Out Of The Formicary (13) – You Can’t Always Get What You Want But…
This is essentially another ‘what I did on my holiday’ submission. My intention had been to submit once a week from Thailand. That did not happen. Each ‘episode’ was either fully written in the time period it is related to or written up from notes made in that period. To make full or any sense of the ‘episodes’ it is (I’m afraid) probably necessary to first read this.
The View from MY balcony where I sat and looked. Honest.
I spent more days sitting on ‘my’ balcony in Cha Am and doing what passes for thinking. I also did a lot of looking. I also did some reflecting.
Ok, OK reflecting is just a sub-set of thinking but perhaps more focused and almost purposeful.
On the 15th March 2014 one question to be reflected on was, “Why was I here?” Certainly not an existential or metaphysical enquiry – Douglas Adams (11 March 1952 – 11 May 2001) has after all given us the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. IT IS 42. No, rather the question was why was I in Cha Am or indeed anywhere in Thailand?
For me this was an interesting question because I reflected, not for the first time, that, “I really do not like Thailand” – in almost all of its ‘parts’. I mean this, I REALLY don’t LIKE Thailand. This is strange because I used to like Thailand – in almost all most of its ‘parts.’ Fifteen years ago and for some years after, I mean this, I REALLY LIKED Thailand.
What had happened? How could this have happened?
There seemed little point in reflecting upon whether it was me that had changed, or whether my initial liking had been based on false impressions or whether it was Thailand that had changed or indeed any combination of those possibilities or others. The issue was why I really did not like Thailand NOW!
Keep the stun-gun at hand (set the control to ‘the heart of the sun’) here we go.
OK, where to start?
First up, the geography! Thailand is the wrong shape!
This may seem just a tad harsh. Really it’s about a comment made by the two Thai social commentators: Ms Ant and Ms Da (small) that apparently Thai school-children are or were taught that Thailand is, “…shaped like a hammer.” Hmmm. Look again, I have and I guess that I can just about see ‘it’ but it would be a fairly poorly functioning hammer (perhaps appropriately). But what ‘it’s’ about is the underlying propagated view of the power and significance of Thailand. Look, you’ve just got to laugh… And then laugh some more.
But maybe the hammer analogy is about the underlying and ever present possibility of violence in smiley Thailand. Not such a laugh.
Next, the climate. It’s not nice – in fact it’s very unpleasant – too hot, too humid, too much rain and skies rarely sharp crystal blue. That’s that.
OK, it’s unfair to personally blame the Thai population for the shape and climate of their motherland, so necessarily turn must be taken to ‘human’ considerations.
Architecture is rarely mentioned in relation to Thailand. There is a good reason for this – there isn’t any.
This may seem just a smidgeon harsh. What of the temples? Yes, the temples are exotic and entertaining; improbable children’s confections painted brightly. But architecture? Come on!!! Can they in any seriousness be compared to the architectural wonders that are the temples of European Farangland? No whiff of popery here but simply and objectively, mediaeval cathedrals architecturally beat the holy crap out of Thailand’s temples.
Ah, there is always Ayutthaya. Yes, impressive for sure. Exotic? Amazing? Yep…maybe. But…
A view of Hadleigh Castle. Honest.
Hadleigh Castle is in the English county of Essex. It overlooks the Thames estuary from a ridge to the south of the town of Hadleigh. Building of it was started in 1215 during the reign of Henry III by Hubert de Burgh. It is insignificant. But hold on…it was built before Ayutthaya and is insignificant only because there are many, many, many other piles of old stones littering my patch of Farangland that are more significant (nearly all of which pre-date Ayutthaya and beat the secular architectural crap out of it).
And what of Yagul YOU may say? Apparently often overlooked by tourists, the historic city of Yagul was a fortified Zapotec settlement the ruins of which are located in Oaxaca in Mexico. Take a Google look – amazing huh? Still want to come to Thailand specifically to see Ayutthaya?
Enough of architecture of the past? OK, the present.
It is of said of Britain that, “What the Luftwaffe didn’t get the town planners of the 1960’s did.” So what is Thailand’s excuse? EVERY Thai provincial town seems the same – dusty concrete. What happened?
