Readers' Submissions

Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes Part 86

  • Written by Dana
  • June 4th, 2005
  • 27 min read


THAILANDIUS ABSURDIUM

"Within five years, evil squirrels will conquer the world and make us all slaves in their nut mines." –Scott Adams (Dilbert)

Think this is absurd? I can see you have not spent enough time on the ground in Thailand. Interacting with the locals in Thailand will challenge your reserves of patience and your notions of civility and your here-to-fore successfully suppressed violent urges. And they are all in on it. I don't mean to make it sound as if you are facing an orgainized cabal of liars, thieves, weasels, and ignoramuses; just that they are all Thais, and Thais often have a completely different way of looking at things. And different doesn't mean the same as or slightly different from; it means sharing no commonality–hence the often heard farang expostulation 'From Another Planet'.

Thailand for the average western educated farang used to logic, and order, and universally held notions of customer service and business ethics, and other social niceties and efficient rule-by-government necessities will be astounded and challenged to find that there is a whole culture stumbling along without these things. It can be a bumpy road. And every bump is a surprise the first time. Hence the oft heard or bleated or sighed expression–Only in Thailand.

And as an additional surreal set-up for this cross cultural experience you are prepared in advance by every single Thailand guidebook telling you that in the Kingdom you must not raise your voice or act aggressive or go goggle-eyed with frustration or remonstrate or demand to be treated fairly or imagine that you have the right to be defensive. It just ain't cool. Who wrote these guidebooks–the Thais? Boy, talk about a set-up; everything will be different and absolutely no matter what happens to you it's jelly fish time. No matter how much Thais or Thai culture pokes it's finger into your gelatinous tourist farang non-citizen no-legal-rights body you can not resist or defend or remonstrate. I'd like to get the back story on these Thailand guidebooks that happy well-intentioned researching farangs read before they come to The Kingdom. I used to think the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights were maybe the most important and the most influential documents ever produced. The product of writing and marketing and political geniuses. But more and more I am persuaded that the Thais that managed to infiltrate 100% of the Thai guidebooks and plant and sell the notion that no foreigners in Thailand had the right to defend or remonstrate or complain because it just wasn't 'cool' are the true Machiavellian geniuses.

Anyway, I love visiting Thailand but it is not always a lovable place. It is a tough gig where often things don't make sense and it is best to just roll with the punches. A lot of people go to Thailand once and never go back. I am sympathetic. The fact that I love to go there and I am never happier than when deeply embedded in the barely suppressed criminality and stupidity and squalor of a red light district is not defendable or explainable to the tourist who went once and never returned. Hell, I can't even explain it. In Boston I spend my time saying intelligent educated things to intelligent educated people; dressing in business suits; and living in a historical district with gas lamps, brick sidewalks, people with more degrees than a thermometer factory, and Labrador retrievers with trust funds. Then there is Thailand. I'm pretty much an addict by now. And like all addictions it is not a state of mind that can be explained or sold to others. So I don't try. When in the States I have learned that my Thai enthusiasms and experiences don't sell well. People here are saving their money to go to Disneyland in Florida and ride a clean rollercoaster. I'm saving my money to go to an often filthy country full of sometimes rude people who may treat me like shit and also let me ride their daughter. I love the Kingdom. I just can't explain it. I do better now in Thailand than I used to. It took me years to learn to just relax and go with it. Try to see the humor in it. Give up trying to right every wrong. Stop getting pissed at every injustice visited on me. Stop walking so fast. And coincidentally the Thais are now reacting to me differently. Less tension–more smiles–cheaper girls. So below are some examples of the Thai experience. Enjoy.

