Readers' Submissions

Running On Empty – And Finding Your Roots Again

  • Written by Ishiro
  • June 9th, 2014
  • 10 min read

Identifying who we are is probably not something that many of us spend a lot of time examining – possibly because there is a lot "back there" that we would rather forget and would rather move on to what we see as a new start in life, all over again. For many of us, discovering Thailand appeared to provide that opportunity to start afresh with plans to make a better fist of life than it had been up to that point in time. Unfortunately, that is not always how things turn out and, instead of that "new start", the same old problems seem to resurface and we find ourselves facing the same issues in a place that is less supportive and, often, more confusing than what we had to deal with beforehand.

It is relatively-easy to "hide" in Thailand – providing you can speak, read and write the language – and are conversant with the necessary social protocols and stay out of trouble – you will, very likely, have a "cosy" life as long as you accept that you will always be a foreigner and, as such, second-class at best. The word "hide" is significant in this analysis because very few of us even realise that we are "hiding" – but hiding from what?

When I first went to Thailand, I was searching – searching for answers that I could not find in the place from where I had come. As the song says " … And I've been back to South-East Asia But the answer sure ain't there … " How true – very likely there will be more questions that cannot be answered by opening yet another can of worms by entering into a relationship with some unfortunate Thai lady, unaware of what she is getting herself involved with in a person who has still not resolved the questions that he went there to find answers to. This happened to me and a Thai lady to whom I should never have exposed to my unresolved problems.

The opportunities in Thailand are everywhere to start something "new" with a Good Thai Girl or a Bar Girl – but I do not believe it is fair to any person to enter into a relationship with unfinished business still lurking in our background. I make no distinction between a Good Thai Girl or a Bar Girl – they are both people who deserve honesty and consideration based on our circumstances – being positive or negative. Lying is never an honorable way to conduct business. I have no way of knowing the demographics of this practice of lying out of convenience – but I suspect it is quite a high percentage of negotiated liaisons in Thailand – be they short or long. I have no doubt that we have all done it to gain an advantage or some leverage, often justifying it by telling ourselves that they are all doing the same thing to us – but the unfortunate thing is that we are, generally, lying to ourselves with layers of excuses to hide our own inadequacies and the reasons why we are there in the first place.

Back in Farangland, I am starting to get in touch with things that were important to me before I went to Asia – things that are so important that I had forgotten them on purpose to make the leaving easier – but rediscovering them right now is a joyful journey that is very often filled with pain and tears (in private). They are simple things such as the scene from an old television series from way back then – reliving the emotions portrayed in a court room drama or some romantic issue that just didn't pan out the way one of the characters hoped it would. I have bought the fifth TV series produced by David E. Kelley – the complete 5-series-set (33 DVDs – 112 episodes) of the 1997-2002 TV show "Ally McBeal", released by Fox. It is such a voyage of discovery in finding myself back in that period – the trials I was dealing with and the emotions that came with them – and empathising with the characters in that TV show "Ally McBeal" (particularly Ally – played by Calista Flockhart). I was living through many (or all) of the things she was muddling through in life. I identified with her. I will also buy the other series produced by David E. Kelley ("The Practice") because the characters in both of those shows are authentic – David E. Kelley having also been a Producer, Writer and Legal Attorney by profession.

From 1997 onward, that crazy show with Ally was all that I looked forward to each week – and thoughts of Thailand were not even on the horizon. Psychologically, I was running on empty and, oh, there were still some guitar jobs around – but I was not that interested in anything much at all around that time. The biggest focus was on getting rid of the bloody expensive "mausoleum" that I had built in one of the upmarket housing estates on the northside of the city. All I knew was that I no longer wanted to live in that God-awful city. You know how you get to the stage where you feel that you have outlived your time in one place. I know that stick is at that place now with Bangkok. My second marriage was over and I had a couple of casual Farang girlfriends (nothing serious) and was cultivating a couple or three Asian girlfriends. It was one of those girls that convinced me to go to Thailand.

