Reflecting On Thailand
I watched a trial in progress outside Gulliver’s late this evening. The accuser was an Arab guy and the accused was a black African. The court room on the pavement was packed as raised voices called them to the drama unfolding. The judge was a very Chinese looking supervisor from the bar, a seemingly reasonable guy, who got both parties to sit at an outside table to hear the case. It would have been impossible inside the bar in competition with the terrible music and, besides, people might have been upset. The original charges were, as I heard them, that the black man had said he was a policeman and demanded money from the Arab and taken his mobile phone. As the case progressed, the accusation seemed to be only the allegation that the black man had said he was a policeman, errr, maybe a policeman in his home country. I heard Liberia mentioned. The black man was accused of being black – ‘you black people cause trouble wherever you go.’ The accused was incensed and shot back that it was the Arab who said he was a captain in the police. Witnesses were called by the black man; the Arab stood up too much and had to be told to sit down. The bailiffs, all Thai employees of the bar, looked on impassively but were ready to take someone apart in the Thai style and they seemed not to have any racial preference. And then it seemed to go away after the black man produced ID and a waitress came out to say that she knew the Arab guy and had seen him often. She was not a witness for the prosecution and the thought of yet another scam to avoid paying a bar bill wafted through my mind. It was good to be back home, I thought to myself.
I have been in the land of Canada for a whole month trying to re-acquaint myself with the life I left so long ago. The weather was crap, all cloudy and moody and cool – I had planned this for July because the weather of my youth said it would be hot and dry, maybe humid which was OK. But it was none of that and the grand BBQ planned to get everyone together was called on account of rain. Never mind, I said to myself, I can do this. I can sit in the kitchen and prepare salad while drinking wine and talking about the latest books and the newest European art show at the gallery and the incredible rising / falling price of everyone’s home, and I can still cook a pretty mean linguine alla piselli or even a melanzane parmigiana with appropriate starters and finishers.
In a month, after initial enthusiasm at the new prepared meals available at the supermarket – Thai, Indian, vegetarian, chicken pot pie, beef stew, what have you – the sinking began. I tried myself out in the social scene for that is all that I do in BKK. I went to bars and, believe it or not, I got looks from young twenties something women despite my age. Not that there were any sweethearts on offer, well, there might have been, but my radar love is tuned to the East. Though that is beside the point I want to make. I looked at women in my home town just as I look at women in Bangkok, not in that furtive way men look at women in the West, that leering way the lawyers like to accuse men of doing as they prepare a lawsuit for a stalking charge, just in that normal, male appreciation way, that look that does not expect dismissal but rather a smile. And I got those. I concluded that the women there are so used to be looked at by the new men, or not looked at, at all, that they responded, as women should in reply to their and men’s biology. My sister, who is 60, told me a story about a guy at her singles club (I know, but that’s all there is on offer) whose girlfriend used to go the evenings and bust his balls by openly flirting with other men. When he had an emotional showdown with her at one of their parties, a number of women and men got together to ban him from coming again. To my dear sister’s credit, she was incensed and said the woman was a bitch and the men who voted against him were pussy-whipped. There you have it, life in the West.
And by the way, the young women in my home town are not fat. There were lots of really hot looking girls of every race. They are tall and big busted. My nephew is dating a doctor who is 6’2” and my own daughter is almost 6’ tall. The trouble with most of them is that they have grown up in the feminist ‘equality’ culture. Femininity is lost. They cruise around the bar scene like boys, showing tits like boys show muscle and binge drink because, hey, that’s what men do, right? Too many behave like female assholes and wonder why they get sexually assaulted at the end of the night. My own cousin asked me what femininity meant. Jesus, what can you do about that? Think then about Thai women who know how to present everything that women are for men without unwrapping the package. God, it’s good to be back home again, as John Denver once sung.
By the end of the trip I felt myself sinking into the big screen TV culture where the main topic of conversation is integrating your computer with the TV, making sure you back up everything, High Def, and should you buy a Blueray disc, or just rent. I stopped going out, stopped looking for Thailand in Canada, went to bed at 10 pm. At the beginning of my trip I had had a wild dream about maybe subletting a place for the summer, spending four months in my home town during the warm months every year, having the best of both worlds, but it became a nightmare thought after three weeks. What would I do? Everything is Omega 3, watching out for trans fats, checking your blood pressure, ensuring you live forever in the risk free life. There was nothing going on in the streets, no hawkers selling tropical fish or giant teddy bears, no mahouts with their elephants, no lady boys selling themselves, no wooden frogs from Chiang Mai, no Golden Bar in Soi 4, no plazas, no cowboys. Life was so predictable there was no reason to get up in the morning. That’s the West – use technology to bring life into your home where you are safe – it’s the best way, isn’t it? No chance of anything going wrong and you can select from 700 channels. God, with a humungous screen (the prices are coming down!) it’s just like being there. Yeah, just like being there.
I’m not a young man, but I became a lost boy, and I knew I couldn’t survive there. My family pressured me about when I would return and all I could say was that I wasn’t ready just yet to return, secretly saying the truth to myself – ‘never.’ My belief in God was questioned aggressively as only Christians could do, far more argumentatively than the evangelicals opposite Nana. You see it’s all about the next life because, unlike the opposite pole of Thai culture, there is little life to be had in the West. To be sure, there are endless activities, things to do to keep you occupied, to enrich your intellect, sales of everything, workouts, dining out, but little of the main ingredient, socializing with strangers (they can be dangerous). Conversation has been in a period of stasis for thirty years. Can’t talk about women, sexuality, politics, race, nationalities, religions, express strong preferences, fat, thin. You can talk about pets, best foods to eat, TV schedules, movies (nothing that might make you think about any of the previous taboo topics), and weather. Well, I need to know if it’s raining tomorrow in Buenos Aires. Everything is about worry, about someone taking something from you – your health, your money, and my favourite, ‘your freedom.’
Well, enough of that. It’s bringing me down. I decided after not very much thought, that I would not get a tourist visa to return to Thailand and would just ask for a visa on arrival. I quit working and have another plan to extend my stay in the LOS. Previously I worked in Thailand with a work permit for more than nine years and I couldn’t imagine the Thais turfing me out, me who loves their culture and the life and has proved it by doing the time. I got to Toronto airport and was told by the check in clerk that since my visa had expired and I didn’t have a return ticket I would have to buy one, with the assurance that I could cash it in later. If not they said I couldn’t board the aircraft. (More fear and worry). I ranted a bit, saying I had lived in Thailand for more than 9 years, I spoke the language, I had a bank account there and a home, blah, blah, blah. Finally the supervisor said ‘OK, but this is on you, not me.’ I gave her absolution on the spot. When I arrived at Bangkok, the immigration officer said with a smile, ‘you don’t have a visa this time.’ ‘Nope, said I. Just give me thirty days entry.’ Bosh, the stamp came down and out I went. Know the game!
And so, dog tired as I was when I arrived on Friday night, I sat in the bar outside Rainbow One and chatted with the pretty face of May from Loei who was working on tequila with a Japanese guy and squeezed the lovely Ead from Korat who has a birthday next month and thought all was right in my world. Mai tawng plian arai, khrap.
Smile I always wonder what the hell I am doing in Thailand after roughly the same length of time as you, but then when I think hard about the West and going back to pretty much what I left, I think I'll continue to take my chances in Thailand!