After All These Years
It is very easy to lose sight of things that were once considered important as life goes by so quickly in this modern world in which we live. This became very apparent to me as I clicked through some video clips last night by Mike McClellan and Kevin Johnson from that era back in the 70s when I was at the top of my game as a musician. Thailand has been at the top of my priorities for so long now that I had forgotten a lot of the things that I walked away from, so long ago – and often wish that I had not done so. Experience makes it easy to say that you would do things differently if you had the chance over again – but would you?
For most of us, being accepted is an important part of feeling comfortable with who we are – even as one who has been a loner for a lot of my life, I understan more, as I get older, that acceptance is not necessarily essential – but it feels nice. When this is translated into living in Thailand (or any Asian country), even if you speak, read and write the language – even if you manage to graduate from Chulalongkorn with a Masters or Doctorate – will you ever be accepted as one of them? I do not believe so. I have heard it said, quite a few times, "If you are not part of 'the tribe', it makes no difference what you do or say – you will always be an outsider". Yes, Thailand is a tribal society – the 'lations always come first.
Feels like 100 years or so ago, I sold my last amp and electric guitar – Marshall SJ2555 and a custom-ordered Schecter – and only a bit over a year ago, I sold my last Martin. Sometimes it doesn't bother me as I don't need a guitar to do the translating, transcribing and setting out of Thai songs, as I know the chord structures so well in my head – but I do sometimes miss the feel of the fingerboard and the ring from the instrument when you hit the strings. As Mike McClellan says "a guitar keeps on singing, getting better growing old" – and that is particularly true of an acoustic guitar. In Bangkok, sometimes I wander around the top musical-instrument outlets and check out what they have in stock on the racks – and I'm often tempted to buy another Martin – but for what purpose other than to say I have one again. I've lost count of the guitars I have owned since I was 15 – and buying another one seems like a pointless exercise – particularly at my age.
But back to that question of would you do things differently if you had the chance over again? Yes, I believe I would. I invested a lot of money, time and emotion in Thailand but I do not have much to show for it other than some good memories and quite a lot of frustration from things not accomplished (or allowed). Notwithstanding I have a wonderful lady in Bangkok – but the reality is that cannot go on for much longer with the health issues I am dealing with. Each year that dawns, I say to myself that this will likely be my last visit to share with her. I believe my better choice would have been to go to Japan because it has far greater beauty to offer, I have always respected the people for their high standards of social etiquette and good manners – and, to me, there is no more beautiful women on Earth than Japanese ladies. The Japanese Immigration is far easier to deal with and it is easier to obtain residency there than in Thailand. In Japan, you can even become a Japanese citizen. Try that on in Thailand! Why would anyone waste their time kowtowing to Thais when the Japanese will welcome you with open arms. Of course it is too late for me – something I should have considered before investing so much of myself in Thailand. When I think back to the time before I went to Thailand, I kick myself for not going to Japan with Yoko when she went back home – I would be a happily-married man with grandchildren now if I had followed my heart. More importantly, we would be living in a place I was welcome.
There have been a few times when my Bangkok lady and I have spoken of sharing a place together, permanently – perhaps even marrying – and that certainly would have made it easier / cheaper to get residency. However, after considering how things are unfolding now in Thailand, I am not sure that is a journey I would have been happy to embark on. Even back in 2002, my Thai wife at the time, Natalise, suggested buying a property in Bangkok (in her name of course) and me going over there to live in and take care of it for her. It sounded like a good idea at the time – but it would not have been long before I would have ended up with her whole Bangkok tribe moving in with me. I doubt I would have been too keen on that. Two of her brothers-in-law are real pisstank / pissants. I would have ended up like poor old Markin – Gecko and Komodo dragon bite marks all over me. Fortunately for me, there wouldn't have been too much dosh for them to take.
It could have been worse, I suppose – the bros-in-law could have decided to sell me off for fertilizer at 2 Baht per kilogram. That wouldn't have bought them enough Lao Kao for an evening – even if they made it themselves. Fortunately again, it didn't happen. Farangs are not worth much in Thailand at the best of times.
Only today I noticed how bad the cramping is getting in my hands – it's a cold day at around 9 degrees with a chilly wind gusting quite strongly up to 50 kph – so it really is just as well I don't have a guitar now. Still, I do miss those days before Thailand – the camaraderie of jamming with a couple of pickers reminiscing over times and jobs we played, while sinking a few cold beers. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I never had bothered with music at all – and if, perhaps, that first marriage had held together if only I had tried harder to make things work.
I do love my Bangkok lady – and I often wish she was the one I had met when I first arrived in Bangkok. Things could have been so much different to how they did pan out – but there are still strong feelings there for Natalise, even though we both have moved on with life. Back at the very beginning, I wonder what the result would have been if I had not taken her to Australia and kept the apartment in Sathorn, along with the English teaching job I was offered. No – that wouldn't have worked – I'm a terrible teacher and get frustrated when guitar students don't do their homework. The Principal of the English school would have fired me in the first week for being disrespectful to the Thai students.
Far better if I had gone to Japan with Yoko. I know I would have been happier there. You know, even after I met Natalise, Yoko kept in touch with me by e-mail and I returned e-mails to her – but I felt uneasy about continuing the contact after Natalise and I were married and living together, so I told Yoko that I would not be able to contact her any more. I did feel that I had done the right thing – but why do I have feelings of regret now? I can still remember her old e-mail address, after all these years.
It's kind of scary when the subject of the opportunity cost of all the time, money, emotional and other resources many of us have "invested" in Thailand and whether we would do it over again. Many would, of course, but I'd dare say a good few would have done things differently.