It’s Saturday approaching 1400.. One of those lazy Saturdays when all is good with the world, you feel great, well rested, yet you don’t want to haul your ass off the couch and go do anything. So what did I do? I called “McDelivery” and had a cheeseburger and some chicken (I think it’s chicken, looks like chicken) nuggets delivered and then popped in a DVD and lazily crunched my way through half the movie before getting bored and deciding to write this submission. I still don’t feel like doing anything mind you, but perhaps if I exercise my fingers enough I’ll work up to something interesting…J I know, you’re thinking that if YOU lived in Bangkok you’d be partying your ass off at your favorite bar and bonking your brains out with as many different bar maids as you could afford.. but when you actually ‘live’ here things slow down and you develop the ability to relax and pace yourself.. enjoy lazy Saturdays..
What put me in this mood? Three days and nights at the Marriott Resort in Hua Hin comp’d by a group of investors who asked me to photograph a nearby resort which is having its grand opening soon. Easy job, up early to catch the sunrises and easy morning light, laze around all day on the beach or in the pool, gather my gear and arrive for the afternoon and early evening light for a few more hours. My housekeeper accompanied me as she’s become an invaluable assistant for a variety of reasons from obtaining local services to making sure I’m understood with those I work with. Sounds perfect right? Depending on who you are I suppose it could be but the ‘imperfections’ are going to be the focus of a rant I’m working my way up to however slowly. Did I say I was feeling lazy?
Our most recent adventure began Tuesday before noon as we headed out of town towards Hua Hin. We noticed a number of military convoys heading INTO Bangkok and I remember thinking this was strange as most military exercises are done away from busy cities. I didn’t give it much more thought and we continued the pleasant 2.5 hour drive into Hua Hin which really impressed me as being a nice town. Small, light traffic, modern look and feel, lots of catering to the “rich” western set from western styled malls and outlet stores to grunches of eateries. The beaches were pristine, a stark contrast to the “Thai” beaches of Jomtien and Pattaya which remind me more of garbage dumps than the daily groomed beaches I was used to in Southern California. Most of the hotels and resorts were newer and very nice. It didn’t take me long to figure out there is where the money goes when the very well off want to come to Thailand and have a great holiday.
Checking into the Marriott Resort which should have been more a formality than a check-in seeing it was all paid for and arranged in advance. It wasn’t. They wanted to see my passport. “I don’t have a passport with me” Why? “Do you have your passport with you?” No, but I am Thai and only need my ID card or drivers license. “Would you like to see my drivers license?” Umm.. we don’t take foreign drivers lice… and her mouth stops making noise as I produce my Thai drivers license and she eagerly accepts it. She turns to my housekeeper and asks for her I.D. I stop her and look at the lady and ask “Do you ask everyone’s wife for I.D. or only Thai wives?” (Yes, I know my housekeeper isn’t my wife but I never said she was and for sure she doesn’t deserve to be catalogued like a criminal) The lady mumbles an apology and hands us our keys after telling us to charge any meals or services to our room as they would be comp’d. She then walks us through the resort to our room which I was glad to see after the half mile trek to the room, this place is HUGE! The room was well done and very comfortable but a bit small compared to my recent stay at the Sheraton. Still, it had a nice soft bed covered in a nice duvet with down pillows, it was very clean, and had its own balcony overlooking the beach. It was only about 1400 and I didn’t need to be at the other place for another two hours and watching my housekeeper look at the beach and water like a dog who wants off the leash I told her to go “play” for about 90 minutes while I unpacked and arranged my gear. She can change into her bikini in something like ten seconds and was out the door in a flash. A minute later I see what looks like a dolphin swimming past the window but a closer look reveals it’s her enjoying the water. I sigh and continue unpacking.
Two hours later I’m meeting with some board members of the new resort and they lay out the brochure format they want to use and give me a list of “required” images they must have by the time I leave. I hate jobs like this because it strips you of your creative license but I try to turn it into a game by taking the shots they want, then the shots I want, and presenting them at the same time and getting some satisfaction when they end up choosing more of what I came up with than their initial requirements. It’s one of those things where arguing with your employer only makes them dig in their heels all the more, so I go “around” their nonsense by just producing what I like anyway on top of what they “require.” Why not just give them what they ask for and make my life easier? Simple, because it’s my name going on the credits and if I want future business I need to always turn out my best even if I have to work my way around it. So, we’ve got two more hours of workable light left so I get busy and fully utilize the half dozen staff they provide to set up tables, move chairs, arrange pool furniture, whatever is needed to make the setting.
