Away From The Bars And The Tourist Spots, And The Jayson Saga
I’ve been a faithful reader of submissions over the last five years, but am getting really fed up with the recent Jayson saga and all the other related submissions, I think the subject has been flogged to death, nothing will change as a result of all that has been said. I have read many of them and have not come away feeling either enriched or enlightened.
I’ve just returned from my tenth visit, it seems to get better each time. Flew out the day before the Icelandic volcano erupted, and didn’t go anywhere near the trouble zones in Bangkok even though we stayed in the capital for ten days. Can’t say I missed MBK or Siam Paragon very much, there is plenty more to see and do. Arriving in the middle of Songkran found Suvarnabhumi airport strangely quiet, and the tollways virtually empty. I guess Bangkok had emptied itself of provincials returning to their families for the holiday season.
Been married now for three and a half years to a Thai lady from the central region, and after a first year of difficulties things seem to have improved considerably. My wife has had to attend English classes since last September in order to qualify for an ‘Indefinite Leave To Remain’ visa in the UK. Although we resent the obstacle of doing this, it has had the effect of not only improving her English, but also giving her small insights into things that go on in another country, and this in turn has helped our relationship to some degree. Thais are generally insular; not only do they generally not know much about what goes on outside Thailand, they don’t even want to know. My missus was no exception, but plugging her from time to time with simple bits of UK related information has generated her interest somewhat, she even watches the BBC news from time to time. Yet I don’t believe she realises how much she’s changed, though one day I might tell her! I’m doing her a bit of a disservice here, because although she never went to school as a child, she is very sharp and intelligent, as well as being very arrogant! But I find her company every bit as interesting as if I was married to a farang lady.
After staying in her small flat in BKK, we headed north to her home town of Lopburi to stay with her family. The minibus service which connects Bangkok with Lopburi starts within the trouble zone, so after some dispute we decided to take the train. I’m used to the smooth, quick air-conditioned British trains, so it was a bit of a shock to climb on to a Thai train. Ancient rolling stock, no aircon just ineffective fans buzzing around on the ceiling. 90+ F degrees of heat inside. On the plus side, all the windows slide right down so you travel sitting by a massive open window, and if the sun shines straight in you slide down a massive metal blind. All the carriage doors remain open including the central door at the back of the last carriage, so I stood there smoking a cigarette, watching the track roll away backwards. Can you imagine doing this in little old UK? Health and Safety would die of a heart attack! Little things like this make you realise how much the sense of fun and adventure has gone out of living in the west, everything made safe and sanitized. But people still die in accidents! After half an hour we called at Don Meuang station, and I looked across with sadness at an old airport which has so many more memories and character than the new one will ever have.
After two more hours of bumping along we arrived in Lopburi and checked into a hotel just along from the station. My wife wanted to surprise everyone – they knew we were coming, but not exactly when. The windows of our room were covered with wire grid to prevent the monkeys from entering the room and stealing everything, because as you may know, Lopburi features monkeys. They are everywhere; on the pavements, up telegraph poles, running across the road in front of cars and buses or simply just hanging around on street corners, the young clinging to their mothers. We watched in the morning as their food and water was set out in an area just across the street, as about fifty of them piled in from nowhere to eat.
My wife had some family business to attend to including a land transaction, so it was two more days before we were driven by her young brother the fifteen miles outside Lopburi to her village. I had twice visited her family before, but had only stayed in a hotel overnight nearby. This time I stayed two weeks on the family’s land – comprised of about two acres with several houses, some wooden, some of recent modern construction. I’d contributed to the building of one house on the plot owned by my wife, but had never seen it in a finished state. I was completely amazed at how nice it was, because in relative terms it had cost very little money to build. We’d had the insight to include an en suite bedroom, aircon only having been installed two weeks before.
Having tried both, I honestly find it better to sleep without aircon. I judge this by the fact that sleeping with aircon I often wake up feeling slightly unwell, with a dry and sometimes sore throat. Sleeping with just a fan, lying on the bed in shorts and no bedcovering, I wake up feeling really well and invigorated. I agree that aircon is a blessing in a country as hot as Thailand, but most people are too poor to afford it and get by without it for most of the time. In the daytime it is useful, and coming into Big C after walking around in 38C outside is a blessing.
