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Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes Part 53

  • Written by Dana
  • July 19th, 2004
  • 10 min read


Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes 53


THE EX-PAT FACE

Dana: "Where do they learn it?"
Barfriend: "Where do they learn what mate?"
Dana: "Do they go to some secret school in a Tierra del Fuegian ford? Do they get taken to the Plain of Jars in Laos to attend a seminar? Is the knowledge imparted to them in the early morning light of an abandoned rubber plantation in old Indo-China? Is there a crop burning haze hiding a remote Laotian-Thai border camp that has school buildings and dormitories?"
Barfriend: "What the Alice Springs are you talking about mate?"
Dana: "Where do Ex-Pats learn to make that face?"
Barfriend: "What face?"
Dana: "The Ex-Pat face!"
Barfriend: "What the alkaline watering hole are you blathering about mate?"
Dana: "I'll explain. . . ."

I am sitting at a big round communal breakfast table in the Nana Hotel one morning and sitting to the right of me and opposite to me are two gentleman in their advanced seventies. They have been friends for life and have both successfully retired to Thailand and both live alone and separately in two rural Thai towns. And between the two of them (I hear them say) they have been to almost 100 funerals in the last year and a half. I have been eavesdropping and when I hear this whopper I can't resist speaking up. I know a big fat lie when I hear one and I am now going to have some fun in the guise of a questioning third party observer. "Gee", I say–"That's about 50 funerals apiece in about eighteen months. How is that possible (You big fat liars)?" And that is when I get it. Both barrels. Each of their heads paused, then swiveled and turned as if they were receiving robotic signals–located my face, locked on–and then I got hit by the EX-PAT FACE. The withering look that ex-pats reserve for short term visitors to the Kingdom (re: tourists). Apparently, I have said something or asked something or contributed something to the social mix and to the conversation that is so dumb bunny tourist stupid and imbecilic that a normal facial expression won't do–it's time for the EX-PAT FACE. I have said something so stupid that I have slipped the bonds of the human or even the humanoid and become a tourist. Gone from homo sapien to salamander in the time it took me to ask one question of an ex-pat. My reward for this reclassification is to receive the face reserved for tourists–the EX–PAT FACE. I have come to the conclusion from receiving many of these withering facial stews of derision and boredom and contempt and ridicule and snickering (not to mention the eye rolling and snorting and facial tics) that once an ex-pat receives a long term visa or marries a local or has made 10 visa runs that there is some school that they all go to where they learn these facial expressions and body language tics and tremors and eye athletics and French truffle pig snorts that they delight in laying on the wide-eyed newbie. Not to mention the breaking off of eye contact and the head dropping down as if your stupidity will suck the life's breath out of them.

God forbid that I have a Thai accent that is not perfect. I can stop ten Thai taxi drivers in a row and get ten different accents but my accent has to be flawless or the ex-pats want to call the Tourist Police and have me arrested. Or god forbid I am not Thai literate or can't write my name in Thai script on the Snooker blackboard or need help reading a receipt or a phone bill or need help making a phone call. God forbid I need help with directions or have never heard of the special little bar on the special little island. OK, just arrest me–I am not worthy. I am not an all-seeing, all-knowing Ex-Pat!

Honestly, someday I'd like someone to explain the social dynamics of this to me. Am I actually supposed to feel challenged or diminished by some guy with a one year visa driving a ratty truck and living with a woman shaped like a bowling ball who has to check his toilet seat every morning for furry, leggy, slithering insurgents? I don't think so! But they all think so! All the ex-pats. The EX-PAT NATION. One of the things that binds all ex-pats together is the sure and certain knowledge that they are superior to all tourists. On what stone face in what Thai cave is this chiseled? Someday I'd like to infiltrate the annual ex-pat conference/picnic. You know the one. The drinking festival that is held on the banks of a no-name river tumbling down the side of an obscure mountain in a northern province. You know the conference I'm talking about. The one where a bar is set up under a big tree, the front seats of pick-up trucks are used for afternoon siestas, no mixed drinks are allowed, a portable generator powers a big TV with a split screen showing soccer and cricket simultaneously, and all the accompanying wives and girlfriends get drunker than the men. Yeah baby, class all the way. Some day I'd like to be special enough to be included in that group but I guess for now that is just a dream. And at this annual ex-pat conference I'd like to sit in on the opening four hour seminar called ATTITUDE–you know, the seminar where they are reminded how superior they are to short term tourists. The delusional preaching to the deranged. But I digress. . . .

Honestly, ex-pats of Thailand; am I supposed to be diminished by your friends Hans or Sven or Charlie or Booger who were invisible no-name nobodies in their own populous western countries but now that they are living in a Third World country they are suddenly Somebody? Is everyone nuts? Sorry guys, it doesn't work like that. We are all nobodies that Time will soon forget and we are all tourists on this big rock. In the meantime, try to be nice.

