Rebel Without A Cause
2 Years ago, alone at home on a lazy afternoon, I dug out the DVD of the old, 1955 launched film that so characteristically depicted the angst of the youth at that time. Over the years I must have seen the movie again but I mostly remember the first time. It was in the mid-1960s. Not fully mastering English I saw a subtitled version in either French or German, I don’t remember which. Entering the theatre the policeman on duty asked for ID. Unbelievably the country I come from did not allow those younger than 18 years old in movie theatres at the time (or to obtain a drivers license, by the way). I was of legal age having turned 18 just weeks before but looked young. Not surprisingly that film had a huge impact on me as it did on many of my generation. We identified with the future idol and legend the lead character of the movie was to become for many years.
So what’s the relationship of an old American movie with contemporary Thailand?
It’s my son. He turned 17 six months ago and on another rainy Sunday recently I sat him down to watch the movie along with me and perhaps later get his thoughts on it. Not an easy venture. Try getting a reluctant teenager to part with his tablet or notebook for more than 15 minutes to watch an movie more than 60 years old which runs for almost 2 hours.
To start with I asked him if he had ever heard of James Dean. No, he had not. Head between his hands thinking hard, a little while later he said, Yes, I think I know, he was an actor or racing driver who killed himself long ago. I corrected, yes, the first part was right but he didn’t kill himself but actually died in a car crash.
The intention was when the film was over to get him to discuss his feelings about the movie and more to the point how would he have felt being in the shoes of James Dean’s movie character?
Mistake. The film was ok he said but sorry, I do need to go back on the internet now, my friend’s waiting. Too bad but I kept calm. It had been my intention to write a piece titled, “Coming Of Age In Thailand”. Instead you now have to put up with some of my thoughts about growing older in LOS and the more personal relationship to my adolescent son. Knowing this blog is mostly read by young people I suggest here that 25 year olds or younger stop reading because as you well know, you will never grow old, n’est ce pas!
That’s what my son thinks and probably I did too 50 years ago. If you’ve decided to read on and wonder about the reason I live in Thailand, here’s why:
I came to settle in Phuket in 1988. A failed marriage and an unfulfilling professional situation was at the heart of that life-changing decision. A short reassurance at this point. This is not intended to tell you how much better life was then, how much cheaper, prettier, slimmer, smiling or easier and more available the girls were then. Plenty of so called “old Thailand hands” will tell you about that. What they mostly forget to mention is that they themselves have also changed over time and events in their lives have made them change during that same period.
And this is my point!
Even though I wasn’t exactly a youngster having just turned 40, I was still full of energy and blessed with an adventurous spirit. Coming here I felt invincible at the time. The bars, the fun, the easy dating scene. Days would never end. Then I met a girl, got married and became what Dr. Iain Corness in his “Farang” books calls a second time dad. But circumstances described in another sub years ago made me soon after become a single dad. The child’s mother disappeared before he became a toddler or could even walk on his own. Once again it changed my life.
I had a responsible and demanding professional position in the tourism industry as an independent operator. For well over a decade my days consisted of fulfilling my professional duties during the day and often well in to the night. I had wonderful staff who would take care of the child during office hours, or even when I was absent overnight and before his schooling began.
Coming home after a day’s work, having dinner and spending an hour or two with my son before he fell asleep became the highlight of the day. I’m not a loner or a recluse but large crowds or boisterous companionship is not part of my nature either. So living in Phuket or Europe with a sprouting kid at that time of my life was not of primordial importance and would not have made a basic difference either way.
Sure, I took time off in between sampling the vastly changing nightlife. Sometimes over a weekend or when on tour with a group of tourists. My business was originally located in Phuket but there came a time over the years I often needed to travel to Bangkok. Soon I started to grow fond of the Big Mango.
Also at the time and in view of the poor English programs in local schools, it seemed important to me that as a Eurasian (lug-kreung) my son should become proficient at an early age in the English language. I enrolled him at an international school in Bangkok for three years. While expensive, it turned out to be a well worthwhile investment and opened many new horizons to him, especially learning about the world beyond Thailand and gave him a greater understanding of ancient or contemporary world history other than local culture, traditions and events.
Weekends now became the climax of his study week and also a welcome time-out in my working schedule. Lunch at the food hall, then a movie at Siam Paragon or Central World (never missed the latest installments of the “Final Destination” series) were often the climax of the day. Other days it was Safari World and / or a shopping spree or rounds at the ice-rink at Central World. A tasty fondue at (the now defunct) Victoria Swiss restaurant, soi 7, at the end of the day became another typical Sunday treat for the two of us for a while.