A bit tired we arrive back at the Marriott Resort and take showers and head out to the resort's “Chicago Steakhouse.” The food was excellent but pricey as you’d expect, good thing I wasn’t paying for it. My housekeeper isn’t one of those willowy women who doesn’t eat much, nope she can put away more food than I can and with gusto! She had to excuse herself mid-meal to go back to the room for something and a few minutes after she was gone the Thai / Chinese waitress came over and introduced herself. We were the only customers so I suppose she had the time. She started by giving me her CV, what prestigious schools she’s attended, who she knows, how she got this great job, and so on. “Not like ‘normal Thai’ girls” she says. I knew this was a veiled reference to my Thai / Thai dinner date and I smiled and agreed that good help was hard to find and I especially appreciated traveling with a qualified lawyer who knew how to pave the way for my exploits. She was a bit surprised but hadn’t given up yet and told me she worked until 2330 and would often sit by the pool for a while afterwards to relax. She told me she might even put on her bikini and go for a swim. I was just about to ask her if they let the “help” use the pool when my housekeeper arrived back through the door and the waitress magically melded back into the landscape. I hope she had a good swim that night, Thai snobbery doesn’t impress me.
Back at the room we watched a movie and went to sleep because we needed to get up before the sun rose for work. At about 0500 I’m up and pull my laptop over on the bed being careful not to wake her up. The “resort” didn’t have wireless in the room and they charged extra for internet access as did the Sheraton, 645 baht for a 24 hour period! I think this is sooo tacky and I wrote the management a letter and told them. I carry a travel wireless access point from Linksys for hotels that still require hard cables as I hate to be stuck at those little desks. I’m a web surfer at the same time I’m a channel surfer so having my laptop on the bed is SOP for me. You just plug the travel router into the outlet with the prongs that pop out of it (it’s about the size of a deck of cards and will run 10 computers off of one wired connection which comes in useful when we bring several computers along), kinda like a battery charger that is small and light enough to support itself from the socket. Then you plug in the internet cable and instant wireless, even worked out to the pool area, balcony, and nearby beach.
As per my habit first my Yahoo messenger pops up and any off-line messages appear to read, then my email client for email, and then my browser tuned to Yahoo where I read about a “coup” taking place in Thailand complete with tanks going through the streets! I nudge her and tell her to “wake up, you’ve gotta read this!” She rubs the sleep from her eyes and we’re both reading the same stories on the coup. Nothing we can do about it so we go to work.
Later that morning we’re back in time for the brunch buffet and sitting for the first time with all the “regular” guests. I notice right away that people are staring at us and it takes me a moment to realize she’s (my housekeeper) the only Thai not part of the staff in the entire place! No blacks, no Hispanics, no Asians. Only rich white and fat western tourists, mostly Eurotourists. I’d like to say old but I don’t hold age against anyone. I figured we fit the stereotypical mental image they’ve all heard about, older westerner with young “bargirl”, you know the one I talk about seeing all the time…:) It’s ok, we gave them a nice show and even the staff were checking her out. When checking in and after being asked for her I.D. I whispered in her ear to not tell anyone she was Thai and to act like she didn’t speak or understand Thai. Back at our room I explained I wanted her to listen in to the staff to learn how westerners were talked about and insulted right to their face when they think we couldn’t understand them. Anyway, the staff tried to speak to her in Thai and she only responded in English and they quickly determined she must be from somewhere else. We finished eating while keeping an eye on them keeping an eye on us.
With full stomachs we headed for a walk on the beaches which mostly seemed like private beaches and sure enough as we neared the borders of the Marriott property we found guards discreetly blocking access to those who weren’t guests. Even the Thais selling all the stuff you’d normally see sold on the beaches were largely absent, the few allowed in never approached the resorts guests and would instead display their wares from 5-10 meters away and wait to be approached. I suppose there were strict rules and protocol they were bound to follow for the privilege of being allowed to sell on this beach.
