Farang Dave's 'Is Thailand Really Changing?' submission got me thinking about how much I've changed since I first came to Thailand, around 30 years ago. The country was first brought to my notice by a feature in the UK Sunday paper, the Observer, which stated how attentive the women were to their menfolk, with pouring milk on their cornflakes and putting paste on their toothbrush given as examples. One or two photos of dusky maidens were added to help paint a picture of a male paradise.
I booked a flight.
Unlike Ishiro, I did not keep a diary of that visit, or any other. Instead, most of my memories are stored in my head and therefore subject to error. In fact, although I have travelled much of the world I rarely even took a camera along when I went walkabout (pause for Stick to recoil in horror!) because I didn't want to look like a tourist. When I think of the places I've been and have no photographic evidence of…. Probably the last time I carried a 'proper' camera was in the early 70s when I made a trip to New York. Looking at those photos and the changes that have occurred since makes me regret that now. In fact, it's ridiculous.
Anyway, this first trip didn't go well. I booked everything through a company in London called Far East Travel, which seemed appropriate, and have no complaints about them. I decided to spend about three days in Bangkok and about the same in Pattaya, and was booked into the Mandarin and then the Tropicana. I experienced my first example of Thai 'service' while at the Mandarin, when I was not given three messages that my sister wanted me to call her as our father-in-law had died suddenly.
I don't remember very much about the trip, as nothing much happened. I do remember that I went out for a walk, and traffic was so bad that I found myself unable to cross the road and simply walked around the block, down Silom, right into Pan Road to Suriwong and back to the hotel. Of course I had heard of Patpong, but was so intimidated by its reputation, innocent lad that I was, that I was afraid to go there at night and it was as much as I could force myself to do to take a look during daylight hours. No doubt Stick is now sniggering, bearing in mind how willingly I have embraced the nightlife after becoming a resident.
I then transferred to Pattaya, being picked up in a mini-van, taken around a few hotels to collect others before ending up on some back street and put on board a bigger bus. However, while in Bangkok I had picked up a very sore throat, and while in Pattaya I did little more than eat ice-cream (all I could manage) and sit by the pool watching a rather large German chap frolic with a dumpy local lass. So, basically a wasted trip.
Undaunted, I returned for another go. I decided then that I would seek some female company and chose a place out of one of the numerous tourist magazines left in hotel lobbies. I'm not sure where I stayed that time, but it was probably the Wall Street Inn, down a small soi close to Jim Thompson's place on Suriwong. Anyway, I showed up outside this place I'd found around mid-morning and it was shut, but someone approached me and asked me if I was looking for a lady. I agreed to go with him and he took me to a house a few minutes away and I was asked to wait. Then, about a dozen girls, probably some looking very young (memory lapse), were brought in and I was asked to choose one. They all looked nervous and none appealed, but as I was about to leave I was taken next door and the same thing occurred. This time one girl caught my eye. She was cheerful and bouncy, and I took her away with me.
She was actually a good choice, my first experience of a decent-looking young girl snuggling up to me, and we bonded well. We spent a couple of days together in Bangkok, then went to Hua Hin for a couple of days before travelling to her home in a village near Pha Yao. It was there I had my first experience of a rural Thai home, a wooden place on stilts with toilet in the garden. By then I had decided I'd like her to travel with me with my work, but her father wouldn't let her go. So that was it, and I never saw her again.
I finally did meet someone, my wife, on yet another trip through a Sliding Doors situation. For those not in the know, that's a movie set in London in which Gwyneth Paltrow is fired from her job, and on the way back home just catches, or just misses, a tube train (the sliding doors). The story then revolves around the consequences of her catching, and missing, the train. My sliding doors moment came not in London, but coincidentally in Stick's home town of Auckland.
I'm a tennis journalist (hence the travel), and was covering an event in Auckland for some British newspapers. A British girl had match point but dumped the ball into the net and went on to lose the match, and feeling more than a little frustrated (no Brit, no work and no income for the rest of the week) I decided to abandon the 10 days I had left in New Zealand and spend the time in Bangkok before going on to the States. Now in my early 40s I decided it was time I found myself a (second) wife, went to an introduction agency, and met the future spouse. The story was that the place was owned by her friend and she was hanging around the office one day and was persuaded to add a profile and photos to the catalogue. Maybe true and maybe not. Maybe she was in the files with intention. It doesn't matter. But what does matter was if the tennis player had hit the ball an inch or two higher in Auckland I would not have taken that break in Bangkok and would not have met my wife. We married exactly two weeks after meeting, and we celebrate 25 years married next February. Sliding Doors.
And that is the end of the beginning.
Farang Dave wrote of changes, and of course there have been many. I've changed, although I don't think by much. I have the same values as I did 30+ years ago and haven't felt a need to change. Thailand, Bangkok in particular, has changed a great deal. Developed, for better or worse. A bit of both, if we consider that the locals can sometimes be less welcoming while at the same time the infrastructure has improved out of sight. I don't need to add to what he has written.
You abnadoned New Zealand to spend 10 days in Bangkok? Shame on you! Hehe, it sounds like it all worked out for the best and I guess it really is true that another inch or two really does matter!