1. I was stopped by a policeman in Lumpini park and informed that I had been littering and that I had to pay a fine. The two of us were standing on a patch of newly mowed grass that looked like a putting green. Not a piece of litter in sight. Anywhere. I managed to negotiate the amount of the fine down but I paid. Helloooo. . . Is anyone listening out there? I paid a fine for something I did not do and in circumstances that denied even the possibility that I could have done so. Welcome to Thailand. The stupidity and the absurdity of this just about give me brain freeze. If you were a corrupt police official engaged in the ‘litter-fine-farang-extortion' racket wouldn't it behoove you as a bare minimum to at least make sure there was litter under foot–under the farang's foot? Apparently not.

2. I picked up a nice woman at the Nana Entertainment Plaza and we went to my hotel room. She required a condom to ‘be safe'. I liked her and she seemed to like me. A couple of nights later she said that the condom was not necessary because she ‘liked' me. What happened to ‘be safe'. Sadly, this is very common.

3. In many restaurants if the waiter/waitress makes a mistake the owner of the restaurant takes it out of their wages. But there is an easy solution to this. You, the customer, are expected to pay. You ordered a roast beef sandwich and they brought an egg salad sandwich–no problem–you pay for the wrong order. There are only three possibilities here: the waitress pays, the owner absorbs the loss as a cost of doing good business, you get fucked. Guess what they do in Thailand. You guessed it.

4. At the hotel room door my short-time lover announces that she is going downstairs to the hotel disco to be with her friend. Then she asks for taxi money. Do they ever listen to themselves? Last time I checked there is no inside-the-hotel taxi that goes from the ninth floor to the lobby. Still–some idiot farangs and probably all Japanese would give her a ‘taxi' fee to use the elevator. Nice work if you can get it. No wonder western feminist volunteer groups can't get the girls to quit the business.

5. A woman selling snacks early in the morning on Walking St. in Pattaya tells me one cake is 10baht and two cakes is 10baht. I'm in my traditional early morning stagger mode in the hot early morning of Pattaya but this calculation I can do. I pick up two cakes and give her 10baht. She takes it. Makes me wonder how she calculates the pricing. If two cakes is 10Baht and one cake is 10baht, is zero cakes 10baht? Is that how she makes up for the one cake to two cake shortfall? I make a mental note that tomorrow in the early morning heat with my barely functioning early morning brain to ask her how much zero cakes cost. No answer will surprise me.

6. A tourist photographer on the first terrace at the Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai says ‘pictures' includes everything. I don't ask what everything is. Later on when I go to pick the pictures up he wants an additional ‘developing' charge. I refuse. He gives me the pictures. They never quit.

7. A taxi driver who works for the Nana Hotel takes me to a gem store instead of to the place I had directed him to take me. So I flag down another taxi. As I am getting in the second taxi the first taxi driver guy comes up and grabs me and starts yelling. Apparently he feels I should pay him for taking me to a place I did not request to be taken. (An aside here: this is a perfect example of why Thailand will never be taken seriously in the world community. This behavior is just so stupid no one has the time for it.) I yell back at him. A policeman shows up. No one can speak anyone else's language. I end up paying the first taxi. But I'm not done. Later on back at the hotel I grab the taxi driver by his belt and drag him into the hotel and tell my story to the manager. I get my money back. Idiots. When I finally enroll in that Thai language class that will make me as cool as the overdressed expats wearing suits and ties in 100 degree Bangkok weather the first Thai word I am going to learn is 'Idiots'.

8. A tranny pickup off the boardwalk in Pattaya does not want to take her underpants off because. . . : she is doing some pantomiming that I am supposed to understand. What? What the hell am I paying for here? More Nonsense from the Nonsense people in the land of Nonsense. The service she wants to provide I could get from a pat of butter on my dick and a toothless dog. Do they ever listen to themselves?

9. I am in a shop on Sukhumvit road looking at beautiful silk bathrobes. I want to get one for Wan. I pantomime to the shop girl that Wan is about this tall–I touch a place on my arm. So we have to be looking for a bathrobe for someone that tall. They do not have any. The ones they have are for taller girls. "No Ploblum"–the shop girl says, "Just Get Bigger Girlfriend."

