Waiting For You
As the years have mellowed me, I have come to realize that all of us who have taken the leap to embrace Thailand have put ourselves at risk of being personally changed – possibly forever – by the experiences that many of us took lightly. Some of us were the victims and some of us were the perpetrators of events that, sometimes, would have been better to avoid – but it is in the nature of who we are to always want something for nothing – more than we would have had – or to take risks. There is no such thing as a free lunch.
The title of the sub is the name of the third-last CD made by Gordon Lightfoot and released in 1993, out of a total of 20 releases as vinyl LP or CDs of mostly his original compositions in a lifetime of writing and performing. I have, fortunately, just found this CD languishing in a great pile of Thai discs on one of my computer stations – so I really started to listen to what is written there. Some of these songs were those I often played on stage – but that is quite a while ago now.
The following are two verses from "Only Love Would Know" – track 4 on the disc.
Does the light of passion still burn bright?
Only love would know – my imagination
Tells me I'm a pent-up fool
In the deep end of the pool
Is the light of passion burnin' tonight?
Only love would know – only love would know
She lives on the other side, you wanna know the reason why
She arrives at promises and you believe in what she says
Everywhere you go
Sure sounds familiar, doesn't it? Perhaps dear old "Gordie" has done the Thailand exercise as the monger – or is it that women are the same, irrespective of whether they are Asian or any other variety? As he says – only love would know.
Now, I know there are many out there who hold deep resentment for having been on the losing side of a relationship that turned turtle – but the reality is that the risk was always present and there are no guarantees from either side of the equation. Love is a gamble.
Is the light of passion burnin' bright?
Everywhere you go – only love would know
You think you've been wronged again
Oh what a way to treat a friend
She belongs to other eyes and surely you must realize
She ain't the kind who would soon step aside
Pay any dues at the expense of her pride
Everywhere she goes – only love would know
As I scrolled down the lyric list and opened each song in turn, it became clear to me that so many of these songs, from this disc, adequately describe the emotions felt at one time or another in Thailand. The one that springs to mind, immediately, is the Farang who sends a regular remittance from home to his intended one – not knowing that she is telling the same story to two or three other fools who are doing the same for her. She is probably still living with her useless Thai boyfriend, paying off his motorcycle and picking up the tab on his drug habit.
This next set of lyrics was written by Bob Dylan. The song is track 2 on the disc.
"Ring Them Bells"
Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries, 'cross the valleys and streams
For they're deep and they're wide, and the world's on its side
And time is a'runnin' backwards and so is the bride
Ring them bells St. Peter where the four winds blow
Ring them bells with an iron hand so the people will know
Oh it's rush hour now, on the wheel of the plow
And the sun is a'goin' down upon the sacred cow
Ring them bells sweet Martha for the poor man's son
Ring them bells so the world will know that God is one
For the shepherd is asleep where the willow weep
And the mountain is filled with lost sheep
Ring them bells – for the blind and the deaf
Ring them bells – for all those who are left
Ring them bells – for the chosen few
Who'll judge the many when the game is through
Ring them bells – for the time that flies
For the child who cries when innocence dies
Ring them bells St. Catherine from the top of the roof
Ring the bells from the fortress for the lilies that bloom
For the lines are long and the fighting is strong
And they're breakin' down the distance between right and wrong
I cannot speak or write for anyone but myself – but I have a sneaking suspicion that many who read the lyrics, in both cases, would have to identify with many of the sentiments expressed there.
In honesty, I have been on both sides of the line in the love stakes – I have won and I have lost – but I have no anger in losing. There is sadness in reflection but one must take responsibility for taking the risk involved. In losing, it hurt me – but I was not the only one hurt – she was hurt as well. It wasn't intentional by either of us – ignorance and lack of consideration would also have played a large part. As I have written in the past – it is difficult enough to hold a relationship together between two people of the same culture. To try to do so where two different cultures are involved is much more difficult and requires finesse and a working knowledge of both cultures – and, hopefully, the language.
When I read the lyrics for "Ring Them Bells" – the first line hits me that Bangkok is "the city that dreams" – so many dreams by so many of a better life than what they have. Many of us have gone there with a pocketful of dreams – some realised but some failed to come to fruition. For so long, poor country girls have come to the city with dreams of a better life – but few have found it in a bar. They may make a good income from what they do – but what does it do to their self-esteem and to their bodies? The "lucky ones struck it rich" and were taken to the Farang's homeland – but I often question whether a Thai woman really was better off in his country. I do understand the anguish that many Thai ladies suffer away from their beloved Thailand. Not all experience that emotion – but I personally know several who will never adjust to a life away from Thailand. The pull is very strong – particularly if family is left behind.
I see the beggars on the streets of Bangkok – ragged women with a child asleep on a shophouse doorstep or overpass; amputees from misadventure with an ordnance from a past war that claimed another victim, long after the war was ended. A blind musician is being led through the crowded Pratunam markets, playing a horrible rendition of some tune on an accordion, hoping for a donation to be put in the cup. They all have their dreams and stories but few achieve the dream. Many of these unfortunates are bonded to a Mafia gang who dole out a sustenance to them from the donations they are able to get from passers-by. The rest is pocketed by the gang. Is there no end to corruption in this Land Of Smiles? Is humanity always gauged by the amount of Baht involved?
The fourth-last-line of the lyrics addresses "the child who cries when innocence dies". How can innocence be preserved in an environment of poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse? These are the things we rarely see on the tourist traps – but they are there, surely enough. Then, there is the very-last-line of those lyrics where "they're breakin' down the distance between right and wrong". This is not only happening in Thailand – it is a global trend, where the line of demarcation between right and wrong is becoming more indistinct.
Thailand is still a developing country and I feel that many of the problems being experienced by the vulnerable in Thailand have been imported from The West. From what I can see, it seems that Thai integrity has been sold for The Almighty Dollar, The British Pound and The Euro. I have said it before and I truly believe that the rot began to set in after the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam and the big influx occurred of ex-GIs who decided to settle in Thailand, running a bar or some other, more nefarious activity – and the formation of the basis for the fledgling tourist industry was set down.
I think we all know the difference between right and wrong – particularly those of us who had a good upbringing. It is an inward knowing within people of good intent – but there are those who will still deliberately break the rules to the detriment of those most vulnerable. People complain about the drop in standards in the bar industry – higher prices and poorer service by the girls. The girls are being more selective in whom they allow to bar-fine them and I say good luck to them. It is about time they got a better deal than in the past. The day will not be far away when all girls will make their bookings privately on cell-phone and only deal with the customer, under the umbrella of an Agency who will protect them from some of the undesirables that they have had to deal with in the past.
This still leaves the most vulnerable open to abuse – but it seems that the new Provisional Government is slowly implementing changes that may give protection under new laws that could make life better for those at risk. I certainly hope that is so.
The big worry is the global trend toward anti-social habits, rising criminality, violence and escalating drug abuse. I doubt that Thailand can insulate itself from these trends, given that Thais seem to want to adopt the very latest from The West. Why they should want to do that is beyond my understanding – I would much sooner have a quiet life in Thailand, under the Buddhist faith, than most of what I have experienced in my life in The West. Still, The West has been good to me but, in spite of all the negatives that appear to be unfolding in the "new" Thailand, I still believe in Thailand as a desirable place to be. Right from the start, it has always felt that it is my home – no matter when I have been there. I've not found any other place that gives me that feeling.