Experiences from ‘The Flow’ (25): Musings from a Recovering Thai-a-holic
“Prosperity: The eternal flow of all that’s good in life…”
By Carl “J.C.” Pantejo, Copyright October 2008
(Author “My Friend Yu – The Prosperity Mentor,” Copyright August 2007. Pantejo – Y.N. Vurce Publishing.)
Subtitled: “What I learned about Myself in Thailand.”
– Lost Objectivity –
Many times, when you’re too close to a situation you tend to lose your perspective on life.
Call it what you will, “the heat of the moment,” “the situational fervor,” “the unique environmental reinforcements,” whatever, they all tend to warp the minds of even the most rational individuals.
Your life’s Big Picture is not so clear anymore.
Priorities in the real world lose significance and the illusions of fantasy land seem so vital. Things that you wouldn’t hesitate to brush away as pure nonsense suddenly become significant.
While in this “Alice in Wonderland” mindset, basal needs take on an urgency of mythical proportions.
Consequently, objectivity is lost and can only be recovered after a series of “hard knock” lessons.
That’s exactly what I let happen to me in Thailand…
– Time to Cool-Down –
Now that I’ve been out of Thailand for over 4 ½ months, I can look back at the whole experience in a different light (i.e., from a different, more objective point of view).
Moreover, I’ve come to realize that I learned many things about myself, time, money, life, etc., and experienced some hard life lessons from my “in country” years in the Land of Smiles.
I call it “in country” time because in many ways, Thailand can feel like unfamiliar, hostile territory. Farangs (Thai: foreigners) are in a hot zone; battling communication barriers and contending with almost opposite social and sexual mores.
Throw in the uncertainty of residence or employment and you instantly have fertile ground for undue stress and the perpetuation of personal demons (alcoholism, sex, drugs, etc.) as justification for “relief.”
Maybe that’s why the personal behavior of foreigners now and those of soldiers during the Vietnam era are still quite similar?
Such was the case for me in Thailand.
– At T&A (Thai-a-holics Anonymous) –
Standing at the podium:
(Me): “Hello. My name is J.C. and I’m a Thai-a-holic.”
(Audience): “H-e-l-l-o-o-o-o J.C.!”
(Me): “It’s been nine hours since I had my last Thai…”
Roaring sound of clapping from the approving audience…
Seriously, though, Thailand (and especially Thai women) can easily seduce a man. The longer one stays in Thailand, exposed to all the exotic temptations, the harder it is to leave.
It can truly become an addiction and quickly reshuffle many a man’s life priorities.
– Stereotypical Beginnings –
My story begins like many others. I originally visited Thailand for a short, one week vacation. In my mind, this was to be another personal vacation of hedonistic pleasure.
Financially, I was duly prepared; having saved up my “mad money” a year and a half in advance. Excluding my airfare, I planned to spend at least 12,000-14,000 baht (approximately $400-$425 USD) per day.
In other words, I had enough money to have a dangerously crazy time!
(From what I’d read in various Thai-oriented blogs and internet sites concerning the cost of living and playing in Thailand, I figured this was enough to indulge in what I envisioned as a marathon of physical gratification.)
And indulge I did.
What actually happened?
Suffice it to say that my first week in Thailand was the most pleasure-seeking week of my life. It surpassed all expectations I’d fantasized about for over a year.
Spending about 93% of my dream vacation budget, I “sampled the exotic culture and generously contributed to the local economy” by beginning my drinking at noon.
Then, everyday for the next six days, I had at least three different “escorts,” visited 3-4 different bars, ate at a new restaurant, and stayed at a different hotel or motel every night.
Did you do the math? That’s right. In less than seven days, I had at least 18 different “escorts”! Maybe 21 is likely the more accurate number? I honestly don’t know.
And no, the sexual performance/prowess was not pharmaceutically enhanced (save for copious amounts of alcohol).
The continuous physical activity had a delightful side effect.
At the end of the week, in spite of the enormous amounts of calories I ingested (in the form of decadently rich meals, desserts, beer, and mixed drinks), I actually lost weight. Not mere water weight, but – according to my high precision calipers for measuring body fat in elite athletes – real fat loss.
Anyone else up for the Thai sex diet and exercise plan?
– Serendipity or Curse? –
As luck, fate, or karma would have it, the night before I was to leave Thailand a fellow American called me at my hotel and offered me a job.
He had an English school and supplied the local government schools with foreign, native-speaking English teachers. A current employee had an emergency in the States, leaving a gap that needed to be filled immediately.
