Same, Same But Different
I’m an accountant. I like rules. Not because I’m boring and staid, but rather if you understand and play by the rules you can do pretty much anything you want to. If you don’t, then inevitably there are consequences. Information is
power. Let me explain.
Let’s suppose you are in the US and want to gamble. If you are in California, then it’s against the law. Get caught and you are going to have a bad day. Cross the state line into Nevada and no problem. Once you have checked into your hotel in Las Vegas, the odds are you’ll want to chance you arm on the gaming tables. Let’s imagine you are dealt two picture cards playing Blackjack. If you’re sensible you’ll stick and let the dealer take his best shot. In fact, if you’ve got 14 or better, that’s what you should do. It gives you the best chance of winning any given hand. That’s the percentage rule based on mathematical odds! Of course, there is nothing to stop you drawing another card in the hope of turning up an ace. Maybe you will be lucky, chances are you won’t!
Not convinced, perhaps another example. Nobody likes paying tax, right. If you simply refuse to pay, that’s known as tax evasion and there are unpleasant consequences if you are caught. Trade through a personal services limited liability company, and there are all sorts of perfectly legitimate ways to reduce to reduce your tax burden. For example; you can claim travelling expenses net of tax, take the bulk of your profit as dividends rather than salary to attract a lower tax rate and charge VAT at 17.5% but only pay 12 or 13% to Customs and Excise. Is it fair, probably not? Is it legitimate, absolutely!
Taking this argument a stage further. It’s perfectly reasonable to extend the same logic to lifestyle and lifestyle choices. Many years ago I took my young nephew to Disney World in Florida. We had a wonderful time immersing ourselves in world of Mickey and his highly engineered and organised fantasy world. For a while even I bought into the dream. Of course for all the magic there were still rules to be followed, queues to be joined, reservations to be made, credit card bills to be paid and no alcohol. For two weeks it was great. However, if we stayed there for more than a month then I suspect even my nephew would start missing the comfortable familiarity of his normal day to day routine and want to come home.
A little bit about more about myself. I’m middle aged, comfortable although certainly not wealthy, of average looks and height, slightly overweight and very happily married to my second wife. She is also English, two years younger than myself and comes from a similar background. We have many common interests and are best friends as well as lovers.
In many ways my first wife was similar to my second wife, although perhaps we were less temperamentally suited. Our marriage broke up when I was in my mid-forties, when the arguments became too much to bare. In hindsight, I was becoming increasingly restless with my routine life and was looking for something more. After our divorce, our family house was sold and I moved into a rented one bed-roomed flat in London. Once my ex-wife and her avaricious lawyers were paid off, surprisingly there was still a little money left over. Although my income is above average, this was a new experience for me. Previously whatever came in always seemed to go out at the same rate, or faster. I thought perhaps this might provide a window of opportunity.
I hadn’t dated for many years and it came as quite a shook to discover that I was now invisible to young attractive women. There was the odd short lived romance, but I was unable to find what I was looking for. I needed a change and to broaden my horizons. I suppose I was having a mid-life crisis and toyed with the idea buying a fast motorcycle. Instead I secured a three month sabbatical from work and bought a ticket to Thailand.
I spent my first three weeks in Bangkok. I did all the usual tourist things, marvelling at the Grand Palace and temples contrasted to the horrors of what occurred during the building of the bridge over the River Kwai. The beautifully kept allied cemetery containing endless rows of graves put me in a sombre mood. The museum depicting the atrocities committed by the Japanese occupation did nothing to improve my mood. I later found out the Thais had toned down its contents. Apparently there had been problems with some of the Europeans and Americans who visited the site confronting the Japanese tourists taking endless photographs. I guess this was bad for business and is a good example of Thai pragmatism; their own inglorious war record not withstanding.
Similar to many male tourists, I was not impervious to the charms of the local ladies. Given my recent experiences of England, I felt as though I was a small child who had been locked into the proverbial sweet shop. No longer invisible, overnight I had become a ‘handsome man’. Even so, I was minded to remember the warning given by my smiling Thai tour guide on the River Kwai excursion. She said, “let the lady break your heart but not your wallet”. Sound advice!