But as mentioned above, things change, people, situations, circumstances. And most importantly to this particular essay, children grow up! Years ago I sold my company and for a while I wrestled with the thought of returning back home at this point. But with my adventurous nature intact I felt still motivated enough to enjoy the pleasures of the land of the free after professional duties ceased. My son quite naturally having adapted to Thai mentality also was not enthusiastic about such a faraway move to what would have been a new country for him.
Instead we moved to a small and still quietly peaceful town 150 km south of Krabi. Away from mass tourism I felt that we had found the ideal place to spend my retirement years. My son is now a teenager, has a girlfriend, goes to school on his motorbike and is studying at a local school again. Fathers at this time in a young man’s life lose importance and seem to be there mostly to provide the means to undertake and enjoy the pleasures and delights of this privileged generation. That I believe is not all that different from western countries.
As for me, I think that I’ve adapted fairly well to the new Thailand. Journeys to Bangkok over one or two prolonged weekends a month have become the norm these days. Escapes from the daily responsibilities to guide Alain on the right path into his future life and also enjoy same respite to him at the same time from my “overbearing nature” (his words).
So, is he a rebel? In some ways, yes, he is. To his defense I’d have to add that it’s probably due to a large part to his half Thainess. A few examples;
Proper or responsible handling of money is ingrained in my personality. True, it was hammered in to me as a child. Saving centimes (pennies / dimes) and proudly taking them to the bank at the end of the month to deposit in my own bankbook became a happy and proud occurrence.
Saving pennies in a nest egg for rainy days is not part of the average Thai person conception. Especially not of the current generation and least of all my son! Money is easily available. Purchases on credit are the norm nowadays with little thought given of the manner of repayment for lots of people. (Debt per capita in 2015 averaged at 85,000 baht and rising.) Alain’s answer to that is the typical; Mai pen rai!
Gaming endless hours sometimes well in to the night on the internet is another of my concerns. Often on dubious sites and with questionable teammates! Why not spend the time for more useful studies as I know many of his friends do. Another of my well-meant proposals but sadly it just infuriates him.
Regular showers three or 4 times a day is obligatory as the slightest body odor is unacceptable to a Thai person, male or female. But cleaning up the mess left behind in the bathroom or his own bedroom is of no importance. The old man or the weekly maid will take care of it.
To organize a day’s sequence of events optimally. Punctuality in other words. An almost religious endeavor at my origins where the Cuckoo-Clocks was not invented as a tourist souvenir but to tell accurate time! Of no interest to Alain. The old adage that time is money has no value here. Again “never mind” is the usual response to intervention on my behalf in those matters. Inevitably it sometimes leads to contentious situations and occasional loss of temper on both parts.
Driving his motorbike in that totally irresponsible Thai style. For 20 years I had a Honda Dream or Wave that I enjoyed riding especially during the first years when helmets were not required or compulsory. But being a pillion rider on a recent outing with Alain meandering through the ever-growing traffic, his earphones plugged to his handy was no pleasure at all.
The lies or embellishments disguised in that inevitable keeping face mentality that has become his, but to which I have never been able to warm even in more than a quarter century.
Worst of all are the overnight absences supposedly spent with friends at their parents’ home watching TV or playing games. But I’ve never heard reassuring words from any parent. Also the occasional inebriated state he comes home in the early morning hours is less than reassuring.
Does that make him a rebel? No, just little things. Part of the growing up process. No cause for alarm that would amount to a rebellious nature. I’ve heard that too often already but disagree. And living with that at what amounts in my case to a grandfather’s age is not at all easy. So, I will keep fighting.
“Son, when I’m no longer here you’ll have to take charge of all these things yourself and I want you to do it responsibly!” It’s one of my (probably) too frequently pronounced pieces of advice to him and of course he hates me saying it. Because at 17½ you know everything and you’re always right.
The inevitable final curtain of my lifespan getting closer, I’m still able or at least try to enjoy the advantages or perks that this new Thailand provides. “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be” is an old Doris Day song also from around the time of James Dean’s Hollywood fame. And so it is. I might be around or not be around to see what becomes of my son.
In the meantime the lure of the beautiful beaches, the tasty and cheap food, the pretty and easily available girls that inhabited my spirit more than a generation ago are of little importance now. I too, have changed. The country I live in has changed. The surroundings, and so much more has changed. The little child that was … is now almost an adult.
Instead my thoughts often wonder back to the old days. Nostalgic thinking about the country where trains run on time, where the word democracy is not just used as a punch line but provides real, stable and workable governance. Where state officials, policemen, custom officers and other civil servants are mostly efficient, honest, helpful and friendly.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]