Notes From A Recent Trip To Thailand Part 4
The next morning after we return from the River Kwai, my wife announces we are going to a "Rama V" house. I ask a few questions as to what this term means, but I don't get clear answers. So I wonder what new experience awaits me during the one hour trip north of the city. I suspect my wife is looking after my interests and it is something I will like. When we arrive, it looks like an upscale Thai resort with most of the signs in Thai. But on further inspection, it turns out to be a floating hotel and conference resort on the Chao Phraya river. It also has a small but really nifty museum of furniture and artifacts from the time of Rama V. It seems the owner of this wonderful facility knew the nephew of Rama V well. Apparently, the old nephew married her in his last days after. Soon after, he left this world but left his wife the property and all the belongings. She lived on the property for a number of years but realizing the value this of this unique home, she set about to re-make the property to its current state. Also, I suspect, instead of spending money to maintain the old place, she now collects enough to keep it intact. A win-win for all, including Thai people, who can now easily re-visit a piece of their history. With a little imagination, it truly is like stepping back in time to a Thailand that was romantic as well as exotic. Even my Thai wife and her friend seemed to feel the history of their ancestors coming back to life.
After the tour, we walked to one of the floating restaurant boats that was nearby. The food was very good and we chatted while we watched motor boats going up and down the river. Of course, back when the royal nephew visited this spot, the boats were
much slower and less loud, yet as I sat there, I could easily imagine how he used this beautiful property to escape from the drama of the royal court and to relax with his young and pretty friend. How things have changed from that time and yet
have stayed the same.
If you are interested in visiting this rare venue for step back in time to old Thailand, please visit: Momchailai.com
After lunch, we go from the storied past of Thailand to the modern present. As a payment for treating me to a slice of Thailand's history, we set off for shopping at The Circle mall at Ratchaphruek. It's not really a mall, mainly a collection
of small, chic shops of food and fashion. I accept my fate graciously and we wander around the different shops together. Soon, we spy various fashion models and their attendant photographers. My wife explains that this venue is popular for magazines
to showcase their models and the wares they are hawking, like clothes, jewelry, makeup. Suddenly we spot a full film crew outside one of the restaurants. My wife and her friend look inside and instantly become giddy schoolgirls. It seems that
one of the popular soap operas is filming inside with some of Thailand's most famous stars. After some minutes of gawking inside, amazingly the stars come outside and talk to a news crew and anyone else who has the nerve to speak to them.
My wife tells me it is Nadej and Yaya, media stars who have been featured in many TV and film productions. Although Yaya (see below) is half Norwegian and Nadej is half Japanese, both are wearing lots of white makeup. To me they look almost ghoulish
but my wife is mesmerized as we are standing within five feet of them. They seem to be nice enough people as they answer all questions politely. After a few minutes, the crew is ready to start filming again so they wai to their
fans and go back inside. Everyone is happy but I am still perplexed why these normally nice looking people are made to look like white ghosts. As we walk to the car, I look at my wife with her natural Thai skin color and no-drama ways, and I am
content to leave the world of modern Thai stardom.
Two days before I leave Thailand, it is my "escape" day. This is when I go out alone and visit the venues that I know are boring to my wife and her friends. Mid-morning, I arrive at Pantip Plaza. There I place my order for pirated DVDs of movies and software and while they are being procured, I start my visits to the individual shops looking for unusual items for gifts back home. After an hour or so, I collect my booty and head for the taxi stand. Next stop: Soi 4 and the beer bars outside of Nana Plaza. I love to visit the open bars like Stumble Inn to drink beer and do a bit of people-watching. I also like to catch up on the gossip from the waitresses. I know they are really freelancers earning extra cash before their night shift begins, but they make good company between happenings on the street. When I first go in, there's the usual tension from the staff as they try to figure out why I am here. I order a beer, declare I am married to a Thai woman, show the waitresses her picture in my mobile phone, and then I buy my waitress a lady drink. After this, everyone relaxes and they go back to their slow paced, mid-afternoon routine.
