It Had To Happen Sooner Or Later
The subject of the title of this submission is the sadness, but acceptance; of the changes I saw during my recent visit this Xmas to Phuket. Of all the places I have visited in Thailand, Phuket was always a favourite place of mine and I had made some great friends there, both Thai and farang.
This Xmas was my first return for a year, as my previous 2 visits during 2006 were to the northeast of Thailand, an altogether different experience with enough material for a future submission.
But this year’s visit to the island was to be very different holiday.
I arrived in mid-December at Bangkok’s new airport and looked forward to seeing what all the hype had been about. As my job entails the preparation of engineering and technical drawings for structural engineers, architects and civil consultants, I was naturally interested to see what had been built. First impressions, architecturally, were that the proportions of all that truss were completely wrong (subjective of course.) The place was obviously not finished, and the elements that stood were poorly fabricated and detailed. Where did all that money go? (Rhetorical question really.)
Also noted more military than any other previous holidays.
I stood and waited an hour for my bag. Equally frustrated passengers had already taken the small amount of seating.
I have been to Thailand many times and had long learnt some important differences as to how things are done here. If you had asked me, prior to the start of construction, how it would turn out, I would have said that they would make a complete ‘pigs-ear’ of it. No question. The Bangkok Post has stated that domestic flights may be returning back to Don Muang as early as March 2007.
My taxi transfer to my hotel was a little strange, due to the fact that the driver said absolutely nothing. Zilch. Not a murmur, no detours, no offer to see ‘velly plitty girls’ and no hard luck story. I was almost offended. Arriving at the hotel, of which I had used for several years, I noticed an unusually subdued welcome and atmosphere. I was in Bangkok for 3 nights and checked out the usual venues and some new ones. Yes, there was definitely a different pulse to the city this time. In the Emporium Mall I saw many more staff and security than shoppers.
These observations in Bangkok were not the cause of my sadness.
On the morning of my flight down to Phuket, I felt good as I was off to my favourite island and had already made arrangements to meet up with friends down there. Over the years, I had done all the tourists things and now all I wanted to do was relax, do as little as possible, and enjoy my time off. No deadlines, no screaming telephones, no stress, just 17 days of quality sloth. Bring it on.
It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at Phuket International and the weather was clear and warm.
But then it started.
Looking out of the taxi window, on-route to Patong, I could see the quite drastic changes that had happened to this beautiful island over the course of just one year. Huge gouges of earthworks had been scalloped out of the terrain, most of which was unretained. Where had all the trees gone? There seemed to be at least twice as much traffic spewing out noise and fumes. So much new domestic building was now lining junctions and intersections, mostly in the format of charmless linear blocks. We stopped at a junction where such a development had taken place. It looked liked it was ‘completed’ and was ready for occupation.
The concrete had already started to discolour and the metalwork showed signs of corrosion. How was the island supposed to sustain growth like this with its current fragile infrastructure?
Yes, I know it’s called ‘progress’ but civic planning designed by the blind, managed by the deaf and built with breathtaking incompetence?
If the island had a soul, it was gasping and screaming for its life.
Falung tink too mutt.
The taxi moved on.
Coming over the top of Patong Hill, the familiar skyline of Patong Beach came into view and we cruised down the hill into town, towards the guesthouse I would stay at for the next 17 days. This guesthouse is located on the southern end of the town and run by western guy and his Thai wife, and I have stayed here a number of times. Lovely people. As the taxi threaded his way through the traffic, it struck me how many more westerners were here this year. Yep, its high season I know, but this was more than I had ever seen. Not a problem, just an observation.
I checked in, showered and decided to go out and open the game with a herbal sauna, a 1-hour foot massage followed by a 1-hour oil massage. That should loosen me up a little for the evening methinks.
Out and onto the Two Hundred-Year Road, I bought some newspapers and headed in the direction of a tried and trusted massage shop, about ½ mile or so walk. It was during this walk that I first started to notice the different pulse and vibe now present here. It did not feel good and this was only my first day.
Where a year ago there had been sundry shops and eateries, these had now become massage shops, perhaps another 15 or so. (Patong is not a big town.) The sales pitch was now one almost akin to aggressive begging where the girls would shriek from chairs positioned in the walkway. Amusing at first, but very irritating after a few days and after a week I had started to take other routes or walk in the road to avoid the hassle. The girls had now got very greedy and this was noted when I started to take my daily massages. If I went in for a foot massage, there would be immediate hassle to have oil massages with the assumed extras. On the occasions that I had an oil massage, there would be at some point a question as to if I wanted ‘special massage?’ when asked how much, the girls would whisper ‘1000 baht’.
“No thank you, just the massage please.”
“How mutt yoo give me?”
“No thank you, just the massage please.” (Always polite, no anger, you win, don’t feel bad, it’s your money.)
Even in Bangkok, I had never been charged/asked for this much for just a hand-job/other with an oil massage. More importantly, I wouldn't have minded so much but for the boorish fxxxwit attitude of most of the girls. What a difference a year has made.