In spite of never teaching English before, I eagerly said yes; mainly because I thought the job could prolong my new Thailand fantasy lifestyle.
(And working in the country would spare me from using my military pension during my stay, I thought. But in reality, over the following months and years, I found myself dipping into my pension for unexpected obligations, numerous faux emergencies, outright scams, overpriced Farang commodities, and fellow teacher bailouts.)
Besides, I’d been an instructor almost my whole adult life in military and civilian schools, teaching a wide range of medical, business, administrative, and military subjects to soldiers, High School students, adult-education students, and hospital personnel.
Teaching English to Thai students couldn’t be that hard, could it?
– A Teacher’s Cure –
Question: What is the cure for the itch to teach English overseas?
In no way am I saying this in an arrogant or cavalier manner.
After teaching English in elite EP (English Program) setups, adult night schools, children’s after school and weekends programs, and individual, private classes for over two years, I can safely say from experience that the overwhelming majority of such programs and so-called “English teachers” are all show and no go.
The only criteria for attending English class (at all levels) is cash, not the motivation to learn, nor the presence of a baseline knowledge of English.
The number one reason for teaching English is cash, not the passion for teaching, nor the presence of rudimentary teaching skills.
If a student can pay, he stays (and passes). If a teacher can barely speak English and has white skin, he stays (and gets paid).
This is where I had the most problems because, although I had more education and experience as an instructor, the fact that I am Asian made it doubly difficult to get employment with the normal farang pay.
Why did I stay? In a word. Women.
I’m not going to blow smoke up you a$$.
I’m not going to say that the combination of weather, food, and culture was my initial or main reason for staying (although, in time, they helped me rationalize staying “just a few more months.” And the “few more months” turned into over two years.).
My main reason for staying in Thailand was: Women.
Why did I finally leave? Again, in a word. Women.
Let me explain both sides, the Stay/Leave reasons, in more detail.
– Stay Side –
In my opinion, the women of Thailand (and I include not just Thais, but also the women from Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Vietnam that come to Thailand to live, work, and stay) are ridiculously, physically genetically gifted!
Most western women go to great lengths just to come close to the feminine beauty that most Asians take for granted.
Asian women, from early child-bearing age and well into their middle age years, naturally possess what most Farangs describe as “awesome, hot bodies and sweet angel faces.”
Unlike the west, hour-glass figures are the norm in Asia. Their waist-to-hip ratios are unbelievable, almost scary – erotic, feminine anime incarnate!
And the way they carry themselves could put many runway models to shame.
I describe most of my Asian girlfriends as having waists that are just “Three Palms Wide” and busts that are “Insanely Hide-N-Seekable.”
Asian women revel in their femininity; not hampered by the commonly seen male-female role confusion of most western women. They know that they are women, enjoy it, and don’t try to be men (i.e., physically, emotionally, psychologically, etc.).
They can be extremely attentive – almost to the point of mothering/smothering a grown man – and are flagrantly sexy.
I tell many of my western buddies that most Thai women secrete pheromones that can attract anything male within a 50-mile radius!
So, since physical beauty/sexiness was high on my list of “wants” at the time, the decision to stay was a no-brainer.
But everything has a flip-side…
– Leave Side –
1. Most Thai women can not speak English at a level that’s remotely conducive to any real communication.
2. If they can speak English, most will talk about mundane (albeit culturally ingrained) topics – all the time. The banal banter over things like money, food, gossip, and relatives are covered daily – over and over again.
It gets old very fast.
3. It’s all about the Benjamins (money). No money, no honey. Period. Think I’m being jaded? Have you ever seen a Thai woman stay with a poor foreigner for any (if any) length of time? No.
In fact, most Thai women routinely take the foreigner’s money and then sneak back to their local, no-money, abusive, tuk-tuk driving boyfriends or husbands.
Or how ‘bout the effect on a man’s ego to discover that his girlfriend is still madly in love with her masculine female lover?
After the money is taken from the unsuspecting farang, a good time is had by all the locals. I’m sure a lot of celebrations at the expense of “the stupid foreigner” still happen daily all over the kingdom.
Why the cut-throat monetary philosophy and tactics? Sadly, because of mass poverty, money means a lot more than money (in the western sense) in Asia.
Most Westerners try to use money and love people. Unfortunately, to the misfortune of most foreigners in Thailand, the reverse is true.
4. “Honorable Dishonesty.” Lying is both rampant and culturally accepted. It’s true that “saving face” is usually the main reason for lying, but lying just for the sake of lying had become an all-too-common, daily occurrence.
