Cultural Differences, Families and the Devil
One of the many minor problems of accumulating an abundance of time on this orb is that it becomes more difficult to place events in their appropriate time frame. When you are 20 years old, life is fairly easily compartmentalized by the schools you've attended, where you've lived, etc. It doesn't take senility to complicate matters, merely an abundant number of experiences, trips, jobs, relationships, the sizable number of people you've met in all these endeavors.
Roughly two or three decades ago I read a Wall Street Journal (not to be confused with the defunct Walking Street Journal of Pattaya) article detailing some of the difficulties new immigrants had adjusting to life in the United States. There was the Vietnamese woman who purchased a can of Crisco shortening, a product using for frying and baking. The outside of the can had a picture of fried chicken on the label and this woman was dismayed that there was no chicken inside of the can. There was the Russian athlete who had had difficulty acquiring any running shoes back in Moscow. Whereas in a Western country, he was overwhelmed with so many choices that it frustrated and angered him. He didn't know how to make a choice.
Like pretty much all of the farangs living in Thailand, I of course have my days likewise when I'm frustrated or angered. Stopping on the way back home from the grocery store, I stop at the local massage shop for a few hours, having first given certain items to the massage staff to put in the refrigerator. But upon return of the items, I get hard frozen deli meat and milk as they've assumed I wanted them in the freezer. When I return from Chiang Mai on the Nakon Chai Air bus I first discover somebody sitting in my seat and subsequently find that I've been sold a 2nd ticket from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Not the ticket I wanted back to Bangkok. But I couldn't read the Thai script on the ticket.
My biggest frustration in Thailand is dealing with the banks. Why do I have to return to the precise bank branch where I opened a bank account in order to get a letter for immigration stating my account balance as of a specific date? When my certificate of deposit matures, and it was opened in Bangkok, but I now live in Nong Khai, why in hell do I have to wait two to three weeks for them to transfer the account up to Nong Khai in order to redeem the account? In short, WHAT THE HELL IS THE PURPOSE OF BRANCH BANKING in Thailand? (And no commodity is as fungible as is money.) With business models like this, Thailand will always be a developing country. I get worked up again just writing this paragraph. . . (But the flip side is if it weren't a developing country, it wouldn't be so great living over here.)
I'm grateful that there are few things that I miss from what used to be home, in my case, the USA. One small thing that I miss from my life there is that pedestrians have the right of way and this is well understood and generally accepted and enforced. It seems that pretty much the world over, when people are put behind the wheel or handlebars of a motor vehicle, their less desirable side of the "Jekyll and Hyde" personality surfaces. In Thailand, the cars are too big, the motorbikes are too fast and the temperature is too damn hot to push this issue at all. But it does make me wonder about what real personna lurks under the civilized veneer of drivers and why all drivers seem to be in such a rush to get somewhere.
Back in the somber and sober days when I worked for a living, one of those years entailed a lot of travel for my employer and even included long stints that included being away from home over a weekend. Like most business travellers, it didn't take too long before I was not quite so enamored of such a lifestyle. My particular grievance during these long business trips was that all of my interactions and transactions were financial in nature. Paying for meals, lodging, gasoline (petrol), rental cars, taxis, and on and on. I felt that interactions based on money changing hands was contrary to the spirit of genuine human relationships.
My biggest long-term issue living in Thailand is that almighty baht. I've spent time in relationships with the P4P girls and the good-girls. I've spent time, too much at that, with their families as well. And periodically and without fail, the issue of money irritates me. If I were sufficiently wealthy that I could toss around money like confetti, which I cannot, the issue would probably still bother me. It's deeply ingrained in me that honorable people take care of and support themselves. And I've grown weary of the extended hand and facial expression that comes with it. Yes, good girls or P4P lady, their earning power in the job market is negligible once you've taken away the earning power of their greatest asset.
