Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes Part 72
Thai Thoughts & Anecdotes 72
DO I STAY OR DO I GO?
1974–St. John, United States Virgin Islands
On a day off from the shipyard I decide to hike across the island. No plan. Just a meander ever east until I reach the dry end where the trade wind strikes first. Nestled next to a hurricane harbor is a bar. I buy a Heineken and climb the hill behind. Halfway up I sit and drink. I can see up Sir Francis Drake passage and the British Virgin Islands. Turning inward I can see a small red roofed building far away in a valley. Suddenly the building disgorges children. No sound. They are too far away. It must be a schoolhouse. Then following the children is a woman. A young woman with hips wider than her waist and breasts pushing against her shirt and a single braid down her back. The young faraway schoolteacher is short and broad like a Dutch peasant woman in an Old Masters painting. A Rembrandt mistress who is reliable and strong and loving and fertile. In a second I fall in love with the woman and we marry and build a house. I get a good job. My heart sings. Then there are children. Wait a minute! Disconnect. I don't want my children going to school on this island and growing up in this society. And if this place isn't good enough for my children it shouldn't be good enough for me either! All in a second. Do I stay or do I go? Down the hill I stumble and hitch back to Cruz Bay. I withdraw my savings from the bank, fill up my water jugs at the town square pipe, and pick up canned goods at Miss Lillian's grocery. Miss Lillian's–the local grocery where if you are white either she or her son always dump the canned goods in on top of the eggs! The next day I sail back to the States.
1998–Chiang Rai, Thailand
I am sitting halfway up a hill with a bottle of Chang beer waiting for Nom to return. Out of the crop burning haze and smoke she appears as an apparition. Hips wider than her waist, breasts pushing against her shirt, a single black braid bouncing in back. She has a plain face and a peasant body. Barefoot. She is not exotic or cleverly sexy or mysteriously oriental–no soil for a Kipling poem. She knows nothing of bar girl make-up or Frankenstein shoes or long painted nails. But she is a woman to her bones. And I am inexpressively happy. She could be Eve to any man and she has picked me. Like the old who are amazed and grateful to wake every morning I am amazed and grateful to see her every morning. The curve of her dark Essan hip under the covers is testament to a million years of womanhood before her. She has the confidence and hypnotic appeal of sexual destiny. Woman is! Every man must start from scratch. Sexual games would give the illusion of power and of inclusion but like all wearied men of wisdom and experience I knew I wasn't equal. She was suay maak. I was a grown-up boy still under the covers with a flashlight and a magazine. At my age and with a spotty record as a human being I deserve little. She is also fertile. If I stay there will be tests for me. Tests of love and commitment. Tests of fatherhood and manhood. Not the manhood of bragging and battle and sexual conquests; but the manhood of the silent heroes. The men who come home every night to the same brown eyed woman. My eyes stray to the jet contrails high up in the sky. I can always use technology to escape. She has fewer options. I feel shamed by my choices!
She has been climbing trees and plucking orchids: Using her broad peasant feet with splayed prehensile toes and clunky short fingered hands. There is a trickle of blood running down her leg. But it is not from a motorbike accident but from an orchid gathering accident. A grown up village girl still delighting in childish things. Next time I see scars on the retail girls of Bangkok I will imagine them from flower hunting adventures rather than from getting thrown off the pillion seat into oncoming tuk-tuks. One orchid is over her ear and one is at the tip of her braid. And one example of Epidendrum is being handed to me. I know a lot about orchids including the Latin names. She only knows that they are beautiful and they make her smile. What she knows about orchids is what I know about her. She is beautiful and natural and makes me smile. On the way down the trail to the guesthouse I pull out of my shirt pocket the rubber banded Thai words and phrases note cards. The first thing we did together and now a parlor game between lovers. She says "Mai aow!" and pushes them away. "Tonight"– she says, "We must talk of important things!"
Do I stay or do I go?
