A Losing Game
Recently, a bit before and since after the last New Year – not talking about Chinese New Year or Songkran – I have been dealing with more problems than usual. That has made me think about my situation and also more about expats' situations in Thailand. For some long-timers it seems to be gradual decline downwards instead of more regular she-has-done-me-wrong where one is departed with one's money and mental stability in a quicker pace. If I got it right even Stick has been occasionally wondering whether the grass is greener elsewhere and it actually might be.
First there was major unhappiness that was due to my partner falling in love with another Thai. Let's first say that we have been together through thick and thin for a decade – feels like forever actually – and I should have noticed the warning signs. We were both extremely busy the latter part of last year and it took a very big toll on both of us. We hardly saw each other or had any time to talk more than about the necessary ongoings. Then I was hit by the news…err…what to say when the significant other is telling you that there is another man in the equation?
I got depressed which in the middle of hard working and lots of responsibilities wasn't really something I wanted to be. It took more than a few days that I was capable or willing to talk about all this infatuation and love my partner told me was out there. Instead of getting angry or upset or verbally abusive – I was on the verge of all these and I was very upset – I thought that whatever will be will be. Que sera sera, so to speak. So we agreed to have one day off a week to go to another town, in this case Udon Thani, and talk and walk around the Nong Prajak lake and park so we could have time off from the pressures of our daily lives and problems.
It was very emotional for both of us. Sometimes we had to just stop and look towards the horizon not to get angry or start yelling. Of course, I was having more difficulties trying to control my feelings. Anyone going through being cheated probably knows what I am talking about. Slowly the story started to unfold. There was this rich Thai guy that had been all over my partner and buying dinners and going to movies together and even spending a night in his flashy new condo. There had been talk that he was willing to give the keys of his condo if that would be okay…he had given her his car to run errands and was very quickly becoming someone significant.
This was the stage when I was informed about the encounter. Apparently, I was at fault. Yep. I had been distant running our family's daily life and at the same time trying to sort out all kind of problems that we had building a new commercial property and the things that it got me occupied with. The last two quarters of year 2013 were taking a toll on me too but I knew that things would ease up this year. The project was close to completion and I would have more time with the family. I can't be in two places at the same time.
It took 2 months and a lot of kilometers walking to finally come to conclusion. We decided to stay together. It was not easy, actually I needed some sleeping tabs to be able to get through this period, but I gave the choice to her. After all, it is her life and she can decide whatever is best for her. I have my faults. I am far from perfect and I know it fully well. Actually I think my partner was feeling guilty and wanted me to make a scene so it would be my fault eventually. We talked more than we have in a long time and she finally said that she still loves me.
So, we are together and I am happy about it. I still get jealous feelings and feel a bit insecure inside but I suppose it is what is to be expected in this kind of cases. However, the doctor is not around anymore and all contact has been terminated. That was what we agreed. I am not sure I could carry on if there would be another bloke in the background. It will take a long time to reach the level of trust I had but during those long nights I asked myself the question if it all worth it. I came to the conclusion that it is. I love my partner. It's not about money since we have separate finances and I am not the only provider. It is about emotions, love and feelings. Sex is there but after a decade it is not the primary thing anymore. Cuddling and hugging while watching a movie sometimes feels even better.
What made me start this submission is however a bit larger issue. I quote Charles Bukowski:
“ We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing. ”
Especially that latter sentence being eaten up by nothing somehow describes my feelings towards living in Thailand. Just last week a friend announced separating from his girlfriend. When talking to him the obvious question was 'Why?' He couldn't say exactly what it was that he decided against continuing to live together. Maybe it was the constant haggle with relatives and mother in law. Maybe it was the demands that she came up with. Maybe they just didn't match. Maybe it was Thai culture. Maybe problems with understanding each other.
However, I was thinking that he was making all the mistakes that farangs make here. I have been there, done that, saw it coming and so on. Which leads to the question: is it the things we do normally or is there something that makes us go through these steps when first coming here and learning the ropes after? Delusion of sorts? I will go through some thoughts. They actually are mingled together in a way like Gordian knot but to make my thoughts a bit clearer I separate them.
Money. Say what you like but most of us come here with more money to spend than the average Thai. I am not talking about rich Thais or even middle class. I talk about the great majority of Thais. We suddenly come to this tropical paradise and are like children in a toy store. We can actually afford our whims and fancies! Great! This applied to my friend since he makes very good money in his business. He bought gifts, bought dinners, bought this and that. And in the end got the usual ass flies to follow him. If someone doesn't know what an ass fly is, it's what used to live in a cow's behind. Nowadays almost extinct since free cattle grazing is not so common anymore. But in Thailand someone splashing money around will be found by the existing individuals of the species. So, in the end we notice that we have spent an awful lot of our hard-earned and have nothing to show for it. I am okay since I have never truly believed buying friends or spending money for nothing. I like to save my extra and invest it.
