The 7-11 and Pichest Boonthumme

Published | Updated November 25, 2018
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The 7-11

The 7-11 as a metaphor of everything which goes wrong in the world—an image used regularly by Pichest Boonthumme, the already legendary “chain smoking Thai Massage master” from Hang Dong (Chiang Mai).

For the greater part I kind of agree with his view (and more on that later in this post), but nevertheless, to me personally—I do adore the Thai 7-11 shops. And I love them for a whole bunch of reasons.

You see, they’re everywhere, most of them are open 24-hours (not just from 7am to 11pm), they’re all basically the same (meaning you know what to expect), they’re cheap, and you can get about anything you really need (that is—especially when you’re a farang [westerner]).

The 7-11 boasts a huge selection of goods on often amazingly little floor space. From raincoats to coffee, from paracetamol to sandwiches and complete meals, and from tampons to reloads for your prepaid SIM-card.

Furthermore, it’s a very important reference point to me as a foreigner. For instance, when I arrive in an unknown Thai city or village, I will always ask for the 7-11. As there are almost never any signposts pointing out a city-center, the 7-11 is a sure thing when it comes to finding it.

Also, when I need to know where a certain location is, I ask the Thai to explain the directions to me with the 7-11 as a starting point (or ending point for that matter)—always works marvelously.

You know, the first thing I do on arriving in Thailand is getting myself a coffee—at the 7-11 that is. And yes, you bet, also when I leave Thailand, it’s again the airport’s 7-11 and—a good-bye-cup-of-coffee.

Okay, you’re right, I just loooove coffee (and definitely take in too much of it). Surely I don’t need a 7-11 for that, but they do serve these cheap, big ones, and  they always taste same-same and not different.

As for Pichest Boonthumme, well, it’s true that the 7-11 is the fast-food version of a department store, meaning it’s a small, stressful, hasty, crowded, highly non-spiritual and often low-quality products environment. I won’t dig into issues like product packaging, employee wages, environmental stuff, and the like, but I’m sure these are some additional topics which are probably “not so okay!” But anyway, seen from out the traditional Thai perspective and culture, the 7-11 is obviously a blasphemous horror-scenario.

When we look at the spirit and goals of Thai Massage in the sense of a peaceful, spiritual, high-quality healing bodywork modality, you can easily grasp Pichest’s idea of  the 7-11 as the radical opposition of that which Thai Traditional Massage & Medicine stands for. And the thing is, the 7-11 is certainly not attracting so-called farangs exclusively. Not at all. It’s crowded with Thais. Especially a lot of young and younger Thais.

Yes, we notice loads of youngsters hitting the computer game-rooms after school, we see heavily overweight Thais eating junk-food and taking motorbikes for a 50 meters distance and we see too many gadget-loaded Thais craving for more and more “bling-bling.” We see Thais running after money, selling their souls and the like and yes, we see them adopting the “achievements” of the West in a maddening speed. What we did in two-hundred years, they do in just—twenty.

I do share Pichest’s concern and his sharp critique. It’s just painfully clear and obvious—all these profound changes can’t be ignored. Not in Thailand, not in South-East Asia. We see a dazzling blend of traditional values intertwined with modern “conquests” and we wonder what’s happening and where things are heading to.

I sincerely hope that Asia is capable of mixing old and new in healthy ways, in creative and new ways. Because one thing I’m sure of… if there’s any hope, if there’s some kind of integration, sublimation and transcendence possible, that it surely will rise somewhere and somehow from out this amazing continent and its incredible people.

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