Readers' Submissions

Travels In Isaan 2

  • Written by Zaq1
  • December 29th, 2007
  • 4 min read


When I wrote in the first sub that “in my opinion, Thais do not particularly like foreigners and have little interest in getting to know us” I was aware that Stick had basically written just the opposite in his weekly column. I’d just like to clarify my reasoning before I talk about the foreigners I met on my travels in Isaan.

As we all know, Stick is one of the few foreigners here who speaks excellent Thai – but the majority of us do not. I’m several levels below that and though I can hold a reasonable conversation on a one-to-one basis and have a vocabulary of a few hundred words or so, my pronunciation is probably utterly atrocious. I pick up on perhaps 40 – 50% of conversations around me and as for TV or movies, I still can’t get it. I can read menus, road signs and the like but as for newspapers . . . Let’s say I have the language abilities and reading skills of an average 5 year old child.

Now, stop and think a moment. Would you not think that Thai people notice and pick up on that? The answer is of course that they do. I must sound like a blithering idiot, and am well aware of sometimes being patronised (read: looked down on) if I get ahead of myself and attempt too much. The solution is to act with confidence, use the words that you DO know and basically fake it. They don’t know how much Thai you actually know – and it’s really best that they don’t.

Does this sound like a game? IT IS – and it can be a very serious one too, but very much more so if you have recently flown in from Euroland or the UK/USA, hooked up with a local lass and have bought land, a pick-up and are having plans drawn up to build a house.

And you don’t speak a word of Thai.
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Just passing through or only spending a few days in the area (as I and Stick were doing) is OK, but if you are transferring large sums of money from home and investing life savings or retirement money in dubious projects in this foreign land, foreign language, foreign culture and FOREI . . . ok, you get the idea . . . you’d clearly better watch out!

Such is the unfortunate position in which I found many expats in Isaan. Babes in arms, lambs to the slaughter. All in varying degrees of being hung out to dry – yet many, in their innocence, displaying a supreme confidence that this ‘new-found love of their life’ will successfully lead them through this disaster zone . . . this graveyard . . . full of shipwrecks, broken hearts and shattered dreams to some kind of nirvana, a new life in this, their adopted promised land full of milk and honey.

Because in the main these guys don’t speak a word of Thai – with no intention to learn any, either. They don’t even see why they should! Consequently they are shuffled around like dogs on a lead, in the majority of cases being ‘looked after’ by a dark-faced stocky ex rice-planter/picker (with a good heart) and end up spending their days huddled together in cheap bars telling each other how their respective countries have gone to the dogs.

Nah mate. That was you.

Many can’t take or get used to the heat, dress inappropriately, only shave every couple of days and generally dress in drab greys and browns (probably as those colours don’t show the dirt). The only people that will acknowledge them, the only ‘friends’ they seem to have are the taxi drivers, loose women and any other individuals ‘on the make’. Can’t you guys wake up to this for God’s sake?

Look, I’m not saying it’s all like this and I’m certain I can speak on behalf of the ones who really are trying to fit in, adapt and conform. I ask you, what kind of message are our Thai hosts receiving from the growing numbers of dead-beat foreigners now appearing all over the country and mainly in the sleazy areas of town? What opinions are forming in their very CLASS AND STATUS CONSCIOUS minds?

It’s been said that there is no middle class in Thailand. Just rich and poor. Well, add another category to that with the arrival of farang. I’m serious now, and it gives me no pleasure to have to report this. On the contrary I wish it were not true, because we have all been degraded by the arrival of this new breed, this bottom of the heap arrival in Thailand . . It now goes in declining order, rich, poor then FARANG.

To be continued . . .

Stickman's thoughts:

I think most farangs living in the countryside are decent blokes just trying to enjoy their lives. But these are not necessarily the guys someone passing through the region sees. A traveller on a whirlwind tour of the region will be in and out of the bars, and it is the guys who spend most of their time in those places that they may see most of and therefore what their overall impression is formed by.