Twenty Years On
I think all long-termers living here (the LOS) get to a point, or beyond the point, where nothing matters. Most become desensitised to the chaos and at times, insanity of this place. Another farang joins the Pattaya flying club? No matter, there’ll be more. A local hi-so enraged crashes his Mercedes into a crowd at a bus stop and his well-connected family helps him evade serious charges? Yeah, yeah, par for the course in a land where image and status are paramount. Nothing surprises and everything is unsurprising. Extremism and inexplicable behavior seem to be hallmarks of the national identity here. Seemingly normal citizens will stand by laughing while another lies maimed and injured in front of them. Three hundred or so killed in seven days of national celebrations might be cause for alarm in countries where the sanctity of life has a higher value. But not here. It’s destiny, fate or the will of Buddha and no amount of analyzing or soul searching will have us any the wiser. I’ve given up trying to comprehend the thought processes of the locals.
Living here is a learning curve. We go through phases. Each phase may last a number of years but it usually begins with a honeymoon period (excitement) where we convince ourselves this is the greatest place on the planet. Saturation in the hedonistic lifestyle that’s readily available here and the oddities and idiosyncrasies of the locals eventually have many spiraling into the next phase; disillusionment. Many become irritated with the constant, annoying ways of the inhabitants of this land. A poor life situation also has tendency to magnify the irritations. Pettiness and resentment often permeate the attitude of the disillusioned. Negativity fogs their view of all things Thai. And this isn’t a place to be “stuck in.” And it’s certainly not a place to be destitute or at your wits end. Conversely, a good financial situation has the tendency to act as a salve for the niggling oddities of Thainess. It also raises the enjoyment factor. Those whose lives are in order professionally, financially and emotionally can complete the final phase; detachment. Detachment is ability to enjoy what’s on offer without actually becoming part of it. Living here long term, it’s also the realization you’ll never fit in or be completely accepted. But it really doesn’t matter because if you have your life in order you’ve got the ability to move on to other more viable options.
Living here successfully also requires a degree of ambivalence, a lack of emotional involvement and a separation from the local population. I like residing here but I’m not overly enamored by their (Thai) ways. Lately, I’ve made a point of telling a number of local ladies I’m “culturally incompatible” with them. Many, whose numbers I have, seem to understand this. There is no long game in the offing. Nor sin-sod or monthly salary. I pay a reasonable rate for the occasional night’s assignation and most seem happy with this fleeting arrangement. It is, after all, entirely the Thai way. Sex isn’t love or commitment, it’s just fun. It wasn’t always this way of course. Like many who trip up, I went through the highs and lows of being “in love” with a local lady who wasn’t. These days I’m more circumspect. The sobering realization most relationships between a local lass and a farang are little more than a business contract has replaced the naivety. Caution and detachment are useful tools for navigating life in the LOS.
A comment I’ve often heard over the years is “if you’ve got no real interest in this place, why do you continue to stay here?” A salient point. Like many, I think it’s probably because of the entertainment factor. Idiosyncrasies aside, it can never be said life is dull here. A daily watch phrase might be “expect the unexpected.” Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll be entertained by some new local absurdity or, more worryingly, another example of foreigner stupidity. A human zoo, or circus, comes to mind and it pays not to take situations or the locals too seriously. Twenty years on it’s been quite a roller coaster ride with adventures, businesses, relationships, and the ladies melding into a kaleidoscope of life experience many residing in saner parts of the world would probably have trouble understanding or even believing.
Like most that develop an attraction / addiction to the LOS, it all began with that first visit. My initial arrival on these exotic shores was in the days before the internet had taken hold and mobile phones were as big as lunch boxes. I landed in Phuket with a pocket full of cash and a head full of expectation. In many ways I wasn’t disappointed and in some ways I was. My first visit was also when I had my first GFE. I met Ae on Beach Road as I was wandering back to my hotel after an excursion to Soi Bangla. She was sitting at a street side restaurant and, as I ambled by she called out the standard “Hello, handsome man.” The thing which immediately caught my eye was her “rack.” In the days before silicone enhancement had really caught on, Ae had a genuine set of 38s to compliment her petite frame. Ae was also a moonlighter. She had a regular job in a travel agency but topped up her meagre monthly salary with the occasional bit of farang “night” work. To be honest, Ae was a disappointment in the sack. She wasn’t a full time professional so in some way, that was to be expected. But compared to the sex I’d been getting with a Korean university student back in Sydney for the previous two years, it was nothing to write home about. In that typical Thai female way however, she had a certain charm and attentiveness about her. Aside from the occasional gift and small contributions of cash, being with Ae was a relatively inexpensive exercise. It could almost be said it was value for money. My reason for wanting to send her on her way was simply because I got bored with her.
