Readers' Submissions

How Sweet It Is!



Stereotype: to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.

It is a natural tendency, perhaps left over from when most human beings lived in small tribes or extended family groups, to describe other tribes in a derogatory way. Establishing societal hierarchies doesn’t require large numbers of people. Two people will do quite nicely. “I am more important than you are”! “My tribe (nation, religion, race etc) is more civilized, smarter, more moral, (fill in the blank) than yours.” Everybody knows that the people living on the other side of the mountain are notorious cheats. They drink to excess, worship a false god, are habitual liars, whose sexual habits are disgusting…and smell like an open sewer! Did I leave anything out! We may be living in the 21st century, but we still continue to stereotype people as much as our ancestors did when the height of fashion was a poorly cured rhinoceros hide.

“Everybody knows” that: Americans are rude, the French are arrogant, the Irish are drunks, Jews are stingy, Italians are criminals and Blacks are lazy. I would imagine that there is an ethnic smear for every group on the planet, although I can’t imagine what insulting things you might come up with about a remote people such as the Inuit…but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there sends me a really good Eskimo put-down!

I’m not familiar enough with most Asian cultures to come up with many stereotypes, although Korean tourists have a reputation for being rude and pushy. Is this reputation deserved? Well, once while visiting a remote temple within the Angkor Wat complex, I, along with a few other visitors was waiting patiently to have a guide take a photograph of us one by one standing next to an extraordinary beautiful tree with enormous roots engulfing an ancient doorway. Suddenly the air of stillness and serenity was broken by a large troupe of noisy Koreans, who as bold as brass tried to shove their way to the head of the queue. Unfortunately for them, they met an impromptu show of resistance from me, an elderly Danish couple, a young couple from the UK and three young women from Japan. Reluctantly…very reluctantly, the Koreans were forced to stand and wait their turn. Was the behavior of these Korean tourists typical? Honestly I have no idea. I’ve heard that many Thai bargirls aren’t thrilled to go with Korean men, fearing rough behavior. Is this typical of Korean mongers? Again I have no idea. Such stories, whether real or just idle gossip, are the stuff which can become the basis of stereotypes.

Thais, as many of you may know from personal experience, love to stereotype. Don’t believe me? Ask a sampling of Thais what they think of Laos, Cambodians and Burmese. My in-laws in Buriram, have a few choice epithets about the Khmers. Thais in other parts of Thailand think the people in Buriram, many of whom share close relation to the Laos, are as stupid as they come. A large number of Thais believe that anyone with dark skin is a second class citizen.

The school where I am now teaching is Chinese oriented, and is run by Thais of Chinese descent. At most private Thai schools, teachers whose children attend their school receive a major discount on tuition. At my former school the discount was 50%. At my current school there is no discount whatsoever. Since the salaries here are not overly generous, this means that I have to do tutoring on the weekends to earn extra money to pay for my son’s education. When I told this to my wife, she looked at me as if I were a babe in the woods. “Don’t you know that all Chinese are cheap”? Since then a fair number of other Thais have expressed the same sentiment. Does this mean that there might be some basis for what seems an obvious stereotype? I would be a fool to think so based on what may just be hearsay…and yet once that seed has been planted, it’s easy to begin thinking that this is indeed true.

Even when we all try to be fair-minded, and not give in to what “everybody knows” about this or that group of people, along comes a complete wanker whose behavior exemplifies every stereotype you ever heard…and it is here my friends that after yet another long-winded Sawadee introduction that we finally get around to today’s story. I’m sure you haven’t the vaguest idea where this tale is headed!

There are so many varieties of fruit available here in Thailand. Given the climate, there is a 365-day growing season. This combined with generous amounts of sun and rain ensures that the markets are overflowing cornucopias of fruit of every kind…well at least of almost every kind. Some fruit trees require cooler weather. That is why you won’t find native cherries, peaches, raspberries or nectarines in Thailand. I once saw some cherries for sale at Rimping Market in Chiang Mai that were so outrageously expensive that you would think they were gold-plated. If I had even been tempted to buy some, the thought of what my frugal wife would have to say about such an extravagant purchase would quickly cause that brilliant plan to evaporate like the morning fog on a sunny summer’s day. Pity poor Sawadee who hasn’t had a cherry in over six years! <I have seen you munch on a "cherry"!Stick>

I wrote a piece quite a while ago entitled Living in the Garden of Eatin, in which I talked about the large number of fruit trees we have growing on our small property. They were all mere twigs when we planted them, but are all pretty damned large now, and are all bearing copious quantities of fruit. There is one tree that I didn’t mention in that submission; one that I didn’t plant as a sapling, but as a mere seed. I’m talking about my little lemon tree. Although actually a fair size after all these years, it would be much larger if my wife didn’t have the habit of cutting it back. I can’t use the word pruning to describe her efforts with a small machete, as pruning is a well thought out technique based on some degree of horticultural expertise. She may be the former farm girl, and I a mere small-city dweller, but I think I do know the difference from pruning and mere hacking away when I see it.

Every Thai I’ve ever met seems to use the word lemon, to refer to what you and I know as limes. I have many times patiently pointed out that there is a world of difference between the two, aside from the obvious difference in color. Yes, both are citrus fruit, and the juice from both are sour, but a lemon doesn’t remotely taste like a lime, anymore than an apple tastes like a pear. Don’t get me wrong, I adore limes. I adore just about anything that’s sour, including pickles of all kinds, kimchee, and sauerkraut. In another old piece called The Quest, I talked about my search here for the perfect pomello. We currently have two lime trees that are doing very well. Several times this week I’ve been able to go out in our yard and pick limes for things I was cooking. I still get a kick out of picking something from my very own trees.

