Notes from Farangland – Final Part
I gave my debit card details to an English online company I didn’t know, and slept fine that night. The package came two days later, containing a new pair of Salomon trail running shoes and an Orca swimming wetsuit. The company had thrown in a few packets of Haribo for free to “sweeten” the deal. I hadn’t been expecting that – it was a nice gesture. I’ll be using them again – their prices were great and the product range was superb, and the package was delivered more quickly than expected. Back in Thailand I never bought anything online.
At lunchtime I head out of the office. At work it’s crazy. I’ve never known it so busy, and we still can’t hire enough people. In deals we keep going up against Microsoft and our software kicks their arse every time.
Outside the air-con office, the noise of jackhammers is in the air again. There has been construction going on in various parts of the town right through the recession, for as long as I can remember. New apartment blocks, offices and business parks continually spring from the ground, like from magic beans, they grow in Internet time. I pass Sybase and Adobe and Objective and countless other software and high-tech companies. I head for the sanctuary of Kidwell Park, only they seem to be building new apartments down there too, a clump of huge tower cranes reach into the clear blue sky like Winter trees. But there are no illegal constructions and dubious apartment buildings to be found here.
The tennis courts are fully occupied – school children wearing tennis whites play happily under the noon sun. Soon they’ll be heading back to modern classrooms and one of the best educations in the world, which won’t directly cost them a penny. No sign of Thailand’s corrupt and toxic education system here.
I stroll to a shaded tree, sit down and pull out my notebook and pen and a small bottle of water. Nearby a fountain sprays a relaxing melody of cold water, large koi swim furtively under the lillies of the fountain’s pond. In my notebook I make a record of the date and the fact that they have now dredged the nearby canal. It won’t be long before colourful barges make their way past the smart new waterfront developments. No dirty klongs here.
I’m due my annual check-up with the doctor, so I pull out my mobile and make an appointment for the next morning, when I’ll be working from home. Going to the clinic is always a pleasure. My partner works there as a nurse and usually sneaks me a cup
of tea and a couple of biscuits, much to the annoyance of some of the others waiting. The building is new and clean and my doctor a bright young lady who seems genuinely concerned to keep me up and running in full health. She will ask me a bunch of questions, weigh me, measure me, and check my blood pressure. I know she won’t try and sell me a treatment I don’t need.
Soon my partner will be moving to a large hospital to work. The hospital was built in the last few years and blew our minds when we saw it. The lobby is like that of an expensive hotel. The equipment is new, the staff dedicated and pleasant, the wards large and bright. We got a tour and left in a daze. This wasn’t the NHS you read about in the papers. This place employed over ten thousand people, and cared for and treated hundreds of thousands.
At the London Olympics one of the aspects of the UK that we promoted, in addition to James Bond, the inventor of the WWW (Tim Berners Lee), and Stephen Hawking, was the NHS. One of the most remarkable things about our country is that health care is free at the point of use. Even in America there are many Americans without health care insurance, and those that have it often live in fear of losing it. In the UK you can rest assured that you will be taken care of. If you get kidney disease in the Philippines or Thailand, and you don’t have money for the treatment, you die in agony, your blood slowly poisoning you.
My partner is a Manila girl. She’s been here 12 years now. She came to the UK with 100 US dollars in her pocket, borrowed from a friend. US Dollars because that’s all she could get her hands on in Manila. But, she earned her British passport spending 6 years of her life mopping up shit and piss and blood and vomit in care homes in Birmingham. Washing 80-year old arses and infected vaginas and spoon-feeding people with no teeth. She survived by eating dry cereal and borrowed Winter clothes and a little money from other Filipinas who worked the homes. She spent another 6 in the NHS, working the acute wards and community hospitals. She brushed the teeth of a thirty-something man, paralysed from the neck down in a motorbike accident, and shaved him. He cried at his helplessness the whole time she did it, while staring at pictures of his kids pinned to the ceiling above him. She’s cared for the young and the old and the dying. Today she has contributed over £80,000 in tax and National Insurance, and owns a new car bought and paid for, has savings in an ISA, and sends a generous stipend to her 92 year old mother back in Manila, who she still phones almost every day. She gave, and Britain gave back. You could spend a lifetime working in Thailand and they wouldn’t give you a single satang. Forget about a vote, or residence, or land. If you’re lucky you might own an apartment in a condo block, or part-ownership in a business. If you’re unlucky the condo will be part of an illegal construction and your business partner will run off with your money. Beneath the fake smiles you know deep down you’ll never get more than utter contempt from a Thai. Remember the Thai Rak Thai Party, before it got banned? Thais Love Thais.
Next year we will have elections here in the UK. In fact the coalition government (Conservative / Lib Dem) just faced a cabinet reshuffle. It will be an interesting election. Will the resurgent UKIP have an impact? Will Labour get its act together? Will the Lib Dems disappear completely from the national psyche? I’m not that interested in politics, but I will vote and I can rest assured that apart from the odd “incident” in one or two “third world” boroughs, those elections will be fair and seen to be fair. Yes, we did have riots a few years back, but that was more about getting the latest trainers for free than bringing down the establishment.
In England, we’ve had a parliament for 749 years and it’s been 326 since the Glorious Revolution. In Thailand fair elections are a “maybe someday”. For now there are just holiday camp paid-for protestors, roads filled with angry farmers and soldiers, and a long history of coups.
I think back to my new wetsuit. I’ll be going for a sea swim this weekend, at a Blue Flag beach, with clean, clear cold water and white sand and red and yellow uniformed life guards on patrol, and the tang of ozone in the air. I’ll be meeting up with some good friends there. After our swim we’ll talk about work and life and love and good books and movies and our hopes and dreams. We’ll laugh and drink Italian wine and eat home-made food. And I know they aren’t friends just because they want an easy buck, or a passport, or a one-way ticket out of their country. I like my friends because they lead rich, interesting lives. When I lived in Thailand the Thai people I met seemed to have sad, shallow, mono-dimensional lives, centered around saving face, and keeping up appearances, and finding a rich spouse and getting a car loan, or the latest phone. There was no depth. No real conversation beyond the trite. Their lives were as flat and uninteresting and dry as a page from an old newspaper.
I put my notebook away, take a sip of water, and head back through the park towards the office. I still have work to do before
There are few people in Thailand – very few – who can fathom the reasons why in the next 6 months or so I will leave this part of the world to move to the West. This series, and this submission in particular, shows some of those reasons.