In the years since that first visit and my encounter with Ae, I’ve found the boredom factor with Thai ladies is something which repeats with regular monotony. I’m sure language issues have a lot do with this but the inability to communicate effectively seems to run deeper than simply not being able to talk. Education, or the lack thereof, is often touted as a hurdle to effective communication here but I think there’s more to it than this. The thought processes here for many, compared to what I remember in the western world, seem shallow in comparison. So much of this culture seems to be about image, status, maintaining status and not offending the wrong people. The poorly educated can be forgiven for not being able to point out the location of Cambodia on a map but even with many ladies who describe themselves as being educated; conversations seem largely to do with money, family, food, sex, going to the temple and Thai TV. No one talks about deeper issues lest the wrong person is offended. Intellectual substance is not a strong point in their cultural definition. Criticism of others, or situations, only occurs when there’s safety in numbers. Conflict resolution and problem solving are also not strong suits of this nation’s characteristic and as many who’ve made the move here have come to realize, often too late, there seems to be no middle ground with these people. They’re either smiling and bowing politely or embedding an ice pick in the back of your head. The whole idea of face, maintaining face and keeping up one’s appearance becomes boring in the extreme. I think this is one of the primary reasons I’ve finally given up on the idea of finding a Thai wife or girlfriend. Granted I’m in their country so I should get used to this aspect of their culture, but it just seems so nonsensical and childish. And the fact is there’s more to it than just the “face” issue. So many ladies I’ve met here seem to think that every conversation is a challenge and questions of a personal nature are an immediate cause for suspicion. There’s intrigue and mind games in their every exchange simply because they want to “win.” I can’t be bothered with this anymore. It’s like trying to communicate with sixteen year old high school girls.
A couple of months ago I met a local lass at one of my favourite watering holes on Soi 11. May, an attractive lady in her late thirties, was in the bar drowning her sorrows. She’d been the mia noi of a wealthy Italian business man for seven years but the pipeline had recently been turned off. A model in her younger years she still had the looks to attract prospective suitors. In an earlier time I might have been interested but all I could see now was a predatory vixen at the top of her game. Her words of love for her ex were hollow. The boyfriend was never going to leave his wife so the arrangement was little more than a business contract; she got a monthly stipend while he got to bang an attractive Thai lady during his vacations. We exchanged phone numbers but I knew it would never be anything more than a one night stand. A few days later she messaged me. I decided to cut to the chase and asked her “what she wanted?”
“You should know what all ladies want, someone to care.”
It was more of the same mind game nonsense so I told her “I was culturally incompatible with a Thai ladies idea of someone to care.”
“What does that meaning?”
“It means apart from paid sex I don’t want anything from you, and I have nothing to give you. No free drinks, no free dinners, no gifts and definitely no monthly salary. Now, what is it that you want?”
There was no reply and I haven’t heard from her since.
I’ve always maintained that for a foreign male to have a long lasting and successful relationship with a Thai woman, particularly here in the LOS, there needs to be a cultural shift on our part. We need to shed parts of our own cultural identity and adopt pieces of the Thai persona. Otherwise the joining is never going to succeed long term. The majority of cross cultural relationships which fail do so because the foreigner can’t, or won’t, make the cultural shift. Case in point; accepting the fact your needs will always play second fiddle to that of the wife’s family.
In an effort to meet a better standard of Thai lady I joined an exclusive dating site a few months ago. The idea being I would find a woman closer to my own age group, well-educated and financially self-supporting. Rattana seemed to fit the bill. She was in her early forties, widowed, no children and working in an office management position in Bangkok. All was going well up until a few days ago when she broke the news she’d be resigning from her job and moving to a provincial town in the north to care for her aging parents. She also mentioned her dream was to open a bakery / coffee shop in her hometown. When communicating with ladies over the internet I’m always careful not to make any promises, or any type of commitment, beyond a first feeling out meeting. Unfortunately, many Thai ladies don’t quite see it this way. After a few emails they’ve already lined up a meeting with the family and wedding arrangements are being planned. My reply to Rattana was short and to the point; I told her I had absolutely no interest in going to a provincial town in the North and I wished her well with her future endeavors. Her reply was the standard emotional blackmail / guilt trip nonsense many of them use when they can see the golden cash cow slipping from their grasp. I read half way through it and then deleted all her communications.
