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Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes 28

  • Written by Dana
  • January 5th, 2004
  • 13 min read




YELLOW SNOW

The Eskimos and the Thais have something in common. They both have a lot of words for water. In the Eskimo's case it is frozen water called snow. They have lots of different words for snow. Use the wrong word and you are mis-communicating. If you say sticky snow when you meant fluffy snow, there is a problem. You don't know how to speak the language very well. The Thais also have lots of words for water. Use the wrong word for water and problems develop.

Noi and I are on an all day excursion in and around Chiang Mai. The morning was elephants and rafting and the afternoon will be the orchid place and the furniture factory and the silver factory and the umbrella factory. I had forgotten about lunch.

At lunch time the minibus pulls up to a roadside restaurant. Some enterprising soul has built modern sit down toilets. If you build modern sit down toilets the big buses and the minibuses and even the Thais will come. This is really all you need to know about how to make a lot of money in Thailand. Just build civilized toilets. Under the trees by the side of the road long tables have been set up. It is pretty and quiet and natural and nice. There are lots of happy people. The service is good and the food is good. But I don't have any water. My water glass is empty. I ask Noi for help in getting me some water but she is useless. Once she is more than 100 yards from the bar or her room she is functionally illiterate. Useless. If her water buffalo was sitting next to me I'd have a better chance of getting help with water. Maybe the buffalo could hook the waitress with one of his horns and I could then make my 'water in my drinking glass' needs known, or maybe in perfectly accented Lannen Thai the water buffalo of Noi's could speak to the waitress for me, or maybe the buffalo could let loose a giant paddy scented bazooka fart and that would get us some attention. But there is no helpful water buffalo sitting next to me and miss "I Love You Too Much" is missing in action. I will have to do this myself. So I ask the waitress for some water. Nothing. I try again. Nothing. I raise my voice a little and point to my glass. Now I have her attention. I get a look of complete incomprehension. Apparently I am the first diner in the history of the restaurant to ask for water. Since this is my third trip to Thailand and I am still in the early throes of enthusiasm about the Thai experience I have learned to string together some words and phrases. So I know how to order drinking water for Christ's sake! What's wrong with these idiots? Because it is my third trip to Thailand I have also gotten over the fascination with the Oriental. They are just people and not always so special either. Now I am half rising out of my seat and more loudly asking for water. I am saying the words and pointing to my glass. Some people seated around us go a little quiet. Good, maybe I'll get the attention I deserve. Still nothing. Fuck it. I stand up and tap my plate with a knife and in the ensuing silence hold up the glass and point to it and direct the waitress to fill up the glass with some water. Silence. Then rumbling strange disquietude amongst my dining Thai neighbors. Then laughter. Then rolls and peals and screams of laughter. Laughter that rolls up and down the table and then is translated to the other tables by blabbermouth Thais. Noi's face has gone beet red. Usually this only happens after considerable athleticism on my part. More laughter. And an explanation.

I had been asking for TOILET water. The farang wanted the waitress to put toilet water in his drinking glass!

I was the hit of the lunch. They loved me. Couldn't get enough of me. The waitress gave Noi and I double desserts. Thais accompanied me to the minibus holding up their drinking glasses and shouting TOILET WATER in Thai. People stood by the side of the road and waved goodbye to me. I could have gotten elected mayor.

If I ever go to Eskimoland to take an elephant tour, I'll be careful what word I use for snow at lunch. With my luck I would be asking for YELLOW SNOW.

THAILAND AND BULBS

Here in Boston it is winter and the ground is covered with snow. But in the Spring the ground will be covered with a carpet of flowers. Worth waiting for! In Thailand it seems that the only thing that falls to the ground is money, and the only thing that people wish for the next season is money; money popping out of the ground. It is true that you can't live on love and that beauty is never enough; but money is never enough either. Daffodils and Tulips and Crocuses and Iris and Gladiolus would grow in Thailand. It would be beautiful. Right now Thailand is mostly not beautiful. But it could be. And the flowers would make people smile.