It’s certainly not impossible to find lemons in Thailand, but they’re not nearly as common as limes, and are much more expensive. I suppose that’s what led me on a whim to stick a lemon seed in my back yard. What the hell, I thought. Maybe the stupid thing will grow. To my amazement, the damned seed not only produced a tiny green tendril, but over time an actual tree. With plenty of water, fertilizer and TLC, my little lemon tree thrived. I wasn’t going to be harvesting any lemons for a few years, but I knew that any tree takes time to mature to the point where it will bear fruit. If nothing else I am a patient fellow. In the meantime, my little lemon tree was my darling arboreal baby.

Like a proud parent with a wallet overflowing with baby pictures, I always enjoy showing off to friends and new acquaintances, “the little tree I started from a seed”! Everyone, being polite, usually makes all the polite comments you might expect. “Really”, “That’s amazing”; “Wow someday you’re going to be making pitchers of lemonade!” Of course, life being what it is, it was inevitable that someone was going to come along and rain on my parade…and of course that someone was Herr F.

Before I start getting angry letters from irate Germans out there in cyberspace, let me say that I have quite a few German friends. These, without exception are intelligent, good natured individuals. I adore German food. One of the best meals I ever had in Thailand was at Bei Otto in Bangkok. I like German sports cars. I have in fact owned several Audis over the years which gave me a lot of driving pleasure. German beer? Wunderbar! You’ve just got to love those German beer purity laws.

Herr F. was one of those rare individuals who seemed to justify every negative stereotype of the German people. This guy was a living testament to crass and arrogant behavior. Within two minutes of meeting the guy, you were ready to either run away screaming…or perhaps simply deck the fool. Lampang has a fair sized German ex-pat community and not a single person in it had any use for the guy at all. For one thing, Herr F. was the ultimate know-it-all. I mean you could not discuss any topic, from A to Z, without being told that he knew more about it than you did. You might have a doctorate in nuclear physics, but Herr F. would lecture you in excruciating detail about why everything you know in the field is so much rubbish. You might be a world famous Antarctic explorer, but Herr F. would proceed to tell you that your first hand observations were completely wrong. I swear the guy would have tested the patience of Gandhi, and even the Dalhi Lama might be tempted to put the schmuck’s lights out!

The guy was hardly my friend, but that didn’t him from stopping by our house when he was out for a walk. The man obviously mistook my patient forbearance for tacit permission to lecture me about “everything I was doing wrong”.

When our house was under construction, he told me how stupid we were to be using brown ceramic roof tiles. “Only an idiot would use anything other than white tiles, since dark tiles absorb heat and white ones reflect it.” There must be a world full of idiots out there, since I’ve never seen a house with white tiles!

Herr F. regaled me with so many stories about “the perfect house he had built”, that my curiosity was peaked. I simply could not resist seeing what “perfection” looked like. If we were living in a cartoon universe, when I finally took my first look at Herr F.’s “paradise”, my jaw would have dripped to the ground in disbelief. I’ve seen many farang houses since I moved here, but this one had to be the butt ugliest piece of garbage in the land. It was not only ugly and shoddily constructed, but the single filthiest house I’ve ever had the misfortune to enter. Hell, even my in-laws in Buriram, who are not likely to win the Good Housekeeping Award of the Year anytime kept their house cleaner than this dump! It took every bit of self control I possessed to keep from bursting out in laughter. I’ve since learned that every German in town has steadfastly refused to accept a dinner invitation there.

There’s no need to catalog the lectures I received over the years, Suffice it to say that I wisely refused to refute anything the man said. It is pointless to argue with a nit-wit. Why he kept coming around is still a mystery.

It was Herr F. who authoritatively told me that my lemon tree would never produce a single lemon. He then proceeded to hold for on the topic of grafting, a topic I admit I am clueless about. “Without expert grafting from another tree, your tree cannot and will not ever bear fruit!”

“Well, so much for my future lemonade stand” I replied with a big grin on my face. Apparently know-it-alls don’t care to be mocked, because he grimaced and stomped off angrily.

That was two years ago. Since then Herr F. has left these Jasmine scented shores and returned to Deutschland, presumably never to return. Nobody here shed a tear at his departure. I have a sneaking suspicion that his new neighbors will not be shedding tears of joy at his arrival.

Several months ago my wife excitedly told me to come outside because she had something special to show me. Grinning from ear to ear she pointed triumphantly at the little lemon tree which “cannot and will not ever bear fruit!” There from one slender branch, hung a single large lemon. Not yet being ripe, it was as green as a lime, but it was lemon shaped. Now you might not be ecstatic over a single lousy piece of citrus fruit, but I on the other hand am happy enough to dance a jig! Yes it’s only one lemon, but it is the harbinger of the many lemons that will inevitably come along.

Apparently this lone lemon is taking its sweet time growing to maturity. I’d say it will take at least another month before it ripens to a beautiful yellow color. Still, all good things come to he who waits. I’ve given notice to my wife not to pick anything. When the time is ready for harvesting, I want to photograph it still on the tree. I promise to share the picture with you all.

I may actually have to track down Herr F.’s email address and send him a copy as well. Take that, you ignorant wanker! This little lemon may be sour as they come, but I know I will soon be enjoying the sweet taste of success!


Stickman's thoughts:

Well done, and such a shame Herr F. is not around for you to finally have the final word!