Bangkok? Yes it is amazing, as is EVERY high-rise city anywhere in the world (so it’s not exotic!) ‘Sky-scrapers’ are architectural wonders and they produce an inhuman environment.
Travellers’ Tip. # Number19. Honest. If architecture is ‘your thing’ then don’t go to Thailand.
So much for the built environment of Thailand – but oh yea, Bangkok has canals…so does Venice, Amsterdam and Burge (and Birmingham – in the UK not Alabama…enough said I think).
But reflecting on the Thai built environment led me to reflecting on corruption in Thailand (one thought led to another – YOU know how it is).
And yes, yep, yea corruption exists in all societies. But again I reflected that when comparing corruption in my own society to that of amazing Thailand I feel that I am comparing the average living-room pussy cat to a Bengal tiger. Yep, both are cats. Yea both are feline. That is that. After that there is no further comparison.
Bangkok is littered with unfinished projects – both private and public – roads started but never completed; skeletons of high rise buildings – empty projects that will take more than many single lifetimes to disappear by natural processes. Testaments to what? As football crowds in Blighty are wont to chant when ‘their’ team falls on hard financial times, “Where’s the money gone? Where’s the money gone? Wheresss the money GONE?”
But I was actually thinking of a more archaic definition of corruption (because I’m a half-arsed pseudo-intellectual): The process of decay; putrefaction: as in, “the potato turned black and rotten with corruption.” I do suggest that financial corruption leads to the ‘blackening’ and ‘decay’ of simple daily human interactions.
I reflected on a memory; in 2000 I purchased a house in Jomtien (OK, OK it’s not ¬¬¬my house, it never can be – I had more rights to the occupancy of ‘my’ balcony that I do to the occupancy of that house!) Anyway, we went to Citibank in Bangkok, at the appointed time, to pay-off the sum outstanding on the property. The process took some little time – as it should because this was serious stuff! Money was checked and re-checked, deeds exchanged after checking and rechecking and many pieces of paper signed. The process was carried out with efficiency and took only as long as it had to take. We left with the deeds. ‘WE’ had paid only that which was correctly owing on the house. The house was ‘ours’ (yea right).
We travelled to Pattaya the next day, the house had to be registered.
So off to some municipal office. I did notice that my wife had unexpectedly packed a bottle of whisky and several small brown envelopes along with other necessary provisions. At the entrance to the office I began to see why.
The whisky – along with two of the envelopes – was given to the uniformed guy (that’s still bloke) who ‘greeted’ us at the entrance. We were shown into the waiting area. There were rows of benches – we were NOT shown to the benches at the back but about half way down to the front. Our documents and the envelopes were taken to the first of the three rows of desks of those ‘working’ in the office. Each desk had on it a pile of documents similar to ours. I noticed that ours did NOT go to the bottom of the pile! We were fairly quickly called to that desk – paper was signed and our file passed to the desk behind (with another of the envelopes inside it). Back to a seat (nearer the front now) but then quickly called – more signing of ‘stuff’ and file (without an envelope) passed to the desk behind. Then much waiting and then…
More waiting…then more waiting. OK, OK I’m slow but I’d twigged what had happened. So why no envelope to get our file to the final and vital desk? I never did get an answer to that!!! Anyway, after a period longer than the life-span of some species in the animal kingdom the house was registered as ‘ours’.
I would suggest that simple human interactions had been corrupted. I/we were not the same as others who entered the office – WE were of that category of those who immediately sat down at a bench ‘half way to the front’ further we were of a category of those who were quickly served by desk one and desk two. Perhaps that explains why my wife did not place a bung in to get us quickly to desk three – ‘we’ in her self-categorisation would have been getting ‘above our station’ (or perhaps the necessary bung, in her estimation, would have been too big – actually same same).
No one in the waiting-room had objected to our fast-tracking. Everyone knew what was going on and I do think that the resentment to it (if there was any!) was only marginally increased by the fact that I am clearly a farang.
You know there is a point to queuing without ‘brown envelopes’ – all in the queue are equal, differentiate ONLY by when you chose or are required to join the queue (an appointment, as required by Citibank).
OK, this happened in the year 2000 and I am sure this is now an archaic system which has been eliminated in modern Thailand in 2014.