I've seen and understand that many elderly parents are totally dependent on their children for a place to live and food to eat. I've seen some of these dutiful children cheerfully embrace the opportunity to show their gratitude to their parents. Conversely, I've seen some of their siblings provide no assistance to the parents, sometimes because they were always living a hand-to-mouth existence themselves or perhaps they were saving money to buy their own place to live. And I find myself unable to accept that the siblings don't all help out. (This is not because their sister has a farang boyfriend. This went on long before I arrived on the scene.) I find myself resenting and disliking parts of the family and not wanting to see them or spend time with them. I know how devoted my Thai lady is to her family and don't want to let her know that I will eventually end our relationship because I don't like her family. And in the end, I still won't tell her that her family was something I could never accept. It's a difficult thing for an American, accustomed to being direct and frank and bluntly honest, but honesty is way overrated. In human affairs, kindness and lies and evasions are worth a thousand truths. The truth is something for mathematicians and philosophers to pursue.
One of the most important lessons I've learned in life is that when you don't like how someone is treating you, don't take it personally. That person may be your new girlfriend, the man at the immigration booth or the priest in the confessional booth. Sure, it's real easy to personalize the issue when your girlfriend spends too much of your money. Or when the immigration guy snarls at you. But the truth most of the time is that the girlfriend squanders her own money and anybody else's money she can get at. Government officials the world over are pretty damn rude to everybody, not just you. And when you depersonalize the issue, you can form a clearer image of what is occurring and how you'll choose to respond.
Thai people don't single out farangs for conniving behavior. They brazenly cheat each other as well and I've seen it. <So right – Stick>
But even with that recognition clearly in mind, sometimes I have a lot of difficulty accepting how I see my money being spent. Some of the elderly parents are oblivious to where money comes from and it shows. Some of my P4P gals would get obnoxiously and rudely drunk, but I knew they were only for fun and nothing more. Love doesn't conquer all and sometimes you have to move along and get away. Not always easy for me though.
When I first got to Thailand, one guy warned me that if I was going to live here that I would need to toughen up. Eventually I understood what he was attempting to convey to me. Too bad for me that I wasn't a faster pupil.
Stick has commented that love is a different affair here than back in the West. By and large, I tend to disagree with him. The Thai women are just more honest and forthright about what they are seeking in a relationship. You'd better believe that women back in Oz and Europe and America are sizing you up as a potential provider of money and status. They merely lie to themselves and / or others if they claim otherwise. No money, no honey.
Many submissions of the past few months have addressed the issue of appearances of acceptance and respect, the lack of egalitarianism and the importance of saving face in Thailand. And frankly, I'm a bit bewildered by where this writing is coming from and what initiates it all. Yesterday (3 January 2010) Stick devoted most of his weekly commentary to this topic and noted that "If you wish to mix in certain circles in Thai society, your image has to be squeaky clean." Isn't that pretty much true the world over? But how many farangs living in Thailand aspire to mixing in those social circles? When I'm in England, I'm not concerned about whether I hold my teacup in the manner to please the upper crust or when I'm in America if I use the right kind of mustard, which apparently is Grey Poupon. Preaching propriety to mongers and ex-mongers and the misfits who once exited their homelands to come live in Asia is like warning the devil that it may be too hot for him to live comfortably in Bangkok.
If I'm not an old man yet, I'm well into middle age and my mortality (as well as my morality) is a well acknowledged reality to me. Admittedly, I'm not 100% oblivious to how other people view me and on certain rare occasions I even give a rat's ass what they think of me. But by and large, saving face and my image are relatively unimportant matters to me. This doesn't mean that I go out of my way to ignore Thai notions of decency and dignity. As a very happy long-term guest in their country, it is very easy for me to abide by and accept Thai ideas of acting appropriately and without question, staying within the bounds of the law. But if propriety and image meant all that much to me, my passport wouldn't be full of Thai visas and immigration stamps in and out of Thailand. My life is of limited duration and I'm basically unconcerned and untroubled as to whether I ever get to mix with the elite anywhere.
To the surprise of my current girlfriend, I'm not shy at all about telling people where I met her. Whether she came from a farm, the gutter or picked me up in her limousine when I tried to wash her windows at a traffic stop, I can choose for myself what are acceptable and desirable traits in other people. It is easy and my standard operating procedure to attempt to treat everybody with courtesy and respect regardless of their occupation, the darkness of their skin pigmentation or how thick their bankroll is.
When I was gently chastising this girlfriend about how expensive she was becoming to me in terms of monetary outlay, she had an excellent comeback. "Quality costs. Do you want good quality or not?" And I defer to nobody in terms of deciding about the quality of what I eat, where I live and what I drag into my bed. Bon appetite.
Your girlfriend's comment is a classic. I loved it!