You Can’t Save Everyone
Sometimes you need to save yourself first. Well that’s harder than it seems, I’m still not sure if I’m saved but I’ve learned not to pull everyone into an overcrowded life boat with me at least.
Hard luck stories or just stories of hard lives, they have an impact on many Western guys who often in Asia realise just how lucky their lot is. I’m from a working class family with a long history of hard work and little to show. But my life didn’t depend on a good harvest, when our Rover 3500 broke it wasn’t as devastating as the water buffalo being sick. I turned my nose up at ox tail stew and missed desert but if I’d been a kid in 60’s Thailand I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have turned down anything with calories. This leads many of the Thailand regulars to be quite generous with the girls we meet in bars.
There’s a lot of reasons why you might want to buy a woman’s children baby milk when you only meet her a few times and I’m sure if you had never visited a country where poverty can mean utter destitution, you probably wouldn’t get it. I sometimes wonder why I’ve helped people in Thailand when I wouldn’t dream of giving that kind of money to anybody in the West. They probably wouldn’t ask and if I offered a few pounds they might think I was a weirdo.
I was sat at the Sukhumvit bar after a long, quiet and uneventful low season Sunday watching the rain when the cashier came over to share a drink. We had known each other for years. She worked in a few bars in Sukhumvit, most of which I had drunk or eaten in. She told me a bit about her family, a tale that left me with the impression she was keeping almost a dozen relatives back in her town. She didn’t seem to resent this but the strain on her was apparent. True to form I had a pocket full of holiday cash and no plans for it and told her I could sub her a bit of money if things were quiet. She looked at me seriously for a bit and said, “You can’t save everybody”. Then she went back to locking up for the night.
I lay in my hotel bed later thinking about what she meant by that. I’m sure she knew I could be generous with money. I’m not a fountain of it but I believe it’s better to give back to the world part of what you have taken. There’s probably a lot of guys reading this who have tried to save a soul in the land of smiles, the case of the down at luck hooker with a heart of gold and a family of radioactive toxins. The women in Thailand often get a shitty deal, the only card they often have to play is themselves. However after you’ve been hauled out a few times you start to see the bait coming, you get eaten and then thrown back, you see, she meant that fish who’ve been in the pond for a long time have to learn the art of self-preservation before they can help anyone without getting eaten. What did she see that I didn’t?
I’ve lost count of the number of guys I’ve met at the airport on their way to Thailand with plans (well usually the same plan!!!!!) Just plain ordinary Joes who have decided to party like it’s 1999. Years of grind have led them to the fountain of youth that is Pattaya. They are on a mission to make up for years of wasted youth and determined to add more notches to their bed post than Casanova. When I next see them they have a slightly naughty boy caught in the biscuit tin look, sat opposite a bar girl with more tattoos than sailor Jerry waiting patiently to pay for the mountain of durian she’s munching through. Dreams of a harem of supermodels replaced with a de-facto wife.
“Well you see I had to save her, she’s had a really shitty life….”.