Maybe it was just plain intellectual laziness? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I made giant leaps in terms of communication ability to try to connect with no reciprocal benefits; only blank stares, embarrassing giggles, and blatant obstinacy and lies.
Sorry, but it’s hard enough to learn a new language, only to find out later that what was said was patently false.
– Time well spent? –
Was it worth it? It all depends.
And it’s hard to explain.
You see, unless you’ve actually experienced living in Thailand, it is hard to fathom it. It’s like trying to explain how life in the military is to someone who has never been a soldier. Or like trying to explain how prison life is to someone who has never been incarcerated.
No words can do justice to the gamut of differences from “normal life.”
Aside from the beautiful women, tropical surroundings, cheap (local) food, and radically different culture and religion, let me list some other things I had to contend with:
*Xenophobia: Most Thai people live in a hermetically sealed, societal bubble and really don’t care to know about the rest of the world. In their minds, they are “Thai” and that’s all that matters.
Conversely, if one is not Thai, one ain’t $hit!
*Spend, spend, spend: Act like a tourist and get ripped off like a tourist!
*The transient nature of foreigners feeds into the mercenary demeanor and nationalistic ideology of the Thai people.
This results in a loop of exploitation and further, mutual distrust.
You can see it on their faces. The expressions of repugnance, subtle gestures of disrespect, and overt actions of exasperation are more than self-explanatory.
And while in the midst of other Farangs (or “invisible,” incognito as a Thai national among the locals), I’ve heard the following sentiments expressed several times during my stay:
Farang: “Why does everyone think I’m a walking ATM? Jeez, I’m tired of being treated like a continual, streetside freak show!
No wonder most foreigners don’t stay here very long…”
Thais: “Why should we Thais treat Farangs like real people? They are not Thai and don’t deserve all that money they spend in Thailand. They are not Buddhist. They are rude.
They are temporary. They never stay long enough to really matter. Yes, some of them try to stay and pretend to be Thai, but they will never be Thai.
Sooner than later, almost all of them will leave Thailand anyway.
So I’d better get as much money from those rich Farangs as quickly as I can before they’re gone again!”
*English? We don’t need no stinking English! Otherwise known as the “Even though we know how to speak English, let’s see just how much we can confuse, inconvenience, and frustrate the foreigner” game.
*No Dogs or Ex-Pats Allowed: Thailand’s immigration laws are grossly slanted towards tourism and blatantly discriminatory to foreign residents – even to foreigners whose wives are Thai nationals.
It becomes quickly apparent that Thailand wants tourists, not Ex-Pats; making foreign residents feel like second-class citizens.
Pay taxes? Yes.
Long term residential security? No!
Property Rights? Don’t make me laugh!
A foreigner has to roll the dice when it comes to purchasing land or a home; of course, usually in his Thai significant other’s name or some convoluted corporate cover scheme.
Either way, it leaves all foreigners vulnerable to a speedy reversal of promises and land/property seizure by the Thai government.
(And by the way, because of the Buddhist religion, “Soi Dogs” [Thai: Street Dogs] are ostensibly tolerated and cared for.
These strays are everywhere and seem to have carte blanche to do whatever they want and lay wherever they please.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to step over a sleeping dog while entering or exiting a 7-11 store; or even worse, barely avoiding an accident on my motorcycle because of multiple, sleeping dog obstacles in the road!)
*You can work here, but YOU WILL PAY: For foreign workers, and teachers in particular, working permit/visas and even passports are routinely (and illegally) held hostage by employers. The procedures are both costly and headache-inducing. <One should never deposit their passport with anyone in Thailand, be it rental companies, employers, girlfriends or whomever. Keep it close by with any other important documents and valuables – Stick>
Visa runs are still a necessity for most, keeping the visa run companies flush with customers. <This is one of the few points I disagree with in this submission. People doing visa runs are a small minority – Stick>
*Lowest on the Family Totem Pole: Some wise advice: “Never get between a Thai and her family. You will lose!”
In the west, when a couple decides to marry, it is assumed that they now, in terms of life significance, hold each other in the highest regard; effectively turning the couple into the “primary family;” while all relatives become “secondary.”
Not so in Thailand.
In spite of being the husband, breadwinner, and head of household, the foreigner will never come close to the relative importance of his mate’s family.
*Life Draining Farangs: The longer I spent in Thailand, the longer I found myself looking at other Farangs suspiciously. The majority of them were the kind of people I would never associate with in my own country.
