The Island Part 4, The Misfit’ s Final Rant About Thailand
Some guys know what they want to do with their lives and have a strong feeling of belonging to the society they were born in.
I am definitively not one of them. I never knew what I wanted to do and never felt like I truly belonged.
There's a name for this kind of people: misfits.
My big decisions in life were based on what I did not want to become / do rather than the other way around.
I always thought that reality is painful, so I've spent a large part of my life trying to escape it.
To some farangs, moving to Thailand is a way to escape from their own reality, to live another life.
A French guy I know calls his life in Thailand "my second life". His French wife is a judge, his Thai wife is a semi illiterate hooker and one of the darkest skinned Thai women I've ever seen.
As I recounted in my previous subs, I discovered Thailand and more specifically the island of Samui, in January 1998 and thought, "This is misfit paradise! I've come to the right place!"
At that point in time I had been an expat for 15 years and could have afforded to live in the LOS full time, so why didn't I?
I decided to spend 5 or 6 months a year in the LOS and not to attempt to do business or invest there for the following reasons:
1) Right from the start I had the impression that the Thais were not interested in making friends with farangs at all. I have made friends with all sort of people from differing race and nationality, but it takes 2 to tango and the Thais…..
2) Farangs are second-class citizens, tolerated but not accepted.
3) Thailand was / is a third world country with all that that implies.
4) Learning Thai was, for me at that point of my life, almost impossible. It's a devilishly difficult language to learn for a westerner and my hearing was not good due to excessive time spent in places with terribly loud music. I always thought that if one wants to live in any country, one has to learn the local language.
ABOUT WESTERNERS INVESTING AND DOING BUSINESS IN THAILAND
I am not saying that for a foreigner to make successful investments or business in Thailand is impossible, there are in fact notable exceptions. For instance, I was reading on this site the enthusiastic comments some guy made about the restaurant Tropicana in Lamai, Ko Samui, run by some fellow countrymen of mine. Their investment in the LOS has paid off, but then they are the kind of guys who would have made it anywhere. They come from a place in northern Italy where people consider it normal to work 12 hours a day and when they started they where young and strong.
My friend Paul of Island Books runs a successful business which he started with a few second-hand books and now has thousands. Successful? Yes, but he spends all of his time there, and only leaves the premises to go on visa runs.
A farang in Samui that has made it on a much bigger scale is an American in the SPA business. He started small, did well and now he is running a big, solid operation. I only spoke to him once which was enough for me to think that he could sell ice in Iceland. He was that kind of guy.
But if I had a dollar for all the westerners that I have seen fail and lose their money in the LOS over the years, I' d be a rich man.
ABOUT THAIS NOT BEING INTERESTED IN MAKING FRIENDS WITH WESTERNERS
Kiwis and Australians were the first friends I made when I migrated to London and in my opinion they are very open, honest, trust worthy people. When I read Stick' s articles I think of old my old New Zealander friends.
Stick speaks good Thai, has tried very hard to be part of Thai society and what does he say after all this years? I have 0 Thai friends! I rest my case.
ABOUT LEARNING THAI
How many farangs speak Thai? Very few. How many farangs speak good fluent Thai? Very damn few.
Learning any language is a painful process. For an Italian, Spanish is the easiest foreign language to learn and yet it took me quite a while before I was able to have a conversation. Learning English was one of the toughest things I ever did and, as you can see, my English is crap <Not at all, you write very well – Stick>, but many people helped and encouraged me along the way, starting with my Kiwi and Australian friends who took the trouble and the time to teach me. One is unlikely to get that kind of attitude / help in Thailand.
It's very easy for westerners trying to speak Thai to be laughed at, or worse, to be misunderstood with embarrassing, sometimes even dangerous consequences, or not to be understood at all.
That of course happens with other languages as well. I remember an Italian guy in a busy shop on Portobello Road asking the saleswoman if they had any handcuffs. Given the kind of posh shop we were in everybody was disconcerted, then someone understood he meant cuff links! We all had a jolly good laugh and I'm sure the Italian guy never forgot that word!
At the end of a Saturday night out, a close friend of mine asked me to run his stall in Camden Town market. That meant going around the clock (not getting any sleep for 24 hours). I still did it . This guy used to sell tops, a vast selection of them, but just one thing, tops. Thought it was very busy on Sundays, the job was nice and easy for me, until this huge Irish guy comes along and asks me, "How much are your %^&*&?" He repeats the question 5 times, I just do not understand. The guy is getting angry. Thank Buddha an Irish girl running a stall nearby shouts at me, "Diego! He's saying: how much are your TOPS?" A 3-letter word and after 13 years in the country I could not understand! I apologized and selected the right top for the guy. He bought it and shook my hand before leaving.
I know a young farang guy in Samui who has a Thai wife and a lovely daughter, one of those westerners who tries very hard to understand the local culture / ways and to speak the language. He has a stall at a food market. One night he said something (in Thai) to one of his Thai stallholder neighbors, was misunderstood and as a result got punched in the face!
Thailand has changed a lot over the past 2 decades, Stick is right to say so, for a foreigner in search of a really "new" place. The LOS we found on our arrival nearly 20 years ago was a lot more fun, much more exotic and a hell of a lot cheaper than it is now.