What of the simple human relationships between teacher and pupil or police officer and members of the public or judges and the accused? To what extent are these corrupted/subjected to the purification of the cash nexus?
I, through (in)direct personal experience, have come to doubt Thai official statistics in relation to gun-crime in Bangkok and motor-bike accidents in the same smiley city (whether the bike in question was big and black or not) due to, how shall we say, cash acting as a buffer between an accused individual and the Thai judicial system.
It is perhaps worth noting that Claus Moser, one time Director of the Central Statistical Office in the UK, suggested that accurate Official Statistics are the foundations of a functioning democracy.
Corruption corrupts; humans cease to be judged on any attributes other than their ability to ‘give a bung’ – the cash nexus rules.
I had a vague memory of once having looked ‘corruption league tables’ on ‘the web’ and finding that New Zealand was in number one position for NOT being corrupt (little wonder that increasingly so many wish to go/return there) while Somalia was bottom of ‘the league’ Amazing Thailand? In the top one hundred of corrupt nations on this planet (but not as bad as Somalia – not that I was thinking of doing so but it can be safely said that I don’t want to go to Somalia. Do YOU?) Of course the problem with corruption league tables is that they are about corruption!!! So can they be trusted?
Ok, I could only do so much thinking and looking and reflecting on ‘my’ balcony. Time to get out…and about.
It was a Saturday, so no point in going to the beach.
Travellers’ Tip # Number 20. Honest. Starting on Friday night there is an influx of Thai ‘tourists’ from Bangkok. There is then an outflow from mid-Sunday afternoon onwards. This produces traffic jams on Cha Am roads and to a lesser extent people jams on Cha Am beach.
So, simply a 440 yard stumble, shuffle, shlap to ‘Paradise’ via ‘The Nana House’. The ‘walk’ was made less interesting because it was a Saturday – so part of the Bangkok traffic jam had been imported to create a Cha Am traffic jam on ‘my’ road to the beach.
Having arrived at the ‘Nana House’ I sat at ‘my’ table to which a soda and ashtray were delivered. I sat and looked and reflected.
I have (too) often heard it said that, “Thailand is only a small poor country.” Yea right!
Let US take this ‘bit by bit’, Thailand is “…small..’’ Here it does seem reasonable for me to compare exotic Thailand to my homeland – the UK. Thailand is only a small country? Well in terms of land mass (official statistics that might be trusted!) Thailand has a land mass of 511,770.00 sq k (the 52nd largest nation in the world) while the UK has 241,590.00 sq k (the 80th largest in the world). Population? In 2013 it apparently was 64.1 million in the UK while in the same year it was 67.01 million in Thailand.
So, Thailand’s not ‘that’ small after all.
Thailand is, “…poor…”
The parade of large and seemingly new cars which formed the traffic jam in front of me seemed to disprove this. Honda, Isuzu, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, a couple of Range Rovers even a Porsche Cayman crawled past. Of course the ‘cars’ were mostly SUV’s or pick-ups – the back bit covered by a purpose-built cab – never to see to see a chicken or any family members sitting in the blazing sun (a comfortable drive from Bangkok) – ‘Bangkok tractors’.
Thailand is poor? What is the per capita income of Thailand? Who knows??? Do I trust Thai Official Statics? NO.
I really do not want to dwell on Thailand’s reputation in relation to SEX… but I will.
It is of interest that in the UK, the Guardian Newspaper (amongst others) reported that the ONS (Office for National Statistics) was in the process of revising how GNE (Gross National Expenditure) is to be calculated. Of course someone’s expenditure must be someone else’s income (GNE must equal Gross National Income which in turn must equal Gross National Product – ‘The circular flow of income: Introduction to Macro-Economics – Lecture One’. And yes, I am (or at least was) a smart arse).
Anyway, apparently it has been estimated that drugs and prostitution contributed £10bn to the UK economy in 2009. The ‘Guardian’ suggests that, “For the first time official statisticians are measuring the value to the UK economy of sex work and drug dealing – and they have discovered these unsavoury hidden-economy trades make roughly the same contribution as farming – and only slightly less than book and newspaper publishers added together.”
