As the crowds pour off the platform and descend into the noisy interior of Bangkok's flashiest shopping mall, an item in the newspaper catches my eye. It's enough to make you turn around and run out of the mall, or perhaps stick around to keep a closer eye on the spending habits of fellow shoppers. A survey of 1,200 Thais found that 84 per cent of respondents said their monthly income wasn't enough to cover their spending. The income bracket with the biggest financial problems wasn't the rural poor, but Thais earning between 20,000 baht (HK$4,150) and 40,000 baht a month. In Bangkok, that includes secretaries working in local firms and the heavily made-up counter staff in department stores. The average household debt in Thailand has reached 116,000 baht, which is a tidy sum in my book. According to the survey, inflation is blamed for squeezing monthly finances, as higher oil prices and interest rates push up prices. Those who can't make ends meet are turning to banks and finance companies, as well as informal lenders - also known as loan sharks. Perhaps most worrying, about 35 per cent of respondents say they are borrowing to cover routine spending. A credit culture is fast taking root across East Asia. Thais aren't as reckless as South Koreans, for example, when it comes to spending up to their credit card limits. What sent the Thai economy crashing in 1997 was the debt level of poorly managed companies, not weekend shoppers. No doubt banks will be licking their lips when they read that Thais are going into debt to support their spending habits. I still find it amazing that people are prepared to run up debts on credit cards, given the sky-high interest rates. But the billboards are crammed full of advertisements for such cards, so I assume the market is expanding. All this spending comes against a backdrop of political turmoil in Thailand over the fate of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who until now has refused to give up the fight to cling to power in the face of widespread opposition. Economists have been warning for months that the political uncertainty is crimping growth and dampening business confidence. It can't last, they say. But try telling that to Bangkok's young shoppers on a Saturday afternoon, as they pour off the trains and into the bright, air-conditioned malls. More malls are on the way: cranes are swinging over the horizon as giant blocks rise from the dust, destined to be filled with consumer goodies. It raises the inevitable question: what did Bangkokians do at the weekend before malls were built? Go to the market, you might think. Yes, to a point. But there wasn't much to buy there, and it was too hot and sticky to linger. Perhaps they borrowed less, and spent less - and who's to say if life was better or worse?