Relationships involve compromises from both parties but in Thailand the level of compromise is always lopsided on the foreigner’s side of the equation. The reason I’m still single is because I’m unwilling to compromise. The bottom line is, I don’t need to. I work in a well-paid industry, I’m in a financially good position and I’m enjoying life. I would argue those who remain single probably share the same philosophy as me when it comes to assessing a potential partner here; is that potential partner bringing something of long term benefit to the table or is it just an ongoing list of burdens you’ll need to compromise your lifestyle and happiness for? Those who do compromise eventually do so more than they actually want. A high percentage of guys I’ve met over the years in Thailand who’re in long term relationships with a local lady could describe that relationship with one word; boredom. The proof is plain enough to see with many preferring to spend their evenings at a bar somewhere or chase a bit of pay for play action. I would argue the percentage of married farangs getting a bit on the side is actually quite high. Once the initial glow of lust wears off they realize they’re left with a situation which bores them beyond belief. Terminating the marriage or relationship isn’t an option though because they’re in too deep financially and in terms of commitment, once children arrive on the scene.
No doubt there’ll be a few out there who’ll be champing at the bit to tell me I’ve got it all wrong; that “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” As a famous cowboy once said “opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one.” Once you take off those rose tinted glasses and begin to see the bigger picture, the dark shadows between the trees, you’ll come to understand the only way to assess any situation, person or thing here is with cold, hard logic. The guys who continue to assess things with their feelings / emotions are the ones who’ll continue to compromise themselves and their personal needs. Consider this, do you really believe that any Thai person would allow themselves or their personal situation to be compromised at a farang's expense? In the twenty years I’ve lived here I’ve never once seen a Thai inconvenienced at a farang’s expense. The very reason this website and others of a similar theme exists is because of the fact that farangs are constantly being inconvenienced at the expense of Thais. The only way to stay ahead of the game is to stop putting yourself in situations where you allow yourself to be compromised. Use good judgment in your decision making at all times. To do otherwise is a road to ruination here.
There once was a Thailand which was the idyllic paradise we still hope to find. Where the locals wore genuine smiles, where a helping hand was offered without the expectation of return, where Buddhist precepts were imbued in daily thoughts and actions, and interactions with foreigners weren’t simply viewed as an opportunity for financial benefit. It may still exist in remote locations such as Mae Hong Son. In the crowded, over developed and corrupted tourist urban areas it no longer exists. I was fortunate enough to experience that idyllic version of Thailand; living the dream in Phuket in the nineties. There’s a harder edge to the inhabitants of this land now. Global consumerism has taken hold and the stress of making ends meet and hustling to be able to buy the latest smartphone, tablet or gadget has them smiling a whole lot less. The unfortunate thing for many of them is they’re trying to create a first world life for themselves on third world incomes. As the credit cards are maxed out and personal debt grows ever greater, the stresses of keeping up with their peers takes them further away from their traditional Buddhist values.
The old ruling order is trying to keep a lid on things but the great masses of the unwashed, the have nots, want a bigger slice of the pie. And one way or another they’re going to get it. Backing down isn’t an option in this land where face is everything. Worryingly, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground as both sides argue their agendas are the only way forward. The implications for any foreigner living here are uncertain. What is certain though is there most likely won’t be any easing of the restrictions placed upon foreigners choosing to call this place their home. The inability to own land isn’t going to change any time soon and the restrictions on business ownership and visa requirements will, if anything, probably get tougher as the cost, and standard of living increases. Compared to the west Thailand is still a relatively inexpensive place to live although I would argue Bangkok is rapidly becoming just as expensive as any other urban metropolis. I’ve mentioned before about the attraction of living here, for many, being the relative freedom, and anonymity, we can enjoy compared to the PCness and suffocating taxation of the western systems. The long term issue we face though is not being part of anything due to the fact we live on the periphery; that we’re only seen as visitors and our cash is more important than our physical presence.