Does Thailand in its estimation of Gross National Expenditure include the contribution made by drugs and prostitution? I have no idea. I would tentatively suggest that those two categories would have contributed FAR more to the Thai economy than the £10bn it did in the UK economy in 2009! Perhaps roughly the same contribution as farming – and only slightly less than book and newspaper publishers added together? Wow! Who knows?
If one cannot reasonably trust a country’s national statistics in relation to Gross National Income it is perforce true there is no valid means to calculate ‘per capita income’!
What is left is speculation. So, is Thailand a poor country? Relative to many nations in Farangland the answer must be, “Yes.” But relative to all of Farangland, “NO.” Certainly it is NOT poor should, for example, the comparison being made is to Romania, Albania, the Ukraine or Peru or other nations (are these countries in Farangland? I don’t know – go ask a Thai citizen). Global comparisons indicate Thailand is NOT poor. How do I know? The UN, IMF, UNESCO, The World Bank and other international organisations say so.
It is perhaps worth noting that Claus Moser, one time Director of the Central Statistical Office in the UK, suggested that accurate Official Statistics are the foundations of a functioning democracy.
But back to reflecting on the traffic jam before me on that day; I felt that perhaps the drivers did not entirely mind the traffic-jam – it was a chance to slowly parade their vehicle to anyone who cared to look – I certainly cared – I looked!
Unhappily I did not have a camera with me and so was unable to record for posterity the splendour of the traffic-jam in Cha Am on that day, so I’ll substitute a picture of a flash car I’d taken earlier…it will have to do.
An old man in a flash car or a flash man in an old car?
Look I like cars (guess I can’t help it having grown up (ha ha) in Romford, Essex – now YOU in the UK get ‘it’ – but it doesn’t make ‘us’ into a community).
I like cars.
I like cars a lot – but not as much as I like sex (I’m not that stupid).
But I was neither reflecting on sex or cars (for once) rather the subject for reflection became materialism in Thailand.
Yes, yep, yea there is materialism in all societies and individuals in those societies. I am happy that I can project an image of self that includes and is sustained by the material ownership of a ‘flash car’ (Saab 903 Aero, turbo charged convertible – just in case YOU were wondering – and yes it does have leather upholstery). But perhaps somewhat strangely I feel that when comparing materialism in my own society to that of amazing Thailand I am comparing the average living-room pussy cat to a Bengal tiger. Yep, both are cats. Yea both are feline. That is that. After that there is no further comparison.
Thailand is often described as a Buddhist culture.
Very few Thai citizens in my experience seem to have more than a passing knowledge of Buddhism. There is no shame in that. Many Catholics know little of Catholicism, recently Jihadist bombers were apparently found to be carrying copies of ‘Islam for Dummies’, a one-time Bishop of York has been quoted as saying that a belief in god was not a prerequisite for membership of the Church of England. So why should the average Thai citizen have a detailed knowledge of Buddhism?
As in many nations, including that in which I was born, the ‘dominant’ religion has melded with or colonised much older beliefs. What has the Christmas tree got to do with Christianity? Nothing! Father Christmas in a red robe? Nothing – and the robe was apparently green until ‘altered’ to red by Coca-Cola in a 1930’s advertising campaign! So I’ve got nothing against ‘Buddhist’ Thais being preoccupied with ghosts. And Songkran or Loi Krathong, anything to do with Buddha? No problem for me.
From our living room. A Buddhist Image? I don’t know. Honest.
But I would contend that the dominant and modern belief system of Thailand is ‘Bahtism’.
I have VERY limited experience of other cultures/societies but other than Hong Kong I have never encountered those as obsessed by currency, or quite simply money as the Thais.
Ever listened-in to YOUR Thai wife or significant other when she’s on the phone? I have. It is not necessary to fully understand Thai (and remember you don’t have to because Thai is just about as useful as Welsh as a world language) but it is a good way to learn numbers in Thai – repetition, repetition, repetition – you’ll learn. If your significant other can manage one paragraph, one sheet of A4 (let alone foolscap) without mentioning the price of something or another then it will have been an exceptional conversation, And please, please, please don’t for ONE moment believe that I am assuming that YOUR significant other is a ‘bad girl’. I am NOT making that assumption (I HATE the terms ‘good girl’ and ‘bad girl’). Now reflect on YOUR last conversation with another farang. Did YOU once mention the price of something? If YOU did then I’d suggest it was an exceptional conversation. Ah Ah, that’s what Bahtism is about.
