Same Same, But Different

by Andy Wood on July 9, 2009

in Exploring the Possibilities, Gamblers, Hoarders, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Photos, Tense Truths

dscf1780There’s an old colloquial saying in Thailand that has become something of a joke.  Makes for a great t-shirt, too.  When foreigners would travel to the Land of Smiles, and ask if this whatever was the same as the whatever where they came from, or the whatever from another part of the country or town, the standard reply was, “Same same, but different.”

Why do they have the same two kinds of markets sitting right next to each other?  Same same, but different.

Are the people on the southern coast the same as the people in Chiang Mai or Bangkok?  Same same, but different.

Do the cooks turn out that Thai cuisine they way their grandmothers did it?  Same same, but different.

Today those who deal with the realities of change in this, the only nation in Asia never colonized, face great challenges and great opportunities.  And yet, they hold on to a culture that is the friendliest form of fierce independence I have ever met.  Same same, but different.


Like many other cities who number in the hundreds of thousands, Chonburi is a sometimes-rude clash of old-meets-new.  In the old parts of town, row after row of marketplace vendors sit next to each other in an odd dance of competition and cooperation.  If the restaurant you’re sitting in doesn’t have your favorite dessert, nobody cares if you send somebody off to buy it elsewhere and enjoy it right where you’re sitting.

dscf1747 Meanwhile in other parts of the city, dazzling new shopping malls and massive supermarkets attract shoppers by the thousands, and the consumers are bringing their money or credit cards with them.

“People come to Thailand hoping to see people do things the old way,” my host says.  “But people here want to have things the new way, like they see it in other countries.”

Same same, but different.

It’s only a matter of time before the Walmart effect begins drying up what for many has been the family business for generations.  The grandpa with the abacus in the back room is no match for bulk buying.  Bargaining and bartering will give way to deep discounts.


The Baptist church here is evolving.  People half my age now lead worship in the church my missionary parents-in-law helped build in the 60s.  The piano has given way to a modest drum kit, a couple of guitars, and a bass.  A projector flashes words on the screen, just like most anywhere else in a developed country these days.  And the people there seem to be committed to what they’re doing.

dscf1710Meanwhile, around the corner, what once was the Baptist Hospital still stands, but no longer has patient beds, surgeries, or emergency rooms.  Only an outpatient clinic stands as testimony to a ministry that once was.  Yet out of the grave of what once was a life-changing medical facility, a new ministry has emerged that offers Thai women a chance at meaningful employment and an opportunity for spiritual leaders and missionaries to teach and evangelize.  Through Thai Country Trim, lives are being touched.  Same same, but different.

But there’s underlying tension in Bangkla.  Like their brothers and sisters all over the world in established churches and ministries, there is a clash between what the locals call “the old way” and “the new way.”  The old way sings the old songs.  Uses the old tried-and-true methods.  Clings to the old-time faith AND the old-time religion (two very different things).  The new way is making headway in other places, and there is a yearning for a breakthrough in Bangkla.  New methods.  New responses to technology.  New applications of eternal biblical truth.  A new wineskin for a new generation.  New ministry strategies that actually work for a generation who lives online and on texting the friend in the next room.  Same same, but different, please.

Those who cling to the old way fear that change means dishonoring their past and those who have so blessed them in days gone by.  Can you relate?  A different dynamic doesn’t have to mean a different gospel or a different “product.”  Different can still be same same.


No city shows off change in Siam like Bangkok, and that’s fitting.  It was here that my wife went off to boarding school in the seventh grade.  Yet as we make the trek into the city, she remarks that all we were seeing has been built since she was here in the early 70s.  Yet, she says at dinner, “When I’m here, it’s like my equilibrium is completely balanced.  It’s like taking a deep breath.”  Different, but same same.

Robin and I ascend to the 77th floor of the Baiyoke Tower Hotel where we’re staying.  This, the tallest building in Thailand, gives us a stunning nighttime view of Bangkok.  All of that is interesting enough to her… until we realize we’re also standing in a museum.  We’re gazing at the different, while she is being reminded of what to her was the same same.  There’s the old cart with the yoke for water buffalos.  The hundred or so wooden elephants that reminds her of the time they actually saw the king’s elephants being moved from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for a special celebration.  The three-wheeled saam lau, Thailand’s old-school pedal-powered taxis.  The replica of the old candy store, circa Robin’s childhood.  Suddenly she has come to life.  This was the world of her never-ending-childhood adventure.  And for a few moments, my mate has been transported back in time.  Same same is different is same same.

The Dance

We all do a dance with change, but we all approach it differently.  To some of us, change is a rude intruder, even something of a chronological rapist.  It is forced upon us while we pine away for a life that most of the people in our lives are too young to even remember.  Biblically speaking, we try to put new wine in old wineskins, and wonder why our containers keep breaking apart.  Same same, by God, and nothing more!

Others want change for change’s sake.  They have the right idea, but impotent motives.  They want change to save face.  To be like the global or spiritual Joneses.  They want to change the wrapping without really understanding why it even matters.  Different!

Then there are others who approach this dance as the lead partner.  They get ahead of change.  Anchoring themselves to the timeless, they seek new adventures.  Grateful for the same same, and fiercely loyal to its core ideals and truths, they gracefully lead the way toward different.  And in doing so, they change lives, and change the world.

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