I once saw an Australian media tycoon on the corner of Sukhumvit and soi 4 waiting for his Thai girlfriend. Is this man of achievement and vision and public contribution supposed to feel inferior to Paul from Belfast or Booger from Bavaria with their one year visas just because he is only visiting the Kingdom for ten days? Is everyone in this country crazy? When ex-pats talk to each other do they actually say things to each other like this and believe this self-serving delusionary juvenile crap? I'll tell you what ex-pats: Next time I'm coming to Thailand every one of you meet me at the airport. Line up on the tarmac. When I get off the plane you can tell me one at a time how superior to me you are. We'll see how many of you can keep a straight face. Oh, by the way–you have to do this sober!

This face making and eye rolling is all part of the males ceaseless need to establish dominance over other males. And it is boring. OK, you know about some groovy bar on an island I haven't been to yet. And this makes you superior to me? Are you serious? Is this your idea of an idea? Hey, I've got an idea. Since you know everything about Thailand–why don't you go to the nearest up to date modern Thai hospital and get a cat scan to see if you have any brains.

The idiocy of this is stupefying. Let's see if we can follow ex-pat logic–see if you can follow along as we tour the incredibly sophisticated minds of these big brain ex-pats. Example: The first person to climb Mount Everest was Sir Edmund Hillary. He was a hero, a demi-god in his own time. The second guy to climb Mount Everest was a nobody. He was just a tourist. Someone with so little value he should be kept from breeding. Another example: The first person to swim the English Channel was an athletic visionary. The second person to swim the English Channel was just a goddamned tourist who couldn't afford boat fare to France. Etc. This is stupid. Snobbish and exclusionary to no purpose. I can't expect to get interest or sympathy from the Thais in Thailand when I visit. OK, no problem. Thailand is for Thais. But apparently, I can't expect good manners from my own kind either. I'm just a low life tourist. Hell, I'm lucky these two combined social forces of hipdom let me live. I'm damned lucky to make it back on the plane. Think I'm exaggerating? Reread the recent printings of the Thai guidebooks. They now tell you to beware of ex-pat scams (. . . want to buy a bar?) visited on tourists. So I can't expect friendly reliable behavior from Thais or from non-Thais. Years ago when people asked me why I vacationed in Thailand I used to excitedly and enthusiastically name a bunch of reasons. Now when I get the same question–I'm kinda quiet. I'm not really sure anymore.

And the ex-pats pull this face making nonsense on themselves too. The 10 year ex-pat looks down on the 5 year ex-pat. And the 15 year ex-pat looks down on the 10 year ex-pat. And the 20 year ex-pat won't talk to anybody!! In his mind he's achieved some kind of ex-pat godhead status. Ridiculous. Little squirmy carbon based life forms playing one-upmanship games that don't amount to anything. Jockeying for dominance and bragging rights and self-love in a world that doesn't care. ATTN: EX-PATS–Nobody really cares guys! Nobody gives a flying rat's ass how long you've been in the country and how many visa runs you've made and how many stories about the old days you can tell and how many local dialect jokes you understand. The only thing that counts and the only thing that people really care about is whether you can be nice to your fellow human beings. How many of you wise guys are competitive now? How many of you can be nice to a tourist?

And what about these 20 year ex-pats!? Personally, if out of all the world's wonderful possibilities I had spent the best years of my life living in a place where I had no civic protections and I was at risk every time I stepped outside; I'm not sure I'd brag about it. Maybe that's just me!

So that's my rant for today guys: the EX-PAT FACE. It's a facial stew: a little bit of contempt and a little bit of eye rolling and a little bit of impatience and a little bit of father to child patronizing behavior and a little bit of frustration at having to live in a society cluttered up with dumb bunny tourists and their dumb bunny tourist remarks and responses and questions. Well, that's me. I'm a dumb bunny tourist. And I'm pretty happy with myself being a tourist. Pretty pleased that I can afford to pay the bill and be able to take the time off to be more than fifty miles from home on a mission of pleasure. Most human beings can't do that. I'm lucky and I'm harmless and I'm happy. So the ex-pat notion that you are somehow superior to me because of time and place and circumstance just doesn't compute in my head. You are wasting your time with your jokes at my expense and your barely concealed contempt. If the Thai government told me that I had to wear a sign around my neck that said ‘Tourist'–I'd wear it with pride. I'm not so sure I'd be so happy to wear a sign that said ‘Ex-Pat'.


Stickman's thoughts:

No-one describes this situation better than Jake Needham who refers to it as the "jungle Jim syndrome". Simply put, many expats feel threatened by new immigrants to these shores…