A Different Thailand
Ask anybody the question "what do you know about Thailand" and they will inevitably mention prostitution, possibly drugs, paedophilia, poverty and on the bright side, it's hot. Believe it or not, it is possible to not only visit Thailand, but actually live there and never see a prostitute. Yes my friends, it's true! Many of you are probably thinking, "but why would I want to go to Thailand if there aren't any hookers"? Good question, but only you can answer that.
If I was to visit Disneyland, would I be able to claim I know America and Americans? Do I really want to know America and Americans? No….I want to see Micky Mouse and Daffy Duck and 2 pound hamburgers sold by young girls, chiming "have a nice day". I don't want to see a car factory in Detroit. I don't want to experience New England in the fall. I don't want to see anything except Micky Mouse cos I'm a Disney freak, with a cartoon addiction and nothing will do, but my animated favourites, come alive for 2 weeks of a year, while I scratch out a living for the other 50, so I can get my Disney fix. It's the same for Thailand. We head straight for the bars and the girls and that's where we stay…….because that's all there is to Thailand, right?
I've been to Sukhumvit and Patong, gave Pattaya a miss, but I thought I knew Thailand.
I've read much of this site and that simply reinforced, what I had seen for myself. You see, tourism is about tourists and people who enter the tourist industry, in whatever capacity, earn their money from…..you got it…us! That's why they are there….to take our money….fair or unfair, it doesn't matter to them. Go to any tourist destination anywhere and you will see tourists paying over the odds, all day every day. It's called business. You can only sell, what people are prepared to pay. Thailand is no different in that respect…..so why should we judge Thais, by those who work in the tourist areas? Should Thais judge farangs by those who live in bars for 2 weeks? Do you really care???
There is a very good chance that you have moved onto the next submission already, (reverse psychology haha) The bottom line is, many of you do not want to know Thais or Thailand and that's fine. Neither do Thais want to know you or your country. They don't care how much better life is in Farangland, because it's irrelevant to them….to just about all of them. Forget your farang principles, because Thais move to Bangkok and tourist areas, so they have to work less for more money. They don't own vast amounts of land, with workers to plant their rice, otherwise they would be there, not driving a tuk tuk, or working in a stuffy office. Let me tell you this……the people who work in the tourist industry are not a fair representation of Thai people, or Thailand <I absolutely agree with this sentence, 100%! – Stick>. I don't care how long you have lived in Pattaya, or Bangkok, the Thais there will always look for your generosity because that is how they make a living.
Some people reading this may feel they dislike me already. Some may ask what the hell do I know anyway. You will tell me that you know some great Thai people from the areas I have mentioned. How can I condemn 10 million people as…..unThai? Well I'm not…..that's stupid. It's like saying, people from Liverpool are not the same as people from Surrey, therefore, they can't be English. But the people are different, there is no doubt. That's really what I want to write about……a different Thailand.
Ask any bargirl where she is from and the chances are she will say Bangkok. Shake your head and say "Isaan" and she will probably move on to the next customer. Surin is another popular breeding ground for bargirls, but why is this? I mean, they could work in shops or hotels, or waitresses, whatever, couldn't they? Well they could, if they had to support just themselves, but that's rarely the case. Why are so many people so poor in these areas? The answer is simple. There are the few that own land and there are the many that work the land. Serfdom is alive and well, in rural Thailand. You are nothing without land. So children are seen as a commodity, rather than something to love and to cherish. Those with land can school their children and give them an opportunity to make a career for themselves. Those without have their kids work in fields, not school and the girls packed off to tourist land, the day after they hit 18. They then begin to pay the huge debt they owe to their parents (Bun Khun) because that is what they are made to think. These are people who have lost their souls, their dignity and their principles. Go into any village in Isaan and you will find few women between 18 and 30. The young men show little respect to their elders as Thai society dictates. Those who have lived in Isaan will know that there are no real friendships to be made, no matter how good your Thai is. There is no community here…how can there be when half of it has been sold to prostitution? Yes Isaan is different…it makes the meat that is sold to the tourist market.
I had been dreading meeting my girlfriend's family long before I met them. I wasn't sure whether I would like them, how they would treat me. Would I be made to feel like an outsider? A circus freak? What?
Chumpon is a 6 hour bus ride south of Bangkok. The town itself could be any forgettable, Asian provincial town. Her family's village lies 40 klicks south of the main town. The highway gives way to a red gravel road, which has potholes that would kill anything, except a 4 wheel drive. They don't grow rice here. They grow rubber, palms, pineapples, coconuts and god knows what…..the whole village is one massive plantation. The people do not live close together. They tend to live where their land is, which kind of makes sense.