After a few months, I found myself consciously avoiding them as much as possible. And if that was not feasible, I would take a very long time to get to know them before accepting any offers to socialize outside of the workplace.
Because most of them turned out to be: bankrupt, drunks, druggies, wife or girlfriend abusers, suffering from abusive wives or girlfriends, or running from the consequences of their financial or legal indiscretions in their own countries.
Personal hygiene was a hit or miss.
Standing in for them because of their multiple bouts of “the flu” (a.k.a, drunken or drug binges) made me resent the fact that honest, hard, and dependable performance on my part only resulted in more work for me.
I got tired of their sad, life-draining attitudes.
Since I firmly believe that a person eventually becomes “the knowledge he seeks and the company he keeps,” I stood at a safe distance on the sidelines as I witnessed many tragedies of self-destruction unfold.
So, back to the original question of was it worth it?
In my case, I would say yes. I learned a lot about myself, my passions, my weaknesses, my personal thresholds on many public and private fronts, and most of all, how easily anything pleasurable can turn into a negative addiction.
– In Retrospect –
If I had to do it all over again, I’d certainly keep the following items in mind:
*Do I have a set of pre-planned, clear goals (career, financial, physical, personal, etc.) that I could pursue “in country”?
*Periodically ask myself, “Am I moving towards or away from my goals?”
*Do I have a firm entry, duration, and exit strategy (arrival date, length of stay, and a “leave no matter what” date)?
– Those Nagging Questions –
After a while, I could not keep certain questions from appearing and reappearing in my mind. Questions like:
“Where am I going? Really?”
“Am I progressing in any important area(s) of my life here?”
“Am I getting richer or poorer?”
“Are my relationships real or fake?”
“How long can I keep doing this and honestly say I’m investing in my future?”
My answers to these questions lead me to the realization that, for me, Thailand is a nice place to visit, but as a place to live a significant portion of the rest of my life was out of the question.
– For Those Who Disagree –
I know that some of you Ex-Pats living as retirees in Thailand disagree with much of my article.
And I do concede that at certain stages of life and levels of financial stability one might have a diametrically opposing point of view. Age and money does play a large part in the decision to stay in Thailand as a foreign resident.
When I lived and worked in Thailand, I was 43 years old and had settled into a working man’s lifestyle. That is, I taught six days a week and drastically cut down my nocturnal forays into Bangkok, making it a once a week ritual.
In fact, for a stretch of many months I would have live-in girlfriends
(The details of my torrid, heartbreaking, and oftentimes, humorous affairs are too numerous and complex to spell out in this article. But you can read about them in previous “Experiences from ‘the Flow’ series” articles.)
In short, I wasn’t doing “doubles” and “triples” at Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza anymore. So, compared to my initial week in Thailand, I lived rather conservatively.
I received a modest U.S. military pension, but only delved into it for what I deemed as “extreme circumstances.” My main financial resource was an after tax Thai salary of 55-60,000 baht/month from my day teaching job and weekend or night classes.
But even with the above income, there were times when I felt pressured to spend more than I wanted to – simply because I was either the oldest person in a group outing or because I was the “Rich Farang.”
Failure to do so would have branded me as kee-nee-ow, a Cheap Charlie.
Although I would calmly acquiesce on the outside, I harbored a rising resentment toward the way the culture seemed just like one giant setup against foreigners. And the results were always the same: bills for the Farang and some kind of payoff for the locals.
In over 9 out of 10 instances, no matter who is really at fault, when a problem arises between a foreigner and a Thai, the foreigner usually is labeled as the “wrongdoer” and can only escape further persecution by providing a hefty “donation” (a.k.a., bribe) to the local representative of the law/authority.
Of course, neither written records, nor official receipts are issued.
To those of you who are willing to take the positives with the negatives and still feel good about yourselves, I say, “Great. Good for you.”
But for me, I’ve tasted the Thai lifestyle, enjoyed all that I could, and look back on all of it as a great learning experience; full of people, events, and things I probably could never have gotten anywhere else.
And now I’m ready for other places, people, and adventures.
Presently, especially after my stay in Thailand, it’s now easier to resist becoming a “Filipina-holic”…
“Until next time, find ‘The Flow’ and jump in!”
Your Friend in this Intrepid Journey called Life,
Carl “J.C.” Pantejo
Anyone who has only spent a small amount of time in Thailand, or perhaps has yet to visit the Kingdom, may consider your words bitter. I would suggest that if they were truly honest, anyone who has spent a number of years in Thailand would say that your comments are fair.