Living Up-Country Isn’t …
Living up-country in rural Thailand isn’t as much fun as I expected. In case other men are wondering, maybe dreaming, about that when Thailand opens up again, here’s my report. And I’m wondering, too. Perhaps a few of the more experienced readers here can fill in some important details about life in rural Thailand; details that I have obviously missed.
My older brother, Larry, has been retired and living in Bangkok for 10 years or so. (He’s written a few submissions here.) When I retired two years ago I came to visit and look around for my own retirement. Looked good, so last summer (2019) I arrived ready to settle in.
Larry speaks the language somewhat, so I asked him to find me a nice lady to settle in with. He refused, “Find your own!”, he said, “but I’ll help pick up the pieces if it goes bad.” Looks like I might need some “picking up”, but not for the reasons you might expect.
I did find a nice lady. Very quickly, too. And it’s still nice. What’s not so much fun is the living situation, out here in a small town in rural Thailand.
I started out by bunking on Larry’s living room sofa that opens into a bed. We took turns making breakfast each morning. One of my chores was walking to the nearby grocery store once a week for bacon, eggs, bread, orange marmalade, etc. I’m an early riser, and the store – TOPS – opens at 08:30, so I would normally arrive as they were opening the doors. Hardly any other customers in the store at that time, just employees getting ready for the day. That’s how I met Miss Nice.
She’s the head cashier on the day shift. Since I was a foreigner and apparently looked a little be-fuddled, she came over to offer help. Speaks English surprisingly well. She knew Larry, of course, because he’s been shopping there for years, and when I explained, “my older brother”, well, she was all smiles. And all questions, too: “How long you stay Thailand??” “You have Thai lady already??” “You smoke cigarette??” “You drink beer??” Anyone reading this web site will probably know those questions.
Well, I started looking forward to those morning chats with her, and, in fact, found excuses to go in twice a week for extra groceries. The more I saw Miss Nice, the nicer it was for me, and, so it seemed, for her. Larry was agreeable and his apartment has two separate rooms, so a few nights a week Miss Nice would visit me on the sofa, and she would make breakfast the next morning for the three of us. It was a lot of fun and life was good for those first few months.
But one day, Miss Nice had a serious look on her face. “My mother very sick. I am only daughter of her. I must go home take care of her. Boss at work says okay and I can come back to work here again. But I not know how long. I will miss you, Khun Michael, very much. Maybe you want come with me?” We talked and talked.
Mother has diabetes. Can’t walk very far. Needs help with everything, even taking a shower. Miss Nice has two younger brothers; not suitable for that kind of thing. She said, “Mother already know about you and see picture you. She like you already. But you not can stay my mother’s house. Have apartment rooms in Amphur Meuang, only 20 minutes on motorcycle. My brother lives there; says plenty empty rooms, no problem.” So I agreed. I figured living up-country near Miss Nice would be a lot more fun than sharing an apartment in Bangkok with another old man.
I’ve been living in Amphur Meuang now for almost 12 months. Near to Miss Nice’s village. She’s still very nice and comes to visit me often and stay overnight. Mother has a mobile phone, but, so far, no emergencies. So everything is okay on that front. The problem is I’m slowly going nuts out here and have no idea how to solve the problem of being a stranger, alone, in a strange land.
The apartment room is nice enough. Probably the nicest apartment building in Amphur Meuang and really very comfortable. No complaints there at all.
Plenty of local-style restaurants within easy walk and plenty more if I get on the motorcycle. I got tired of Thai food every meal every day at about the 3-month point, but still can eat it and am not going hungry. Near the Big-C there is a place that makes cheeseburgers, and they’re actually pretty good. Several places deliver pizza, and, again, pretty good. So food is not the problem.
The problem is I feel like I’m in solitary confinement, but with lots of people all around. Solitary because I don’t understand them and they don’t understand me. I asked Larry how long to study the language before I could start to have pleasant conversations – nothing deep, just neighborly. He told me he couldn’t do that until after he’d been working on learning Thai for 6-7 years!
The strangest thing, which I still don’t understand, is what happens when I see other white men, older, my age, retirement age. I’ll try to explain and maybe other readers here can offer some observations.
Over the months here, I’ve noticed about 50 other white men; close enough to say ‘hello’. And, in the beginning, I would just say a pleasant, ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’, same as in my neighborhood back home. But here, when I did that, most of them sort of jumped back a few inches, turned, and scurried away. I couldn’t figure that out and still can’t. But a few – about 6-7 out of the 50 — looked surprised, and then said, ‘hello’ back to me, in a pleasant enough, neighborly way.
Then a brief conversation would start. Just the usual, “Where you from?” etc. And before long the question would always come up, in one way or another, “What’s your local?” (Those were the Brits talking.) Or, “Where do you hang out?” (Those were my fellow Americans, and, the first time I had to ask the meaning of “hang out”, because I didn’t know.) When I got the picture, I realized they were asking what was my favorite bar around here, and it became clear that going to a bar was their main activity day after day.
Well, ahem, I don’t go to bars. Sure, if they make a good cheeseburger (preferablly with grilled onions available), then I’ll go in, order that with a Coke or Pepsi, and when finished go on about my business for the day. But to sit on a bar stool, hour after hour, day after day, no thanks. But so far, all the other foreigners I’ve talked with here in Amphur Meuang, it seems that’s mostly all they do. Either that or go to TOPS or Big-C with their Thai wives, which is where I encounter them.
What other men do is their business, not mine, but because of that situation it’s been pretty darn difficult for me to make any friends at all with other English-speaking men around here. Impossible, really.
At first I wondered if I was getting senile, maybe early-onset Alzheimer’s. But Miss Nice says no, not a problem. Larry says no, too. In fact he claims I am just as ornery as when we were boys. My “Internet friends”, a few older men like myself, are still friends and no complaints received in spite of emails going back and forth and the occasional Skype call for conversations.
So I’m left wondering, what is it with other retired men living out here in rural Thailand. Is it that they come here actually to avoid other people? If so, then I’ll simply stop saying ‘hello’ and won’t even try to be neighborly. After all, plenty of good books are waiting to be read, and they arrive on my computer in e-book format just a minute after I order them. With a good book, I’m a happy man, even if I can’t talk to anyone around me about it.
I welcome observations and comments, either as a submission posted here or in a personal email: email@example.com