Bahtism produces culture-wide superficiality (in my opinion) – too many who, “…know the price of everything and the value of nothing” as Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) might have said had he ever been to modern Siam.
One of the ‘things’ that I do find ‘amazing’ about ‘amazing’ Thailand is the very suggestion that amazingly some men are apparently prepared to have their members removed purely in pursuit of monetary gain! If true that is truly amazing. True, other societies practiced emasculation in pursuit of money – to produce castrati (for the church choir) and eunuchs (for the harem) but this was usually not voluntary for the individual but rather instigated by their families in pursuit of money. But for the individual to make this choice? What greater love could a man have (for the Baht) than to have his dick removed???? A truly religious sacrifice (of Biblical proportions).
And what of Thai women YOU say. Sin Sot? Bahtism. Viewing your daughter or sister as a valuable economic resource for the family and relocating her to Pattaya (where for ‘face’ purposes she will be said to be working as a ‘tourist guide’ or ‘receptionist’)? Bahtism.
And more…what of the speed, jubilance, glee, acrobatics, unknowingness and sense of achievement with which many of Thailand’s female population leave the smiling, exotic, amazing motherland for Farangland? What motivates this migratory behaviour? Bahtism.
I had been sitting and reflecting and noting these reflections at ‘The Nana House’. I’d finished my soda and wanted a ‘Fanta Dang’ – so better go to somewhere where Thai was spoken. Not far – ‘Paradise Corner – Bar and Restaurant’.
From ‘Paradise’ I had a good view of bits of the traffic jam parking across the road. There was much arm waving and blowing of whistles (perhaps a ritual attached to a rural past and the herding of buffalo?)
Again I had no camera so was unable to record the parking of the flash cars. So here is a picture of a flash car (parked).
A parked car (awaiting a repair to a wing-mirror). Honest
But my interest in the cars had waned (temporarily). I became interested in those getting out of the cars.
I am not so much of a car spotter that I am interested in car number-plates but I am prepared to say that the majority who disgorged from the parked vehicles were from Bangkok and its environs. What gave me a clue? Simple, skin colour.
‘WE’ in Farangland are correctly sensitive in approaching the subject of ‘colour prejudice’. But “courage mon brave” and onwards.
The great majority of those getting out of their ‘flash vehicles’ had a skin colour that I find particularly unappealing – sort of pasty pale. Why should anyone care what ‘I’ think? There is NO reason. BUT the point is that THEY cared. I was sure that THEY would do plenty to preserve their complexion – certainly using umbrellas (no sight of rain) in the dash from the car to (colourful) sunshades waiting on the beach.
Skin colour was a brand, a symbol, a marker that might be correlated to income, material wealth, status, power, social position: pale colour good and high ranking in all respects. Dark colour? A curse, the ‘mark of Cain’.
So dark skin colour is to be avoided by Thais (but not by this farang – ‘cause I like it! But it has to be said that some of my best friends are white).
Should the unfortunate Thai individual be ‘naturally cursed’ then there are always skin-lightening products to turn to. What is the value of such expenditure within Gross National Expenditure in Thailand? Who knows? Not me! (Perhaps roughly the same contribution as farming – and only slightly less than book and newspaper publishers added together? Who knows!)
Surely any expenditure on skin-lightening products is a waste of money in a ‘poor country’? Not necessarily!! When I asked a Thai wife (mine) why her first husband had left her for a lady living across the walk-way in the municipal flats in Ding Daeng, Bangkok her reply was unequivocal, “Because she had white head.” (My wife has dark skin).
But, of course, colour prejudice in Thailand is most clearly associated with its coupling with prejudice/hostility directed towards the citizens of Isaan. I have personally heard it said of Isaan citizens, “They NOT Thai they Lao…” and “…brown skin monkies…they not same as US.” The latter comment by a (fair skinned) Bangkok university student. Ah, nationalism, class(ism) and racism combined – well done!!!
So, colour prejudice in Thailand although ‘outwardly’ directed beyond its national boundaries is most acutely directed within national boundaries. Why?