A lot of frequent male visitors to similar places in Thailand may tell you that some of the nicest girls you will meet will be the recent arrivals. I don’t just mean bargirls, but ordinary girls who are there to work in normal jobs. I had a problem with my sunglasses, which, as they were an expensively framed item, required the services of a proper optician. I found a shop and entered, and was greeted by a most attractive Thai girl who asked in very good English, if she could help me. I explained my problem and she asked me to take a seat whilst she took the glasses away. About a minute later she returned, smiling, and said that the optician would need about 10 minutes to see if he could fix the problem and she then handed me a fresh glass of chilled water. I speak a little Thai but she was happy to speak in English. We conversed about this and that and she told me that her company, just for the high season, had sent her down from Bangkok. There were no buffalo or hard luck tales, her eyes were clear and her skin was unblemished by the current fashion to have a hideous tattoo. I liked her.
She returned behind the shop counter to retrieve my glasses and came back with them mended. I asked “How much?” and she replied “No charge!”
I was caught quite unawares by this and stood there a little awkwardly.
“Er….er….could I take you out for a meal tonight then?” I chirped.
“Okay, but I not finish work until 9:00, can you make it?”
“No problem, I will see you then. You like Thai food?!!” I joked, and walked out of that shop like a tomcat with 2 dicks.
We met up that evening and went to a quieter part of the town, away from the ‘Dante’s Inferno’ that is the Bangla Road area. (This area is mentioned later.)
Good food, lovely company and most certainly one of my best evenings during my stay.
There are no diamonds here but there are pearls.
Recently opened, but by no means complete, is the new Jung Ceylong shopping mall. This has been under construction for a number of years now and probably the only really finished part, which is open, is the Carrefor supermarket. Within the open plaza, you can marvel at the botched water feature, which soaks the pedestrian bridge and causes a bad slip hazard. To the right of the slippery bridge, your breath will be taken away by the site of a large model ship of no discernible style or origin, bobbing away in all of a metre of water! The Japanese seem to like it though.
Oh, and the noise. I must mention the noise thing. Does anyone know the person (Thai?) who spread the message that all farangs must be relentlessly bombarded with music at maximum decibels wherever they go? Go anywhere now in Patong, be it a market, restaurant, coffee shop, mall, whatever, and you will get no peace from this torture. This again has got much worse this year. More horrifically may be the fact that they think we like it! You can see it in the travel brochures now: “REMEMBER THE USA/KOREA CONFLICT AND THE PSYCHOLOGICAL NOISE THING WITH THE LOUDSPEAKERS OVER NO-MANS LAND? IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR JUST THIS TYPE OF EXPERIENCE, THEN COME ON OVER TO THAILAND FOR YOUR HARD EARNED HOLIDAY!!!!” <This is not just a Phuket thing and loud noise is found nationwide – Stick>
A little now concerning the behaviour of some farangs and why I can see why a lot of Thais may dislike us. As I said earlier, I had noticed a lot more farangs this year on the island. In years past, it was normal just to hear English, German and Scandinavian languages spoken. This year was different; many tourists from European Eastern block countries (Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, etc,) could be seen and heard around the town. Going by their general behaviour, they were here for the first time, loud-mouthed, aggressive and arrogant. Not usually the best attributes to help you co-exist with your Thai hosts. Half of Rome also seemed to be here on one particular day, by the Patong Tower access road, where I was having a foot massage. They spoke very loudly in Italian breaking into English only to give the girls abrupt instructions as to what they wanted. They strutted around like they owned the place, moaning about the hotel and the food, “not like momma used to make.” The body language from the girls said more than any words.
In an intrinsically racist country, it is best to come and go as quietly as possible remembering that soon you will be back home. They have to live here. Don’t worry too much about the racist thing; they’re just as bad to their fellow country people. It’s not just you.
I was munching a mid-day breakfast, when I overheard 2 farangs discussing an incident that occurred the previous day. It concerned the issue of face. One blurted out the classic line: “Yeah, but you can't do that otherwise you will lose face and they (the Thais) will think you’re stupid.”
This never fails to rile me when farangs come out with twat like that.
I just want to shout at them: “YOU CANT LOSE FACE YOU IDIOT, YOU’RE NOT THAI. STUPID, YES, BUT FACE SAVING IS THEIR HANG UP, NOT YOURS. GOT IT? IT’S NOT THAT DIFFICULT, IS IT?” (er…did I just lose face there?!!)
I continued to read my newspaper. The lead article was a ‘where’s the money gone?’ item. It transpires that after the tsunami, an international committee was set up to distribute moneys donated from around the world to the areas affected by the disaster. The local Colonel interviewed seemed rather upset that the donating committee had ordered a full financial audit as to the whereabouts of several million baht not accounted for. He inferred that the farang should look at themselves first! This item followed a recent story where 2 million baht of disaster money had gone ‘missing’ whilst in the ‘safe’ hands of the boys in brown. This case was stalled in the Thai courts, nobody charged, and that’s how it is here. Salt of the earth these people, salt of the earth.