The late Tiziano Terzani was a journalist and writer who spent 30 years in Asia.
Even though his focus was not on the bar scene, he has expressed a profound feeling of loss and nostalgia for the Asia that is no more, in much of his writings.
His Der Spiegel bosses put up with his extravagant request of not flying for 1 year and out of this experience he wrote the book, "A Fortune teller told me", a year long trip without using airplanes to reach the secret heart of Asia.
The interesting thing is that he wrote that book in 1993 and he was already talking about all these changes that were transforming Asia (starting with Bangkok where he was based at the time) in to a more modern, therefore more similar place to the rest of the word.
Globalization is happening all over the world. In Thailand it started 50 years ago when the Americans became engaged in the Vietnam War.
In my opinion, globalization is good for the Thais. Poverty is a sad degrading thing, even in a warm climate, and thanks to gobalization, living conditions have improved dramatically for most of the population.
The fact that Thai prostitutes are today almost as expensive as their western counterpart only proves that the country got richer. Most Thai women now do have a choice and that makes me feel good. I am very glad indeed! Over the years I have met some hookers that were intelligent and nice and I couldn't help feeling a bit sad for them and I often wonder what they could have done with their lives, what they could have become had they only had a chance.
The island of Samui was a fantastic wild island 20 years ago and it was incredibly cheap, but most of the locals were still living in huts and driving old pick ups and rusty bikes. Now it is still nice, but it has become like many other major tropical tourist destinations for us old-timers and the magic has gone.
But think about the locals and how their lives has changed. Now they have nice houses, cars and it is not uncommon for them to send their children to good schools.
FARANGS ARE SECOND CLASS CITIZENS, TOLERATED BUT NOT ACCEPTED
It is very unfortunate for foreigners living in Thailand that there are things that have NOT changed at all, things that have always made the resident farang's life difficult. Like the lack of acceptance, problems with communication, getting simple job-services done, double-pricing and so on.
The million little deaths a westerner has to live in Asia.
So, in the specific case of residents and long-stay foreigners, the abovementioned changes on top of all the already existing issues are bad news and many of us have had just about enough of living in the LOS. The trouble is that for some of us is it is difficult to find a new place and way of life. In fact some people I know just do not have anywhere else to go.
THAILAND IS A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY
As has been written on this site, if you cannot drink the water from the tap, you're in a third world country.
That is what made it so fascinating to us, but also so difficult to accept and fit in.
We often complain about the west being too politically correct and we find it refreshing being in a country which is not, but when we find ourselves discriminated against just because we are not Thai, or see people being judged by the color of their skin, we get all upset and realize that our culture and values are not so bad after all.
I think it's unfair to expect certain things from a country that from a middle ages kind of situation has been catapulted into modernity within 50 years.
The Thais are all right, they're just doing their Thai thing.
ALONE AND LONELY
After 31 years living abroad I have finally come home. I'm now looking after my old parents and taking care of the family assets.
My Thai girlfriend of 10 years wanted to follow me, but the only way of making her stay here in Italy on a permanent basis would be to marry her. I just cannot do that – I don't think it would work out. She is a good woman, has a well paid regular job and in 10 years together she has never done anything seriously wrong to me, but being married to her would make me feel vulnerable. She might change and make my life hell, something I've seen happening too many times and not only with Thai women. And then what would she do here? Look after my parents and auntie? She is not a nurse and she has a good life in Thailand.
I see her on Skype every day. I do not want to get into the "intellectually curious" debate. I'll just say that now that I am depressed and do not talk as much as I did before, our conversation languishes, and she has not much to say. That's better than a girlfriend who talks a lot about herself and things I am not interested in, which is often the case with farang women, but now that I am in my mid 50s I feel the need for someone with whom I have at least some interests in common.
It should be easy to find a woman here, considering how many singles there are. Not so. The main reason all these people are alone is that they are too independent and set in their ways. I strongly suspect I am like that as well.
My old friends are either dead or live somewhere else. Others kind of expect me to be the guy they knew 31 years ago, which I am not.
So here I am, back to the place where I was born, all alone, lonely and still a misfit.
I have my memories.
I look at the way people live here and I feel lucky that my life has been so adventurous, that I have seen so much of the world and met so many people.
Sometimes though I feel a bit sad.
There is no greater pain than the recollection of past happiness in times of misery.
The vast majority of people live and die in the same place. They only go abroad as tourists.
Many of us Stickman readers are real travelers, people that feel the need to go and see for themselves what the rest of the world is like, to all of them I sincerely wish the best of luck.
P.S. Dear Stick, This sub is confused and emotional, a real rant, if you decide to publish it, please edit it.
I just loved your "Home is home, Thailand isn't". I was a bit shocked when you said : "I had a good job, A BAD WIFE…", do you really mean it or is it slang, like the black guy who said my flat was ugly meaning beautiful? (I had a rich girlfriend who paid the rent). Of course you don' t have to answer.
If you haven't read any of Tiziano Terzani books, I think you would find them interesting and funny, especially "A fortune teller told me" and "In Asia".
Like many others I will miss your weekly, but I think you are doing the right thing.
Thank you in advance,