There are smaller tracks that lead into the plantations. It was hard to get a feel for the scale of the place because everything is so spread out. Her mum's house had rubber trees at the front and an assortment of fruit trees at the rear. The house itself really wasn't much, but it was concrete and looked solid enough. As we approached the rear, sat on the veranda were 20 pairs of eyes all trying to get a first glimpse of the man, that would soon be a family member. There was a whoop from a lady, then chattering, then everyone was laughing.
"What are they laughing at?" I asked my dearest.
"They want to know what a handsome young man is doing with an old women", she said. The tension was broken, and I wai the older sisters and her mum. I was not made a fuss of at all, but I felt relaxed as they chatted to my future wife. There seemed to be approval of sorts as she could not stop smiling and looking at me. I sat quietly and smiled a lot….that was all I could do.
I bought some beers, but there was only me drinking them and they gave me a little confidence to speak Thai. They had never heard a white man speak Thai, so I was subjected to rounds of clapping.
As evening fell, her sister and husband took us to their home, where I was to stay for the next couple of weeks. Their home was nice….brand new, with a big Isuzu pick up out the front. They worked hard on their rubber plantation and had workers to help too. These were not poor people nor rich…just hard working and careful with their money.
Pjep, the husband told me I could use his truck any time I liked, as long as I replaced the gas. By this time the workers had arrived and Pfon made a simple meal for them all. A bottle of Lao khow was passed around and I threw in my beer. Everyone smiled and chatted easily with each other, then off for night cutting rubber trees, with lamps on their heads to see in the dark.
They gave up their bed for me and my girl….they slept on the floor in the spare room.
The next day, we went out to a narm tok, or waterfall. The water falls into a lagoon, which is the Thai equivalent of a swimming pool, at least here anyway. You sit in the bamboo huts and can order food and drink, which is served by 2 ladyboys. There are life jackets to keep the kids afloat and a rope swing for the more adventurous. 15 people fed and watered and time to go. I reach for the bill, but Pjep has already paid. I buy a few bottles of regency brandy on the way back and they are quickly drunk at the front of the house. I was seriously saving money here, so I asked Pjep to lend me his truck. I took it to a car audio shop and had a CD player fitted, instead of the tape player. When I brought it back home I told him there was a problem with the car. Worry turned to joy as he saw his new stereo. He took me for a ride, with farang music blasting…..a happy man.
We had a trip to Surat Thani, out on a big reservoir. A boat took us out to a floating hotel of sorts, which Pjep's friend owned. We were fed and got drunk in the most beautiful place I have ever been. Cliffs surrounding emerald green water. Pjep's friend decided not to charge us the 200 baht a night room, just the food and drink…….a massive 860 baht!
The time came to ask her mother how much sin sot she would like me to pay. "Lan" she said. "Lan, lan!" <Larn = one million – Stick>
I say…."I could buy 5 brides for that!" She laughed and said up to you. My girl had already told me that it will all be given back anyway. She asked me if I wanted to build a house on her land as she would be leaving it to my wife anyway. Pjep had already offered to sign 2 rai to my girl, to build a house and I think that might be a better move.
Lets get this straight…..nobody asked me to pay for anything, or give them money. They like to earn their money the same as we do. Gifts will be accepted with gratitude, but money was always refused. I never heard anyone argue or disagree, in or out of the family. I never heard a child being chastised. The young show respect to the old….always and the respect is returned. There were things I did not agree with, but I kept my opinions to myself. I was treated with respect by all. I was Khon mike to the young or norn Mike to the old. There are no girls sent out to work in bars here, although some do get jobs in Phuket or Samui. A prostitute would bring great shame to the family, the same as anywhere. I have never met such happy and contented people as I did in this village. Such a contrast to my life in the UK. I envy them all……but not for long!
The chance to meet a girl from the south is slim. They don't need us. I was lucky, or maybe I just see integrity when I see it. Apart from the main resort in Chumpon, I never saw a white man. I am the first white man to enter the village and the first to live in the village. They seem to think I bring good luck, but I think it's the other way round. I will never be Thai and I don't want to be. I don't think anyone else does either. They want me to be a good husband, a good father and part of the family……and you know what?…..I think I can just about manage that.
But the people from the south are so difficult to understand!