Perhaps the explanation is simple: the association with skin colour and the (dirty, poor and inferior) of the rural and agricultural. So it was in Britain before the full transition to an ‘industrial economy’ when prejudice flipped and a tanned skin became associated wealth! By the 1980’s in Britain there was only one major ailment that the middle-class suffered from more than the working-class – malignant melanoma – the product of too many foreign holidays.
Yes, I feel this is true but has to be combined with the colonisation of Thailand.
One of Thailand’s proudest boasts is that it was never colonised. Ah, the pride in Thailand’s mighty strength!! Simple bullshit!!! Poor old Thailand got left out ‘cause the French and British couldn’t be bothered to colonise such a miserable lump of land or more calmly because the British and French always like a buffer between them (and if you unfortunately can’t have a sea as a separator then a nation will have to suffice).
But… Britain was colonized… by the bloody French no less (1066 and all that) leaving a legacy/infusion of building styles, language, administrative/political systems and distribution of wealth and income. Many of Britain’s present day wealthiest families can trace their wealth (and political power) back to Willy and his largess in dividing up Britain amongst his conquering mates. Of course the French had essentially the same skin colour as those they conquered (well more or less).
I might argue that it is the same same with Thailand. As with most ‘things’ in Thailand there is little evidence to be agreed upon. Some would say that ‘Thailand’ was anciently colonised by some mob that swept in from the north (strange that colonisers often ‘sweep in from the north’ – except the bloody sneaky French – perhaps that was the problem, they swept in from the bloody south – typically unfair tactics). If so, to what extent are Bangkokians the beneficiaries of some ancient bunch of colonisers? If all Bangkokians have not in equal measure benefited in wealth they may well have ‘benefited’ in skin colour and are thus keen to maintain their ‘mark’ of historic superiority (if they could be trusted, statistics on the geographic distribution of income in Thailand would be interesting).
What I feel for SURE (and so should YOU) is that Thai ‘colour prejudice’ is NOTHING to do with ‘the west’. Don’t be so arrogant. Thais (in my opinion) are generally far too insular, myopic and inward looking to be bothered about what ‘the west’ thinks or values. Curious and envious of perceived ‘western wealth’ yes but interested in Farangland or YOU as a farang alien in the motherland? NO. There is only one way – the Thai way. That of course includes the generation of xenophobia and ‘inwardly’ directed colour prejudice!!!!
All this thinking and reflecting and noting and silent ranting (at least I hope it was silent) had had an effect.
I was feeling hungry; YOU know how it is…a bad thing – if you happen to be in Thailand. The vast majority of Thai food is…practically inedible (such a shame that Thailand was not colonised by the French).
How do the Thais get away with it? Thai food a ‘world cuisine’ to stand alongside Indian cuisine (in all of its regional variations), Chinese food (in all of its regional variations), French cuisine, Italian cuisine, even bloody British ‘cuisine’??? What??? Smoke and mirrors.
OK, it’s a matter of taste. Yes it is. I guess some can with sincerity say that they like the back taste of lemon-grass or coconut or fish sauce and so can say they like Thai food.
It is a matter of taste – that is if there is any taste beyond chilli – and here I speak as the winner of the ‘All-Bangkok Thai / Farang Raw Chilli Eating Trophy 2002’. Held in Ding Daeng, Bangkok I beat Mem in the ‘Deer Hunter’ style final when after the forth chilli she had to retire and go and … cry. (Honest) The point is that I am not adverse to ‘spicy’ – but what is the point of ‘spicy’ when it obliterates any other taste?
So I thought I’d treat myself and go and eat ‘farang’ (as increasingly many Thais do). I could have eaten where I was at the ‘Paradise Bar and Restaurant’ but as it is Scandinavian owned there are too many herrings involved in its menu. So off to some other joint that I’d seen before but never eaten at which I’d noticed offered ‘hamburgers’. I ordered one.
Big, big mistake! It was THE worst hamburger meal I’ve ever attempted to eat. I’ll not waste words trying to describe the horror show of what was on the plate. Sufficient to say that there were no holes in the soles of my shoes so the ‘meat’ bit had no possible use and the best bit of the meal was the onion rings and tomatoes because they were raw. AND this was a restaurant aiming at farangs!! Please, please Ronald M open a joint in Cha Am.