Where I grew up the next door neighbors had an empty house lot next to their house. The young son started buying bulbs and planting them. Eventually large orders were placed directly with bulb merchants in the Netherlands. Neighbors would help with the plantings. I was one of them. By the time the son went away to Harvard and then to the Sorbonne in Paris, there were over 100,000 bulbs that would bloom from the Spring to the late Summer. Paths and benches were installed. Cars would stop. There was a quest sign-in book by the side of the road. People smiled. Thailand could do this!

Years ago I had a job in an industrial park. Nothing to see and nothing much to do at lunch. There was a little pond near the parking lot where you could go look at turtles and birds and little fish and frogs. The ground was marshy. So I went to the owners of the industrial park and told them that if they donated bulbs I would plant them. They gave me 1000 bulbs. Two years later there were benches, and smiles on the faces of people at lunch. Thailand could do this.

If you get the bus from BKK to Pattaya you see a Thai landscape that is flat and boring. But parts of Europe used to be just like this. Now in Europe Police stations and Fire stations have contests for the best flower box or flower bed or flower pot displays. Here on Beacon Hill in Boston every Spring there is a Window box contest. Winners get their picture and a picture of their plantings in the paper. Now all of the buildings have window boxes and plantings and flowers. It becomes the opening wedge of a new attitude. Next you see people painting their front doors, then cleaning the steps and sidewalk every morning, then real estate values go up and crime goes down. It starts with flowers and beauty and smiles. Thailand could do this.

There is an island off the coast of Massachusetts here in the United States called Nantucket. It is really just a big sand bar 30 miles out to sea. The long, grey winter used to yield to an uninteresting Spring and few tourists. Then a woman started planting Daffodils. Then her neighbors started planting Daffodils. Then there was fundraising and local merchants donating money and materials. The media reported it. Now in the Spring the entire island is a yellow carpet of daffodils. There are contests. There is a parade. Tourists have started coming to the island in the Spring instead of waiting until the Summer. Real estate values are up. There is pride of place. Beauty and caring did that. Thailand could do this.

If you travel to the poorer parts of Thailand, you sometimes do not see a lot of beauty or a lot of caring. The people often seem to be in a functional funk or a mental malaise. Where they live is often visually boring or downright ugly and depressing. Flowers could change this. Flowers of the bulb variety are hardy and easy to plant and diverse. If everyone in Thailand was responsible for just one flowering bulb per year that would be over 60,000,000 bulbs per year. In ten years there would be 600,000,000 bulbs in the ground. No other country in the world has ever done this. Thailand could be known for something besides easy morals and corrupt values. People in the Kingdom are waiing less and smiling less. They need flowers. Flowers are not like people. They don't expect to receive love if they give pleasure. It's a one way contract. They just give. They give beauty and hope.

There is not one person in the Kingdom who could not afford to buy one bulb per year. Getting down on their knees to plant the flowers would get many Thais back in touch with the soil of their own country. Right now they just think of the ground as something that devalues their feet. When you don't value the soil of your own country you are starting to lose touch. Thailand is starting to drift. It is as if their astronaut tether has parted and they are tumbling away into Space. They are letting their own country slip through their fingers. Skills at international lending and borrowing, and multi-national manufacturing contracts, and a stable baht, and respect in the UN will never be enough. You have to love your country. Flowers could help change this. Thailand needs flowers.

There is some precedent for this. In August of '03, in honor of the Queen's birthday and to help boost tourism, Thais in Chanthaburi province started replanting yellow orchids in the forests and in the National Parks. All they need to do now is think outside the orchid box. Imagine the Land of Smiles after the rainy season with 600,000,000 flowers blooming. It would be beautiful.