As I stated in a couple of recent submissions, I have withdrawn from any further association with Thailand and, the longer you maintain that attitude, the easier things become – and you begin to remember the good things that you left behind before leaving Farangland. I have absolutely reams of lyrics sheets and working charts of Farang songs of all genres – but the ones I am finding most satisfying now are older compositions by writer / performers like Stan Rogers (a highly-respected artist – now deceased) – who left a treasure legacy of life just how it is (in song) about real working people of Canada on the land and sea. Stan Rogers died alongside 22 other passengers on June 2, 1983, while travelling on Air Canada Flight 797 (a McDonnell Douglas DC-9). The airliner was flying from Dallas, Texas to Toronto and Montreal when an in-flight fire forced it to make an emergency landing at the Greater Cincinnati Airport in northern Kentucky. Smoke was filling the cabin from an unknown source and, once on the ground, the plane's doors were opened and the oxygen rushing in from outside caused a flash fire. His ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia – near to his beloved Halifax.

Back in the '80s and as late as 2000, I often included some of Stan's songs in my sets – and I am in the process of importing some of his material that I did not have previously. At my age, I am past it to go on stage performing – but I will derive a great deal of pleasure in working some of his material, that I love, up to a performance standard – just for my own interest – and a few old mates for a few "jam" sessions (obviously with a good supply of beer and Jack Daniels). So, life just goes on – provided you make the effort to retrace steps to find what once was important.

Thailand has been very good to me and I will never lose the close feelings I have for that wonderful place. Sure, frustration sets in now and again with the way things are done there – but nowhere is perfect and the best we can do is to try and strike a balance that suits the individual person. I know, for sure, that I will never stop loving the significant ladies I know in Thailand – they taught me so much and, yes, I miss them and always shall – but reality must prevail and pretending that you can change things to suit yourself is a losing game and you will never get the winning hand. But hey – you don't have to be a winner – the priceless bonus is the cache of memory that you can always look back to and experience the memories that are still very important. However, it is also essential to revive the important things that you left behind, before you left to go and look for that dream.

Natalise still lives here and has done very well for herself – but we don't have much contact these days. I accept that is fairly natural from both of our points of view – so we get on with life and do what floats our boats. I guess I will go and buy myself another Martin guitar – that always puts me in a good frame of mind – but the focus will shift from Thai music back to the material that I have always loved best, before going to Thailand. No more amps and electric slabs – just the steel-string acoustic that I can tote around anywhere.

A very good friend of mine (Vince) is a Luthier who made my first hand-crafted "Dreadnought" acoustic, way back in the '60s. He has a Martin repair franchise granted by Chris Martin on a visit to Vince's "studio" back in the early '70s. That guitar had a red western-red-cedar face – and it reminds me of a song written by Mike McClellan titled "My Old Guitar And Me" – and some of the words ring so true for times that I remember.

I had a friend who needed money – back in '65

All I really had to sell was this old red guitar

I'd pawned it seven months ago when things were goin' bad

So I paid off the ticket – it was almost all I had

My old guitar and me – my old guitar and me

It just don't seem to sing that way for anybody else but me

We've seen a lot of places and we played a lot of towns

Had our share of troubles and we've had our ups and downs

But the magic's never faded even when I felt so low

A guitar keeps on singin' – gettin' better growin' old

My old guitar and me – My old guitar and me

It just don't seem to sing that way for anybody else but me

I guess I consider myself very fortunate in having my roots to fall back on – truth is that I never let them go at all – so I have the best of both worlds. Having let go of Thailand, there are still those wonderful times to reflect on in my Land Of Smiles – and, as well, I have this great journey of discovery here, of times, places and music that I guess I never really let go of at all.

A few evenings ago, I was chatting with my good friend Loong and asking him when he planned on going back to Thailand again. Predictably, he said "I will never set foot in that place again". Then I asked him "How will you cope when you come back in the next life as a Thai boy?" I will spare you all the answer – it was a lengthy string of invective – but then, I expected that. I do like to get him going sometimes.

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