The Rusty, Jagged Edges On The Cross Roads
The blinking cursor on my vacant laptop screen reminds me of the pending, yet inevitable decisions that are harshly played out every year during the great game migrations that take place over the planes of the Serengeti. Where buffalo and zebra congregate in their thousands close to the swollen river’s edge, just before the first maverick takes the maddening plunge across the predatory infested channel. This sets in motion one of the most over-enthusiastic displays of courage I’ve ever come across. Crocodiles, big and lazy as the fully laden tourist busses that spill into Hua Hin every weekend. Except that these cold blooded reptilians, who have paid little attentions to the bothering of evolutionary change, are not to be associated with laughter and smiles. No sir, instead of spewed techno coloured art works on the sides and funky holiday tunes spilling into the streets, they sport amour scales the size of small Zulu babies and move with a clamping silence that scream diabolical warnings to the Cro-Magnon in us. They offer but one thing to their clientele, death. To the gazelle that leap into the brown, dark river of teeth there can only be one thought: “I hope its Billy and Jane that gets it, not me”. Shakespearean play on the ultimate stage, Karma at it’s most basic.
I feel like the buffalo with dumb expression on its face, trying to understand the invisible hands that placed me on the dull banks of this godforsaken office block, under these stark florescent lights, on this particular time in my life. In short, I’m struggling with the decision of leaping across the great oceanic divide into SE Asia, snapping jaws of death and destruction included. Prying out load that I won’t end up the same as Billy and Jane that rolled the dice of life, but got dealt a cold clamping reality that all is not grasslands and contributions to the DNA diversity of the herd in Thailand.
To qualify my fear and the want to leap, I need to explain why I’m standing on a muddy river bank with a puzzling expression. I’m a 33 year old South African and have only been to Thailand twice. A total of 6 weeks. In the scale of things I’m maybe past the second dung patch on the path towards the river 1000 miles away. In Thailand terms I’m standing in front of the shouting limo drivers at Suvarnabumi, ignorance at the ready. I am by wordily terms no global traveller, but have seen my share cultural diversity in the likes of Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and the local liquor store on the corner in our neighbourhood. However it was Thailand that answered my silent call. The first visit was too much to digest in one sitting, and it was only later back home that you realise how much you have changed. The world still looks the same, but the tune has changed. Your soul is swaying to another melody.
The first Thailand encounter was much inline with the norm. Two days in Bangkok which reminds me of an ant’s hill that’s just been kicked over, movement on a grand scale. My girlfriend and I were so “new” that I could hear the tuk-tuk drivers slamming on brakes two blocks away in an attempt to join the feeding frenzy which must have been foretold in the stars or tea cups across Asia that morning. Wits gained in truly 3rd world countries in Africa came to the rescue. When in doubt, where ever you find yourself, step into a bar that looks non touristy and have a couple of beers while you get the lay of the land. Still, ended up having a 5,000 baht seafood meal at a restaurant. Asked for crab and got served what looked like a tectonic plate with claws, price to match. Scratching that off my life’s “To Do list”, not that it was ever on, and gaining a new found respect for a con with a smile, I start the easy fall down the rabbit hole, ignorance for now, a distant cousin of mine.
Two days later we grab a public bus to Hua Hin. These busses stop what seems like every 2km for no apparent reason. The 3 hour trip was but a small annoyance compared to the strain my system was now under trying to process the monster crab that was still rolling around in the sea of Jack and Coke from the night before. I found that looking at the smiling mutant cartoon stickers pasted all over the bus kept me alert as the countryside crawled past. Hua Hin, favourite place in Thailand, so far. Here I also play my first, and god willing my last game of golf in Thailand. The sun burned my shadow, now a permanent fixture on the 14th hole, into submission. Playing golf in Thailand, on top of a hangover is a very bad idea, period. Falls in the same category as mixing all the leftover chemicals under your kitchen cupboard into one container while drinking whiskey neat out the bottle. You just don’t do that. A few days in Hua Hin drinking up the sun sees us booking two overnight train tickets to Surat Thani. Not much has been said about the trains that I’ve seen, but second class sleeping berths are great. Slow and bumpy but great. Train departs Hua Hin station at midnight, amidst the crackling of electrified bug swatters posing as tennis racquets which seems to be an essential piece of travelling equipment owned by Thais on this southerly route. That night I dream of derailing trains and Chris de Burg’s song of poker games and thundering ghost trains. In my dreams I swear I smell brimstone mixed with lavender drifting through this Thai train. I wake up with a smile present on my face as the breakfast calls echo throughout the cart. Months later I read that there was a collision at the Hua Hin station involving a train on route to Bangkok. I was reminded that the dice does not always fall favourably for all of us and that some never exit the river on the other side.
The remainder of the journey takes us to Ko Samui where we hire a Honda Dream motorbike, get slightly lost in the hillside and end up breaking trail for the quad bike operators behind us. On to Krabi, Phi-Phi (which is just too small and chlostraphopic for my taste), and lastly to Phuket. Only thing missing from this tourist picture is the “Same Same but different” T-shirt.