Maybe 10 years from now, instead of just wet T-shirt contests and gay pride parades and transvestite shows; Thailand could also have flower box contests and flower parades and young girls who would want to become Miss Daffodil or Miss Crocus or Miss Tulip or Miss Iris or Miss Gladiolus. If I can dream this dream so can the Thais. But someone needs to show them the way. Years ago I worked at a shipyard in the Caribbean. The shipyard belonged to a hotel. The shipyard was all industry and tools and construction debris and litter. One day I built a six foot long flower box and bolted it to the building under the bosses office window. Then I called the hotel hortaculturalist and he came down and planted flowers. The natives used to fight over who got to water the flowers. The litter got picked up. Then other homes and businesses started to install flower boxes and flower pot displays and flower plantings. Waste sink water in this dry, parched environment was converted to 'grey' water that went to the flowers. Thailand has no excuse.

Maybe when the present government is through with the mechanics and the salesmanship that is required to stabilize the country, they will start encouraging their citizens to plant flowers. It could start at the temples and the schools and the Government offices. If the government did do this I guarantee that it is what the current ruling party would be remembered for. Nobody remembers a deal or a contract or a narrowly averted disaster or a legislative bill; but everybody would remember Thailand if it was carpeted in 10 years with 600 million flowering bulbs. I hope it happens!

A NEW FRIEND

I am not a relaxed type of vacationer. In fact, those type B personalities who fly half way around the world and then spend two weeks lying on the beach piss the hell out of me. In fact, I am so wound up and wired so tight that I have to stay off those beaches because those time wasters irritate me so much. I always have an almost overwhelming desire to go up to them and to kick them and to yell at them and get them going for Christ's sake. I once took both my mother and my girlfriend on a trip to Club Med on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. "Wasn't it difficult to administer to both of their needs?", people would ask me. Shit no. It was easy. I've got the strength of ten men and the energy of a buzz saw on steroids. On the first day of my vacations I always go down to the activities desk and sign up for EVERYTHING. If you see a guy in the Thai umbrella painting class, that's me. If you see a guy in the Thai lacquerware shellacking class, that's me. Submarine tours, I'm in. Orchid nurseries, sign me up. Cave exploring, sounds great. Dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya river–where do I pay? And if there are any women or children in the way I will knock them down getting to an elephant ride. I have all of the activities on a little card and it is in my wallet. I do more on one vacation than most people do in a year. That's what I call relaxing! But of course all of this vacation fun production is only possible because of good time management. I can't waste time! So there isn't much time for experimentation. That means that I inevitably end up staying at the same hotel year after year because it is efficient to do so. That is why I know the Nana Hotel so intimately. But lately it has been a little 'same-same'. So this year I decided to try something new. An email pal has recommended a different hotel in a slightly different part of town with a slightly different ambience. This will be like a trip to Neptune for me. I am only going across Sukhumvit and up a couple of sois but checking out of the Nana I feel like I am cutting the umbilical cord and leaving the mother ship. Goodbye carpark honeys, hello uncertain future. I get that giddy, chilled feeling of the lone adventurer. Goodbye explorers Stanley and Livingstone, hello explorer Dana. I am thinking of getting a pith helmut and a walking stick for this spooky trip across Sukhumvit. And my email pal has told me that there is an old Thai hand who can be found around the pool of this new hotel that I might enjoy meeting. So I check in. The next day I spot the old Thai hand and strike up a conversation. Suddenly, I am like a diabetic in a candy store. I am hooked and I am happy and I am a little fearful of the future. This guy is fabulous with a bottomless well of more interesting stories than I have ever told. But I know that if I hook up with this guy that time management is going to fly right out the window. So I test him to see if this is really fertile ground. I say something that is really insulting, and really challenging, and really funny. He is right back at me. He doesn't pause for a nanosecond. And he hits hard. And he makes me laugh. I can feel my life changing. Improving. I have found a new friend. Forget umbrella painting.

Stickman says:

I guess this is Dana in more subdued mode.