Readers' Submissions

Incountry #9



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I woke up this morning to a cold wind coming in over the green mountains as a result of the cyclone coming through the night before. My eyes still closed, I hear the swish swish of a broom. A soft singing as princess is doing her morning sweeping. She opens the sliding glass doors to let the fresh morning air in and gets the mop and then she begins her ritual of moping the entire place and scrubbing down the bathroom signing softly some Thai ditty that I vaguely recognize.

I hear the ham sizzling in the wok and smell an omelet cooking. My eyes are still closed when the espresso machine makes its hiss and I know she will wake me soon.

Kelly, gin cow.

Sleepily I get up and face the day. The mountains look wonderful in the distance and I realize why Rama IV lived here.

It takes a certain mental toughness to live in Thailand.

She suggests I take a shower because Mem is on her way for my morning massage. Reluctantly I finish breakfast and the espresso and shower.

As I exit the shower Mem is at the door. Mem puts the beer cans for the past couple of days in a plastic bag because she is also a can and battery scavenger.

An hour massage, 150 baht and I am feeling ready to face the day.

My driver takes me to my language tutor at the local college and I try and feed some more words into my old brain. I think I am doing terrible but everyone tells me my Thai is getting better.

I am starting to pick up the tones by listening to Thai music and Thai news broadcasts along with everyone I know being Thai. They are pleased for me to try and speak even though sometimes they look at me like I am nuts. It is not easy but it is an attitude. Some people are not quitters and I have never been a quitter. Sometimes I have to say words three times. But in general they are patient and finally nod in understanding.

There were times when I was in Vietnam in a world past when I was ready to quit but I held on. There were times in my jobs in the States that I wanted to give up but I kept going for just one day at a time till it got better. It always did eventually.

I realized in learning to speak Thai that if the tones were off or the word order off nobody much minds. They are just pleased that I am trying. A lot more Thais speak some English than you might realize. It seems to me that they are afraid to try English until they hear me make a fool of myself trying to speak Thai and then they relax and try and speak a little English.

This is especially true on the phone. Princess seems to get endless pleasure from me telling her friends in her little home town how much I enjoy gin hoy. I don’t know why this is the case but they seem to laugh for hours about it. Perhaps Thai men are not much for the gin hoy stuff. That’s a hard G like Guinness and not a soft g like gin.

Da used to be beautiful. She had everything going for her. Masters degree good job at an advertising agency, guys lined up by the dozen and then she had an accident. A chemical spill in her eyes and she was blind.

If it happened to me I would have been crushed. Maybe she was but she is Thai. And she is our friend. It was her birthday and we took her out to a Thai restaurant on a lake above Chiang Mai. I don’t much care for Thai food but great Thai food is like great food everywhere it is simply great food.

It is not easy living in Thailand it takes a certain mental toughness. It is interesting having a blind house guest. I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I started to put on a pair of shorts when Princess asked me what I was doing. I started to explain and then I realized the foolishness of my actions.

I walk into the grocery store, and it’s a big grocery store if I am alone they ask me where the Princess is. The guy at the local outdoor market doesn’t even ask me what I want when I approach he just slices up the BBQ pork, puts it on top of noodles and adds my favorite sauce. The lady at the 7/11 gets out two packs of Marlboro menthols when I walk in the door.

I have an Australian friend and an British friend and an American friend. But to be honest I don’t see much of them.

I tried Thai male friends. It didn’t work that well. I don’t know if it was an ethnic thing or just me. I like women so I have women friends. It takes a certain amount of mental toughness to have all woman friends. You have to get used to the stares when you go out with four or five women all of whom are a bit younger than yourself. It is rough when you end up at a restaurant with Farang ladies. Especially when you are babbling away in Thai about how fat they are and one of them actually speaks Thai.

I don’t send many letters home anymore. The guys never believed me and the women were disgusted. I never bragged much I gave them 10% of my day but that was enough. My kids don’t like to hear I am happy. I really don’t know why so I just let them know I am OK.

Transportation has never been much of a problem here. I hired a Tuk tuk driver on retainer with a Tuk tuk equipped with a CD, stereo and DVD player. I pay him a lot less than a car payment would be and he is on call 24/7. I took a bus once and it was not a good experience. If I travel, I fly and book a driver on the internet.

I own a fish farm, massage parlor and a tailor shop. They don’t make much money but they don’t lose money. I do the books. It does not keep me busy or provide mental stimulation but it gives me status. My investment was $937.00. I know some will be temped to call me Farang Keenok. So far the return on my investment in eight months has been $100.00. But it is not the investment or the return it is the business.

I would tell you what I did tonight. I would tell you about the pleasures of the simple life in Thailand. I would tell you about the advantages of having a Thai woman who understands men. But you may think I was bragging or exaggerating. It is not easy living in Thailand it takes a certain mental toughness.

I have not written any submissions lately. There are a number of reasons. The first is I have been involved in selling some assets in the States and it was not easy over the long distance.
The assets sold two weeks ago and I am a happy camper.

The other reason is a little more complicated and has came as a complete surprise to me.

In 1969 in Chiang Mai Thailand as a result of exemplary services rendered (not sexual or at least not entirely sexual) I gave a young woman $1000.00 dollars before returning to Vietnam.

I am not immune to depression and periods of less than complete bliss in the land of smiles. It takes a certain amount of mental toughness to live in Thailand.

During one of those brief periods I had one too many drinks at John’s place near the Thai Pai gate in Chiang Mai.

I wandered by drunken memory. I don’t think I could have done it sober to the place where I last lived in Chiang Mai 37 years ago.

I walked trying not to see. I walked trying to remember how it was. 37 years is a long time.

Cities change, streets change and I tried to take myself back to the times I had walked it before.

It took a while. I knocked on a the door of a gated residence.

There was conversation and complication and smiles and frowns that ended in the words, “hello honored father please enter your home.”

It takes a certain amount of mental toughness to live in Thailand. Not everybody has it.

Stickman's thoughts:

Yep, not everyone has it.