from working, let alone be a ‘meal ticket’ to a life on welfare.
It was this kind of self-reliant attitude that I immediately liked. How different to those in the UK, and other western countries, who would happily receive welfare and spend an unproductive life on the couch.
This resilient lady had set up her own coffee stall business and was doing really well from it. She was easily earning two or three times the minimum wage.
This is something I have seen over and over again in Thailand repeated in different situations with different people. Although the lack of government welfare is easy to condemn, and there are many other issues with corruption and public funds, it also leads to a populace of people who are independent of the state and who can stand on their own two feet. No matter how damaged those feet are.