I received a letter from a friend in the States, who bemoaned the loss of the small "Mom & Pop" stores of his childhood. With a melancholy pen, he mourns the extinction of small shops by the encroaching mega-chains, even into the small towns of America. Living in Thailand, even in a huge city such as Bangkok, one cannot escape the world of the small business man or woman; tiny shops line every street, and many stay open all night. Motor bikes with sidecars holding nothing more than cold soft drinks compete with noodle stands for Thai baht. The entrepreneurial spirit is not only alive, it is thriving. It is sometimes difficult to imagine how some of these shops manage to survive. However, as I learn more about Thai culture, I understand that the basis of business ownership is about simple survival, not about making a huge profit in order to buy a large house and two cars. Most of these folks make just enough to get by, and in Thailand, that is the main point. The man who sits next to his table on the sidewalk all day long, selling bananas at fifty cents a bunch seems as jovial at dusk as he does at dawn when he sets up. The photo shop owner, whom I awoke from a nap on his floor when I entered his small shop, may see only a few customers a day who buy a roll of film for 100 baht ($3). Sometimes I am the only customer in a barber shop for hours.
Of course, there are giants of capitalism here, as in any major city: Huge malls, multi-floor mega-discount stores and fast food icons. The difference, however, is the accessibility of the small shops. They line the streets of every neighborhood, so that they are not far from local consumers. In America, we rely so heavily on automobiles to take us to centralized shopping districts, that we must travel relatively long distances just to buy a loaf of bread. When was the last time I walked anywhere in the States to buy groceries? Only in those small towns and villages where I by chance lived near them. Here, no matter where one lives, it is but a short walk or bike ride to get most of the necessities for basic living