At the suggestion of an Australian I shared a beer with in the hotel bar, I ventured out to the Eden Club. Many people have written much more eloquently about this delightful experience than I ever could. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say that the pleasures on offer in this particular establishment are in my view unsurpassable. I was reminded of an elderly RE teacher at my school lecturing us about the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah. One young wag stood up to ask; “Sir, is it true, metaphysics is like an erection, the longer you ponder the harder it gets?” Once the inevitable laughter died down he was canned for his insolence.
Moving on from Bangkok to Pattaya, I took a couple of weeks out to learn to scuba dive and achieve PADI certification. I was the only novice, which meant that I spent my mornings in the hotel pool with the Instructor going through the various exercises you have to complete. In the afternoons we were joined by the rest of the group to do some real diving.
Most of the dive sights were not local so we were driven out long distances on the back of open sided trucks, with our diving equipment around our feet. Leaving Pattaya was my first opportunity to see how rural Thais live. Many of the wooden houses are built on stilts. This provides some projection against the floods during the rainy season and also prevents snakes from getting in. There was a vociferous group of men gathered in a circle in of one of the village squares we drove through. I asked my diving Instructor what was going on. Apparently they were betting on a cock-fight. This was confirmed when a plume of feathers wafted up into the air. In another village a van arrived and a block of ice the size of a man was unloaded and dumped unceremoniously on the ground. This was soon surrounded by a group of Thai’s with metal buckets and chisels. They demolished it in next to no time, carrying away their spoils to the local bars, restaurants and houses. I made a mental note not to have ice in my drinks!
Many Thais keep pet dogs, although these are left to run wild, for the most part indistinguishable from the feral animals that are euphemistically referred to as “nobodies dog”. I noticed that the thin strip of beach in Pattaya where the tourists like to swim and sunbath serves as an open air latrine for these animals. After dark they are joined by scores of freelancers, also relieving themselves. For those tourists that survive the beach and make it into the water, there is a further peril waiting for them in the form of jelly fish looking for someone to sting. The jelly fish most often come out to play immediately following a shower. This is something else to watch out for.
One morning at breakfast time I noticed a very small and young looking Thai girl with her farang boyfriend in the restaurant. For the purpose of this submission I’m prepared to accept she was 20, but in truth she looked about 14. She could not have weighed more than 90 pounds and was clearly very hungry. I watched her demolish two full American breakfasts, with barely a pause. I am more than double her weight and found the portions to be generous. I watched her with open jawed amazement. By chance I encountered her teeruk in the bar a few days later. As I suspected, the girl was new to Pattaya, fresh from her village in the Isaan. He told me that the following day he had gone into the hotel bathroom to brush his teeth, assuming she was having a shower. In actuality she was on the throne enjoying a substantive bowel movement. Clearly unused to both the quantity of waste she needed to shift coupled with the novelty of western plumbing, she was enjoying herself immensely. “Make Tsunami”, she said giggling. At the time, I thought this was rather insensitive, given that this tragedy had only just occurred and many of her compatriots had lost their lives. As a boy I used to pretend to be a Lancaster bomber, offloading over Germany. I had no comprehension of the firestorms in Dresden and the many innocent women and children who lost their lives. On reflection, I realised that her education and level of sophistication as a young Thai adult from a rural village was probably on par or even below the level I had achieved as an 8 year old.
An expat I met persuaded me to “experience” one of the darts and ping-pong ball live shows. I have to say I found it very tacky and certainly not to my taste. One thing of note was the idiots who were prepared to hold balloons above their head, which they would present as a target to the performer. I don’t understand the mechanics behind the propulsion of these darts, but must assume it is not an exact science. The consequences of firing a bullet with a half charge of powder, or shooting a 22 calibre bullet out of 45 barrel come to mind. In either case the bullet or dart would drop, taking out the punters eye rather than the balloon. Do the bar owners hold public liability insurance – I think not! On balance the Tsunami girl is probably no more naive than many of her customers.
