A young man, I went to see an Uri Geller show, a guy I then believed to be a psychic or medium. He was bending spoons, making old, useless watches or clocks come to life again and perform telepathic tricks. In early 1980 I travelled America's west coast! Las Vegas was a natural stopover. I saw the Siegfried & Roy magic show at the Frontier Casino where the illusions, including lions, tigers and other wild beasts and the whole ambiance of the show was simply marvelous. I never forget when Siegfried riding a powerful motorbike locked himself in a cage, floated up in the air and then in a flash simply disappeared. Some time ago at the Théâtre de Beaulieu in Lausanne while on a holiday home I went to a David Copperfield show. During the morning hours, and it was pure coincidence for me to be there that early, the famous illusionist suddenly appeared floating freely over the theatre hall? Again, it was fantastic, unbelievable.
Today all the magic has gone. These days in the early evenings I can see on TV how it’s all done. The daily AXN show is “Breaking the magician’s code” or “magician’s greatest secrets finally revealed”. What started with Houdini & was refined during more than a century is now free for everyone to see & study how the illusions are done. It’s revealing but also a bit sad at the same time.
I was already middle aged, early 40s, when I first came to Thailand in 1988. Landing in Phuket right from the beginning the feeling of the unknown, the unexpected, and the wondrous anticipation of what was to come can be compared to the expectations on the illusionist’s shows. Did it last? For how long! Or did the bubble burst as quickly & easily as the magician’s code on TV?
In March 1989 I founded a company in the tour operating sector. I had little experience in the industry but was committed to succeed, ready to give it all & work hard. My life savings went into setting up an office & staffing it. Communication with Europe at that time was done with fax machines and telex (rented from Thai Post) & occasionally even by snail mail. A land telephone line had to be purchased at 30,000 baht as there where only a few available for sale in the Rawai region then. At the end of that same year I bought my first Nokia mobile phone. It was the size & weight of a bible & with a 60cm long antenna. Cost; 96,000 baht! Greater expense went into publicity in Europe. At the time that meant adverts in local & regional newspapers. It takes money to make money, well for most of us anyway. But by the end of the first year most of my nest egg was gone. Very little money came in.
Slowly, once goodwill was established, the tide turned starting halfway through the second year. It’s fair to mention at this point that I was aware of the adventurous and risqué side of the venture. Don’t forget it was before the Internet. Selling international package tours at lower prices than established tour-operators involved a degree of trust & confidence from the client in the far away located provider. Especially when large sums for groups were involved. Well, it turns out that I was in the right place at the right time and doing the right kind of business. Saying that is freely admitting that a good portion of luck was also involved in the success. It could not be repeated under today’s conditions & more severe laws in the land. (I was first told that I needed to obtain a work permit after more than 2 years in business). Any youngster thinking of venturing out in whatever kind of business in Thailand these days had better have a well thought out plan, serious financing, lots of good ideas & an iron will to work for it. But I digress. I ran the company for 15 years & sold out in 2004. Again, by luck more than design, I picked the right moment to sell. It was already well past 9/11. The New York terrorist attack had a serious effect on potential travelers, even from Europe. Then, the last days of the year brought the Asian tsunami and SARS was another threat. The Bali bombing & other unfortunate events did not help. What’s more, the impact of the Internet that made direct sales for airlines, hotels etc not only possible but much easier was starting to be felt adversely. To simplify, let me just say that the first 5 years in the business were a real struggle. The next 5, having established goodwill & trust, saw a comfortable bottom line at the end of the year. Finally the last 5 years allowed me to prepare for retirement that I can now enjoy serenely.
So no, my Thailand bubble has not burst. At least not so far! But severe reality check has taken its place long ago. Success in business did not bring happiness in my private live. That is to some extent my own fault. There are many things if I could go back I’d do differently. But it is also the Thai factor. The way money is always & in almost all situations a primordial and overriding issue. The way honesty & trust are often of secondary or even no importance. The way you are a farang always & will always be no more than (or at best) second rate. Be it by the authorities, on a business level, by ordinary Thai acquaintances or even girls.
So, while I now can pick the ace of spades from a stack of cards with a black veil over my eyes, know how it’s done to make an elephant appear on a empty parking lot or the secrets of elevating a sexy lady free floating meters above the ground I still haven’t entirely figured out Thailand. And this after 24 years in the country & at close to 70, an old fart (as Phet would say). Still, life goes on and if I’m not mistaken it was John Lennon, or maybe it was Bob Dylan, who once said or sang, “Life is what’s happening to you while you’re busy making other plans.”