Around six months later, June this year, I returned from my second trip, this time solo. I wisely decide not to eat crab, well not in Bangkok in any case. I spent less time in Bangkok but included Chiang Mai in my destinations. The road to Chiang Mai starts off with what must surely be the fastest taxi trip I’ve had to date. This leaves me with one truth as I step out onto the sweet tarmac at Don Muang – the more Buddhist trinkets in the taxi, the more likely you’ll develop the need to look for a break pedal on the passenger side of the car as you warp along. My relief however was short lived. The flight to Chiang Mai is delayed for 20 minutes, a voice on the public speaker system announces, which is not a problem as I settle down and continue reading a book called “The God Delusion” that in turn raises some serious questions about some basic believes I have. This is an important point, as I found myself directing an ill founded believe towards the underpaid Thai maintenance crew while our pilot pushed the plane to what must have been the save operating limit of the design, and that’s travelling on a budget airline. Cheapest of the cheap so corners must be cut somewhere right, why not on the quality of maintenance crew? Later during the flight I realise that the delay could have been caused by to the ground crew washing out the smell of fear left by passenger from the previous flight, or the installation of the warp drive. Judging by the speed and force of our take off and landing I throw a glance towards the pilot’s cabin half expecting hundreds of trinkets bursting through the door.
What might appear as complaints are in fact my most memorable times in Thailand. Life with the volume turned up to the max. A world where I could feel part of the environment. A certain anonymous existence without the historical baggage I’m confronted with in my own country almost every day. There is no shortage of writers to this site that waste little time in expressing their discontent with what is taking place in Thailand and the uncertain future that must be faced. On this I can’t comment, (because I buy 5000 baht grabs so what do I know) but change is the only constant right? And if you enter politics into the mix then not all the changes are for the good, unfortunately. Still, the current that pulls me towards Thailand and the SE Asian region could be broken down into the weather, the greenery outside Bangkok, the energy inside Bangkok, the unfamiliar way of things, the closeness to other similar countries, experiences worlds apart from the West, the opportunity to meet perhaps some of the most interesting expats alive and lastly the sense of community spirit. The last one being a big one for me. The only community spirit I currently have is waving at the security guard that opens the electrified “intruder proof, million volts charging through the wires” gate as I exit my complex with wheels spinning and tyres smoking. Life cocooned and on the run. I’ve been living in my current unit for close to two years and still have no idea what the names of my neighbours 10 meters away are. The extent of our interaction is the socially acceptable grunt and slight nod of the head as you acknowledge their existence on the way to your car in the mornings. I can continue but you get the gist of it.
Returning to the purpose of my communication, should I leap into the river and take the plunge, risking life and limb? Like the buffalo do I still fool myself in thinking that I have yet to make a choice? Was the subconscious decision made high above the clouds on the way to Chiang Mai and I’m now only starting to play catch up with my mind. I expect any day now to wake up in the morning to find a memo feverishly scribbled in my hand, across the bathroom mirror informing me of decisions made while I looked the other way.
Subject: Your gut
Don’t look now, but I took the liberty of removing some of the blubber around your waist you’ve been complaining about all this time. The scissors did the job.
PS: Pack your bags I’ve decided you’re moving to Asia”
Could this be the next step in where my “id” takes over control, with the “super ego” expelled to less prominent functions. Who knows, maybe it’s already happened, I’m scanning my room for any clues to a secret memo I might have missed this morning.
Some sobering facts I need to own up to:
– I’ll be moving into a new career if I move e.g. the English Teacher.
– I’ll be earning ¼ of what I currently take home.
– Will live basically from hand to mouth for a minimum of two years.
– I’ll have limited contact with some good friends back home.
– Once out of South Africa, the chances of returning to a career here is limited. With an unemployment rate of close to the 40% jobs are not easy to come by. So I’m looking at a one way jump, or in the least, not returning to suburban life here in ZA.
– I might never be rich in Western terms
– I might be making the biggest mistake of my life
– I have a daughter from a previous relationship I love more than life itself, and this is the major anchor keeping me here. At 11 years old would she understand?
– I have another 20 – 30 years left before I reach my retirement age. Will I have the will and heath to make up for lost time once I retire? Can I keep a firm grip on my sanity during this time?
– Can I stomach only having 4 weeks of real life when I take leave and head to SE Asia. Living between holiday to holiday just does not make a lot of sense to me. I have another 124 days before I land in Thailand again. Am I wishing these days past, and in a sense wasting them while waiting for the plane to depart?
– As a human I have the ability to reject what I don’t believe in, and pursue what I think is right. I have the same genes in me as those that crossed over into the New World at the turn of the last Ice Age, that fought spiky animals and ill tempered snow bears. The same relatives who later would swing battle axes into the foreheads of the tribe next door, and eventually evolve into what I’m today – out of shape, keyboard hitting mass consumer. But still, from time to time we all hear the call of adventure that is part of our core, the gene that started it all.
– I want to make the leap.
If the gazelle could speak I’m convinced they dispense the following: “It’s not whether to jump into the river that scares us, but rather when to jump that’s the difference between us, Billy and Jane”
You say that as a teacher in Thailand you would expect to earn ¼ of what you earn in South Africa. The average teacher in Thailand makes around 30,000 – 35,000 baht per month. So let’s say you’re earning 120,000 baht a month equivalent in South Africa, which is in excess of $US 3,500 per month. 40% unemployment, you say? Hmmm… I would suggest that getting back into such a role would be difficult should you return to South Africa in the future. Is it not worth sticking with what you're doing a bit longer, stashing the cash and then coming out here when you're already financially stable?
I really do hink you have got more to lose than many. Whatever you decide, I wish you well.