I could cover a lot more than I have done about this trip, but I think it would be boring to others, and it was a very family oriented time. I am unused to this as I prefer to be with just immediate family, or alone. Having said this, I found my wife’s family to be very genuine, caring and kind in the old fashioned way. The many children were fun loving and joyous in a way that western children have lost. They were polite, helpful, knew their place and did errands for their elders all the time without complaint or expectation of reward. There were no computer games, very few tv sets, and not many toys yet they seemed to have fun all day every day with little or no squabbling. The older girls took charge of young babies for a lot of the time.
My wife has three brothers and five sisters, all with their own families, so you can imagine how many people there were. She herself has a son and two daughters from previous relationships. Her youngest is with us in the UK, her other daughter lives in Lopburi and at 28, has four children. Being the only travelled one and married to a farang, my wife is looked up to by the whole family including her mother, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, in years to come, she becomes head of the family even though she is only the 5th eldest and it would break with Thai tradition.
On the 5th day we were there, and very quickly arranged, my wife’s only son was confirmed as a Buddhist monk – a tradition that Thai males follow at the age of around 21. The equivalent, I suppose, of a Christian confirmation or a Jewish barmitzvah. They usually only remain a monk for a short time, from a week to a month though some stay longer. The family arranged catering for around 150 people, canopies, a huge sound system, chairs, tables etc, all in about 48 hours. At 7 in the morning several members of his close family proceeded to cut and shave off the subject’s hair. At 8 in the morning we all walked to the Buddhist temple, about half a mile down the road, then the entire gathering danced back to the house along the road (witnessed by the entire village) to the sound of a mobile Thai band, a set of drums/speakers on wheels, the rest of the band comprising guitars, trumpets, keyboard, saxophones and vocalists walking in amongst the gathering. It was one of the most joyous occasions I have ever witnessed. I was comandeered (as stepfather) into sitting on the back of a pickup with the newly robed monk himself and other immediate family members, and plied with glasses of beer, cigarettes and food, as we followed on just behind the gathering.
The house had been prepared for the arrival of ten Buddhist monks who carried out the prayers and initiation ceremony, the rest of the day was spent eating and drinking.
The following morning another troupe of monks turned up to bless the new house. I’d been told that this was needed to ensure that the ghost of any future person who might die in the house, did not remain. It might seem a bit of a joke to westerners, but Thais take this kind of thing very seriously.
I was lucky, in a short space of time I had seen some of Thailand and its people’s doings in the most traditional sense. Although I paid for many things I was never asked for money, and was not expected to pay. My wife’s youngest brother drove us around on many occasions, including a trip to the Pasak Jolasit Dam, and absolutely refused to allow me to pay for anything. He gave up many days work to take care of us, and at the end of our stay drove us back to Bangkok. My wife’s Mum, sisters, brothers, children and grandchildren were all grief stricken when it was time for us to depart. I’ve rarely seen such emotion on open display, and I can guarantee there were no crocodile tears. I was treated with nothing but kindness and respect, and my wife told me that all her family liked me very much.
With only a few years left of working life, I have to consider where I will reside, if I am fortunate enough to live to a good age. I have to admit that I look upon the life of a pensioner in the UK with trepidation. It has nothing to do with the standard of living, the state services provided, or the so called good things in life, the access to culture. I also worry for Thailand, big changes are on the way. I wonder for how long will Thai children live such a simple joyous life before the encroaching western culture (which so many Asians seek), creates the kind of problems in the young we now see all over Europe and America. Thailand has its own kind of problems, their traditions and social structures don’t make it easy for young people to make good in the economic sense, or to be different. Yet mental and spiritual health rarely enters the equation when considering the wellbeing of a country, usually economics takes the foreground. At the present time I would say that in spite of relative poverty Thailand is still a better place to be when it comes to this kind of wellbeing, though I couldn’t say for how much longer. As the EVA Air jet landed at Heathrow, the usual depression descended upon me, I know I can’t stay here all my life.
It is hard to know where to commit to at this point in time. I reckon the West is fine so long as you have a lot of money – but I would not want to be living there as an average Joe with an average salary. Thailand is going through a difficult period – and I don’t think anyone thinks it is going to pass quickly. It’s a tough decision to know where to be, one that is on the minds of many of us…