A Letter from Nowhere Part One
If I’m being honest, the title would be appended with ‘…from a nobody.’
It should probably be that, but it’s less concise and catchy. But who cares, I gave up worrying a long time ago what people thought of me. And being honest has always been a double-edged sword for me. I sometimes wish I had a Thai bargirl mentality and could lie through my teeth and hide my true emotions.
But I now realize, that at the grand old age of 49, I’ll probably never achieve my true potential. I probably coulda been a contender if I’d applied myself and worked harder…well-educated (a UK Masters degree), a published author (albeit an academic title), fairly good-looking and, I’d like to think, a fairly honest, decent guy.
Incredibly polite (e.g. I always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’…my UK middle-class upbringing), no tattoos, rarely swear…and has never hit a girl (or man, for that matter) in my life.
Just a ‘fairly’ normal guy from the UK who moved to the US seventeen years ago…in an attempt to re-invent myself, but maybe more of that in a later post.
But after a succession of job-hopping, an expensive divorce and too much of an (earlier) predilection for the drink, I’m now composing this piece sitting in a beautiful house in upstate New York State. Jaguar in drive, two large walk-in closets full of designer clothes I no longer wear, stainless-steel state-of-the art Bosch appliances in the kitchen and a location that is truly God’s country…an idyllic small town in the middle-of-nowhere USA that was recently voted one of the top places to live in the US (Saratoga Springs, if anyone’s interested).
But, like a Thai bargirl smile, the reality is somewhat different. My house is in foreclosure, I’ve just been discharged from bankruptcy and I’m unemployed. So what am I doing about it?
I should be spending every waking hour searching for a new job (I conduct research / plan strategy for major advertising agencies and I’ve been paid extremely well in the past).
But instead, I’ve spent the last 10 days reading Stick, ‘Private Dancer’ and ogling the various ‘Bangkok Nightlife’ treats available on YouTube. And corresponding and getting rather attached to a very well-educated 43 year-old Filipino nurse who’s as poor as a church mouse…but maybe more of that in a later post.
To give some Bangkok relevance to this diatribe, I’ve just had a really enjoyable 10-day vacation in Bangkok. Five-star hotels, great sightseeing (Bangkok, Pattaya and Isaan), great meals…and some very satisfying female companionship. And some great male buddies I met along the way (including a guy from Newcastle, my home town).
But, in all honesty (my fatal flaw), I’ve never actually visited Thailand. It was a ‘virtual trip’, in my head (like that old movie, ‘Total Recall’ or even ‘Inception’, so as to show I’m still in touch). But it really was the most fun I’ve had in ages (thanks Stick).
Wanchai in HK was my one and only ‘naughty boy’ experience…but I was too inebriated by the end of the night to make it a truly ‘naughty-boy’ experience with the two Filipinos who came back to my hotel room. Thankfully, I hid my wallet in the hotel bathroom before passing out (too much beer or something else, but who cares?)…though it took me a good hour or two to find said wallet the next morning…good to find it but seeing the $700 USD bar bill receipt was a little excessive for what I got (or didn’t)…and this was 1994.
I’ve wandered around Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza (frankly, I don’t care which is better…both seem infinitely more fun than sitting at home alone in my soon-to-be foreclosed 3000 sq. ft home). I’ve met Big Ron or Big Dave, in Fatso’s or Jool's. I’ve met a myriad of Fons, Joys and Leks. I’ve eaten at the same German restaurant and wanted to believe the latest bargirl I met was ‘different.’ Even though I know they’re not…but I also play the lottery and maintain the same blind faith in impossible odds.
All that said, would I want to leave the US and experience this for real as an expat? Hell yes, I would! In a heartbeat.
Maybe I’m just trying to justify my own pitiful existence, but life in the West (either US or UK) ain’t no bed of roses either. It’s just as materialistic and girls (and men) can be just as mercurial and ruthlessly ambitious or deceptive. But they’re more covert about it over here….which is actually much more of a problem for me. And, quite frankly, life can get boring over here…even though I’ve now lived in eight US cities in 17 years…from LA to Chicago to NYC.
I need excitement, even it involves a risk (and I haven’t got that much to lose, so it’s probably less of a risk to me). But perhaps my itinerant lifestyle says something more about my own frailties? It’s possible…I realize that and I think about it frequently.
My only real excitement nowadays, aside from Stick, my Filipino nurse penal and the Discovery Channel, is a US-based troll who stalks me on professional forums I participate in…making snide personal attacks against me at every opportunity. A strange parallel with Stick?… but which just goes to show human-kind ain’t that different, wherever we live.