One particularly unpleasant punter I met, explained to me how he got his kicks by engineering fights between the bar girls. What he would do was commit to one, paying her attention and buying her lady drinks until she went to the restroom. He would then quickly switch his affections to one of her co-workers. The first girl would then come out of the ladies room to find the second girl sitting on the punter's lap and assume she had been usurped. Apparently the ensuing fights could be vicious and far from lady like. <Call me sick but I find some amusement in this for it shows how flawed certain things are – Stick>
Certainly some of the working girls can have terrible tempers. I saw one lady, no more than 100 pounds, having a contractual dispute with her American customer. Either she hadn’t been paid at all, or the she felt the payment was insufficient. In her rage she picked up a rock that must have weighed at least 50 pounds and raised it above her head. He promptly responded by saying “we are not going to fight over this” and walked off. As the strength achieved through her indignation began to wane, so realisation dawned as to the predicament she was in. Her balance was affected by her high heel shoes and her arms began to buckle under the load. As she tottered around with the rock above her head, both I and she realised there was a real danger it was going to drop on her own head. Just as I moved forward to relieve her of the burden, she managed to adjust her posture and neatly offloaded the rock to one side. She then walked off stiff-legged with her head held high, pretending nothing untoward had occurred. I suspect for her the loss of face was far worse than the real danger she put herself in.
On a lighter note I once met with a delightful Chinese couple of advanced years. With his wife nodding vociferously, the old man said to me in broken English, ‘Princess Diana, very good, very beautiful lady, Parker Bowles no good, face like pig!” How could I possibly disagree with such a profound statement!
I was very taken with a pretty girl I met from Chang Mai and enjoyed ‘the girl friend experience’ with her for several weeks. I took her to Koh Samui, and we just chilled out and enjoyed each other's company. It’s a strange thing, but the superficial conversation we were able to have due to her limited English and my non-existent Thai made our relationship all the more intimate and fulfilling. Perhaps our simplistic verbal communication enhanced our non-verbal communication to level I had not previously experienced. Rather like a blind man may develop his senses of hearing, touch and small to compensate for a lack of vision. She made me feel valued and cared for in a way that I had not previously experienced. Certainly this was in stark contrast to my recent experiences in London where I had become the invisible man.
Once she took me to visit a temple with a very curious claim to fame. A number of years previously, one of the elderly Monks had predicted his forthcoming demise, and also stated that his dead body would not decay. Sure enough, both predictions came true. His dead body is mounted in a glass case, sitting cross-legged and wearing a pair of sunglasses. The sunglasses seem strangely out of place but clearly perform a very necessary function. Only in Thailand!
Although everything about my relationship with Oy was wonderful, it could only be wonderful in Koh Samui. Back in England the rules are different. Our inability to conduct an in-depth dialogue would become frustrating rather than endearing. How would she manage without her extended family? What would she do home alone whilst I went out to work? How would she adapt to the alien culture and climate? She’s a bar girl with a rudimentary Thai education and not equipped with any of the life skills and experiences needed to survive in my very different world. Like the novice Blackjack player twisting on 20, we might be lucky and draw an ace. The odds of a bust are far greater!
It’s a bit like spending an idyllic two weeks on a Greek Island. When you are sitting in a beach bar watching the sun go down, listening to a melodic singer and drinking the local brew, everything seems just perfect. So you buy a bottle of whatever it was that you so enjoyed and then try drinking it in London on a cold November evening in an attempt to recapture the magic. Does it work, or will it just leave a bitter taste in your mouth?
So I’m now back in Pattaya, minus my teeruk and trying to console myself with a cold beer in the company of a group of long term English expats. They all appear to be refugees. They tell me what a great time they are having, but crave any news from home. Most won’t articulate any regrets about leaving Blighty, except perhaps the country pubs and roast Sunday dinners. They don’t understand their Thai hosts. Very few have any Thai friends and many don’t have even a rudimentary grasp of the language. They moan about corruption, the general exploitation of farangs, rising prices, inconsistent bar closing hours and the inconvenience of the visa run. They are all suntanned although their complexions are strangely pallid and unhealthy. Some have a mia noi, others prefer to butterfly. A typical day for many sees them rise at midday, and then drink through to 2:00 AM. One described the highlight of his day as the final game of pool with his mia noi. The winner gets to choose who will be the horse and who will be the jockey for the coming night’s escapades between the sheets. Another refers to all Thai women, not just bargirls, as the three V’s – venal, vacuous and venereal. That at least makes me smile.
For these particular individuals, I am reminded of the lyrics to “Hotel California”, by the Eagles. “You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.” How about me? I think I’ll skip that track, it’s time to move on!
Did I enjoy my time in Thailand – Absolutely! Because I accept what is on offer without challenging the status quo, I can enjoy those things missing from my life in England without suffering any adverse consequences. More importantly I came to understand myself better, refocused my priorities and got my life back on track. For me Thailand was a very positive experience. For many others I suspect the opposite is true.
Sounds like we have met some of the same expats.