I might have forgotten (or blotted out) the whole ‘incident’ of the visit to ‘the restaurant’ had I not received a SMS from Auy (Nanthana’s daughter – remember her?). I was receiving many SMS from her – increasingly obscure and disturbing SMS.
This one read, “Hello martin not long mum have new life … I know mum love you but not know u love mum?”
I tend to keep SMS I receive and send – don’t you? You never know when you might have to refer to them!!!!
Almost immediately afterwards I got the weekly phone call from friend Manny. The SMS was discussed. I was of the opinion that it was a manifestation of Auy’s superficial cultural beliefs in reincarnation mixed in with an even more superficial knowledge of Buddhism. I vouched that it was possibly a symptom of a young woman ‘falling apart’ following the death of her mother. Manny was not so sure. But what was for sure is that I didn’t feel like ‘dealing’ with ‘it’.
So on a day of doing what passes for thinking/reflecting on why I was here in Cha Am and more particularly Thailand, I was no nearer an answer! But I felt the need to draw together (and note) a summary of why I did not like Thailand NOW.
A Pufferfish. Honest. Note the smile.
So, to summarise my rant against Thailand, it is because I feel it to be like a pufferfish. This may seem a little harsh given that Pufferfish (of the Tetraodontidae family of primarily marine and estuarine fish) are generally believed to be the second-most poisonous vertebrates in the world, after the golden poison frog . It is not that Thailand is poisonous (but given ‘the state’ of its self styled cuisine, it could be), no it is because it’s prone to being so horribly, AMAZINGLY myopic in its self-satisfyingly, arrogantly, pretentiously, self-deludingly puffed up sense of self worth and importance and significance and position within the world.
Thailand needs more ‘Thainess’? Yes, it does – in the same way that the alcoholic needs ‘just one more drink’ and the drowning person needs to be thrown a life-belt made of lead.
What the pompous little Pufferfish seems not to realize is that one prod with a sharp pointy object can deflate it. Game over – and YOU don’t have to eat it as there are ‘plenty more fish in the sea’.
This leads me to a further real and profound gripe (honest). Thailand has made ME into a worse person! I try to resist but…
I HAVE become more nationalistic. I don’t like that!
I am from the UK and it is all too easy for me to take up a sharp, pointy thing and prod the fish. Thailand is bigger than the UK, both in land mass and population. Both are democratic monarchies (oops … nearly forgot). While it is not possible to readily compare the National Incomes (in my opinion) due to the suspect nature Thai statistics (I won’t bother with mentioning Claus Moser again…Oh, I have) it’s not a matter of concession to say that the UK is ‘richer’ than Thailand – it simply is.
Now try looking up “Thailand Inventions” via Google (YOU do it). You will find only a limited number of sites available. Of those available, mention will be made of the Thai invention of an operating-table for elephants. Good – elephants world-wide trumpet their thanks. I (almost) guarantee that a prime site offered by Google will be this.
Now try a similar search – “UK Inventions”. Got a day or two to spare? YOU will need it. So, so many. Try a variant “UK/Thai Discoveries”. Got a month or two to spare for pursuing one of the set of the results? YOU will need it.
National wealth is nothing to do with national culture? Well, Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) for one did not agree.
Slapping “exotic” and/or “amazing” in front of “Thailand” no longer cuts it for me. Nor does simply saying, “Thailand is only a small, poor country” in order to explain some amazing, in-grained short-coming or another. As Frank Zappa (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) said, “This stuffs two tours old…we gotta come up with some new sh*t.”
Travellers’ Tip # Number 21. Honest. Think VERY carefully about going to Thailand for the first time.
Where is that Taser when you need it?
BUT the truth is I’ve NOT completed MY rant…perhaps the ‘rubric’ for submissions should be ‘no less than 800 words and in the case of a rant no more than 4000’.
But, but…I haven’t finished!!! Please…OK, OK may I direct you to another submission which contains a damn fine rant (in my
opinion) because it is TRUE!!!!!
Oh, and there are ALWAYS those bloody smiles …that could mean everything, something but more likely…NOTHING.