Sometimes human flaws are more apparent or easier to detect…but basically I think all humans are essentially the same. Some better, some worse…but we all have flaws. The best we can hope for is understanding those flaws as soon as possible…and then choosing to accept them or reject them, whether in business or personal relationships.
I once naively subscribed to the mantra of ‘never suffer fools gladly.’ Until I read a book by one of Bill Clinton’s top political advisors, James Carville (‘Buck up, Suck up’). That book taught me a lesson. He talked about tolerance and acknowledging we can all be fools…and we often have to accept fools to get on in life… no-one’s perfect, especially one’s self, so I now give everyone the benefit of the doubt…I’m hardly an angel myself, after all. That’s not saying I’d give them my last dollar though…tolerance and understanding has its limits!
But getting back to the bargirl scene, what’s the relevance of the above? Aside from the obvious fallacy of seeing all bargirls as stupid (they seem quite the opposite from what I’ve read in your column, despite their often limited education), it got me thinking about why Westerners may be attracted to them, given their less-than-salubrious backgrounds. Physical attraction, loneliness and lust is a no-brainer. But I wonder if it’s something more?
My most exciting relationship I’ve ever had was with a stunning Filipino I dated back in the UK, many years ago…not an ex-bargirl…actually very highly educated and quite wealthy (she paid for everything…I was skint at the time). The sex was amazing but, in a perverse way, her quickly discovered deceit and games were somewhat more exciting…she was totally unpredictable and devious but that kind of added to the excitement and escape from my mundane life.
I’ve experienced the exact opposite…a very stable, predictable relationship with a very sweet, attractive girl…but ultimately it became as boring as hell. But maybe I’m atypical and / or just selfish? Do birds of a feather flock together…or do opposites attract? The eternal question, I guess?
I’d draw an analogy with drinking. Rationally, we all know that if we drink ten beers in a night, we’ll suffer in the morning. But so many of us do it again and again, even though we know we can predict the morning-after consequences with 100% certainty. Maybe it’s the same with bargirls? And, like alcohol, maybe it’s really hard to shake off a habit or urge with such an immediate, short-term euphoric effect?
I hate to say it, as it may be exposing my own ‘modus operandi’, but it’s all about work over here in the US. It’s getting beyond a joke. In my last job in NYC, my Blackberry would ring from 7 am till 12 at night…and I’d be expected to respond immediately, regardless of what I was doing. And (just) two weeks paid vacation is the norm in the US. In my last job, my boss-from-hell reminded me, “Just because you’re on vacation, doesn’t mean you stop working.” And the b***h really meant it…I spent 5 days of my 10-day vacation doing work. I resigned about a month later and don’t regret it, even though it prompted me to file for bankruptcy a short-time later.
An extreme example, but actually not that extreme. The rewards can be high in the West, but the toll on one’s spirit and psyche can be even more so. What’s the point of having a nice house, nice wife and good salary, if one can never really enjoy them until you’re 65?
There’s a paradox in all this, I know. Why would I want to meet bargirls, for whom deceit is a second language…or even a first? Or enjoy the company of a Big Ron or a Jimmy? Or try to find employment in BK when I know the pay or standard-of-living could never compare to what I can get here or in the UK?
Because, ultimately, it’s really not about the money for me…it’s about adventure….and I crave it…however bad an ending it may inevitably have. In the money respect, at least, I guess I’m different from the bargirls…no better or worse…just different.
Paul McCartney got it right when he said money won’t buy you happiness. But he’s had the money to learn that lesson…easier said than done, Sir Paul, with your houses across the world (I once went to one of his daughters’ birthday parties at his main house in East Sussex… maybe more of that in a later post…but a few life lessons learned).
Sure, I probably fit the profile of many ‘less-than-perfect’ guys seeking adventure or escape in Bangkok…a failed marriage, stalled career and a certain mid-life crisis when one searches for that hackneyed ‘meaning of life.’
But, whilst the ‘grass is always greener’ may be the biggest illusion in the world, even more so that a bargirl smile, sometimes it’s the right option. ’Making do’ and ‘if only…’ are the two worst phrases in the English language, for me. It sometimes may take an ill-advised adventure to find your inner voice and soul.
“The only thing new is you finding out about something. Like nothing's really new, but you reinvent it for yourself and find your inner voice.”
But I know absolutely nothing about Bangkok. So what do I know? My only trip there has been a virtual one. But it was a fun and illuminating trip. Thanks.
Thailand is great place for a holiday and also a place you can have some real adventures. I do believe that those who visit frequently have it best – earning decent coin in the West while having the security and relative certainty of living in a Western nation while livint it up in the East. There's a lot to be said for that. Living in Thailand year round is fun, sure, but it's not adventure 24/7!