Struggling With The Tone Of The Column And Bangkok Barry
I actually felt quite bad for you and maybe for myself when I read your closing remarks in last week’s column
about struggling with negativity.
It can be a problem when you are sitting on your decision knowing it must be implemented but not having defined much more beyond that-no date, no new place to live, leaving all this familiarity behind.
I don’t know if this helps but the way I look at my own decision is actually that I am going toward something new rather than leaving something. You and I are both going to leave this place because the things that brought us here have been satisfied and we are moving on to a new stage in life. This, in fact, is what life is about as if you needed instruction, but it’s worth saying nonetheless. And it is not like we are never coming back to visit. I felt exactly the same when I moved from Toronto to London in 1993 and when I moved from London to Bangkok in 1999. Things just have their limits and even if Bangkok were to return to those heady days when I first arrived, I am ten years older, filled to the brim with experience-I could never get that buzz again. Now what would be depressing is if I had no other options. I would get miserable and angry as if someone had stolen my last great dream from me. I’d blame the Thais for ruining my life. But it isn’t going to come to that – I’ll swoop back here every once in a while, listen to the gripes, and return to my ‘other’ life.
What really depressed me was Bangkok Barry’s sneering column about Thai culture, such as he understands its meaning. If he is married to a Thai he has to be one of the least insightful persons of foreign extraction in this country-has learned nothing, will learn nothing, but feels ever so smug about his own cultural roots. I just found his views unhelpful to anyone except chronic whingers and curmudgeons. I think of him as the guy who has no other options, had his dream stolen, like I said above.
If you want to start at any place to understand the way Thailand and Thais are, it always starts at the fact that Thailand is a developing country. That means there are not enough resources to go around so that everyone can have a decent life. This is true in every developing country, not just Thailand – lots of poor scrabbling around at the bottom for not very much money, rich and powerful people sucking the blood out people’s lives for their own selfish reasons.
Developing countries always have lots of corruption. Thailand’s puny attempts, so bristled at by Westerners, pale in comparison to what the West can pull off. ‘We gambled with your savings and lost everything so now we need you lend us more money – no, not the owners of the bank – they only get rewards – all you taxpayers have to give us more – gaol, why should anyone go to gaol – it's just business.’ ‘Give me a 1,000 baht and you can get out of here.’ Please, which country’s culture needs to be changed first? – not a trick question.
Barry thinks like he is still back in the West. Let’s have a look at the dangerous, wonky pavement here. If you have all the money you should have, you would dig down deep with your skilled Thai workers, lay a nice bed of heavy crushed limestone, a few more layers of increasingly fine crushed rock, lay the best quality paving stones on the final layer of sand and hope it held through the monsoons. If you are a developing country, you don’t get to work this way. In fact, many of your workers might not even be Thai and you have to cut enough corners to allow for the graft the boys at the top take. Shameful? Sure, but it is Mickey Mouse compared to the corruption going on in Iraq or Afghanistan where billions go missing along with young men’s lives to protect our way of life.
Yeah, the government of Thailand is encouraging prostitution, like, by withholding social dollars that could improve the lives of the poor. Never mind the country, what planet does Barry live on? I guess he figures the government is withholding all that free accommodation like you can get in Europe if you have no income, and a national pension scheme and unemployment benefits. Say, I wonder what the girls who work in the listed company brothels of Sydney today tell their parents about their work life. Oh, and as to the single parent thing where the Thai guy disappears after the pregnancy, is Barry aware that the number of babies born to single women in the West has been climbing steadily since the sixties and may reach the 50% mark in the next decade or so. Oh, and the divorce rate – yeah, that’s near 50%, too, in the West.
Then there is his view about Thai on Thai violence. This barely even deserves a comment from me. America is filled with gangs who make war on each other with things like Kalashnikovs. Oh yeah, you say, but that’s America – crazy place. How about the UK? – young people nightly going on piss ups and looking for brawls with strangers all across the land – yeah, part of culture. Did I mention football hooliganism or young women on all fours puking their guts out down the drains, skinheads, neo Nazis, or climbing knife crime? Yeah, colour doesn’t matter in the West, everyone knows that – we are all such great mates we’ve even got special names for each other.
Well, Stick, I am not going to write anymore about Bangkok Barry’s take on culture here. I will say, though, I don’t think he needs a great deal more space in your column. If you want to pillory another culture for its shortcomings, justify those of your own culture first.
You have a tough job here, Stick, because you have a large constituency to satisfy and you write ‘op-ed’ pieces in addition to just reporting the gossip and the news.
What I mean is that the newcomers want Thailand to be what they have heard it to be. They don’t want to be told to keep their guard up at all times and not to trust any Thai. They want to be told that new bars are opening, it’s a party place, that they have a shot just like that guy said back in Frankfurt or Montreal.
The medium term residents want to believe there is a chance it will all come back. They were frequent flyers a few years ago and just loved the place, so much so some left for good because the money they made in the West allowed them to do so and, besides, everyone could retire early on those real estate values. They are in denial about what has disappeared in Thailand and need encouraging news to say that their condo was really an incredible deal and the property they bought back home near the peak will start moving next year. They don’t want to hear about messy politics and scams that devalue their property or makes their decision to move here look poorly thought out.
And there are the long term residents like you and me. We know about the nasty side of Thai society – it has been in front of us from the first day we arrived. One of the first girls I took home from the Biergarten was murdered by a Pakistani serial killer. I’ve seen brawls amongst expats (usually Brits), there have been murders in my building and in my street. But we arrived at the very top of the wave just as it was about to curl over in its headlong rush to the beach. We could see for miles and there was so much beauty to look at, so much that was interesting or distracting, we just dismissed the bad as the kind of things that happen in developing countries. Like I said above, though, we have gotten all we could or needed from our time here and we have to go. I say let’s not ruin it for the other two groups because they still need something from this place. We who have had our time here need not express our frustration at the way things have changed because we already know the truth of that and we should remember that not all of us want or are capable of pursuing the same things.
Your people want to be told the same thing: that whatever happens to them here is or was or will be a thing that could never have happened back home, that their personal emotional drama is as real as it gets for a man in Thailand and it can be talked about to the grave over beer back home. Yeah, even the grousers, the complainers, the scammed, and the betrayed romantic hearts had a far wilder ride in Thailand than they would have had anywhere else. Some of your correspondents, like that English guy a week or so back who writes in detail about his romantic life may look like he is complaining but actually he has never felt so alive. Some of these guys, I can tell, have followed the breadcrumbs dropped by clever witches because they were intrigued how it would all come out – back home no woman, even bad women, would bother with them.
So, yeah, more bar reports, maybe some food reports, maybe less commentary about how dangerous the place is (actually, I like the way you tag in articles from newspapers here and abroad without commentary – people can read and make up their own mind), maybe neighbourhood reports – a tramp around Pratunam, the massage parlour districts, Suthisan, RCA, well, maybe someone more clued in than I should be making the suggestions.
It is tough to satisfy the entre readership, so varied it is. I just try and put together something that I would like to read, and that I feel is objective – and hope that the readership finds it informative and / or entertaining. Those are my goals these days.
As far as Bangkok Barry goes, I think you're being somewhat harsh and making an assumption or two too many…