How I Love Thailand
This is my first submission to Stickman – just thought I might share some of my thoughts on Thailand with others who may be interested. The posting by CiderheadBrit is a similar narrative of my own feelings for Thailand.
It's quite strange how I ended up in Thailand – more by default than intention because it was always my plan to go to Vietnam, wander over the less-travelled paths to visit the old battle sites and maybe being lucky enough to find a lady to spend my last days with in some remote village by the sea. Probably just a romantic dream I guess but reality stepped in upon analysis of the political situation in Vietnam at the time, so I looked at Thailand as an alternative destination. For a short while, I had a Japanese girlfriend and had fleeting thoughts about visiting Japan but decided it would be far too expensive to live there for anything but a short holiday. I knew a few Thai people in my home city in Australia and got to talking with one girl, whom I'll call Tina (not her real Thai name), who asked me if I had been to Thailand. I told her no – but that I would love to go and see her country.
She said she owned a house at Khlong Samwa, near Minburi, and that she was going back home in a few weeks – then she said that I was very welcome to stay at her home for as long as I wished until I decided what it was that I wanted to do in Thailand. Couldn't really believe her generosity and I was reluctant to take up her offer – but over a period of a week she had convinced me that her offer was genuine so I figured that it was crazy to turn down a golden opportunity. Several months prior to this I had sold one house and still had another large acreage property up in the mountains west of my city so we began planning a departure date to leave for Thailand. There was nothing holding me in Australia as I was a “casualty” of two former marriages – one to an Australian girl and the other to a lady from Dundee, Scotland (now there is another story on its own). The two children from my first marriage were adults and there was only a loose tie connecting us so I got myself a Non-Immigrant Type “O” visa, packed a backpack then Thai Tina and I headed off on the nominated date – she on Thai Airways and me on a Qantas flight out of Melbourne (yearly ticket courtesy of my daughter at staff rates) with the plan to meet up in Don Muang Terminal II on arrival as she would arrive before me in Terminal I.
Well as they say – “The best laid plans of mice and men… ” or something like that. Her home was in a gated estate with security guards – two-storey, modern and very spacious and I liked her company but of course I was being sized up for a “scam” yet I was somewhat streetwise about Asian women's proclivities and was able to extract myself gracefully and without any financial damage. But I always say that if you go to any Asian country, without having done your “homework” and knowing something about the culture and lifestyle, you are a sitting duck and deserve to be taken for a ride. That was a long time ago now and I've lost count of the number of times I've been back to The Land Of Smiles – but the thing that always sticks in my mind was that very first trip from Melbourne to Krungthep. Now I've flown extensively to London, Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago but nowhere has touched me like Krungthep. Approaching from the Gulf of Thailand, I watched the lights below until we did a bank to the right over the Chayo Phraya to line up for the glide path for Don Muang – and I felt like I was coming home, watching the never-ending orange grid of lights below slip past as we dropped lower and lower for landing. That magic never changes for me no matter how many times I fly into Krungthep – although I have to admit I do not love Suvarnabhumi Airport the way I loved the old Don Muang. Since the first few trips on Qantas I have always flown with Thai Airways and these days you always seem to fly into Krungthep from over Cambodia and there's not so much to see below as when you come in from the south-west.
People say to me that Krungthep is dirty, smelly and chaotic – that the traffic is horrendous, the smog choking and the noise deafening – but I say to them “Krungthep is not for you because you only choose to see bad things in a city that is laying its soul open to you.” They always say “Oh, Chiang Mai is more pleasant and not so hot” — but it comes down to horses for courses, I guess. I lived in Chiang Mai with my girlfriend, Wan, in 2004/2005 and yes, it is a lovely and unique place – but it was only Wan who kept me there because I would much sooner have been in Krungthep. Before Wan, I married a Thai girl, got Australian citizenship for her and set her up with a small importing business which was quite successful for her. When I met her she was already operating a clothing shop in Krungthep, the same as her elder sister did, so she had a good grasp of English and was always an excellent sales-person. I always say that she is the only person I have ever seen able to sell add-ons to Indians. The marriage was good but the age difference drove us apart and we separated by mutual agreement and divorced – yet we remain strong friends still. Truth is she's probably my best friend.
Almost all of my friends are Thai and it's always been that I have felt more at home in the company of Asians to the point that I rarely bother with Farangs in Thailand. I've seen too many Farang visitors from my own country and others behaving inappropriately and showing scant respect for Thais – and it makes me cringe, so I avoid them where possible. Probably the difference for me is that I have never been to Thailand as a tourist – always have been part of a Thai family circle wherever I've gone. Oh sure, I have done my share of mongering but, for me, that's only a small part of the intrigue that is Thailand. The thing I enjoy most is sharing time with Thais in their everyday activities – much prefer to sit in a bar chatting to bar-girls, walking the streets and stopping to talk with street vendors, tuk-tuk drivers or even touts. They are all interesting people. I do not enjoy drinking with ex-pats and listening to the tales of conquest and gossip – does nothing for me, so I avoid it. First thing I do on arrival in Krungthep is to visit my former sister-in-law at her shop and arrange with her to organise a good old Thai “nosh-up” with heaps of seafood and plenty of whiskey and Bia Singha. I love being able to share time with her family. One thing I miss most of all is Wan and nothing will ever replace her in my heart – she has left an indelible mark on my very soul and I am so glad it is so. The reason I am not with her now is a long story and may be material for another submission some time down the track.
What I have learned from Thailand is that it is impossible not to fall in love with a Thai woman in spite of the admonitions from the hard-bitten in all the blogs and tourist guides, whether she be a bar-girl or “hi-so” – and whether the relationship has been long and successful or short and torrid, I love them all and could never be cynical. Most of my time these days is occupied in transcribing Thai songs into English and providing the chord structures for guitar – and that has been the key to really understanding what Thais think and feel. I have been a musician all my life but, to my way of thinking, nobody writes a song that is able to express emotion and feelings like a Thai. Mainstream Thai pop as appears on the “Grammy” label is what I love most of all – Parn, Saowaluck, Sunita, Endorphine, “Bird”, Loso, Bodyslam, Potato, Asanee & Wasan – just some of whose music I listen to constantly and prefer to Western music. There are many places in Krungthep that I love – but my very favourite is breakfast on floor 77 in Baiyoke Sky Tower at 6 a.m., sitting over coffee and watching my beautiful city wake up to start another day. There is nothing like it to stoke my spirits for the day. I hold American and Australian citizenship but I have to be honest and say that, if it were possible, I would exchange both of those for Thai citizenship. No wonder my friends call me Chalermchai – guess I should have been born a Thai. Maybe it will happen in the next life because I don't imagine I will be riding the escalator upstairs any time soon.
It's nice to hear from someone who finds delight in the simple things in Thailand.