Zap zissss – Zapppp.
But … but what about the possible causal interface between the concept of ‘face’ and mental illness and violence in Thailand? And… and…what of Thailand being a democratic monarchy…
Zap zissss – Zapppp, zap…zap.
OK…better now…for now.
But then and calmly, perhaps the final words should go to my good, good friend who loves Thailand and longs to be there. When I asked him where he would have wished to have been born, “Thailand or Farangland?” His bluff answer was, “The f%*king west of f%*king course.”
For me maybe THE ‘thing’ about Thailand (perhaps the only unequivocally positive ‘thing’ that I can find to say) is that I did not have to be alone on the evening of 15th March 2014 and so could add to the store of memories…so…and mindful that as Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (5 May 1813 – 11 November 1855, who was some Danish dude considered to be the first existentialist philosopher) indicated, “There is nothing to fear: the ultimate reassurance and the ultimate dread..”…
From the so-called, self-styled ‘restaurant’ (specialising in ‘farang food’ – you just got to laugh) to Soi Bus Station and ‘Ola’s bar’.
Ola wasn’t there!
But, I was soon joined by two members of my own species (well unequivocally one of my own species).
The first was a woman (thank god). I’m not a expert when it comes to fabrics so all that I can say is that she was wearing a faded, green ‘crushed taffeta’ dress with a ‘flounce’ at what is I believe termed ‘the bosom’. When she sat down I noticed that the hem was fraying. I felt sorrow.
I felt sorrow for her – why in her life had she had to come to sit with me? What had she done wrong for this to come to pass? This woman was NOT a ‘bar-GIRL’ (by any stretch of the imagination).
I bought her a red wine to accompany my ‘Fanta Dang’ (apparently Thai was spoken here). We chatted. Her name was Pen, forty-four, came from Khon Kean, had two grown up sons and her husband was dead (she said). Pen’s English was not great – why the hell should it be?
Pen had a barbed wire tattoo around her left arm (YOU know how it is) and a poorly drawn butterfly on her right shoulder. She caught me looking at them. “They no good for me,” she said. She was of course correct. It was already apparent to me that if ANY person’s personality was to be visualised by ‘barbed wire’ and ‘butterflies’ it was not Pen.
But how could I possibly explain to her that I was amazed and proud to be sitting next to an exotic, forty-four year old Thai woman with such tattoos? ME! AMAZING!!
But we were joined by a girl…oh dear.
The young lady, maybe in her early twenties, was…look, the only way I can put it is…FAT. When I say FAT, YOU must believe me that I don’t mean slightly over-weight (how would I know?). I don’t mean visibly plump, I mean clinically OBESE. To make matters worse (and I have chosen the word ‘worse’ carefully) her skin (of which there was much) which was visible (and there was too much visible) was covered by spindly one-line, blue tattoos – arms, legs and neck. Oh my god – how, WHY?
Look, whatever…this was a social situation. How does one extricate oneself? I was enjoying Pen’s company but I did not, repeat NOT, want to be anywhere near the girl – she disturbed me (mostly via sadness that this had happened to her life). What to do?
I bought her a red wine.
But then an opportunity – the girl got up to get something (maybe some food as she hadn’t eaten for at least fifteen minutes).
I knew what I had to do next…
Ask Pen if she wanted to play pool.
We played pool – Pen is not a bad player (usual stuff – shot player with no tactics let alone strategy).
She beat me.
Pen and I had a couple more drinks.
Pen is not a swan. She is not ‘beautiful’. My immediate comparison of Pen to other species in the animal kingdom would have been that Pen is a buffalo. If YOU think for one moment that this is an insult, all that I can say is that it is NOT an insult.
Pen is a forty-four year old WOMAN – solid, strong body, purposeful, deliberate in movements, stoic, uncomplaining, used to hard (manual) work, caring, weary, used to giving (and receiving little in return), responsible, ever reliable. A daughter and in her turn a mother.
AND Pen smoked (menthol) cigarettes.
The 15th March 2014 was coming to an end.
I knew what I had to do next…
Ask her if she if she wanted to come ‘home’ with me.
Now I know YOU are going to be surprised because she said… “Yes.”
(Sorry but…) That’s not all folks.