Five different times I had these WROF (White, rich, old and fat) women approach me and start lecturing me on how evil I was. This has happened occasionally in the past, maybe once in a six month period, but five times in three days? These really were snobs. They couldn’t get enough 60 minute baht 3,750 massages (5,250 for oil), food, beach boys rubbing oil on their fat backs, or of giggling at each others husbands in their speedos with huge bellies hanging over the front part of their speedo. Even if she was sitting right next to me they’d start in on how evil I was, how I was taking advantage of an entire culture, how “a young fit handsome man” like myself could actually find a ‘real’ woman. “What’s real?” I asked. And they’d pull out pictures and show me their daughters, grand daughters, nieces, all sorts of fugly eurowomen. To be fair there were also several American women but none approached me preferring to give me the evil eye from a distance. As a comp’d guest and because I was working I smiled and took all I could handle before excusing myself and walking away. What I wanted to do was totally different.
It didn’t take long, the beginning of the second day, when my housekeeper began to hear comments being made about her from the other Thais. All sorts of mean things she couldn’t believe. I told her “welcome to the farangs world, this is what we get everywhere we go while they smile at our faces and take our money.” Institutional racism – we all know Thais can be and often are racists, but it was a bit surprising that they’d let others be racist against them in their own country. Not a Thai guest to be found. If you reserve your room from a western country the room will be say $100 USD plus 17% VAT and hotel tax. Thai walk in rates were double that rate. The only Thais, or Asians for that matter, at this resort were the staff and most seemed very well educated from good families. Maybe I haven’t been to enough of these places but I’ve never seen this in Thailand like I saw it here. This isn’t the sort of place I’d normally stay either, everything fun is closed up by 2300 and the only fun in the town is down in the hotels the Thais and expats stay in.
Anyway, a few days of light work mixed with lots of sun and relaxation and we’re soon done except for an out briefing with the board where they promised to have a DLP projector set up to view the proofs I’ve done for them. The board were mostly white men with one white women and two Asian men. We went through their list of requirements and then I’d offer an “alternative.” I’d show them the shot they asked for and they’d like it, then I’d follow with the way I wanted to do the shot in the first place and let them choose. 30 / 70.. 30% theirs 70% mine. I think the 30% is face saving but we’ll see what actually gets printed. I’ve already had the advertising art director call and request I include the full files for all of my work so I suspect they’ll get pressured on that front for sure. I never understood people who hired lawyers and then didn’t take their advice and a photographer is much the same. We do this all the time and we know what looks good and how to do the shot, it’s our job. But you get these micro managers with visions in their heads and it’s hard to make any headway at all.
One of the Asian men (Thai) brought up the question “did you have to bring a Thai assistant?” I replied “No, I could have hired an assistant from the states who spoke fluent Thai but chances are that person would ‘look’ Thai as well, and then I’d have to charge those costs to the job.” He frowned annoyed that the answer made sense. I reminded him that when I accepted the job I asked if they had a fluent English and Thai speaker who could work with me full time and all they provided were the six Thai speaking staff members, so I had to bring my own interpreter to get the job done. He didn’t say it but I could tell he was thinking it so I said “And since you only provided one room when I requested two she had to stay with me in the room.” The white men didn’t seem to have a problem with any of this, but the white women and Thai men certainly did. I didn’t care, they liked my work and I’d enjoyed a great time at their resort and that was that. Normally I’d worry more about repeat business but you’ve got to ask yourself just how many hotels / resorts are opening up? This isn’t what I normally do anyway and mostly I got the job because the art director knew me and knew I could provide the sort of files he liked working with.
It was finally time to come home so Friday about noon we packed up and left. Coming back into Bangkok we only went through one military checkpoint and the mood could best be described as “festive.” Citizens were bringing the troops water / beer / soda / food as they passed through the checkpoints and the soldiers were friendly and all smiles. Everything remains the same as far as I can tell save for a few troops placements around town.
Well, it’s still Saturday, I’m still feeling lazy, and a nice warm breeze is blowing through the condo making me feel sleepy…
Until next time…
Nice submission. I am sad to say that when your Thai gets to a strong level that some of the stuff said about us (Westerners) and low class Thais is NOT pleasant at all. mean-spirited doesn't even start to describe some of the nonsense I have overheard.