In my opinion this start of being 'affluent' and to let money flow freely or in great quantities is detrimental adjusting to a country like Thailand in most cases. It gives such a wrong message to Thais close to us and furthermore we ourselves become delusional about what it's really worth. I have grown tired of listening to some expats saying how cheap it is in the Land of Smiles. It is not, especially if and when you try to live on Thai wages or run a business here. It has become and is becoming more and more expensive in many ways. There is some way to go when Thailand becomes expensive for Europeans but I predict it is going to happen while I am still alive. Don't fool yourselves that because you can monger and build a house here with your savings, it is a sign that Thailand is cheap. Try to live up to western standards here and enjoy quality food and then you will know what I mean.
Thai family. A lot could be said about the Thai family and has been said earlier but I like to have my say also. Thais are tribal. What does that mean? They are bound to their families and relatives much stronger than us westerners. In good and bad. Things are changing here also but there are still many families that would not put a foreigner first if they had to make a choice between him and their family. This is one thing that somehow makes me feel that eats our souls here. It is like someone says he feels like he is getting thinner and thinner until he vanishes and is no more. We are so subjected to the ways that sometimes it is difficult to change to accept a different culture and values. This is due to cognitive dissonance. What is that, someone might ask?
" Cognitive dissonance is the excessive mental stress and discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. This stress and discomfort may also arise within an individual who holds a belief and performs a contradictory action or reaction. For example, an individual is likely to experience dissonance if they are addicted to smoking cigarettes and continue to smoke despite knowing it is unhealthy."
It is extremely difficult for a man to change his paradigm. We have been told that world is round like a ball and we have been thought all kinds of ideas that men are created equal and justice for all and be nice to a fellow man and corruption is bad. And then we hit Thailand…
And then we have arguments about how things are supposed to be done, how money is supposed to be spent, how it is not a nice thing to have plastic bags everywhere and how one should wash one's hands before eating or cooking and…the list might go on forever. Simply put, Thais do it different and it could take the patience of a Saint or drive you mad to get them to understand why you make such a fuss about everything. I nowadays use the same way that they do. I say 'because I want'. Closer than that one can't get. This might not mean that Thais would not notice the benefit later but trying to explain it in advance I have found rather futile. Many foreigners coming here are unfortunately first deluded when they have money, then full of self-importance and with big over-bloated egos. I know, I have been there. The real realization unfortunately starts for most when the monies have gone and they have to sober up. The hangover might be such that they rather live in self-denial and continue in a self-destructive way. Normally they end up returning to their countries with stories how Thais have done them wrong. They themselves are not to be blamed.
Talking to Thais. I have witnessed so many expats and visitors making fools out of themselves that I am not even trying to count the occasions. As Stick has said earlier, good manners are very important in this country. If you behave like a buffoon, expect to be treated like one. I have learned to shut up and listen and grown more patient during these years and I recommend it to everyone if they like to live happily in this country. Showing a foul personality will take you nowhere in this country…or it might in which case beware. My problem has been that as in my country I am a very straightforward guy and it took me quite a long time to learn to keep my mouth shut and engage my brains before. If it was me a decade ago being told about being cheated, it would have ended in a very different way. Now we talked as adults that know each other very well and share a history and decided against separating. We also agreed having one day a week just for us two. This is important since we both work hard and sometimes there has been very little quality time available. That needed to change.
To some trying to live their dream ends up as a losing game. I say that it is never easy and in a new country with very different culture and ways it is more so. Anyway, I have lived here long enough to call it home. I don't know about the future but I will try my best. Sometimes it is nobody's fault. It just happens.
When I was depressed I read a lot of relationship advice columns and similar. I found loads of information and some was helpful trying to cope up with my emotions. It is important to talk and not shout. I also remembered this old advice from Shakespeare. It is a father's advice to his son departing home and in some ways it applies to Thailand very well. I put it here in modern version since Shakespearean language is a bit difficult for me.
Polonius: Why aren't you on your ship yet? You need to go. Take my advice. Don't say everything you think. Don't do everything you think. Be original: be yourself. Keep friends you can trust. Be careful of new acquaintances. Don't fight with anyone, but if you have to fight, you had best win. Listen, and don't speak all the time. Take their opinion, but don't judge them on their opinion. Don't overspend on accessories. Dress nicely, not richly. People judge you by what you wear. French are snotty with dress, so remember your stature. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. If you loan money, you'll lose friends. If you borrow money, you won't manage very well. Be true to yourself. If you are true to yourself, you will be true to others. Think of this everyday and you'll do it everyday.