10. I go into a place in Pattaya to rent a motorbike. I know in advance he is going to require that I leave my passport. No way am I going to use my passport as collateral. But I have brought to Thailand my other expired passport. I give him the expired passport. He doesn't even look inside. This should not have worked. It did. Only in Thailand.

11. I'm on a tour and we have been taken to a restaurant. We order. The food never comes. We wait over an hour. So finally I get up and tell the guide I am leaving and going back to my hotel. A restaurant person chases me down and tells me I have to pay for my food. I say "No, I do not have to pay for food that I order–I only have to pay for food that arrives!" Eventually, the guide steps in and tells the restaurant she will pay for me. Another reason Thailand will never be world competitive–a nation doomed to be the world's tuktuk drivers.

12. A hotel I am staying at in cold Chiang Mai has thermostats on the wall but no heat. Ok, things do not always operate; I understand that. But wait, it gets better; THEY HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT. Apparently I am from the planet Zebron in the Whitemania galaxy and I am the first hotel guest to expect the wall thermostat to actually mean something.

13. A roadside eatery outside of Kanchanaburi has a step up deck and place to order the food. But the tables and benches are in the road. Inconveniently and dangerously so. They are the ubiquitous solid poured concrete benches and seats that you see all over Thailand. Heavy. Apparently when they were delivered the truck driver and a helper put them in the road. Everyone else is too lazy to carry them up to the deck.

14. A hilltribe woman in Pattaya blocks my way and shoves her box of jewelry at me. The stuff is cheap and uninspired. I've looked at all of this stuff before and I am just not a customer. But she does have a round silver disc hanging around her neck that I like. I point to it. Another hill tribe woman shows up. They are like snakes. Travel in pairs. I say "Tao Rai?" to the woman with the disc. Headshake. I try again. Another negative headshake. The second woman explains that the only stuff that is for sale is the stuff in the box. So I reach out with both hands and carefully take the silver disc off the first woman's neck and put it in the box. They sell it to me for 200baht.

15. I have made a reservation at the Parkway Inn hotel on Sukhumvit. I get there very late– way past the ‘we will hold the room for you' reservation window. Sometimes when you are traveling shit happens and you are just much later than you thought you would be. So I am very late. I tell the hotel I have a reservation for a room but I am very late and I am very sorry and do they by any chance still have the room. They reply that the room is available but I can not have it because I had a reservation and I am too late. So I take a hotel business card off the reception desk and go over to the Nana hotel lobby and get a hooker to dial the number of the Parkway Inn hotel for me. Then I get on the phone and ask if they have any rooms available. "Yes they do." they say. I reserve it in my name over the phone. Then I go over immediately and get the room. The lady at the desk does not even bat an eye. Thailand. A house of mirrors.

16. Leaving Thailand at the end of your vacation you are at Don Muang airport. A big international airport. If you have check-in baggage it has to go through the x-ray machine as part of a security check. If you have carry-on luggage you just walk around the x-ray thing. I could have 20 pounds of plastique explosive in my carry-on luggage and no one would know. This never fails to astound me. I am sure many many people have pointed out the logical inconsistency and security lunacy of this but nothing changes. Amazing. Perfect end to your vacation in the wacky Kingdom. The kingdom of mirrors. A funhouse where nothing makes sense.

17. I am trying to get a bus ticket from one remote part of the Kingdom to another remote part of the Kingdom. The bus is full. The bus clerk asks me if I would like to ride in the luggage compartment under the bus. I think he was kidding. I hope he was kidding. He must have been kidding.

18. A slightly frightened, non-aggressive, and not very athletic woman does not run fast enough or soon enough at the start of the parasail launch so she is ignominiously and dangerously dragged the length of the barge like a teak log and slammed into the sea before being hauled from the ocean for her ‘vacation experience'. She lands bloody and angry. Wants her money back. "No can do." they say. But she can have another exciting scenic parasail for half price.

