My apologies for my late response to your excellent submission on the topic of Michael Douglas and "The Game", published
on the 9/02/2015.
I have only recently discovered this site and, no doubt like many another reader, I find myself nodding in agreement or shaking my head with sympathy at some of the views and experiences recounted here. There is no doubt that life can be an incredible roller coaster in the Land of Smiles as we grapple with a culture that is entirely at variance with our own, which is, in my case, Australian culture.
Just briefly, my experiences in Thailand may be a little different because I met my now Thai wife whilst still living in Australia. She spoke English to quite an acceptable level and was of an age which was quite compatible to mine, in short she was middle-aged and not exactly your standard Thai beauty which was just fine by me because she had a gentle and pleasant nature, a good sense of humour and was, moreover, not interested in coming to Australia permanently. Fantastic, I thought, excellent company without having some twenty-something breathing down my neck!
Of course there are some things that I have never experienced as I have not been to a bar in Bangkok or Pattaya and my visits to Thailand were generally in the areas of Bangkok (around the Chao Phraya) Phuket, Chang Mai / Chang Rai and Isaan Land. So what I am about to describe may be a little tedious for some readers but "diff'rent strokes for diff'rent folks", I say.
Which brings me back to the subject of "The Game". I think your description is excellent because the cultural interface is, without a doubt, very slight indeed. But unlike Michael Douglas, I have reached the rather rueful conclusion that not only have I participated in the game over here but that I brought my own cultural game with me from Australia which was every bit as potentially deadly as the one Michael Douglas played and led me to try and impose my farang Game on the Thai people-which they nether needed or wanted.
But why exactly was I fleeing the Great Australian Game? I could speak about divorce (naturally) of life as a single man in my late 50's with a good job but an essentially socially isolated existence. I could talk about being taxed to death, of being stuck in traffic, of paying endless bills to utilities – insurance companies, funeral funds, medical funds, superannuation funds etc. I could talk about my friends who had monstrous credit card bills, and who speak about nothing more than mortgages, school fees, home extensions and the cost of their package tours to some resort in either South-East Asia or the Pacific. I could chirp merrily on about the rat race, the bucking for promotion and the fact that your work colleagues were ever ready to administer the quick, self righteous stab in the back but I will refrain from all that and just talk about smiling instead.
A lot of people have commented that the famous Thai smile may be disappearing – perhaps it is – hard economic times and all that. Some say that it is voracious (again, possibly true at times) but I would rather be taken for a ride by someone who was smiling at me rather than the habitual self-righteous scowling of the great Australian game players who, truth be told, are no more honest and ethical than their Thai counterparts as they merely have different rules, and provide other culturally congruent excuses for divesting you of money. If you don't believe me then I can give you the name of an accountant, real estate agent, shonky divorce lawyer, insurance and investment brokers, etc.
They say that you can really find out about people in a crisis situation and I would contend that that is applicable to societies and cultures as well. In 2011 I was retired on medical grounds due to the fact that a rather nasty cancer was trying its level best to kill me. In mid-2012 I came back to Thailand during a bit of a lull but unfortunately that "Indian summer" didn't last very long and I had to be treated in a Thai hospital. My Thai family and all hospital staff were absolutely fantastic as was the Thai government that kept my visa going until I was well enough to get back to Australia under my own steam – I only just made it. Now, the plain fact is that I had not disbursed very much money to my Thai wife nor had their expectations been exorbitant but yet they took me to get treatment three times a week, fed me, clothed me and even washed me at times when I was too helpless to do it for myself.
And all the time I was wreathed in Isaan smiles. I remembered those smiles well when I got back to Australia and entered a system which, whilst more medically proficient, was certainly totally bereft of any kind of smiling or emotional warmth. I was processed, treated with remarkable efficiency and spat out the other end. End of story – accept it was exactly the same story as I had experienced prior to going to Thailand in the first place. I had simply re-entered the Great Australian Game. Of genuine interest there was but little… credit cards, mortgages, little Clarissa's and Broderick's education-trying to keep up with the Joneses etc.
The classic conversation went something like this:
"Where you been, mate… what's Thailand like?"
"It's good, lovely people and an exciting, vibrant, colourful culture… "
"Bet it's not as good as Australia, mate… can't be good as Australia!"
So I had failed the good old Aussie patriotism test as well. What a laugh!
I sit here now, in my modern townhouse overlooking the Mun River, with my nondescript stray puppy lying at my feet (the body corporate in Sydney wouldn't even allow a budgerigar) and would like to thank the Thai people who pulled me through a harrowing period of my life, salute their wonderful smiles and wish every contributor and reader on this site the very best for 2016.