On the subject of money, it is worth noting the huge price rises across the board. Some examples are: Beach chairs up 100%, a bottle of Chang up from 50-60 baht to 80-100 baht (beer-bars). Entrance to the Tiger Disco up from 100 baht to 240 baht. I saw ‘lady-drinks’ priced at 200 baht and this was an outside bar, not a go-go! Even the new flush of massage shops are charging top whack for some pretty amateur services. No matter how bad the service is or was, everybody has his or her hand out for a tip.
All of these things, and more, were starting to wear me down. It was usual that at the end my holiday, I always wished for a few more days. Now I was looking forward to going home. On New Year's Eve, something bad happened to me that shook me up a little. This happened in the Bangla Road area bars.
When I had first arrived and had nothing else planned for the evening, I would usually end up seeing some old friends (and some new) down at the various bars off Soi Bangla. It was here that I made my first big mistake. I broke the 2-day rule. I took the same girl for 3 nights before I told her that I did not want see her anymore. I thought that was that but she had now put an invisible marker on me. She had started following me and hung around where I was staying. I managed to avoid her until New Years Eve.
When I saw her she seemed okay, but as I’m not a psycho, spotting a real one was not so easy. I bought her a drink and wished her happy New Year. Then she started. “She say you take girl over there the other night”
The barmaid had told her that I had taken another girl from another bar the other night and was making a big issue about it.
“Look, I’m not your boyfriend and what I do is nobody’s business but mine, okay?”
My explanation, as if I was duty bound to explain to a bargirl, did nothing to stop her going on and she wouldn’t let the matter drop and enjoy the evening. Why hell, I was going home in a few days!
I had to get rid of her and I explained to the farang barkeep, who I knew well, what the problem was. I told him I was going to slip off to another bar and come back later. I paid my tab and waited until she was distracted with somebody else and made good a quick exit to another bar up the road without her.
About 15 minutes later, I was drinking at a bar talking with some girls who worked at the place where I was staying. I felt a sharp tug at my shirt and I turned to see that she had found me. She looked very agitated and was swinging a beer bottle in right hand. “WHY DID YOU WALK OFF?” she screamed.
She acts like this and wants an explanation?
I talk to her and keep a careful eye on that bottle. I don’t want to hurt her or cause a scene, and I manage to get her to walk away from the bar and out onto the Bangla Toad. I look to see if there are any Tourist Police around as I’m now sure that if I turn my back on her, I will get glassed. I try to speak to her but it is pointless and she is getting more worked up. She now empties the remaining beer and raises her arm to strike. Like I said, I did not want this to happen, I’m on my own and a long way from home, but she is not going to be allowed to do this. I have no choice now; I quickly grab both of her arms in a strong grip and walk her very rapidly backwards into a shutter door, and tell her to drop the bottle. She is now shouting and coming on like the victim. I feel a pair of hands on my shoulders. I try to turn and look but need to keep an eye on her. This is a bad situation. I glance round and see the face of a farang guy who asks what I am doing and notice that I’m getting the eye from a number of Thai guys. I tell him that I just want her to drop the bottle and I don’t want any trouble. His friend takes the bottle from her hand; I push her backwards, turn and disappear in to the crowd. I don’t want to hang around for any more.
This incident shook me up and the adrenalin was still pumping. I looked down and realised that I had some blood on my chest from two quite deep scratch marks. Otherwise I was okay.
A quick interjection here folks: If you read anything on Stick's site about ‘the 2-day rule’, be sure to believe it. Take it from me.
About an hour later, I return to my friend’s bar and tell him what happened. He seats me behind the bar, and tells the girls to warn us if they see her. A few drinks later I have started to relax again and get back into the party mode. The rest of that evening was great fun and I retired under the sheets about 7 or 8 the next morning.
The next evening, I am talking to a mamasan who I have known for about 4 years, and tell her about the previous evening. She stares at me with a mixture of shock and concern and demands to know who this girl was. I tell her a name, age, looks and the bar where she works. The mamasan disappears and returns about 10 minutes later. “I deal with her. This very bad for business”. She then bought me a drink, gave me a T-shirt and told me she was sorry that this had happened. I thank her.
I never saw the bad girl walking around Patong again for the remainder of my stay. Shit happens.
On my last evening on the island, I reflected on the events and observations of the last 2 ½ weeks. It felt a little like the death of an old friend and the sadness that brings. It was not just the bargirl incident, but also the culmination of many things. I am so glad that I had the experience of coming here before all of this.
Yes, I’ll miss the old island.
Rest in peace my old friend.
I have to go now.
A lot of Thailand has changed – and been damaged by the oh so common effects of mass tourism.
There are a number of reasons why foreigners choose to come to Thailand, but I wonder how long all of these will remain. I mean, cheap prices and friendly service used to be a part of it, but as you have alluded to, these are not necessarily the norm these days!