We Westerners often think we’re cleverer than the poor semi-educated and unworldly farm girls we hang around with. As we get to our 50’s many of us are finally financially solvent. Once you get a good niche going in life and you’ve learn the ropes through trial and error, making money gets easier. Like many guys I seem to spend it more or less as soon as it lands on my runway, often before it’s taxied to the terminal. What value do we place on money when we get older and we have the time to really learn about our fellow humans. The ability to travel the world is a lot more enlightening than your impressions of Asia from a laptop. When you see pictures of a Nana gogo bar on line they provide an image that acts as a lure, the strong, lean and available vixens gazing out at the camera like sirens for sailors. When you arrive in paradise you will probably find most of your time is spent sunbathing next to a pool or sitting in a bar talking about football. The girl you pick in your visit to the Perky Pole dancing Emporium is in fact a human being and not a super model made of Kate Moss’s and Christine Brinkley’s cast off body parts. She will have stories to tell and jokes about her sister. She might be interested in your job and laugh at your bad jokes. Even a focused hell raiser will start to wonder if it might be nice to have her to talk to when you’re sat next to the pool. You try another couple of girls but the connection isn’t there. They were too busy to stay while morning, they were on their phone all night, their English was terrible. Suddenly the first girl was a great find and you’re slightly missing her, you’re toying with texting her to see if she can meet you in a bar. You came to Asia to save yourself from the tedium of life, maybe to reinvent yourself as a playboy and already slipping down the slope of saving your own little bit of Isaan real estate. The thought of some grubby tourist getting his hands on that perfect ass is upsetting when she could be on the sun lounger next to you in a tiny bikini while Herman the German with his portly wife casts envious gazes from his own lounger. The journey from cock star to boyfriend begins. You need to save her. The 5000 baht a day plus plus wardrobe accessories at every market stall isn’t why you went out to Asia in the first place. But in for a penny, in for a pound. Most of these guys didn’t need saving, all they needed was a woman who paid attention to them and laughed at their jokes. A woman who looked good, took care of herself and didn’t look down on them because they were a fat bus driver from Sunderland. They didn’t need to be need to find a new woman every night. What you think you want isn’t often what you do want.
I’ve often thought I’d either buy a new car or go back to Asia and blow the lot on having a good time. Because you see to me, anything uncommitted to children or investments, property or taxes is “free money”. Not money to be invested for the future or put into savings, it was luck money, to be turned into an endless supply of beers in a an endless chain of pool bars and street bars in Bangkok, Tokyo or Vientiane. Much of it ending up in the pockets of the girls I drink with. What my cashier friend saw when she looked at me was a retired man floating without a sense of purpose. A man who was able to help others but didn’t look like he was able to help himself. There were a million ways to put that money to good purpose for a change but I always chose to get rid of it as fast as possible, which to her, who valued every baht was the actions of a man who wasn’t healthy. She told me she was more worried about me than I should be about her.
“Read some of the words of Buddha, maybe you can be wiser“, she advised me.
She was right. I can’t save everyone. For a lot of people drinking in bars around Asia, like me, they don’t know how to reconcile the country they are guests in with the normal they’ve left behind. Hardship is everywhere, but you don’t go on a Caribbean cruise to feed the port staff directly. Whether you realise it or not, you’re searching for something in LOS. If you weren’t you’d be back in Brisbane on a couch watching a match after washing the car; like most guys. But for thousands of fellow travellers, that just isn’t enough. The wander lust keeps us chasing the horizon. It sometimes feels like a race with death, how many crazy experiences can I fit in before my body gives up.
What are we looking for in a back street Pattaya gogo bar? Friendship? A relationship? A new start? Was I looking to be saved or is it the nihilism I really like after all? Are we making up for mistakes in our past by treating people how we should have done before we learned life’s lessons? Maybe we’re reliving our youth before the final bell rings. I don’t believe most people get much from the act of sex without any human element. Certainly not for long.
My cashier friend didn’t need saving. She had her hard life of toil with no certain future. But she was reconciled with it. She wasn’t chasing elusive kicks in back streets a world away from where she was born or being gung-ho with any good luck she’d been given. I mulled over the differences between the salary man with his gym membership, 2.4 kids and plain Jane wife who goes to the supermarket for the monthly shop. And me…dancing with a girl in corner house on Soi Cowboy at 4 AM to CCR waving a vodka over my head to every chorus. You’ve all been there!
Many fellow travellers will understand that I have saved myself. I’ve saved myself from going out with a whimper. From ever buying a pair of carpet slippers. I love human beings of all races, sizes and shapes. Interaction with people is the reward, money is just the agent for it. My free money hasn’t become a house extension or a well optioned SUV, it’s gone on experiences I won’t ever forget, in the meantime if any stunning, single girls want to save me I’m available and ready to be saved again and again and again.
The author of this article cannot be contacted.