19. I'm on a tourist beach tour thing and there is a guy renting equipment for snorkeling–fins and snorkels and masks. You pick your stuff out of a big box. One of the masks has no face plate. He says he'll give me a discount. What?

20. A knock on the door. I look through the peep hole. A maid. I have put the DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door knob. I did this so that I would not be disturbed. I believe this is how this system is supposed to work. I know I am handicapped because I am just an unhip westerner surrounded by people and culture so fantastically groovy that I could not possibly understand it all; but still–I think this is how this sign thing is supposed to work. I open the door a crack and smile at the maid and point to the sign. This should take care of it. There is a system well understood by everyone and I am a paying customer and this should take care of it. She looks down at the sign and reaches out with her hand and turns it around so that it says PLEASE MAKE UP ROOM. I give up. I open the door and let her in. Thailand. Another planet.

21. Wearing sunglasses when you go to the Royal Palace is the biggest mistake that tourists make. It is always hot and the sun bounces off of the walls of the buildings with a glare like bouncing off a snowfield. So everyone wears sunglasses. But then they miss the fabulous colors of the tile and gem and gold encrusted walls. So when I go I always buy a mulberry bark (paper) umbrella from the guy across the street. Last time it was 100baht. Two hours later I am leaving and he says "Would you like to sell the umbrella?" "Sure" I say–"How much will you pay?" "Ten baht." he replies. 100baht to 10baht in two hours. I don't think so. I take it home. Pride goeth before the fall. Same for greed.

22. I am going to be at the We-Have-No-Idea-What-We-Are-Doing Hotel for about 8 days. Around the third day the desk woman asks if I can pay for the first three days. No problem. I pay. No receipt and she does not write it down on anything. We have a conversation about that. I get nowhere. A couple of days later again she wants money. I pay. Again no receipt and nothing is written down. When I finally check out everything is perfect. She remembered everything. But this is Thailandius Absurdium.

23. I'm standing near the guy who sells the crickets and scorpions and fried cockroaches and beetles and other gross insect monstrosities to the Isaan bargirls from the Nana Entertainment Plaza and he starts yelling at me. He points to a sign. You have to pay to take a picture of the insects. I don't have a camera. I'm not interested in his insects and I am not in that tourist category and I am just standing on the sidewalk planning my next move. And let me repeat for the record: I DON'T HAVE A CAMERA. It's a good thing the police did not get involved otherwise I would have had to pay to take a picture with a camera that I did not have. You know–all countries have dumb people; but I honestly think Thailand is competitive in the ‘dumb people' category. If ‘dumb people' ever becomes an Olympic event I'm putting my money on Thailand.

24. A temple popular with tourists (read: guests to our country from all over the world) in Bangkok has just installed brand new western style toilets in a brand new building. No toilet paper. Look I don't want to be some colonialist imperialist hardass here–you know, someone who actually has a brain–and unfairly expect every Thai to be able to extemporaneously expound on the meaning of Newton's Third Law of Motion; but it is hard to imagine something more species common and basic than shitting. The mental leap from messy rectum to toilet paper should not even be recorded in a book on the Theory of Evolution.

25. I'm in a no-name part of Thailand west of Kanchanaburi. Early morning and I am going down the dirt road to the market for some breakfast. I hear birds. Then I see cages. Lots of them. They are next to the road and must have something to do with the house I can see. These are not birds that are for sale but pet birds. Lots of them and very pretty. The sun is coming up on a new day and the birds can feel the warmth and they are happily singing. And I am happy. Standing in the sun and talking to the birds. Then the yelling starts. A guy near the house. Yelling. Bad looking face. More yelling. I decide to ignore it. Make a western farang stand for non-lunatic behavior. Mistake. Now he is coming for me. I'm small and weak. Wouldn't stand a chance. So I move off down the road. So what was the yelling about on this beautiful morning in the Land of Smiles? I don't know. Thailand is a house of mirrors. But it is not always a funhouse.