The afternoon entertainment does not disappoint. I start to chat with my lady drink friend with the usual bar talk. After ten minutes or so, the girls start laughing and pointing down the street. It's a Thai woman, a bit past her prime, who has just taken off her dress and is walking down the middle of the street wearing only sandals and a thong. After the laughter and what sounds like some derisive comments in Thai, the girls explain that she is crazy and does this quite often. I feel mostly pity but I go along with the crowd. About 30 minutes later, two young farang men decide that showing off their young bodies by wearing only shorts and sandals, stroll down the street. Their antics draw exactly the same response from the girls as the crazy woman did. My friend asks me if the young men are gay. I reply that I don't know but inside I am thinking they were just showing off in the sea of older males. She tells me that only gay men in Thailand parade around like that. I laugh out loud. Here are these two knuckleheads thinking they were impressing the girls, when most of them thought they were homosexuals. After an hour or so more, I have had my yearly fill of bar girl chatter and Nana antics, so I head off on foot to my next destination – to meet my lovely wife for dinner.
I am walking along Sukhumvit thinking about the shirtless guys when it occurs to me why farangs are such easy targets for derision and scorn in Thailand. Many of the men dress like they are at the beach while their women are more scantily clad than Issan streetwalkers. They talk too loud and their manners, especially to Thai people, are brutish and rude. In the tourist stalls that line Sukhumvit, more than once I hear farangs arguing with vendors over what seems like 30 baht or less. Add to this mix the farangs from countries where showers seem to be optional, and you can see why many Thais hate us so much. Would we put up with people like this in our own countries? I am not perfect in this regard, (remember the beer law incident) but at least I shower every morning, iron my conservative clothes for the day, and try to keep my voice down and speak respectfully to Thais. I think if more of us would follow these simple rules we would see more smiles than frowns when we visit.
Expanding on this a little bit, it's not hard to imagine this scenario. The lead story on Fox News as I sit in front of the TV and drink my morning coffee:
"Chinese Tourists Ravage Young American Girls in Los Angeles."
On the screen behind this voice-over, are videos of middle-aged Chinese men, merrily walking the street, hitting on young white girls dressed like Madonna, who openly flirt back.
"As is more and more the case, Chinese tourists are visiting Los Angeles and other tourist venues in America in increasing numbers. What you may not know is that an many of the Chinese men are visiting not to soak up the California sun or visit tourist attractions, but to indulge their carnal pleasures. They are visiting bars and strip clubs along Sunset Boulevard where they pay young impoverished American girls, mostly from the southeastern US, to have sex with them. These rich and mostly older Chinese businessmen, stay in cheap hotels that litter lower Hollywood, spend their days drinking beer in the cafes and bars, and then at night prowl the strip clubs for poor young girls who need money for their starving families back in Texas. California law enforcement officials, who have lately seen many cutbacks in personnel, have been trying hard to reverse this situation, but there seems to be too many Chinese men and too many young, blond, and willing American girls."
Now the bumper.
"Will America soon become the playground of rich Chinese perverts? Tune in at 11 PM to find out ways to protect your children from this Asian menace."
After this story would run again and again on Fox News, how long would it take for an angry mob to burn the Chinese embassy in Washington or to frighten every indigenous Chinese family in America? In the present state of my country; about one day.
As crazy and xenophobic as the Thais can be, farang venues and misdeeds in Thailand have never been given serious national political attention. Sure, you see the occasional article or video that stirs things up for a while, but nothing is ever done. Why? Is it because this blatant corruption of the law would be too embarrassing for the nation to reconcile? Or is there too much money involved? Or does this overt farang industry of vice hide a much larger Thai version that no one in power wants to see exposed? I don't know the answers to these questions. Although I would be sad at some level to see these places disappear, I would understand if a few honest politicians were elected and decided to close this industry. It is a huge scab of corruption that reminds Thais everyday that influence can be bought with enough money. I am not holding my breath for these politicians to come into office. But for those farang visitors who restrict their movements to places like Nana and think they are seeing the real Thailand, they are fooling themselves much as Timothy Leary thought he could understand the universe by taking LSD. It is a surreal world of money and corruption and those who try to make sense of it are wasting their time. Is it any wonder the girls fleece their customers, no matter how good-hearted and faithful they are.
