Stickman Readers' Submissions March 23rd, 2006

It’s Not In Every Guidebook

Let me start off with this: I mean, what do Thais hate more than anything – stress, friction, mai sanuk … anything that falls outside the normal face-saving slick functioning of society whereby everyone pretends everything is always okay. Very, very few farang I know or have seen can pull this off. You don't need to be fluent in Thai, by the way – though of course this helps. Smiling and nodding, over and over, no matter how badly the idiot waiter at the restaurant fouled things up, will get you through with a minimum of pain. Like I said, this is in the Lonely Planet, for Christ's sake! But people who have been here a long time tend to forget; they get impatient; they get fed up. So they get all frown-faced and snap at the moron who's bringing them their vanilla milkshake.

My friend Hippo is suggesting that it is in every guidebook. I assume he refers to: It is very bad manners to make public displays of anger, as Thais regard such behavior as boorish and a loss of face. Well, first of all I have seen quite a number of angry Thais here. So they must not have read the guidebooks. Personally I think there is a lot of rubbish in these guidebooks. Like: You should never touch Thais on the head (I sometimes even slap them on the head, of course just in a playful way. And I don't do it with strangers in the skytrain) or Beachwear should be confined to the beach. Thais and Foreigner did not read this section likewise. When I walk around in the areas where Thais live I see tons of people just wearing shorts and T-Shirts. Go down Sukhumvit and you see even more foreigners wearing shorts. I agree, the Thais would only wear it around their houses and foreigners even go to the Immigration in shorts and sometimes topless. One Western guy who was right off some island even refused to wear a shirt for the obligatory photo. He was looking like Robinson Crusoe himself and very confident in his role. He borrowed my shirt for his photo, but went topless inside the immigration and got his extension in the same time as I got mine. For me, I actually never wear shorts, I think it looks pretty ridiculous on adults. But I may be more conservative than the Thais. I am not kidding. See, if I wear a white shirt on a Sunday, everybody comes up to me and says: Ah you are going to work, sir? Ah! (the Clouseau ah!), that is where it comes from. Work: White shirt or uniform. Not work: Dress like a castaway. This is especially true for the local girls. Maybe that is why we prefer them in uniforms. Seriously, I never liked women in uniform until I came to Thailand. Because when they dress in their own style' it often looks like a car crash.

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What I want to say is that all the advice in the guide books is relative. It depends on the situation. There are many exceptions to every guidebook rule. If everything would be in the guidebooks, well we would not need Stickman, right? We would buy one guidebook which gets us through the next 10 years in Thailand. Unfortunately, there is no such guidebook (with maybe the exception of Siam smiles). But there is some hidden truth in what Hippo said, and I am starting to approach it. Everywhere I went, in all the whole wide world, my life got easier in that particular foreign country, the longer I stayed. I learned about the local culture and conventions. Only in Thailand, for some strange reasons, my life does not get easier. A lot of people wrote to me saying that they feel the same way. They say: As I learn more and more about Thai language, the "locals" seem less and less interested in getting acquainted with me. I often hear, "rhuu-maak". As you certainly know, that means, "He knows too much" or "You can speak Thai, you know too much". What!!!! This is really so pitiful. I have travelled around many countries and lived in several for a number of years. Only in Thailand have I come across this attitude. Admittedly it is not all Thais, but certainly more than enough to warrant me getting annoyed about it. In fact, in all other countries the people welcome and encourage an attempt to speak the language especially above the simple "hello, how are you?" level. Not in Thailand, here it is better that we Farangs do not understand anything or know anything about the Thais other than the superficial crap they want us to believe. I have, however, now reached the conclusion that beneath the superficial layer there is not that much of interest anyway.

This is not in the guidebooks. I tell you what I think. Many of these guidebooks are out there to precondition us that the Thai culture is sacred and common sense criticism is out of line. Well, I would say this attitude opens a dangerous door for Thai scam artists. Because we have been indoctrinated with a lot of crap not to lose our cool, we maybe ignore some warning signs too, because we stay too polite and friendly. I admire the Israelis for their toughness. Back in Africa, the so called Beach Boys i.e. beach gangsters used to harass all the tourists, except the Israelis. They knew what they would get from them, so they left them in peace. Anyway, listen to this, this is from a friend of mine who had an argument with a hooker: At one point, she threw my B2,000 on the floor (which I thought was a taboo because the king's face was on it). My response to that was: Nothing is sacred in Thailand and all rules are totally breakable if it suits THEM well. Do you start to get my point?

Back on the issue of why our life in Thailand gets more difficult and frustrating the longer we stay. Maybe, because we see more and more things which are not to be found in the guidebooks. Maybe because we realize that the Land of Smiles is an illusion. Maybe because we realize that we may been better off had we stayed at home, or maybe because we are angry at ourselves because we realize how far off we are and that we would not fit in to our own society..? Please read more. Almost everything about Thailand is overrated. Almost everywhere I have been in this country I have been disappointed. One town looks like the other, everywhere you go, there is nothing charming about these towns. What glues us to Thailand? What is it? The women? One part maybe. But Thai women are not the most beautiful Asian girls and certainly not the most easy going ones if you decide to bring them home. One reason maybe is that we feel free here. The stench of Bangkok is the smell of freedom' somebody wrote to me. Maybe the foreign people who choose to live in Bangkok are misfits? Why would we otherwise live here? There is no logical reason for staying in this city, if you don't absolutely have to, job wise. For me: Bangkok is the French Foreign Legion of the cities. There are some people who go to the French Foreign Legion, because they don't fit in anywhere else. Maybe we have to take this into consideration for Bangkok / Thailand too. Full stop. But then, maybe some of us just need a clean shave and fresh clothes? I can't speak for everybody.

You know what happens to a good guidebook in Thailand? It gets banned. Bangkok Inside Out is such an example. I quote the Thai authorities: According to the Constitution, the press has freedom to publish. So, all we can do is to take the problematic books off the shelf. So we have to stick with the guidebooks which are still on the market. Siam smile/s by Hugh Watson is a great guidebook! Unfortunately one day, if the wrong person reads it, I am pretty sure it will get banned too. They don't like when we know too much about them. They like us on the beginner level: Very important Thai eating rules: 1) Only eat with your RIGHT HAND. 2) Eat with a spoon, don't eat with a fork, only use the fork to put food on the spoon. 3) Wash your hands before eating. 4) if you are in a homestay, shower before eating (as much as possible). 5) Sticky rice is hand food! Ball it up, then make it into a pinch pot and use it as a little edible spoon-bowl type thing to eat. 6) Enjoy your meal!!!

Ah another thing, yes when will they take Stickmanbangkok off the air? Therefore, my point is to use common sense in Thailand, not guidebook dogmas. Rely on yourself. Read Emerson, not the Lonely Planet. And by the way, in the story with the milkshake I did not lose my temper. It was just a 50 cent milkshake (for Christ's sake).

Stickman's thoughts:

The point about being less popular the more you know does ring true, in certain circles at least. One thing I have noticed is that amongst the really well-educated and successful Thais, they are genuinely surprised that some farangs stay in Thailand as long as they do. One can read into this what they will…

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