26. I don't drink alcohol in bars so I never lose my mind. I am always alert. Sometimes this helps. I go to one of the second floor rip-off bars in the Pong. It is awful so I turn to leave. Now I am surrounded by unsmiling bargirls and two guys who insist that I have to pay for the ‘show'. Well there wasn't any show and I ain't paying and they have picked on the wrong guy because I have not been drinking. But there is something clever about this little bar. When you go in the bar and the door closes behind you it perfectly matches the paneled wall. So if you do not work there, or if this is your first time in the bar, or if you have had too many drinks; you can't see where the door is and you can't find the door and your sense of discomfort and disorientation grows until you hand over the money and someone opens the door. It's a routine–a trap–part of the bullshit sold as exotica in the Land of Scams. But I have been in one of these hidden-door places before so I kinda know the deal. So I just push through the crowd and go up to the wall and start feeling my way along in the dark looking for the door handle. I look like a horse's ass but I do not care. I know that the logic of my actions is on my side and eventually I will find the door. The little crowd of extortionate thieves watches for a few seconds. Then someone opens the door.

27. I drop off the 10baht bus in South Pattaya (actually 5baht but I haven't got the strength to deal with every issue) and go to the window. All I have is a 20baht note. So I hold the note up so that the driver and his wife can see it. I am waiting for my 10baht in change. They are waiting for the 20baht note to come through the window so that they can zoom away and screw the farang. It's a standoff. So I start to turn on my heel as if I am going to walk away–a grunt from the cab–out comes the change and in goes the bill. So why is this story in a submission called Thailandius Absurdium? Because if this husband and wife are doing this 10 times a day seven days a week they need to examine how they are living. This is absurd.

28. I give my laundry to the girls at the front desk at the AA Hotel. They run a little side business doing laundry for the guests. It's a deal because it is convenient and fast and affordable. Three hours later it is delivered to my room. There is a sock missing from the pile. I have paid for the service in advance and I have tipped the porter for bringing it up. So I go down to the desk to inquire about the sock. The sock is found on the floor behind the counter. It never got done. Now they want an additional fee to wash the sock. . . . . I just take it.

29. I make inquiries at the Rajah Hotel on Sukhumvit in BKK about bringing female guests up to my room. So obviously I am a client who intends to bring prostitutes up to his room. I could be bringing female guests up to my room at night to watch CNN or discuss contemporary Thai politics or help them with their Chula University Marketing degree homework but the chances of this seem remote. More likely since I am a single foreign western male and I am renting a hotel room in a red light district; I am bringing female guests up to my room to pull down their pants and have sex with them. The clues seem obvious. This social conclusion does not seem like rocket science to me. But apparently it does qualify as rocket science at the Rajah hotel because the key they give me is to a room that has two single beds. So I go back down to the lobby desk. Another 5000 calories expended and more stupid smiling and idiot pantomiming and eventually we get it taken care of. It's a good thing it was easy to plant rice otherwise these idiots would have starved one thousand years ago. As in most things in life it helps to be young and strong but especially so in Thailand–not for the bedroom athletics but for the social bullshit. It's a tough gig in a strange place populated by people who rarely say, "Does this make sense?"

30. I got so disgusted with Pim and her cell phone that one night I put it in the toilet tank. Not 3 seconds later (almost got caught) she was in there taking a dump and the phone started ringing behind her. She lifts up the lid to the tank. Yelling. Seems funny now. She wanted to know why I did that. She could not make any mental connection between my emotions and my actions. My behavior was completely inexplicable to her. Two people staring at each other in a bedroom late at night. Two different planets.