I arrive at Basilica's Italian restaurant and meet my wife and friend inside. We decide on pizza and it is excellent even by western standards. Looking at some of the other dishes being served, this seems like a really good place to eat. After dinner, I mention we were not far from a notorious gogo-bar complex called Soi Cowboy. I told her I had never been there (true) and she responds with a devilish smile that neither has she. Then, in an act of spontaneity that I so much love about her, she said she wanted to visit. So, check paid, off we walk down Sukhumvit. I picked one of the bigger clubs well-known to Stick readers. We chose seats in the back and my wife became transfixed by all the dancers, while #171 was demanding most of my attention. But soon my wife's smile turned to a frown. I asked her what happened. She says too many of the girls are underage and she would like to leave. I ask which ones and she gives me some numbers. Indeed, on closer observation, these girls do look a lot younger than the others. We pay our check and leave.
The next day, my wife announces she would like to visit a piece of land she owns in Bangkok. I'm surprised by this revelation as I had never heard her speak of this land before. She says she bought it years ago hoping to one day build a nice house for her family. Since her conniving ex-husband ruined those plans but forgot to ask what property she owned when they divorced, my wife now owns it outright. As she paid all the money to purchase it, that seems only fair, even in Thailand. My wife says we can build a house here when we move to Thailand, so this is a trip to see what condition the land is in and to determine if this is where we want to live. The land seems to be near Bang Na but then we drive a little further into some lesser district. Off the main highway we make a series of turns deeper into a very nondescript neighborhood. Finally, we reach an empty plot of land at the end of a small street. It is being used as a trash dump and a small rubber tree farm. My wife talks to the neighbors, including the proprietor of a very small store across the street which only has about 10 items for sale. After much discussion, we get back into the car and head for the local Tesco only five minutes away. We find a small but bustling Thai restaurant and order lunch.
No one is saying very much so I offer that I thought the land had potential; it was in a nice area outside Bangkok and it was close to good shopping areas, like the expanded Tesco we were in now. Again, silence from the girls. Finally, my wife announces she is going to sell the property and use the money to buy a condo closer to Bangkok. Although this might have made a good house location for a budding Thai family, my wife realizes it would be horrible as a retirement property for us. Her instincts, as always, are right on the mark. She immediately switches gears and starts talking about possibly buying one of the newer condos in Bangkok. Later, after we have lunch, we immediately drive to a couple of condo locations in Bangkok. They look like they are Japanese designed and are wonderful inside. My wife starts to speculate that we could live in the condos at first and then rent later when we moved closer to her family. As the locations look like they have a lot of westerners there, this seems like a good plan. Buying land before and now buying a condo for the future, has showed me another side of my wife who always seemed so grounded in the present. As much as I would like to pull back, I am drawn into this new vision for our future that I cannot resist. I guess we are buying a condo soon.
With my trip over and now in capable hands on United Airlines (economy-plus bulkhead) I again have time to think. I think I have discovered a new perspective on the "Thai way". I remember how the world was amazed at the speed at which the Thais were able to recover from the tsunami. Certainly, a lot of that has to do with the fact that Thailand has better infrastructure and resources than many western observers give credit. But something else was at play. I thought of a similar disaster that happened in New Orleans with hurricane Katrina. America also has the capability to respond with similar speed, yet more than six years later, many of the affected areas are still recovering. Why? Most observers agree it was the constant squabbling between government agencies and politicians, each trying to out-do or un-do the other, that made the response so messy and ineffective. Compare this to the "Thai way"; the ability to quickly form into working groups, establish goals, and then subjugate egos and personal agendas to get the job done. Was the Thai ability to "go with group" part of the reason for their rapid response? I suspect so.
But what about me? How did I fare with the "Thai way" on this trip? Actually, I think I did very well as there was none of the petty tantrums or hard feelings from the past trips . Sure, I tried a little harder this time but there was something
else that was different. This time, the members of my Thai groups knew me much better and seemed more willing to consider my feelings than before. Some of our destinations were for me, some for them, just as it should have been. As a consequence,
I think we all had a good time and learned new things together. I guess the secret is to be careful what groups you hang with before trying to fit in. Do I sound like my mother? Anyway, I no longer fear the "Thai way" or the day when
I will set foot in Thailand as its newest resident.
It sounds like you had an enjoyable trip and saw some nice sights that many regular visitors and even some locals never see.