My Neverland Is Changing

Pai, my favorite place in Thailand, is changing. With the influx of tourists, development is throwing up subtle signs of progress which for me (who always held this tiny refuge as my ideal small town comfort) can be a sore. The most evident was the shoe shop near Walking Street which was bigger than the rest of the shops in town. This particular shoe shop, with its glass windows displaying goods that duplicated city footwear labels that seemed too impractical to be used in Pai,  hideously  stationed itself in between the food and souvenir shops that were much admired for their handmade authenticity. Travellers who have visited Pai must be wondering, what am I complaining about? The town has received major infrastructure upgrades in the past years; like  the airport, the four 7-eleven stores, music clubs, and not to mention the three sets of traffic lights which I have admitted I appreciated.

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My first visit, April 2012 was the period when I was sporting a short ‘do’

I honestly don’t mind tour buses (or vans) tearing along the highway, nor the small shops sprouting like mushrooms because I know that Pai thrives on tourism but what I am worried about is the increment of investments like that shoe shop which will eventually lead to upscale shopping malls. I love the idea that Pai was once a quiet market village inhabited by the ethnic tribe, Shan and although I am not entirely against progress, I still prefer that this beautiful town maintain its identity. Pai is not Chiang Mai, nor like any other city in Thailand and many people love it because it boasts of this unique relaxed atmosphere seldom found in other places.

Pai Backpacking ghetto!

I raised this concern with Ace, a friend who is based in China, while we were arguing about his suggested Wuhan, Heifei, and Nanjing itinerary before sending me off to Beijing for my Trans Siberian adventure which I know he secretly wishes will not push through. I will admit that there is a broader definition of culture that I need to pay attention to here. Him, being based in a city surrounded by mega-structures will of course take the side of progress and vouch for its advantages; and since growth is inevitable (he announces like as if it was a new idea), we all need to be flexible with the changes that are happening. He has a point.

Places, like people and everything else, change as the years roll in. Often the change is such a contrast to how you remembered and loved the place to be, that you reject it immediately. You reject it because the face it shows is not the same. You reject it because it wakes a different emotion when you wanted that old familiar fire in your heart. You reject it because what you used to know becomes a memory that you can only revisit in old photographs and videos.

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My first day back in Pai will not be complete without the usual jog so here are the mountains I adored so much (taken using my phone while huffing my way to Coffee In Love Café).

We all have the penchant for the old (me, most especially) but we also have to make way for the new. Contemporary culture, because times have indeed changed, should be given a chance to walk side-by-side traditional culture – with the hope that it will never over-step the latter.

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