31. Sometimes things are so absurd and ludicrous it is best to just go with the flow. I haven't seen Fa in six months. I got into Pattaya the night before and the next morning I go across the highway to the boulevard at Soi 13 and there she is. She sees me. Big smile and wave. I run up. Smiles. She points to her earrings and says, "I am still wearing the earrings you bought for me last time." I never bought her any earrings. I almost open my mouth to correct her because I am a westerner and westerners are in love with facts. Then I snap out of it. "I'm glad you like them" I say. She smiles. . . I stagger a little as if there is a wind blowing–a temporary loss of equilibrium–now they've got me agreeing to things that never happened. Remember, you are outnumbered. It is only a matter of time before you go native. Just go with it. In a couple of years you'll be working for a mahout picking up elephant plop and thinking your life is better than the lives of your friends who stayed in the old country. Delusion has set in. But who knows? Maybe your blood pressure is normal and their blood pressure is elevated. Thailand. You have gone through every stage since you got off the plane years ago and now you are down to "Who Knows?"

Here is another absurd example: I go into the Cats Eye bar on the second floor of the Nana Entertainment Plaza. I sit down. A woman comes up to me and sits opposite me and says, "I hope you like what I am wearing. I put it on this morning thinking of you. After meeting you here last night I have been thinking of you all day." I have never seen this woman in my life! I tell her she looks great. Now they've got me acting crazy.

32. I go into a bar that also has little food items you can buy. I am with two friends. The bar has a big new laminated and prominently displayed sign that says that they have a new line of 50baht pizzas in different flavors and combinations. We all order these little pizzas in three different flavors. I order a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese and one of my friends orders a hamburger pizza with green peppers and my other friend orders an onion and mushroom pizza. We are all brought cheese pizzas. The sign means nothing. Placing orders means nothing. What the customer wants means nothing. Thailand.

33. I have told a friend of mine that the next time I go to Thailand I will look for some books that feature the bargirls and dancers. These are great books if you have an interest in this sort of thing. Lots of high resolution photographs of happy smiling whores. Narrow niche small market publications but very nicely done. Not necessarily politically correct though. I ask about the books at the bookstore on the second floor of the Royal Garden Plaza mall in South Pattaya. I go to this place every morning to buy newspapers and often deal with the same woman. She is young and very attractive and whip smart and fun and speaks pretty good English. She is also completely unattainable because she is a ‘good' girl. Ok fine–every country needs good girls and lots of them and I wouldn't change her for the world. She says that they have two of the books on my list but they will have to order the third book. It will be in tomorrow afternoon. The next day I show up and she takes me to the shelf where the three books are. We do some friendly chatting and helloing. It is hard holding the books and bursting the protective cellophane wrappers to ignore the contents of the books. She is looking. I am slightly embarrassed. I say something innocuous to break the tension and she responds that she wouldn't have any interest in the books. "Why is that?" I say. "Because I am sexier than any of those girls." she says. I look at her. She looks back. She smiles and winks at me. Jesus, I thought she was a good girl. Now I am confused. Thailand. A funhouse with mirrors. Now of course I can't get her out of my mind. Being tortured. Women in Thailand must look at farang men the way cats look at mice. This little theatre in the bookstore is a perfect example of how something ordinary can become absurd and surreal in Thailand in a second. People like to talk about how if you learn to speak Thai that you will be able to more successfully integrate yourself in the society and more easily know what the Thais are thinking. I am not sure I believe that. I think it is a funhouse with mirrors. I'm not convinced that non-Thais can ever be sure about anything.

Well, that's it guys–thirty three examples of Thailandius Absurdium and I was barely trying. If we got 100 farangs together and they each had 30 examples, that would be 3000 stories. If we got 1000 farangs together in the Polo Entertainment Lounge on Walking Street in South Pattaya and had them all drink three shots of whiskey and four beers and a mouthful of gin to cleanse the palette we would get 30,000 stories. If a guy comes back from a vacation to Thailand and he does not have any stories–he didn't go.

Stickman's thoughts:

Absurd, an often used word.