The importance of being the grey man cannot be overstated here. If you have an issue with a local then even if you think you’re in the right, it’s going to cost you. After all, this is the land where the application of the law is mainly dependent on one’s ability, or inability, to pay for that rule of law not to apply. Our position is tenuous at best. The locals are often touted as being a patient and understanding lot. Lately I’ve found the levels of patience and understanding are waning; the smiles are becoming much less spontaneous than they once were. There’s upheaval in the land as the nation’s population come to terms with social change. And it’s not just in Thailand either. Worldwide the masses are beginning to wake up to the falsehoods, deception and manipulation of the robber barons. The man on the street, through the greater availability of information on the net, is beginning to question the motivations of those in charge. Warmongering, rigged markets and economic blackmail are finally being called out for what they are; the tools of tyranny used by the psychopaths running this planet. The trickle-down effect from beyond its borders is being felt in Thailand as well. We are heading into uncertain times in this world and the LOS will not be immune from it. As the effect of debt burdened economies begins impact worldwide the numbers of unemployed will rise to even greater levels. Populations on the verge of poverty are a lot less likely to travel and Thailand, with the ongoing political uncertainties, is already feeling the effects of reduced arrival numbers. Government statisticians are already predicting a downturn in the Thai economy. Unfortunately the stress created by trying to live beyond their means will see the already apparent shitty attitudes of the locals, become even shittier. There’s a very distinct possibility that foreigners, due to the fact we are often perceived as being wealthy, will be become further maligned and targeted. And I for one will feel even less comfortable in what I regard as a lawless land.
Xenophobia, or nationalism, engenders a certain type of nonsensical pride. It’s the type of pride which borders on stubbornness. And I see this in the factions promoting their cause for the future of Thailand. Both are totally convinced of their own sides of the argument and, due to the underlying cultural mindset, no one is going to back down any time soon. It’s destined to be a long running stalemate where effective governance of the country is sidelined until the conflict is resolved. In the meantime it’s business as usual as the levels of corruption become ever more rampant. What I find rather comical is the number of farangs who make it their business to comment or, more worryingly, get involved in the political imbroglio that’s gripped this nation for the past few years. Regardless of the fact a foreigner can’t vote and therefore has no influence in who’s running the country, there’s so much going on behind the scenes which make any foreigner's insights totally redundant. My own perspective is simply that this is the only country in the region where it would be possible for a convicted criminal living beyond its borders to be able to influence the political landscape to the extent that we are experiencing. Would it happen in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, or the Philippines? The answer of course is a resounding no.
Up until a few months ago I will still considering buying a condo here. I am now firmly in the camp of minimal investment and keeping my money outside the country. For the foreseeable future I will continue to reside here but it will be on more of a temporary basis with rented accommodation and scaled back purchases. Vietnam is beginning to look more attractive. Even though the infrastructure isn’t as developed as Thailand the political situation is a lot more stable. After three visits something which has become glaringly obvious, when comparing the merits of the Thai and the Vietnamese, is the fact the Vietnamese persona seems to be far more disciplined than the Thai. Yes it has been pointed out to me the Vietnamese can be, and often are, more cunning and ruthless than the Thai but the one standout for me is they lack the recklessness of the Thais.
I can understand well the reasoning for Stick deciding to exit from here. Like me, he’s probably concluded Thailand has seen its best days. That there’s a maelstrom of social change brewing just beyond the horizon which could get decidedly nasty once “Elvis” checks out. Where the foreigner may stand, when it all erupts, is anyone’s guess but I would think the comfort levels for us will slide even more. Looking back it’s been quite an adventure. Looking forward it appears life here will never be quite the same as days gone by. Whether I continue to reside here indefinitely is open to conjecture. For the moment I’m happy enough to just take things one day at a time.
Thailand is a great place for a holiday, but when those things that Thailand does so well no longer appeal, then you can find yourself looking elsewhere. That's where I've been at for a while.
You touch on an interesting point with foreigner's ability to continue to reside here. There have been noises made about visas and visa laws tighten up slowly. A lot of foreigners scream and claim that their money is "needed" in Thailand and as such they should be able to stay as long as they wish, but with more foreigners moving here all the time and many featuring in the news for the wrong reasons, locals may see things differently. Interesting times…