THAI GALACTIC AIRWAYS
I'm no scientific reader or anything and I'm not the brightest light bulb in the hallway; but sometimes I think I can detect criticism of Thais and of Thailand in the reader's submissions on this website. I think this is wrong and I think this is mean-spirited and I take offence on behalf of all Thais everywhere. I haven't been to every country in the world yet, but I'm sure that if I did get to every country in the world; I don't believe that I would find a more open-hearted, generous, friendly, intelligent people than the Thais. Did you know that Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles? That should tell you something. In fact, if this is something that you could measure somehow; I believe that the Thais are probably at the top of the evolutionary ladder. I believe the brilliant, talented, good looking New Zealanders are probably second; but right now I am just talking about the Thais. One of the pieces of evidence (in my humble opinion) that the Thais are intellectually superior (in a DNA sort of way) to most other people is that they sometimes have a hard time giving directions to wandering farangs. Let me explain:
The Thais have never ever been lost so they don't know how to give directions–you learn by doing–other peoples like the farang have been lost so often that they have developed the skills necessary to give directions to others that are lost. If you have never come in contact with anyone who is lost there is no way that you could have developed the skills or the mindset necessary to give directions to lost people. This isn't the Thais' fault. It is their gift. The fact that the Thais are so poor at giving directions is not a mark of inferiority but a mark of superiority. Thais have never come in contact with another Thai who has ever been lost. They themselves have never been lost. Their navigational and geographical and spatial senses are so superior that they have not had to learn to process information regarding direction giving. This is the mark of superiority of intellect. These are mental giants. It wouldn't surprise me to find that the spaceships of the future, plunging in and out of time warps and other spooky dimensions, are piloted by Thais. They are the space argonauts of the future that will probably be responsible for locating other worlds for population sites or for natural resources like chillies and catfish or for inter-galactic navigational beacons. So don't bother asking Thais for directions! They just can't do it.
Ask yourself this question: Has a ten baht bus ever gotten lost running up and down Beach road in South Pattaya? I think that you know the answer! Has a motorcycle taxi delivering you from Robinson's department store to the Nana hotel on lower Sukhumvit ever gotten lost? Again, I think you know the answer! These gifted wonderful intelligent Thais are able to focus on their destination like iron filings to a magnet. Ever watched a pig hunt truffles in a French forest? Think Thais seeking their destination! Has anyone ever called you a French truffle hunting pig? I think not.
So, if you are a lost farang don't blame the Thais and get them mixed up in it. You are lost and incompetent–not them. They know where they are and they know where they came from and they know where they are going. How can they possibly be expected to give you directions? You are lost. Not them. And asking a Thai to give directions forces on them an unkind and maybe impossible mental task–you are asking them to gear down. To be less than they are. You wouldn't ask Einstein to count crayons. Too much gearing down for the man's big brain. Hell, the experience might make his hairy head explode. Same with the Thais of Thailand. You wouldn't ask Yo Yo Ma to play the banjo. Well, not twice. Because the first time you asked him to play the banjo he would beat you within an inch of your life with his Stradivarius bow. You wouldn't ask Beckham (soccer star popular with the fish and chips set) to play youth soccer. He might break a leg trying to block a six year old. You wouldn't ask Willy the Shake (Shakespeare) or Homer or Milton to write train schedules. You'd end up with three extremely well written suicide notes. And it would be your fault for underestimating people and not treating them with the respect that is their due. Well, as the night follows the day; you shouldn't ask and it is futile to ask Thais to give directions. They just can't do it.
If you are a farang and you are lost it's your fault–don't try to get the innocent Thais wrapped up in your problems. You are the incompetent one–they are the gifted ones. They just can't give directions. Don't believe me? OK, try this: On a Saturday or a Sunday in Bangkok get the Skytrain and go out to the Chatuchak Weekend market. Find the main entrance. Now walk in any direction for five hundred yards. Now ask a Thai for directions to the Chatuchak market. Good Luck. Remember to remind yourself as the life slowly drains from your body in the midday sun that it wasn't the charming smiling Thai's fault. They smiled. They tried. You wandered. You died.
I am 54 years old which means that I have another 46 years left on Earth. If in my lifetime space travel becomes available and affordable; I'm going! But I'll make my starry travel plans based on smell. If I smell pat tai jey or tom kloeng or plar chon than I'll know that it is Thai Galactic Airways and they'll never get lost. You can fly Singapore Heavenly Stars Airways or Korean Universe Airways or Cathay Pacific Andromeda Air based on rumors about the stewardesses; but I'm flying with the Thais. I want to come home again.
So come on farangs of the world. Be big enough to recognize the gifts of others. Thais just can't give directions. It is because they are superior to you. Just go with it.